This year, our sister papers the Dallas Observer and Houston Press teamed up to document the SXSW madness for your amusement and/or edification. Here are the 12 best shows and moments they saw.
12. Not In The Face: Not In The Face closed out my SXSW week at the Blackheart on Rainey Street, Austin’s less shameful counterpart to the bastard Sixth Street, with a sound best described as Queens of the Stone Age mated with the Temptations. The trio is coming into their own around these parts, playing with ZZ Top and Reverend Horton Heat, solidifying their Texas rep as the new what’s hot. Their new Walk EP shoves it on home. CRAIG HLAVATY
11. Dave Grohl Crushes Bitchiness: How SXSW will manage to top the back-to-back positivity and charisma of Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl is beyond me. The latter’s keynote speech managed to turn Nirvana’s story into something genuinely inspirational, an affirmation of personal expression.
But by far my favorite little rhetorical turn was the way he made both Pitchfork and reality singing shows look so incredibly silly, just by talking about them in the same sentence. Because it’s true, isn’t it, that the difference between Christina Aguilera and the lazier end of Pitchfork’s criticism boils down to little more than amount of hairspray. KIERNAN MALETSKY
10. Ume: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been one of the most exciting rock bands for several years running, pushing the boundaries of what a modern pop-rock band is expected to do, but I guess I’ve always longed a little bit for the days when they were New York’s favorite art-punks. Who, I wondered, would bring that kind of energy and excitement to SXSW this year in lieu of the now-certified stadium-rock Yeah Yeah Yeahs?
Apparently, that’s local Austin psych-rockers (and former Houstonians) Ume. A growing band just about to break out, they secured a beautiful opening spot for Cloud Nothings and Portugal. The Man at The Mohawk early on the first Sunday of the fest. Ume immediately won me over with their raucus bursts of guitar-driven art rock, with front woman Lauren Larson threatening to take the whole thing off the rails with the abuse of her guitar strings.
Still, underneath this Ume possesses an air of intelligence and depth rare in a genre known primarily for its copious drug use. When it comes to art, psychedelia, and rock and roll, it doesn’t get much better. COREY DEITERMAN
9. Pickwick: One of the most surprising moments of joy from the busy storm that was SXSW Music Week was this Seattle group that completely changed their sound after struggling to live up to trends, but opened up a hole in the atmosphere with a completely raucous, perfect cover of Lou Reed’s “The Ostrich.” It was a laser blast that woke up the Paste magazine party from its hipster, head-bob slumber. Sweated the beer right out of all of us during a fun set from the group. NICK RALLO
8. Sheepdogs: I slept on this Canadian act when they were being feted by Rolling Stone for a cover contest, when in fact I should have been getting in on the ground floor. Shades of Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, and Neil Young abound. They brought a raucous — yet polite — Canadian crowd with them to Sixth Street. There was even a trumpet solo. CRAIG HLAVATY
7. Reignwolf: Reignwolf is a one-man band, mostly, when Jordan Cook isn’t aided by bass and drums. His Friday night showcase woke me from my SXSW sniffles and aches and actually made me jam out for a change.
He’ll probably have to contend with lazy Black Keys references, but give him time. Blues-punk with a dark slant, the likes of which I’ve only seen Dax Riggs pull off. Plus, Reignwolf is hella acrobatic onstage, so he’s tailor-made for sweaty, smallish venues. CRAIG HLAVATY
6. Trash Talk: A consistent highlight of SXSW every year has been rising hardcore band and festival veterans Trash Talk. Regardless of their rising star, the band shows no signs of cleaning up their act. One of their most exciting assets is the absolute chaos and mayhem that takes place any time they play, and that was true even when they played at the Mohawk at 4 p.m. last Wednesday afternoon.
Front man Lee Spielman was literally bouncing off the walls when I arrived slightly late. While I was busy standing in line and worrying if I would get in, Spielman suddenly appeared on the Mohawk’s outdoor wall, notably sporting a cast on one leg, and yelling at the top of his lungs at those of us still outside.
The insanity only continued when I got in and witnessed Spielman’s antics completely uninhibited by his injury, including crowd-surfing from the stage to the merch table by the end of the set and enlisting a 10-year-old to write for Pitchfork Media, which was sponsoring the show. COREY DEITERMAN
5. Haim: If saying, “These guys are going to blow up” makes it so, then Haim would be making us all forget about Justin Bieber by next week. As it stands, the band (“We are Haim. Three fuckin’ Jewish sisters from LA,” as Este Haim described it from the stage at one point) is candy on record and feral live, and that’s more than enough. KIERNAN MALETSKY
4. The People: Let’s just start right up front with the caveats: douchebags are all over the place at SXSW, preening royalty in the rapidly crumbling House of Music Industry. As a badgeholder, I understand the irony of what I’m about to say here.
But once you separated yourself from the people who were in Austin on “official” business, you quickly found yourself among real, actual music fans, people who came from all over the world to listen to bands play songs and find other humans who also like to do that. The happiest people I found at SXSW were those with the least access. KIERNAN MALETSKY
3. John Fogerty: Creedence Clearwater Revival survivor John Fogerty gets overlooked as a riff-happy rocker, with most people concentrating on his good-time Americana rock and roll instead of the volume addict in flannel that he is. Saturday night Fogerty and his band ran through nearly every CCR hit, and even played 1985 solo hit “Centerfield,” complete with a guitar fashioned after a baseball bat. Or was it a baseball bat fashioned into a guitar?
Either way, I saw a cloud of smoke erupt during “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” a sight that would make Jeff Lebowski smile that beardy smile. And honestly a show with True Believers (Alejandro Escovedo’s lost ’80s band), Junior Brown, and Bobby Bare Sr. as support was just a slice of all right. By the way, True Believers were delightfully loud, and their return to the stage is welcome. CRAIG HLAVATY
2. The Specials: It may require a flow chart to describe the membership of ska legends The Specials over the years, but it doesn’t show live. The version in Austin, playing fun house songs about the fucked-up world out there, was nothing short of mighty. They were perfect musically and the most generous performers I saw all week. It was goofy stuff occasionally, to be sure — Terry Hall mashing a harmonica into the mock-surprised mouth of Lynval Golding. But those with truly serious things to say rarely take themselves very seriously. KIERNAN MALETSKY
1. Sound City Players: With a cast of all-stars which included Rick Springfield, Lee Ving, Stevie Nicks, Rick Nielsen, John Fogerty, Chris Goss, Krist Novoselic, and the entire Foo Fighters as the house band, it was hard to hate Dave Grohl’s Sound City experiment. Sure, for some it was wanky overkill, but in terms of sheer musical glee, Sound City satisfied.
And who would have thought that in the span of four hours I would be singing along to Fear’s “I Love Livin’ in the City,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” and “Jessie’s Girl”? That was the pop-drenched world that Grohl created with Sound City. CRAIG HLAVATY