ESDMusic’s South by Southwest 2011 Music Preview

AUSTIN, TX – The 25th anniversary edition of the SXSW Music and Media Conference is upon us this week and it’s shaping up to be another gala event for live music junkies. The initial lineup may have looked a bit underwhelming, but that first announcement never shows the big picture. When you have around 2,000 bands from all over the world scheduled to play, there’s going to be more bands that you don’t recognize than you do. But the big name additions have been coming in over the past few weeks, as has the rising buzz on up and coming bands contending to be your new favorites.

Here’s my top 10 “name artists” I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing (even a badge doesn’t guarantee access if a venue has reached capacity, while a small handful of showcases are also private parties necessitating an invite.) Then I’ll list five “buzz bands” I’m eager to check out as well…

Widespread Panic – ACL Live at the Moody Theater – Thursday, March 17 – 11 pm
The southern jam rock titans from Georgia are celebrating their 25th anniversary in 2011. They’ll mark the occasion by playing the first ever SXSW showcase that will also serve as a taping for the Austin City Limits TV show. The brand new ACL Live venue – just opened last month – is a swank theater with a 2,700 seat capacity, although there have been rumors that ACL tapings will only take 800. Getting there early figures to be key, which is why Spreadheads may have to pass up the Strokes’ 8 pm set at Auditorium Shores (a park on Town Lake on the edge of downtown that offers free shows on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.) But Panic will also be preceded by some fine openers with the New Mastersounds at 8:15 pm and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band at 9:30 pm.

The Foo Fighters – Austin Music Hall – Wednesday, March 16
The alt-rock icons will be in town for the premiere of the band’s new rockumentary “Back and Forth” on Tuesday at the Paramount Theater. It was also recently announced that they’ll play at “The 2011 mtvU Woodie Awards” on Wednesday along with Wiz Khalifa, Two Door Cinema Club, Sleigh Bells and more, which will air live on three MTV channels. But this is not listed as an official SXSW showcase, so badge holders apparently need to win one of 850 tickets MTV will be giving away. Fingers are crossed.

Men Without Hats – Club De Ville – Friday, March 18 – 1 am
Anyone who grew up with the dawn of MTV in the early-to-mid ’80s will remember this Canadian band and their iconic video for their infectious smash hit, “The Safety Dance.” There’s a lot of attractive showcases happening in this hour on Friday, but this Gen-Xer is not passing up his chance do the Safety Dance at one of Austin’s nicest outdoor clubs.

The Airborne Toxic Event – Stubbs BBQ – Friday, March 18 – 10:30 pm
These Los Angeles indie rockers with the heartfelt sound were one of my favorite random discoveries at SXSW in 2009. I was walking out of the convention center when a girl connected with the band in some way said I shouldn’t leave because a great band was about to play. She described them as having a Bowie-ish vibe with a female violinist. That drew me in to witness a scintillating afternoon set that was a triumph. They’re about to release their second album and playing at Stubbs – ground-zero for SXSW showcases – means they’re moving up to the big time.

Bright Eyes – Auditorium Shores Stage – Saturday, March 19 – 7:30 pm
Conor Oberst has put his Mystic Valley Band on hold to put out a new album with Bright Eyes and the band will headline the Saturday night show at Town Lake. You get an eclectic mix of people since it’s a free show and it’s a gorgeous location for a show with the Austin skyline looming in the background. The band got a lukewarm review on their Radio City Music Hall show from The New York Times, but hopefully they’ll be ready to deliver the goods here. Oberst starred with Monsters of Folk at last October’s ACL Festival.

Immortal Technique – Mohawk Patio – Wednesday, March 16 – 11 pm
One of the most militant and revolutionary MCs in the world, Immortal Technique is a role model for any artist that wants to do it their own way. He’s remained steadfastly independent, refusing to allow major label control of his music or brand. It’s hard to conceive of a major corporate entity that would let him do his thing though, due to his radical way he speaks truth to power. If you feel that 9/11 was an inside job, Immortal Technique is your man.

The Kills – Emo’s Main Room – Thursday, March 17 – 11 pm
Singer Alison Mosshart’s profile was raised to a higher level when Jack White teamed up with her in the Dead Weather. Now she returns to her previous band, where it should be interesting to see how charismatic dark angel incorporates her Dead Weather experience. I can’t catch this set since it conflicts with Widespread Panic, but I’m hoping to see them at the SPIN day party at Stubbs on Friday or their appearance at the IFC House.

TV on the Radio – Stubbs BBQ – Thurday, March 17 – 12:30 am
SXSW will be booming on Thursday night as these trendy indie-pop rockers will be headlining Stubbs BBQ. They’d flown a bit under my radar until Phish covered the band’s “Golden Age” at an Albany show in 2009, then played it again last fall in Colorado. The catchy tune and its uplifting message certainly caught the attention of the Phish Nation. Attendees of Widespread Panic won’t be able to get here for this either, but the band is also headlining that SPIN day party at Stubbs the next day.

Beats Antique – Frontgate Tickets Party – 1711 South Congress – Friday, March 18 – 4:20 PM
This trio out of Oakland has been blowing up on the festival and jam-rock scene over the past year with a groovy vibe that features an Eastern sound with mystical overtones. Their official showcase is Friday night at the Beauty Bar at 1 am, but that’s a conflict for anyone who wants to see Men Without Hats. But the band is also playing several day parties, as many younger bands do.

