Debbie did Dallas, I chose Austin. And I’m fresh off the beat at the yooj 2008 South by Southwest Music Festival. At first, processing the event perks the brain like popcorn in the microwave. But eventually, its magnitude will make your head go the way of the hot dog. These are the bigger chunks that still cling to the inside of my skull:
•Most auspicious local showing: Summerbirds in the Cellar, handpicked by R.E.M. to join them on a big stage with excellent up-and-comers Dead Confederate.
•Best new band: I loved the next-level experimental pop on Le Loup’s debut album last autumn but their live show crystallized what a unique, supernova talent this D.C. band is.
•Best case of rock & roll stamina: Three-way tie between the epically heavy Blue Cheer, the gut-burning Motörhead and the restored Roky Erickson. Seeing the geezers rock it better than most of the young guns there was, well, awesome.
•Best rap performance: Rhymesayers’ alt-rap phenom Mac Lethal killed it. When they’re delivered in his attacking, righteous flow, it’s impossible not to be struck by how personal, honest and smart his lyrics are. In a contemporary context, it’s a jarringly refreshing thing.
•Best country performance: Sera Cahoone, Sub Pop’s promising new twangstress, stroked the soul with a set of unpretentiously beautiful country music. (Album reviewed below.)
•Most desperate performance: Once Houston garage-punkers Fatal Flying Guilloteens started, frontman Shawn entered that deranged sort of trance where any sense of harm vaporizes, and kept the thrilling performance on a razor’s edge.
•Most disappointing performance: They may be kickin’ up some buzz but British dance act Does It Offend You, Yeah just hasn’t mastered the art of live performance yet. Focusing more on hyping the crowd than actual playing ain’t gonna cut it, man.
•Most disappointing development: The Slits discovering reefer, clacking endlessly about it onstage and converting all their songs into reggae.
•Most unassuming musician moment: We always hear about musicians being bitches and punks. But Laura Burhenn of excellent D.C. indie-pop act Georgie James offered our city a surprisingly earnest apology for the last-minute cancellation of their last Orlando date due to illness.
•Most rockin’ airport moment: Nearly mowing down J Mascis accidentally in my haste to get to my gate.
•Moment that will evoke jealousy in every aspiring musician: Looking for momentary respite from the madness, I took the last spot at a small restaurant bar for a proper meal. Other lone diners were there doing the same thing, only the person next to me happened to be the A&R director for XL Recordings – something I only discovered after we were done casually exchanging festival notes.
•Coolest bartender: The barkeep at Spiro’s who let me stash my festival bag behind the bar, poured me a shot of Jack and sent me on my way to rock the pit during An Albatross, who totally tore it up. Dude, you rule.
•Coolest food consumed at SXSW: Buffalo meat loaf. I’m sold.
•Best performance, period: By only the second song of Monotonix’s set, the singer and the guitarist were already in the crowd. By the third song, the entire band had abandoned the stage and the singer was surfing the crowd. By the finale, the drum kit had joined him. The Israeli trio owned this year’s SXSW by reminding everyone that rock & roll, in its purest form, is pure, unchained animalism.
•Poorest suckers: Whoever had to play after Monotonix.
•Devotchka A Mad & Faithful Telling (Anti-) The postmodern indie-gypsy outfit continues its magpie ways and plucks at all sorts of ethnic folk styles to create more romantic drama.
•The Dodos Visiter (French Kiss) Lots of so-called freak-folk ambles aimlessly. Not this avant-folk album, whose lovely, delicate melodies and complex sonic architecture combine to create an unconventional beauty.
•Fuck Buttons Street Horrrsing (ATP) Floating somewhere between noise and experimental electronic music like a synthetic cousin of Liars, this debut has a prehistoric sound that plays like a soundtrack to immense natural, or even cosmic, forces. An exciting debut, and they’re opening for Caribou at the Social April 4.
•Sera Cahoone Only as the Day Is Long (Sub Pop) In a year already strong for female-fronted alt-country, this subdued album stands out as gorgeously reflective, mournfully soothing and supremely email@example.com
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