1. The Cave Singers and Movits at Home Slice Pizza. Playing the local pizzeria's day party back-to-back Friday, the sharp contrast between Seattle's Cave Singers and Sweden's Movits ably demonstrated the beauty of SXSW. What other festival brings together passionate, gritty Americana and kooky, hip-hop-by-way-of-swing grooves?
2. Theophilius London at Peckerheads. Brooklyn's Theophilius London finds the perfect intersection of hip-hop and soul, with a crowd-stoking swagger, enviable gyrating skills and a command of the audience that few can claim. From his sharp lyricism to his undeniable stage presence, London's due to blow up any day now.
3. Free Energy at the Beauty Bar Annex. There were at least 100 bands gunning for the ‘best hard-working indie act on the verge of blowing up' designation this year, and that's a conservative estimate. But Free Energy mounted the most charming assault, with energetic live shows and an array of dance-eliciting pop rock gems.
4. AOL/Spinner showcase Friday night at the Austin Music Hall. SXSW didn't pack a more lovingly curated showcase than Friday night at AMH, where neophyte soul sensations like Black Joe Lewis and Mayer Hawthorne opened for experienced players Raphael Saadiq and Sharon Jones — and elder statesman Smokey Robinson. From booty-shaking first note to sweat-inducing last trumpet blast, it was a night of sweet soul vibes.
5. Roky Erickson and Okkervil River. Sure, it makes perfect sense in hindsight — of course one of the smartest and most tuneful personalities in indie rock would find a complement in the psychedelic pioneer and quintessential comeback story of Erickson — but who could have honestly guessed that Okkervil River front man Will Sheff and 13th Floor Elevators founder Erickson would make such a perfect pair? Erickson's songs are thoughtful and heartbreaking, and Sheff's production and backing band really make them shine.
Deborah Sengupta Stith
With mobility and stamina seriously impaired (I'm 71/2 pregnant), I confess it's been the most low-key SXSW I've participated in. The list of artists I wish I'd seen outnumbers the great artists I did manage to catch. Some standout moments:
1. KUT Austin's taping of Nneka at the Day Stage Cafe on Wednesday afternoon. So much soulful passion packed into such a tiny frame! The Nigerian/German singer-songwriter coaxed the audience to join her in a cry against corruption with the sincere appeal, ‘I believe that when we raise our voices together a spiritual change can occur.' For a few minutes at least, we all believed it, too.
2. Mochilla Presents A Timeless After Party, Saturday at Malverde. When I showed up at the party Detroit MC Illa J, brother to the late legendary hip-hop producer Jay Dee (J. Dilla), was rocking the mike, paying lyrical homage over jazzy grooves dropped by Mochilla's DJ Eric Coleman. Coleman kept the vibe flowing setting up Austin's own DJ Chicken George to completely demolish the dance floor. Seriously. The man put out a mind-blowing mix of soulful dance grooves splicing in shots of funk, rhythmic cuts and sped-up Dirty South refrains. When British/Columbian DJ Quantic took the wheels he dropped the party down a notch slipping into a South American tropical rhythm that started couples spinning. He then took the crowd through a series of changes dropping to a sparse guitar line, layering blasts of horns and playing fast and loose with the tempos. It was an evening of diverse aural collages, a ‘Timeless After Party' indeed.
3. J. Boogie at the Waxpoetics show at the Scoot Inn on Thursday. It was late, I was tired and ready to go. Then the San Francisco mixer did this crazy Brazilian take on Paul Simon's ‘Late In The Evening' and smoothly segued it into Crystal Waters ‘Gypsy Woman.' ‘La da di, la da da,' just like that I was ready to go again.
4. Yelawolf. The dude is crazy. A white rapper from rural Alabama who spits a rapid-fire flurry of nasty, grimy, Dirty South rhymes. When I caught him at the Urb Magazine day party he was climbing walls and leaping on tables to get closer to the crowd. He went on to rip mikes all over town.
5. Civilians at the party, a general observation. A few years back SXSW creative director Brent Grulke infuriated Austinites by publicly declaring that the festival was really for industry types, not locals. These days SXSW seems to have softened that stance. The Thursday night showcase at the Scoot Inn had just a $7 cover and the Malverde party appeared to be free. In both venues the crowd was a nice mix of SXSW-ers and local music enthusiasts. In addition, I know people who easily bought tickets to some of the less buzzy showcases that still boasted fantastic national talent. The festival takes over our city in ways that are simultaneously exhilaratingly awesome and irritatingly unavoidable. I'm happy that local music fans are allowed to participate.
1. Drunkdriver at Encore. Enormous guitar roar in the service of fast, noisy song-muggings that inspire crowd-members to try to mosh and end up on the floor.
2. Total Abuse singer Rusty Kelley's creepy stare at Barbarella. As the band's hideously nasty punk grinds, Kelley looks like he is moments away from cutting your throat. Well done.
