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 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: Dengue Fever

Los Angeles’ Dengue Fever hit the stage at Emo’s main outdoor stage at 11:00 PM, with charismatic Cambodian singer Chhom Nimol battling the chilly conditions in a hoodie and skullcap. The first song seemed like kind of a warm-up, but song number two turned up the groovy funk factor to get the party started and the crowd dancing. The horns from David Ralicke provided an extra festive flavor which fit the mood perfectly with SXSW in the homestretch.

“Sober Driver” featured a duet between Nimol and guitarist/bandleader Zac Holtzman, who looks like a rabbi but rocks out with great skill. The song has a smooth groove with a mystical flavor enhanced by the saxophone and trippy keyboards from Holztman’s brother Ethan. Another funky jam had the crowd grooving again as the band was definitely heating things up – Nimol soon removed her hoodie and skullcap to appear in just a pretty blue dress.

Bassist Senon Williams toasted the crowd “to a great SXSW” and “to all the fallen soldiers that can’t be here tonight.” The band started into a slow bluesy intro, with Nimol emoting almost like a shaman before some funky riffs and psychedelic keys kicked in to get the dance party going again. With at least seven showcases, Dengue Fever may well have been the hardest working band at SXSW and this final performance definitely capped off their week in winning style.

dengue fever


SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: The Watson Twins, again

I’d found The Watson Twins’ Friday day party set at the Belmont to be somewhat disappointing, but was still intrigued to see their 9:00 Saturday headliner set at the Central Presbyterian Church on 8th Street. Boy, was I glad I made it. This is an incredible venue since it is, as it sounds, an actual church with otherworldly acoustics that were perfectly suited to enhance the Watson Twins’ dynamic sound to a higher level. There’s no booze for sale, but I took that as a sign from God that I should slow down on my drinking for an hour.

The Twins opened with “Modern Man” again, but I was now hearing the new material in a whole different light. I still find the new album to be missing the rich melodic hooks of some of their earlier material (“How Am I to Be,” “Dig a Little Deeper,” “Bar Woman Blues,” “Waves”), but hearing the new songs sparkle in this setting provided a new window into what the Twins are going for on Talking to You, Talking to Me, with jazzier and torchy soul flavors. “Harpeth River” took on a shimmering evening ambiance that was missing on Friday afternoon, and the sexy dancing between Leigh and Chandra Watson definitely enhanced the vibe. Chandra said she had enjoyed seeing Everest and Billy Bragg, as well as visiting East Austin, which she felt provided the “true Austin vibe” that some may find wanting on the more commercialized 6th Street. “Devil in You” also featured an extra shimmer with the brilliant church acoustics, with Chandra proclaiming the song as an exorcism.

Leigh donned an acoustic guitar on several tunes, including the melodic closer “U N Me,” which once again sparkled in a new way in this fantastic setting. The band jammed it out a bit and received a rousing ovation for what was most definitely a triumphant set and another top highlight of the week. The Central Presbyterian Church is a venue not to be missed at SXSW.

The Watson Twins, SXSW 2010
Photo by Steve Hopson


SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: Antennas Up

Kansas City funksters Antennas Up kicked off the evening showcase at Spill on 6th Street with an energetic 8:00 set that mixed homage to George Clinton’s Mothership with modern electro-synth pop. Bassist/vocalist Kyle Akers is a boisterous frontman, with a thick mustache and ’70s vibe that recall Ron Burgundy jamming in a San Diego jazz club. Drummer The Ryantist drives the band’s sound by triggering a variety of synth samples to go along with his drumming. With Space Invaders stickers on the drum kit and astronaut helmets on the speakers, it was clear that the band is into a spacey vibe, while their funky pop rock recalled artists such as Jamiroquai and Maroon 5.

“Don’t Wait” was a high-energy tune with guitarists Bo McCall and Wayne Hutcherson throwing down some funky comping, while Akers got funky. “5P4C35H1P” was another highlight with a synth-heavy and trippy dance sound that recalled the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me.” Most of the band members donned the astronaut helmets during the tune about a spaceship and a girl who wants to ride it. One could wonder if the band might be able push their sound in a more dynamic direction by adding a human keyboardist to the mix instead of having all the synths triggered by the Ryantist, but there’s an intriguingly funky formula going on here.

antennas up
Photo by Alistair Tutton


SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: She & Him

Rachel Ray’s day party at Stubbs BBQ was on a roll from Jakob Dylan to Street Sweeper Social Club, then back to the main stage for She & Him. It was quite a change in vibe to downshift from the powerhouse rock of SSSC to the mellower vintage pop stylings of She & Him, but Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward rose to the occasion with a well-received set to close out the party.

The charming Deschanel has the voice of an angel and Ward seems like the perfect choice to orchestrate a band around her to maximize those talents. The Chapin Sisters were brought out to add extra harmonies as well, which was an extra treat. The band’s sound pays tribute to a bygone era, but there’s still a fresh vibe demonstrating that classic sounds never go out of style. Deschanel and Ward conjure a dreamy ambiance, making it feel as if the band has set up on a cloud somewhere. The final song even featured the band revving up for a big jam, with Ward rocking out some bluesy riffage on guitar, showing that the band has diverse skills at their fingertips. It’s a rare actress that can hold her own musically as well as she does on screen, and Deschanel delivers.

She & Him, SXSW 2010
Photo by Steve Hopson