Story and Photos by Andy ArgyrakisIt's the middle of March and that can only mean the week long SxSW Music Festival in Austin, Texas, otherwise known as the time for the music industry's elite to check out each record label's hot new talent and the past acts hoping for a resurgence. Live music from dawn to dusk takes place in the cities' top concert venues- a true music lover's dream despite the ensuing traffic nightmare. Although the event may be thousands of miles away from Chicago, what transpires certainly effects local music fans. You could call SxSW a survival of the fittest screen test to see which acts have what it takes to make their way on the touring trail through town and who will stay behind in the western dust of defeat. Here's an opening night look at how some of the hyped up industry newbies faired, along with a status check on the veterans who've returned to the fold:
...And They Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead - Emo's Main Room
One of opening day's most anticipated shows was the homecoming appearance of Austin locals ...And They Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead and for very good reasons, including their current and classic rock influences combined searing guitars, acid lyrics, and sweeping sonic washes. Besides just the Trail of Dead's vintage Led Zeppelin wallop and more modern Sonic Youth tint, they showed a bit of The Who's interactive stage presence and destructive bombast. Towards the end of their set, members shattered their instruments in the rowdy Pete Townshend like spirit, leaving a trail of broken guitar necks, stings, and strewn drumheads as an additionally memorable trail to their electrifying live experience.
The Realistics - Hard Rock Cafe
Given the fact that this garage-rocking quartet has the word "the" before their moniker (along with residency in New York) it would be easy to lump them with all the other similarly started city sound a likes. But in concert the group demonstrates way more enthusiasm than even The Strokes could muster during their most elated moments, while possessing a much wider pedigree of influences (including Elvis Costello, The Jam, and The Clash). Material from their self-titled independent debut was performed fast and furious, while the members had enough playing capabilities and likeable character traits to make it in the mainstream.
Richie Havens - Cedar Street Courtyard
Ironically, when Richie Havens took the stage at the original Woodstock Festival over 30 years ago, his music served as a soundtrack to a nation torn apart by relational turmoil. Sadly, little about society has changed three decades later, as the political climate continues bringing troubled times to the American people. Instead of striving to be overly prophetic and profound, Havens was simply the bearer of reflective acoustic songs from his new Wishing Well disc, all of which allowed listeners to cast their cares aside for the course of his hour long set. Havens' motives of love and peace could indeed be construed as idealistic by skeptics, through they were overwhelmingly accepted and appreciated by attendees, a process destined to repeat itself on the road.
The Stereo - Emo's Annex
Again, with a name boasting "the" in their title, it would appear as though The Stereo might be the latest New York based garage rockers, while in actuality they hail from Phoenix, Arizona. Despite their location differentiation, they do have those typical garage rock elements, along with an emo based Jimmy Eat World slant and the retro pop vibe of The Cars. Sure, these guys could get a bunch of teenagers to jump up and down and chant a few slogans back towards the stage, but when it all boiled down, The Stereo failed to match up to its predecessors, merely settling into sugary, sweet, and safe modern rock conventionality.
Jungle Brothers - Emo's Main Room
To call the Jungle Brothers' anything less than legendary in New York's 80s hip-hop scene would be sacrilegious. The duo was instrumental in shaping the post Run DMC urban era, incorporating fast rhymes, razor sharp beats, and turbulent turntable action. The first half of their SxSW performance captured such brilliance and reminded all in the packed house what true hip-hop with heart sounds like, rather than the recycled raps found throughout today's Top 40. It's a shame the mood turned sour by the midpoint, as The Jungle Brothers' indulged in an inexcusably long cheerleading session about how many hit songs they'd had in the past, followed by shameless self promotion about their current album and future tour. Members even steeped so low as to separate the crowd down the middle and have contests to see which half would make the most noise. The antic was cute as far as pre-pubescent B-Bashes goes, but such an example in Austin indicated that they better tighten up their act before they take off on their official comeback trail.
Stay tuned for Day 2 coverage of the festival. For up to the minute information, log onto www.sxsw.com.
Check out: Day 2 - Day 3 - Day 4
The Jungle Brothers
...Trail of Dead
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