But my biggest mistake was not failing in my duties as a blogger, but ignoring my instincts at the Onion day party where I caught a ridiculous speech by the ridiculous rocker-turned-motivational speaker Andrew W.K. and a spooky set by psych-rockers Spindrift. I thought about sticking around until Erase Errata and David Cross performed, but figured I could squeeze in a quick Village Voice party before they performed. I was wrong. While my stomach thanked me for taking the time to wolf down free food, watching Scotland's The Cinematics produce what seemed like Doves or Editors covers didn't compensate for the subsequent pointless hour and a half wait that greeted me upon returning to the Onion HQ.
Disappointed, things went downhill from there. It's possible that the previous day set too high a bar for up and coming acts to achieve. 70s throwback Dead Meadow and dark pysch-rockers Black Angels blew me away (and helped me get over my bitterness toward the latter act for skipping SLC twice due to a "broken down van"). Later at Antone's, Booker T & the MGs, William Bell, Eddie Floyd and Isaac Hayes absolutely killed in a performance celebrating the 50th anniversary of Stax Records. The original soul men showed us how it's really done by replicating "Soul Man," "Knock On Wood," "Private Number" and several other songs that send chills down spines with flawless organ, guitar and drums. Hot damn.
Watching the legendary musicians master their instruments with such grace and poise spoiled my enthusiasm for the vocal effects and experimental noise Deerhunter tried to achieve later in the evening. The hissy fit their vocalist threw when he realized his bandmates didn't bother to tune their instruments didn't help. I walked out after two songs. I had, after all, endured San Francisco's Citay before Deerhunter took the stage. Citay epitomizes the most unfortunate trend at SXSW: 6-plus members, all of who play at least seven instruments including the incredibly annoying glockenspiel. While talented, no doubt, Citay could arguably achieve a tighter sound by dropping a few superfluous bells and whistles, focusing instead on the three-part guitar harmony that drove most of their material.
The night ended with Albert Hammond Jr. Unlike 99 percent of SXSW featured bands, the Strokes member relied on others to set up and sound check--for 40 minutes!! There's no reason it should take 40 minutes to set up a basic rock rhythm section. Once Hammond plugged in, however, the tired crowd forgave him his primadonna behavior and applauded his solid pop sensibility. With a voice far more pleasing than Julian Casablancas, it's no wonder Hammond's solo work is garnering so much positive acclaim.
Friday, as I mentioned above, started off with the thud. The attractive but boring Pipettes left me craving something substantial, which I located in country legend Pam Tillis and Jenny Lewis' back-up singers The Watson Twins who are well on their way to carving a name separate from the Rilo Kiley frontwoman. The Annuals, who forced SLC's Band of Annuals to change their name when the North Carolina group signed to Ace Fu Records, leave something to be desired. The lead singer's voice is strained and pained and not at all comparable to Jay Henderson's honey coo. The Annuals also followed the same formula as Citay, with a glockenspiel and expansive sound lacking substance. Still craving not only substance but difference, I headed to the Panache showcase where Yip Yip donned checkerboard jumpsuits with goggles and produced strange, haunted carousel noises with several electronic devices.
Later, I waited for Earl Greyhound to play but gave up when the opening act drove me nuts with their AC/DC cover band sound. I sought solace in producer RJD2's set but while impressed with his skills, it's not all that exciting to watch him manipulate records. Chicago's Hopewell (former Mercury Rev) saved the night from complete ruin with jangly guitars and a dynamic vocalist.
Saturday was perhaps the most successful day, as far as SXSW is concerned. I headed out early and stumbled upon the Hot Freaks/Gorilla Vs. Bear day party where six bands performed before 2 p.m. including White Denim, a technically adventurous, humorous trio whose drummer's beats followed no predictable pattern. Other highlights: Mezzanine Owls, The Ponys, The Good The Bad & The Queen. Look for more in print. Oh, and catch Dead Meadow and Spindrift with the Furs at Kilby Court back in Salt Lake City on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. You won't be disappointed (Jamie Gadette)