Monday, April 20, 2009

South By South YES! - Meijin's Top Six SXSW Picks

Before heading to this year’s music portion of the 2009 SXSW Music and Media Conference in Austin, TX, many adjectives had been thrown my way to describe the events I was about to experience: crazy, insane, hectic, ridiculous. I was seemingly unprepared: no badge, no prior acquaintance with SXSW, and no previous trips to Austin, but after years of festivals and concerts under my belt, I believed I could handle what was to come. Soon enough, I discovered that SXSW was a breed unto its own.

A sort of musical heaven with substantial access granted by a simple RSVP or early arrival, Austin’s 22nd SXSW never fell silent during my five-day adventure, with music pouring out of every club, restaurant, and bar, and off each downtown street corner. Music saturated the fabric of my SXSW stint: instrumental carry-ons overstocked the Los Angeles to Austin flight; hotel rooms served as rehearsal spaces; shuttles from hotels to the Austin Convention Center transported a mix of musicians, merchandise, and media professionals from 8:30 AM to 3AM; and taxi trips became networking and scouting opportunities. SXSW melded and amplified the most extreme aspects of Vans Warped Tour and the CMJ Music Marathon. Outdoor stages and tents, 80-degree heat, sun and sweat-soaked concert-goers, and street vendors reminiscent of Warped Tour met CMJ’s Indie sound, plethora of artists and venues, thousands of music business professionals, abundance of panels, chaotic and crammed show scheduling, and strategic city navigation. Day parties, night parties, official day showcases, official night showcases, and shows that had nothing to do with SXSW except coincidence kept the 25,000 attendees blissfully entertained by nearly 2,000 bands.

In the short week, I tallied up my “band count” at 41, and hours of sleep at 18. Because several of the bands I heard had caught my ear before SXSW, I expected to be impressed. Yet several new finds deserve special recognition in my “Top Six SXSW Picks”:

Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights
Smooth soul and gritty blues come together into a sultry sound that sets a standard for Southern rock. Tyler’s spirited vocals, rollicking riffs, and boisterous attitude channel the best of their Dallas and rock ‘n roll roots. A mind-blowing live act, the group also entertains with their fiery full-length Hot Trottin’ which is available in stores and for download on iTunes. Highlights include “She’s from the Other Side” and “Slow Train.”

Out From Animals
Out from Chester, UK, this quartet establishes themselves as leaders of the SXSW pack with a musical species evolved from a merry mish mash of electronica, techno, ska, disco, metal, and rock. The band is currently touring their home territory and developing their full-length album, but fans that are chomping at the bit can purchase OFA’s wild EP The National Curriculum and get schooled in genre-fusion with “No Place Like Home” and “Up All Night.”

3. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears
Dapperly dressed with a dynamic stage presence, Austin’s guitarist/vocalist Black Joe Lewis and his trusty band The Honeybears revive the classic R& B “shouter” style, big brass sound, and funky mess-around licks, but replace the blues mood with humorous patter. The octet’s Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is! is now out for jamming enjoyment with seriously great tracks with not-so-serious vibes. “Boogie” and “Bitch, I Love You” are just two of the fun and funny favorites worth sampling.

4. The Boxing Lesson
Spacey rock trio from Austin turns and spins heads with a cosmic concoction of breathy vocals, echoing guitar tones, swelling synthesizers, and buzzing bass drones. Get in the ring with their newest record Wild Streaks and Windy Days on iTunes and, and prepare for knockout tracks like “Back From the Dead,” and “Dark Side of the Moog,” a nod to psychedelic pioneers Pink Floyd and synth-mastermind Robert Moog.

Uplifting acoustic guitars culminate with feel-good vocal harmonies, gospel keys, and shuffling beats that relax and warm the soul. The folk-rockers bring brightness to their craft with notably singable melodies and delicate nuances that create a soothing aura on their aptly titled North Hills, a tribute to their home town in California. Lift your spirits with “When My Time Comes” and “Bedside Manner.”

Izzy the Eskimo
Londoners turned Angelenos hypnotize with atmospheric grunge produced by a ghostly blend of brooding bass, eerie vocals, and haunting guitar feedback. Despite the mysterious air that surrounds the group’s background and underscores their sound, their metal-meets-mesmerism has not gone under the radar. Stay tuned for an official release and chill out to the enigmatic “And the Stars” and trippy “Sleep All Day.”

-Meijin Bruttomesso

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