SXSW Music: The Good, the Bands, the Ugly

Back in NYC - after 9 days and nights of SXSW Music, Film, and Interactive in Austin, Texas - I finally have time to mull over the 21 acts I managed to see during the music portion of the festival.

That perfect 21 might suggest that I had a lucky hand at SXSW this year. But as is the case every year, I heard much that was good and some that was . . . not.

One of my favorite discoveries was the band you see above: The Spring Standards, based right here in New York. One gal, two guys. All three play multiple instruments, sing, and are supremely talented. "Folk rock" doesn't begin to describe the range of their material. See and hear for yourself, as the band is currently on tour with Ha Ha Tonka; click for dates.

And the 20 additional acts? Read on.

Khoury ALL IN THE AUSTIN FAMILY.  Since I went super-international last year, and since this was the 25th anniversary of the SXSW Music Festival, I decided to give Austin its due, checking out five official acts from the Live Music Capital of the World. I especially liked the deep country of The Roving Gamblers. Meanwhile, Golden Bear and Simple Circuit brought the rock - as did Alex Khoury (shown at left, late of the Nashville band Fouled Out), even though he bills himself as a singer/songwriter. Less effectively, The Black Angels brought the heavy psyche drone. Possibly my fave Austin act was the unofficial Acoustalyn - unofficial because I ran across the trio busking in front of the Pita Pit. Fine, harmonious fare.

MORE FROM THE SOUTH AND SOUTHWEST.  Continuing the regional thing, I dug the alt-country of Thrift Store Cowboys (Lubbock, TX), relaxed in the jazz-duo comfort of singer & bassist Bett Butler & Joel Dilley (San Antonio, TX), and laughed along with the zany leader of the Susan Cowsill Band (New Orleans, LA). The ethnic blends of DeVotchKa (Denver, CO) didn't seem as fresh this time as when I first saw the band some years back; guess I'll have to check out their current album, 100 Lovers. Ditto the case with Sahara Smith (Wimberley, TX), who has earned raves for Myth of the Heart but, at SXSW, still came across tentative and green.


COAST TO COAST.  From Brooklyn came Surprise Me Mr. Davis (above), whose folkish rock was made all the more vital by the band's inclusion of Nathan Moore (second from right), a veteran of one of the first bands I ever saw at SXSW, ThaMuseMeant. Also from Brooklyn: Shilpa Ray & Her Happy Hookers, who ended up grating on my nerves, owing to the annoying vocal antics of Ms. Ray and the unfocused indie rock of her male Hookers. Continuing west, I caught the sweet-voiced pop/rock of Chicago's Ezra Furman & the Harpoons, the rootsy female-duo harmonies of L.A.'s Ladies Gun Club, and - off the coast but still in the States - the dazzling acoustic guitarwork of Honolulu's Tavana.

THE INTERNATIONALISTS.  I rounded up my bandgoing with four brief trips abroad. Two were distinctly underwhelming, courtesy of Imaginary Cities (Winnipeg, MB), who were not a Canadian Blast at the day party of the same name but rather in need of some serious woodshedding, and The Vaccines (London, England), a Britpop hype that went ker-plop. Serendipitously, however, a scheduling snafu allowed me to stumble across the Hungry Kids of Hungary, who are actually from Brisbane, Australia, and whose soul/pop tunes are most impressive. And finally, for some true rock-star moves, I just had to check in once again with the favorite sons of Gothenburg, Sweden, The Soundtrack of Our Lives, still sporting all six members (led by the still messianic Ebbot Lundberg) and still rocking to save my life, for one.

I'll mull over my entire SXSW experience again in our summer print issue, June/July/August, on sale June 7.

- Ken Richardson