AUSTIN, Texas -- South by Southwest (SXSW) is sort of like a hipster Epcot Center. In the course of one night, you can catch thousands of bands from the U.S., England, Ireland, Canada, Mexico, New Zealand, Iceland, Denmark and more. And when you get home, you feel like you've been hit with a serious case of jetlag, even when you live in the same time zone as Austin.
Photo Credit: Craig Shelburne
On Friday (March 16), halfway through the festival, I wrote about 10 bands that had grabbed my attention, including Bahamas, the Little Willies and the Lumineers. Here's the second verse:
Alabama Shakes rattled and rolled through SXSW, perhaps becoming the most talked-about band of the week. Although their live shows are often electrifying, I caught a few acoustic songs in a North Austin backyard -- and you couldn't miss that country soul from their Muscle Shoals-area roots. They made their national TV debut last month on Conan with "Hold On."
When I was researching bands prior to SXSW, I discovered a wonderfully sweet music video called "Love, Love, Love" by this New Zealand band. Penguins on a sailboat! In person, founder Dave Baxter and his bandmates offered a solid handful of pop tunes with the occasional dueling xylophones. Their digital EP arrives Tuesday (March 20), and I'd love, love, love to hear it.
Is there a more evocative instrument than the pedal steel guitar? Walking into the Bloodshot Records showcase at Red Eyed Fly, I heard the mysterious and gorgeous instrumental "Wasteland" by the Danish musician Maggie Bjorklund. As a player, she forgoes impressive licks and sets a wistful mood, which she did beautifully in this outdoor set. She's now touring in Jack White's band.
Cuff the Duke
Cuff the Duke could be considered Americana, even though they hail from Canada. I heard their upbeat set at a Canadian afternoon party and thought, "I really need to book a trip to Toronto." The melodies are inviting, the lyrics are catchy and the songs are fun to listen to. The band's clever video for "Count on Me" is on their website, along with a bunch of tempting tour dates.
All week I hoped to catch the Dunwells because of the energy in "I Could Be a King." Who couldn't use a boost of energy during SXSW? On Saturday afternoon (March 17), these five young guys charmed the Folk Alliance party crowd at Threadgill's with their bright personalities and feel-good music. I bought the CD on the way out and played it in the car for the rest of the weekend.
Glen Hansard is the charming Irish musician who starred in my favorite movie, Once. At his boisterous showcase at Antone's, he didn't mention any new albums -- and, really, he didn't seem to be there for any particular reason. However, he's incredibly charismatic, so I happily went along for the ride. Every aspiring performer could take a lesson in showmanship from him.
Of Monsters and Men
Their video for "Little Thoughts" defies a simple explanation, as it involves space creatures trying to devour these Icelandic musicians. From what I understand, a programmer for an adult alternative radio station heard the song on vacation in Iceland, brought it back and shared it with his audience. With hundreds of listeners singing along at Stubb's, it's evident that his risk paid off.
Three Dudes and a Mullet
This is not a novelty act, despite the funny name. They're a young quartet from Mexico City with a keen (and warped) sense of humor and a surprising folk-country bent. As an example, listen to "Half Ton Son," about a pensive father who feels bad for his enormous child, then goes on to list the weekly menu. If you like the wit of Fountains of Wayne, dive right in.
This London band proudly declares itself as "pure country soul," and their song "It's About Time" bears that out. Onstage, they have a lot of spirit, tight harmonies and a killer rhythm section, so their music felt right at home at Maggie Mae's rooftop bar on Wednesday night (March 14). With so much roots-driven music coming out of England right now, I think a field trip is in order.
An Austin singer whose love of country music is evident in every note, Roger Wallace launched his late set at the White Horse by proudly singing, "I'm not a wino/I'm a whiskey-o," and I thought, "Bingo!" He's been making records for a dozen years now and is planning to release a new one in 2012. If he ever makes it to Nashville, the first whiskey's on me.