SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: Pretty Lights

After Dengue Fever’s hot set at Emo’s, I was down to my final showcase of the festival as I pedaled over to La Zona Rosa on West 4th Street for a 12:45 AM set from Pretty Lights that I figured would close out the festival in maximum party style. The Colorado rock-tronica duo have been blowing up over the past year, winning raves while opening for Sound Tribe Sector 9 at Red Rocks last summer and becoming the hot new flavor in the livetronica scene.

The club was already hopping when I arrived, with the Crystal Method wrapping up what had clearly been a hot set of their own. Pretty Lights soon hit the stage and owned the crowd from the start, as DJ/synth master Derek Vincent Smith and drummer Cory Eberhard threw down one smoking hot groove after another with a spectacularly psychedelic light show behind them.

“Sunday School” was a scintillating jam, featuring a sampled vocal of “Fuck ’em, I didn’t want to go to heaven anyway” over a big trippy groove that had the whole room moving and grooving. It was a 75-minute dance party of block-rocking beats whose energy never waned as the set went right up until 2:00 AM. Some of the songs tended to sound kind of the same due to similar beats and tempos, perhaps suggesting Pretty Lights could go even higher by adding a guitarist. But there’s no doubt that this duo knows how keep a psychedelic dance party rocking.

“Finally Moving” closed out the festivities with a fresh bite on “All Along the Watchtower,” showing that there’s always another way to use the same three chords. Pretty Lights transformed the three-chord progression into a psychedelic down-tempo dance groove tricked out with all kinds of sonic bells and whistles for a dynamic 21st century remake of the classic groove. It was an elated crowd that wandered out into the night afterward. SXSW 2010 had just gone by in a flash, but it was hard to imagine a better ending.

Pretty Lights
Photo by Tobin Voggesser

  

SXSW Music 2010, Day 4: Neither Wind Nor Rain…

The weather took a decided turn for the worse in the middle of the night when a big rainstorm hit town. Festival-goers were spared precipitation on Saturday, but the temperature dropped into the 50s and it was cold and windy throughout the day. It felt more like a late-autumn afternoon in the Midwest than Spring Equinox in Austin, but the chilly conditions would not stop SXSW music fans from getting their fill on the final day of the conference/festival.

The big highlight of Saturday afternoon was Rachel Ray’s day party at Stubbs BBQ, which required a special invite. The general RSVP line was going nowhere, but thank goodness a friend had an extra pass. Free margaritas and bloody Marys were served along with chicken quesadillas and meatball sandwiches. Jakob Dylan and Three Legs (featuring the dazzling Neko Case) played a strong set that had a sound not unlike some of the recent work of Jakob’s dad – slow-burning blues and Americana sprinkled with the Tex-Mex flavor. Case’s backing vocals added an extra element to raise the songs higher for what sounds like some of the younger Dylan’s best work.

Street Sweeper Social Club stole the show though with an incendiary set that provided a needed infusion of heat to the chilly conditions. Tom Morello, Boots Riley and company rocked a heavy sound with a definite Rage kind of vibe that had people bouncing. This was one of the best sets of the week.

She & Him closed out the party with a strong set of their own. Zooey Deschanel sounded great, especially with the Chapin Sisters appearing as guest to harmonize with her. M.Ward led the able band, which even rocked out a deep jam at the end.

Getting indoors became the next imperative and there was a large crowd inside Lovejoys, one of Austin’s best dive bars. They had music too, of course, with Middle Distance Runner rocking a heavy sound. The guitarist even pulled one of Tom Morello’s slide guitar tricks. Caitlin Krisko & the Broadcast followed with a bluesier sound, with the charismatic blonde frontwoman belting out some powerful tunes, while a conga player helped provided polyrthythms.

After a break to eat some dinner and catch some March Madness (how about those Northern Iowa Panthers), it was over to Spill on 6th Street where Antennas Up were showcasing at 8 pm. The Kansas City band has a funky sound accented by some trippy synth samples. They’re clearly into the space vibe with astronaut helmets that were donned during one tune, and Space Invaders stickers on the drum kit.

The highlight of the early evening was the redemptive 9:00 set from the Watson Twins at the Central Presbyterian Church on 8th Street. The venue is an actual church with amazing acoustics. Combining this with an evening headliner slot had a dramatic effect on the Twins, with this set highlighting their dynamic sound in a way that their Friday day party set could not. They still didn’t play anything off their first album, but the new tunes sparkled in a new light in this setting.

The 10:00 hour fell flat for a variety of reasons, but Dengue Fever stepped up with an 11:00 set at Emo’s main to get things rocking again. Cambodian vocalist Chom Nimol started off the set wearing a hoodie and skullcap, but she and the band quickly heated things up with their groovy sound, causing Nimol to strip off layers until she was just wearing a pretty blue dress.

Then it was over to La Zona Rosa on West 4th Street for a great SXSW finale with Pretty Lights, who blew up the joint with their funky beats and trippy sounds. The Colorado duo’s spectacular light show provided a dazzling accompaniment to the dance party which went right up until 2 am.

Much more on the past four days coming in my wrap-up report within the next 24 hours…

  

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