3. The way that a poor performance at SXSW can destroy a band's buzz. Broken Bells at Stubb's, I am glaring at you. And I would like that hour back.
4. Courtney Love's jarring face-and-music combination. Her mug has stretched into a Axl Rose-style melting mask and her new songs sound like late-model Guns N' Roses. Perfect!
5. Tamaryn's gothy, sexy post-punk at Klub Krucial, which turned 2010 into 1981.
1. Susan Cowsill at Hilton Creekside Saturday. Her voice just seems to get stronger and lovelier as the years go by, and she had both terrific new material and some cool additions to her band in the very young-looking multi-instrumentalists Jack and Sam Craft, who are brothers.
2. Gong Myoung at Copa Friday. The four members of the Korean group are not only phenomenal masters of any number of instruments, from wind to percussion, but their set followed an astonishing arc, from sheer force to sheer delight.
3. The Unthanks at Emo's Jr. Wednesday. Exquisite sister harmonies and songs that blend the traditional and the modern in surprising ways.
4. Unni Lovlid's voice. Her set at Copa on Saturday was marred by the loudness of partiers in the bar area, but I've been playing her meditative album ‘Rite' ever since as an antidote to SXSW stress.
5. Grupo Fantasma at Copa on Saturday. Love the new material and the increased cohesion they show as an ensemble. They seemed plenty tight before, but they seemed to be almost sharing a brain at times during this set.
Best SXSW quote: Isidro Lopez, host of Fiesta Musical on KOOP, asked one of the Blazers on Friday ‘How has SXSW affected you so far?' He replied ‘Well ... it's aged me!'
1. Carolina Chocolate Drops at Paste party on Wednesday. My first great SXSW moment — discovering this soulful Afro-Appalachian trio from North Carolina — ended up being my best.
2. Snoop Dogg performs ‘Jump Around' by House of Pain at the Perez Hilton party on Saturday. The entire crowd was leaping in unison, creating a strobe-like effect with the back lighting.
3. Hearing Roky Erickson perform ‘Goodbye Sweet Dreams' live for the first time, followed by him and Okkeril River doing ‘You're Gonna Miss Me' for the millionth time.
4. The xx performs ‘Crystalized' at Tequila Mockingbird studio. To see the artful and dramatic next big things create their beautiful tension just feet away in a room with about 20 people was a real treat.
5. Cherie Currie performing ‘Cherry Bomb' with Girl In a Coma on Friday. A big passing-the-torch moment in the middle of a great set.
1. Cheap Trick at Auditorium Shores on Friday: The sound and intimacy might have been better Thursday at the ‘Austin City Limits' taping, but Friday's set offered something like a half-dozen songs from the band's first album, a nice gesture to longtime fans. And even without drummer Bun E. Carlos, whose absence was still something of a mystery after the band's management released a statement saying he's still in the band, fans totally brought it. They always do.
2. Coal Porters at Yard Dog on Saturday: This U.S.-U.K. collective likes to call itself the original alt-bluegrass band. In a genre that is often too staid and not ragged enough, they're also unafraid to be funny.
3. Motorhead on Wednesday at Austin Music Hall: Something was missing from my life until Lemmy and mates pulverized my skull with ‘Ace of Spades.' Their version is even better than the Bad Livers. (Hold those e-mails; it's a joke, people.)
4. Junior the Ghost on Saturday at Antone's: The sound of growing up in a happy family in the suburbs. The guitar-keyboards-drum trio's songs are just a little too busy and just a little too happy, but there's no denying the ample musicianship. My boss suggested they be called They Might Be Ben Folds.
5. Big Star-Alex Chilton tribute Saturday at Antone's: With Chilton's passing, the myth and reach of this band will only grow. As the Drive-By Trucker's Patterson Hood suggested earlier in the week, maybe now their renown will be as big as their name suggested. So much love from so many great musicians and that rarest of things: a tribute show pulled off in haste that didn't turn into a train wreck.
1. Here We Go Magic, Wednesday, Club de Ville. When this indie rock band, led by Luke Temple, stopped at the Parish last year with Grizzly Bear, they were good; this time around, they were great, hitting their notes perfectly.
2. Bowerbirds, Wednesday, Club de Ville. The indie acoustic group delivered a warm, compelling performance that merged folk and Americana sounds, with a hefty dose of accordion.
3. Band of Horses, Thursday, Stubb's. This was one of the most highly anticipated sets of the week, and the South Carolina-based southern rock band lived up to the hype, wowing the crowd with an impressive combination of ambience and power.
4. Broken Social Scene, Thursday, Stubb's. The Canadian rock collective led by Kevin Drew showed why they're such a popular draw, mixing rock, pop and electronic music in service of a sound that is uniquely theirs.
