By Jena Ardell
By Brian McManus
By Chaz Kangas
By Sound of the City
By Peter Gerstenzang
By Katherine Turman
By Chris Kornelis
By Brian McManus
Too many bands play this thing, across too many clubs packed with way too many people eating way too much food. They also drink a great deal of alcohol. It's fabulous. Here are four ideal accompaniments to an extended weekend wherein you will lose 20 percent of your hearing and gain 15 pounds.
Every year at SXSW, there's one ubiquitous hot-shit band that plays 10,000 parties and leads off 50,000 blog posts—past luminaries include Bloc Party, the Go! Team, and Peter, Bjorn and John. As for the 2008 title, (the actually quite splendid) Vampire Weekend's got it all locked up. Bah—let 'em have it, and the withering overexposure it brings. Yeasayer is just as deserving, however, with a deft, deep, droning brand of spiritual pop that wears its vibrant drum-circle influences a bit less blatantly and more elegantly: feels perfectly natural, Peter Gabriel too. Last year's All Hour Cymbals is slick and dense and quietly foreboding, but with a warm, hippie-ish glow that slowly overtakes you: The in-the-round chanting of closing number "Red Cave" is a stirring, beautiful climax and denouement. Their live show is apparently rad these days too, if Voice guru Tom Breihan can be believed, which I suppose he can.
Yes, Firewater frontman Tod A has indulged in a long, globe-trotting sabbatical these last few years—"for reasons of mental health," the band's official site (firewater.tv) explains. "Following the re-election of George W. Bush (and other assorted tragedies), Tod took a protracted leave of absence from an idiot-run America, the cut-throat music business, and the Western world in general." You'll be happy to know he has since returned to all three. Firewater is a longtime world-punk favorite—former members went on to join the gypsy revolution portended by Gogol Bordello and Balkan Beat Box. Tod's take on the sound is just as exuberant but profoundly seedy, hard-nosed, and sardonic—he's not hopeless, exactly, but it takes a lot to cheer him up back here in idiot-run America. Firewater's latest, The Golden Hour, doesn't look to be out yet but is currently streaming on their MySpace page, once again perfectly balancing the catchy and the cynical. As an alternate title, we suggest Fiddler Beaten to Death on the Roof.
It's a bit absurd, perhaps, to haul it all the way to Austin just to enjoy the grandeur of something available back in the Village for the past decade, but if you've not yet had the pleasure of DJ Rekha's monthly Basement Bhangra party, held every first Thursday at S.O.B.'s and celebrating its 11th anniversary in April, you had best bone up on your Punjabi MC trivia and stop by. Rekha is NYC's unchallenged goddess of the buoyant, bombastic South Asian style, a breathtaking surge of Bollywood sentiment and hip-hop bravado. She'll bring a welcome gust of fresh air to the white-dudes-with-guitars SXSW scene, and now, finally, she's got an excellent mix CD to hawk as well, appropriately titled DJ Rekha Presents: Basement Bhangra. Look out for "Dhol, Dark and Handsome."
SXSW shows are rarely transcendental affairs. Burnout is inevitable—by Saturday night, you have no idea where you are, what's in your drink, and who's onstage, nor do you particularly care. So it's a great compliment to whirlwind guitar virtuoso Kaki King that her gig last year in a small courtyard left the crowd spellbound and deeply attentive, to the point where anyone speaking above a whisper was immediately and angrily shushed. Her sound demands such intimacy and attention, mixing gauzy, complex folk balladry with stupefying fretwork wizardry—a new-age guitar-goddess act of fingerpicked, slapped, and pedal-altered pyrotechnics that somehow fuses Sarah McLachlan and Yngwie Malmsteen. Kaki's new record, Dreaming of Revenge, is excellent, but this is an in-person phenomenon: It must be seen to be believed, preferably in complete, reverent silence. The fooking fury has never been so delicately unleashed.