If you have never attended SXSW, you'll probably be amazed and inspired as you are surrounded by 10,000 full attendees, 1,400 bands, and another 4,000 music fans, who purchase wrist bands that allow them into venues on a space available basis. To have all these passionate people within a few square miles is in itself an enlightening experience. It was impossible to see all of the bands on my list, and I can't possibly cover all of the bands I did see in this context. Here are some highlights.
Neil Young provided a humorous, down to earth keynote to an adoring, overflow crowd. Two better known bands that received unanimous raves were New Pornographers and Belle & Sebastian.Arctic Monkeys were the most talked about group, but there was surprisingly little buzz following their Friday night showcase.The Beastie Boys were interviewed in a Convention Center ballroom and later delighted lucky fans at a surprise appearance. Australia's Wolfmother reproduced their album well. I expect big things for them in America because the fact is that our market continues to devour hard rock. This is a good band in the right place at the right time.The Editors from England were really a pleasant surprise because I feared that they would be yet another new wave knock off. This is a band with great energy, musicianship, melodies and charisma. They should easily build on the nice domestic buzz they're already generated.Nine Black Alps were very powerful and have some songs that are stronger than the radio track "Cosmopolitan." They're only scratching the surface over here, but this U.K. band's tour should help them immensely. Britain's Go! Team's 1am set was a tonic that kept everyone wide awake. Cartwheels and all, they are so visual, refreshing, and unique. New Zealand's Datsuns blasted through their borderline metal set. Their second album was a disappointment, but this showcase gives me hope that their 3rd album will put them back in the game. I'm glad that I finally got to see The Living End from Australia. Another Brit band, The Fratellis were a fresh discovery for me. I only caught their last four songs, but lots of people were feeling that they'd uncovered a nugget. The Grates from Australia are pleasing and were just signed by Interscope for their quirky approach and interesting melodies. The Hellacopters from Stockholm put on an impressive metal show, while Dropping Daylight from Minneapolis sound like they're headed for mainstream alternative radio. I didn't get to see new faves The Subways, but the good news is that they're in L.A. this Thursday so I'll be posting a review next time in Raves #26.
There were naturally some disappointments. One of them was Dirty Pretty Things, led by x-Libertine guitarist Carl Barat. They're harder edged but lack melodies or uniqueness.Clap Your Hands Say Yeah were highly anticipated but I just don't see major success for them. Out of my massive respect for Morrissey, I caught his show. Fans of the suave crooner came away happy. Two other current Rave's Faves played. Like many bands, Art Brut gigged about six times during the festival so they were a tired and ragged by Saturday. They didn't match the magic of their November L.A. debut, but they were still energetic and funny. Great news: Their CD finally gets a domestic release on May 9.Goldfrapp has a great band and a wonderful new album. In her videos she's sexy in a Gwen Stefani way, but her Stevie Nicks stage moves don't quite compute. Lots of Brit and Aussie bands listed here, which isn't surprising since most of the bands currently exciting me are from elsewhere.
If you are thinking of attending next year for the first time, bring the most comfortable shoes that you've got. You'll hear four days of good music and you'll talk with cool people. Keep in mind though, that this event isn't as communal as most music festivals. It still is a trade show. Industry people and bands will have busy schedules and have their game faces on most of the time. You'll rarely see many of them just sitting around. The conference itself is efficiently run by people with good attitudes. Hope to see you there.