It was a good first day at SXSW.The Redwalls' set of all new material showed that their next CD will be more raw, and more like their live show. The last album didn't quite capture their energy and the new direction is exactly what I was hoping for from them.Persephone's Bees didn't play a boring note all night. They're great musicians and stretch out their more popular tunes with highly compelling jams. They're now off of Columbia, and that's probably a good move for the band.Peter Bjorn and John played a solid show while demonstrating more energy and animation than one might expect from their "Young Folks" song.The Automatic were just okay. I had high hopes for them and chose them over The Rapture. Talking to people leaving the Rapture gig, the verdict was unanimously positive. Having seen Lily Allen before, I skipped her show to see P's Bees. I understand she did have a good show but also spent lots of stage time dissing NME, who sponsored the showcase. The crowd wasn't really with her, and I suggest she temper her verbiage a bit. U.S. audiences appreciate reality, but overly negative Brits eventually hurt themselves (see Oasis). The Sunshine Underground from England did some good for themselves in terms of conference buzz. I liked them enough to pay closer attention. Pete Townshend's keynote interview was superb.
Day two highlights were Thomas Dolby and Bloc Party. It was my 3rd time seeing Thomas Dolby since he resumed touring after 12 years in the IT world. Now he's got a horn section and an amazing new song. The crowd loved him as he blinded them with wizardry.Bloc Party's new disc may be low-key, but you'd never know it by their show last night as they blew Austin out of the state of Texas (maybe a good thing). They've always been strong live, and this was the best I've seen them despite sound problems.Amy Winehouse was probably the buzz artist of the conference. Her show was quite good and visual but I didn't feel captivated by the entire set. Amy's drinking habits were mentioned almost as much as her shows.The Pipettes from England are another buzz act who are fun. These 60's-sounding girls also have the dance moves and haircuts from that era.Mando Diao from Sweden are powerful and a good band overall, but their excruciating volume didn't allow us to determine how good they actually are. Britain's Razorlight are good live but material to date still creates doubts as to whether they can break in this country. I think Army of Me (from D.C.) have potential.
Day three found The Fratellis and Peaches leading a talented roost. The Fratellis made a triumphant return to SXSW and their Island Records party set topped my day 3.Pete Townshend joined them on stage earlier that afternoon at the Spin Party for a rendition of "The Seeker." Check out the link to see it. The other major highlight was Peaches. The music is top-notch and the show is pretty much all sex all the time. She played at The Exodus, which has the worst sight-lines of any venue in memory. I couldn't see much of what she was doing up there, or should I say down there. She wrote one of my favorite lines of 2006 in her "Impeach My Bush" opener, when she sings "I'd rather f**k who I want than kill who I'm told to." It was a consistent day for me with lots of other talent.Mika closed the Island party with a few songs on piano, backed by only an acoustic guitar. I also saw him play a few songs with his entire band the second night in a surprise appearance. He's a fun, talented guy loaded with falsettos and other vocals reminiscent of Freddie Mercury.Mika won't be everyone's cup of tea. I can see why folks are buzzing about Tokyo Police Club, Sloan, and The Walkmen as I really liked all three.Robyn Hitchcock performed a delightful acoustic set, highlighted by his "Adventure Rocket Ship" and also a tune dedicated to Karl Rove (no bold deserved), called "I Wanna Destroy You." Children Collide from Australia are a raw, punkish band with great potential and I want to keep an eye on them.
Iggy Pop and the Stooges fittingly closed Stubb's on the final night with a super set. As expected, Spoon and Kings Of Leon were better than solid.The Wombats from Manchester play with major power and are apparently on the verge of a major deal.Kraack and Smack from Holland put on a fine electro/dance performance for upcoming Direct TV broadcasts.
I didn't have a Fratelli's-sized discovery this year that absolutely knocked me out of my shoes, but I am intrigued by a new Manchester band called Waxplanet. They've only played 30-odd shows, but this edgy indie pop group has some brilliant ideas and I'm excited to watch them develop. I missed Austin's Ghostland Observatory but did catch them in L.A. at The Echo a few months ago. There were SXSW superlatives this dance rock duo, which didn't surprise me at all. The singer is a pure star and I'm betting on a deal for them in the very near future. Several people really liked The Rumble Strips, who are on Island, UK. I missed them but subsequently checked out a few tunes. Good stuff, so keep an eye on them as well.
Speaking of the The Fratelli's, their March 19th debut at L.A.'s sold out Troubadour was hugely triumphant. They play real well but I find it ironic for such a fine pub rock band that they don't establish more of a rapport with the crowd.KLOS' Chris Carter and I were commenting at the show about this band's perfect strategy. Two months of iPod commercial exposure has made them completely familiar. "Flathead" isn't nearly the best song on the album. I believe that these guys are perfectly positioned to have a larger hit with "Chelsea Dagger", which I feel should come next. That song closes the set and works great live. More on them in next month's live section.
I'll be back with Rave's Raves #29 and a Coachella recap at the end of April. Till then...