SXSW Diary: Day Three

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Published March 22, 2010

By Friday, South By Southwest is half over, and the die is cast.  Your careful planning withers in the face of sensory overload—this festival doesn’t lend itself to micro-managing, and it’s not meant to.  You must accept that there are powers beyond your control and then react to them.  You have to abandon your annual quest to find the best bb-q in the area, because that would bring you to Lockhart, TX, too far from the task at hand.  People here take a more immediate approach and line up outside the food stands near the clubs.  SXSW is a long haul and the audience marches on its stomach. (PHOTO: SCHOOL OF THE SEVEN BELLS)
 
It’s difficult to be adrift for long, however, because inevitably a young band snaps you to attention.  In this case it was Papier Tigre, who played the first show of an all-French showcase on the Wave rooftop.  This was no brooding Gainsbourg affair—but an intense set of propulsive rock.  It was also efficient: the first half dozen songs took about 10 minutes.  The three-piece outfit from Nantes impressed with their ferocity, energy, and eagerness—they said they were happy to play any more concerts they were offered.  On the strength of their bracing performance it’s no surprise to see that they’ve been booked again.

SXSW is about novelty, but it’s impossible to resist the urge to revisit favorite acts.  Amy Cook, an Austin mainstay, performed a smart set at the Continental Club here last year.  She sounded even better this time around, at the South By San Jose outdoor stage, where she was backed by a smart band and the Tosca string quartet.  Supporting her excellent new record, Let The Light In, Cook, with her lovely weathered vocals and solid songwriting, is a reminder of the local quality that Austin residents take for granted.

School of Seven Bells also performed at SXSW last year, in a slowly building show that took time to come together.  This year’s set, at the cavernous La Zona Rosa, was far more muscular. Assertive guitars and heavy beats competed with Alejandra and Claudia Deheza’s vocal harmonies, creating absorbing friction. The band’s sound invites comparison with the Cocteau Twins, but here they pushed into more visceral territory without losing their magnetic appeal.

The New Jersey quartet Real Estate possess the world-weary nonchalance of a fifth-year senior.  With their priorities in order they played an easygoing set of their brand of low-key rock that doesn’t demand too much from its listener.  It was a welcome counterpoint to some of the more dynamic bands.  By reining in their ambition, Real Estate managed to stay above the fray.

The second day of David Coggins’s South by Southwest diary is here.