5. Local Natives, Friday, Galaxy Room Backyard. Still relatively new, it was unclear whether this Los Angeles based indie pop group's live show was going to live up to the promise of their debut album; they exceeded expectations, putting on one of the best sets of the week.
1. Wednesday: White Denim at the Austinist party at The Mohawk. Though I know there are often better ways to spend SXSW than by checking out local acts, I was happy to kick the fest off with local garage rockers White Denim. The trio has expanded its sound and matured over the past four years, and seemed a fitting and raucous start to four days of music in Austin.
2. Friday: Tyler Ramsey and Band of Horses at Central Presbyterian Church. Looking like a long-lost son of George Harrision or a rogue Wilson brother, Tyler Ramsey stepped outside his role as guitarist and harmonizer with Band of Horses to perform his sublime and heartfelt tunes that sound like something Neil Young would pen after spending a contemplative autumn in a North Carolina cabin. Following a performance by Company, Band of Horses joined Ramsey on stage and made a case for being one of the best rock bands in the country, treating the packed church to a handful of energetic new tunes along with some goose-flesh-inducing renditions of fan favorites like ‘The Funeral' and ‘Marry Song' that left lead singer Ben Bridwell and much of the audience sweatin' like a ...
3. The Cool Kids and Miike Snow at The Mohawk. The Cool Kids brought an infectious sense of fun with chest-puffing swagger, slick lyricism and beats that felt like they could bring the Mohawk to its knees on Friday night. Before their set, at least half the people at the club were referring to Miike Snow as ‘he,' but the band is actually a group from Stockholm. Despite their stylistic gimmick of playing the first few songs in creepy, glowing masks, the masterminds behind Britney Spears' ‘Toxic' actually offer quite a bit of substance with their cool, detached electro-pop.
4. Saturday: Mos Def at Red Bull Thre3Style. Looking right at home amid the skyscrapers of downtown Austin, Brooklyn-born MC Mos Def brought the flavor of a Bed-Stuy block party with him to the last night of the festival, making people forget the cold and likely wish the fest could go on for at least one more day.
John T. Davis
1. Tuesday: Gary Nicholson is a Nashville songwriter who often works with Delbert McClinton. But he also had a hand in writing ‘Fallin' and Flyin',' one of the signature tunes from the movie ‘Crazy Heart,' with Stephen Bruton. Bruton, who died last year, was commemorated at the Austin Music Awards, but it was Nicholson's quietly moving performance of ‘Fallin' and Flyin' ' at Ray Benson's birthday party bash at La Zona Rosa that proved the most moving tribute.
2. Wednesday: Jon Dee Graham's new album is called ‘It's Not As Bad As It Looks,' after his first words upon awakening bleeding in a ditch in the aftermath of the car wreck that nearly killed him in 2008. At the Conqueroo/Guitartown day party, Graham told a long, funny, grisly story about his shattered guitars and his own scars from the emergency surgery that saved his life. Noting that he and the guitars had all been salvaged and repaired he exclaimed triumphantly words to the effect of ‘ ... and we're all still going strong!'
3. Thursday: A Sony Music day party in the back yard of the Clive Bar on a sunny Thursday proved to be a perfect launching pad for the Court Yard Hounds, the new musical offspring of Martie Maguire and Emily Robison, two co-founders of the Dixie Chicks. After the Chicks' tumultuous rollercoaster ride several years ago, it was great to see the two sisters getting back to the basics of making music again.
4. Thursday: Overheard standing in line outside Antone's: ‘My marketing plan is to be the last guy standing.'
5. Friday: The instantly-recognizable opening notes of ‘Going to A Go-Go' were literally spine-tingling. Then Smokey Robinson walked out at the Austin Music Hall and 50 years of Motown history strode onstage with him. It was just one of those moments ...
Bands I missed in 2010 but want to catch next year (in no particular order): Roky Erickson with Okkervil River, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Raphael Saadiq, Broken Bells and Tommy Reilly.
Brian T. Atkinson
1. Lucero above El Sol Y La Luna on Saturday. America's most vital bar band supporting its rock and roll masterpiece (2009's ‘1372 Overton Park'). Everything worked.
2. John Hiatt interview. Hiatt granted limitless time with little notice on a Saturday afternoon. He was enthusiastic, grateful. Funny. Ditto his new ‘The Open Road.'
3. Leslie and the Badgers interview. Leslie Stevens asked as many questions as she answered. She was kind, thoughtful, interested. Her songwriting reflects all qualities.
4. Tim Easton at Jovita's on Thursday. This set suggested Easton's next album might be a career best. Beware intellectual electric blues.
5. The Gourds at Scholz Garten on Friday. Reliever Soulhat showed up late. The Gourds added ‘Gin and Juice' and ‘Tex-Mex Mile.' Coors Light and chardonnay crowds both left happy.
New discoveries worth revisiting:Harper Simon, Trampled By Turtles, The Maldives.