[Ed's note: SXSW coverage all over has been as chaotic and overwhelming as the event itself. If you don't have time to read all the pieces and wanna know what our writers thought the pick of the litter was, here's our reporters' highly personal (the way we like it) must-hear digest. We already heard from Thrillist's Jeff Miller, and now is the turn of one of our regular contributors, Mr. Drew Tewksbury.]
[Drew's Note: Friends, here are a few moments from my first-ever SXSW experience (yeah, I know, I can't believe it either) but hopefully you're not SXSW'ed out. Just got back into town after driving to Austin.* I need a shower.]
Top LA Bands::
On Friday, I set up West Coast Sound headquarters in a dirty corner of Emo's to catch the sweet line up of L.A. bands at the Pitchfork/ Windish Agency bash. The show featured (among many others) Local Natives, Warpaint, Best Coast, and Dam Funk. While walking through the door, I caught wind of phenomenal Los Angeles quartet Warpaint, whose crisp, chrystalline chords wafted my direction. Warpaint is nothing less than consistent with their deliciously spacey sound, but when Local Natives took the stage outside I almost forgot to eat my breakfast (a hot dog and Heinekin at 2pm) because they were so good. There was so much hype about Local Natives, and being the Public Enemy fan that I am, I didn't really believe it. I had heard them before, but wasn't that impressed. But something amazing happened onstage and they hit their stride, surpassing my expectations with their upbeat harmonies and rolling rhythms. They were totally tight and professional, yet energetic and free-flailing. Bassist Andy Hamm told me that they were already losing their voices and they had something like 12 shows to go. Brutal. Glad I caught them early on.
Top Coming Soon to LA:
After talking with Hamm, I ran into Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino just as her SXSW experience was about to begin. We were supposed to go to lunch on Saturday, but as luck would have it, we caught each other at Emo's before the 11 shows she was about to play, and just before the inclement weather set in.
She speculated about some incoming rain, but nothing would prepare us for Saturday. It was freezing and Cosentino would be bombarded by cold weather, which she despises–in fact, she told me a couple months ago that many of her songs were written during frigid New York winter when she was trying to summon So Cal's warmth. Late Saturday, I saw her perform last shows at the Black Iris Showcase in the basement of Max's Wine bar with Smell alums Abe Vigoda and the amazing polyglot rockers Fool's Gold (who brought me on stage to shake a gourd/leg with them), and once more at the showcase for No Age's label PPM. It was really interesting to see Cosentino at these bookend shows and to get a feeling for the constant barrage of shows that musicians face. She plays with Best Coast on March 27th at the Aquarium Drunkard / Waved Out Fest at the Echoplex.
Top Wild Card:
Although the phenomenal Billy Bragg brought some of the audience to tears just a guitar and protest ballads, and the Scotsmen of Frightened Rabbits followed up Bragg without losing any of the feeling or momentum that he started, the best show of SXSW was from a band I had never heard about: Duchess Says. On Saturday, it was cold as hell, so we ducked into Brooklyn Vegan and M for Montreal's party. Inside we heard synths and bizarre wails coming from a young lady who could be mistaken for a greeter at Anthropologie. As the French Canadians ripped through the Yeah Yeah Yeahs-on-acid set, I was smiling so hard it hurt. A-Claude stumbled through the audience, rolled around, and shouted something about asparagus. It was the perfect antidote to the mope-rock, soul-rehashers and four-on-the-floor throwbacks that populated most SXSW showcases. It's not music for everyone, but for some reason they stick out in my mind as the most unique and flat out fun show I experienced. Afterward, I tried to talk with wailer A-Claude after the show and it went something like this: [Drew] Blah blah quack quack music music blah blah quack music blah [A-Claude]: Blank stare, a smile, no response. Pretty sure she didn't understand anything I said, but on stage she communicates perfectly: intensity, insanity, and irresistible fun.
Want a taste of their indecipherable awesomeness? Read through their bizarre bio from Myspace. (I don't know what it means either)
Duchess Says was created in late 2003 by four influent members of the Church of Budgerigars who decided to collaborate together in a common musical project. Their goal was to insure a faithful representation of the message of the Duchess (or spiritual budgie) through a precise artistic dialog. Composed of A-Claude (vox, keytar, guit, programmations), Ismael (keyboard,guitar, programmations), Phil (guitar, bass,feedbacks) and Simon Says (lo-fi beats, drums and doubtful noises). Duchess Says is serving us a repertory of “moog rock” songs strong in images and enormoustly intense live performances!Their musical influences range from no wave, new wave, punk, to cinema and visual arts. If you pay attention, you could see them perform in the most unusual places such as golf courses, shop windows, vacant building sites etc.. Duchess Says has the mandate to decontextualise the rock and to promote simultaneously their Church on the way.
*I made the fun decision to drive to SXSW, which was fun/excruciating. I ate some weird things, smelled some strange smells (coming from my driving companions) and witnessed the passage of the Health Care Bill via text message while on the road. I bring this up because I have a plea for Mr. Obama and pals. Please cure Zombism. Not once, not twice, but THREE times did we encounter zombies approaching my trusty 2004 Honda Civic, and that's not to mention the time two zombies emerged from the bushes and ran in front of my car, with glowing hands. Not kidding.