SXSW Cheat Sheet 2011
So you're going to SXSW, presumably for a whiff of The New, The Exotic, The Next Big Thing. Most likely, that band/artist/cultural phenomenon will hail from right here in New York City. So here's a few local luminaries making the trip, too. Drop by their showcases and help them feel at home—and perhaps they'll do the same for you.
Nicole Atkins & the Black Sea
You will initially be disappointed that Nicole Atkins's "Cry Cry Cry," off her new Mondo Amore, is not a Johnny Cash cover, but then very suddenly you really won't be: It's a sharp, spry, insidiously catchy, cheerfully clear-eyed pick-me-up, delivered in a brisk 3:07 and capturing the mystique and mass-commercial appeal of Sheryl Crow back when she had teeth, verve, charisma. Atkins is alternately a crooner and a belter—parts of Amore echo PJ Harvey's reckless, feral abandon—and she's got lots of relationship calamity and major-label insidiousness to croon and belt about. Though she's not averse to the occasional cover: Look out for her stupendous take on the Church's "Under the Milky Way Tonight."
It's a daunting challenge, being the guy to finally Bring New York Rap Back—many a critically lauded MC has tried and failed. Long Island vet Roc Marciano is the latest up-and-comer, though he's been coming on for a while, his gritty 2010 full-length Marcberg capping a career that's seen him work with everyone from Busta Rhymes to Pete Rock to Das Racist. (Das Racist is also playing SXSW, but hopefully you're up on them by now.) He'll blend right in with all the surly Southern rappers who inevitably flood this festival, but hopefully also rise above them.
The Gregory Brothers
Whether you know it or not, you are very likely familiar with the work of the Gregory Brothers, the not-quite-all-male contingent (one of the brothers' wives is in the mix) of merry pranksters responsible for the viral "Auto-Tune the News" phenomenon, not to mention the Twilight-spoofing faux-musical video made specifically for, uh, the Oscars telecast. They are both legitimately funny and deathly serious about same. What they're gonna do live is anyone's guess; a couple of 'em will also be taking part in an interactive panel called "Too Soon? Timing Topical Web Videos." Charlie Sheen jokes will hopefully be totally outdated by then.
Fergus & Geronimo
It's rarely a good sign when you're already complaining about rock critics on the second song of your debut album (that'd be the acidly droll "Wanna Know What I Would Do?") and the 10 other songs therein don't much sound like each other, but this charmingly ramshackle Brooklyn-via-Texas duo make a total commitment to lack of commitment feel like the deepest commitment of all. Their lo-fi pop is breezy and rough-hewn and half-assed in an appealing way you'll certainly recognize, but there's order to their chaos and guile in their guilelessness, fusing the wide-eyed wonder of Jonathan Richman to the sardonic schizophrenia of Sparks. You rock critics in the house know what I'm talking about. Request "Girls With English Accents," which is a request in itself.
Maybe you've heard of them.
Gay for Johnny Depp
Every year, there's an informal Wackiest Band Name contest at this thing, a quest to get bemused, half-drunk SXSW patrons to scan the daunting schedule at random, circle your name, and show up to your showcase on general principle, sight unseen and sound unheard. Gay for Johnny Depp are a good bet to take the prize this year, and their bratty, abrasive poli-punk screamo blasts will hopefully not make those people regret the general trajectory of their lives.
These dudes have been through a few hype cycles now, but we just thought we'd point out that their live sets of polite, tuneful, wistful nostalgia-pop frequently end with an abrupt instrument-trashing freakout that comes totally out of nowhere and is better for it. Their bassist actually threw his bass into the East River during one such calamity (they were playing Water Taxi Beach); he's out of the band now, but if his replacement is anywhere near as mentally unsound, this might be the highlight of your week. Just don't run afoul of those Texas authorities, boys.
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