Liz Phair – IFC House – Friday, March 18 – 8 PM
The indie alt-rock princess of the ’90s has gone through various phases of experimentation and flirted with commercialism, but it seems like she just wants to rock now. She’s in her 40s, but she’s still a total hottie and her 2008 tour featured her classic Exile in Guyville album in its entirety. Now she has a new album where she says she’s letting it all hang out.

Buzz Bands

Most of these bands are playing multiple showcases and day parties, a common trend for younger bands looking to max out potential exposure…

Ume
This local Austin (by way of Houston) power trio features dynamic frontwoman Lauren Larson on guitar and her husband on bass. They were recently named one of the best unsigned bands in America by Rolling Stone. Larson’s petite size is a red herring for what a force to be reckoned with she is onstage.

The Joy Formidable
Another female-fronted power trio, of which there are still too few. This trio is from the UK and was also recently cited by Rolling Stone as a “Band to Watch”, with angelic vocals from Ritzy Bryan that bring Metric to mind, but with maybe a bigger guitar sound.

Jessica Lea Mayfield
This young singer/songwriter from Kent, Ohio was sort of discovered by the Black Keys. Her earliest stuff was way mellow and kind of depressing, but the single from her new album, “Our Hearts Are Wrong,” is so good that Dave Letterman had her on to play it for the national TV audience last month.

Nico’s Gun
A funky and psychedelic quartet of rockers out of Philadelphia. They have a diverse sound from groovy dance numbers like “Dirty Girl” to sparkling pop gems such as “We Are Fluorescent.” They apparently fancy themselves as a “punk rock Michael Jackson,” but they sure rock more than the Gloved One did.

Stephanie Hatfield & Hot Mess
Bluesy rock out of Santa Fe, New Mexico from another husband and wife team. Singer Stephanie Hatfield has a captivating voice that can really rock or go sultry, and guitarist/husband Bill Palmer is an ace bandleader who sets her up to win every time. The band burned it down at the Continental Club on their visit to Austin last year and will be showcasing tunes from their forthcoming second album.

  

Austin City Limits Music Festival – October 8-10, 2010, Austin, TX

The 2010 Austin City Limits Music Festival continued to make the three-day event’s case as one of the best festivals on the planet. It went off with nary a hitch, and in fact, this year’s edition may have had the festival’s best weather yet. There was no dust, no rain to turn Zilker Park into a giant mud pit (like last year) and the high temperature never reached 90. The sunny afternoons were still plenty hot, but the evenings were downright balmy. Some local fans bitched about the overall lineup when it was first announced, but there truly was something for everyone in the festival’s ever-eclectic lineup. The festival once again sold out well in advance, and again proved to be one of the best weekends of the year for any serious music fan.

The tasty local cuisine available at ACL is topped only by New Orleans’ Jazzfest (although unfortunately neither fest seems willing to bring in local beer), and the football tent returned to enable sports fans to get a fix in between music sets. There were only a handful of occasions where the crowd scene proved overly massive and hard to navigate. Overall, it was three days of near-utopian rock ‘n’ roll bliss. If the word “groovy” is overused in this review, it’s only because there were indeed so many such moments. The biggest problem was choosing between competing bands in a series of mind-bending conflicts: Silversun Pickups vs Broken Bells, Monsters of Folk vs LCD Soundsystem, Phish vs The Strokes, The Flaming Lips vs Band of Horses, and the terrible three-way Friday night dilemma of Sonic Youth vs Robert Randolph & the Family Band vs Ryan Bingham & the Dead Horses. Cloning technology can’t arrive soon enough.

Friday, October 8

Those Darlins, Austin Ventures Stage
This upbeat Tennessee quartet featured a relatively unique mix of country punk and garage rock to create a fun vibe. Singer/guitarist Jessi Darlin’s gritty voice recalled Courtney Love at times in its ragged splendor, but with more of a country flavor. “Red Light Love” saw the band at its best on a fuzzy, melodic rocker about the combination of good love and good music.

Blues Traveler, AMD Stage
It seemed like a flashback to the mid-’90s when Blues Traveler drew a huge crowd to the festival’s second largest stage to really get ACL going. It’s been great to see the band able to persevere through the tragic death of original bassist Bobby Sheehan and the health problems of singer/harmonica ace John Popper, who is now fit and sounding great as ever. Underrated guitarist Chan Kinchla always keeps things groovy on his PRS guitar and his brother Tad fits right in on bass. A cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” was a surprise crowd pleaser, followed shortly thereafter with the band’s 1994 hit “Run-Around.” But the clear peak of the set – and one of the top highlights of the entire weekend – occurred when the band welcomed 15-year-old violinist Ruby Jane to sit in on “Mulling It Over.” Jane, who would play her own set on Sunday morning, proved to be a dynamic prodigy. She immediately accented the hard rocking tune in tasteful fashion, before teaming with Popper for a superb violin-harmonica duel that won the weekend’s first huge cheer.

The Black Keys, AMD Stage
The Akron, Ohio-based blues rock duo hit the stage at 4 pm in front of a massive crowd that made it tough for anyone arriving late to get close enough to enjoy. There were so many people camped out in their lawn chairs that the entire area became quite difficult to navigate. The Black Keys are clearly surging in popularity – they played to about 10,000 fans at the 2008 Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco, but this crowd was at least three times as large. I finally gave up and decided I’d rather check out the next band on the intimate BMI stage.

ACL Black Keys


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