Story and Photos by Andy ArgyrakisWith the weekend moving in and the beautiful weather holding up, Friday night saw attendance escalate even further in each venue and party anywhere near Austin, Texas. Those who couldn't hang in town due to work week obligations could now let loose and enjoy the final pair of festival days. And those who turned out Friday can attest to yet another day's worth of live tunes spanning every genre under the sun, once again introducing a plethora of newcomers, the return of a few key living legends, and another surprise. Here's the latest firsthand look:
Ben Harper - Waterloo Records
The hippy inspired trippy troubadour marked Friday's most exciting previously unannounced appearance, which took place in the cozy confines of the area's famous Waterloo Records store. Unlike most of the week's events that catered strictly to industry folks, this in-store was geared specifically around fans. Seeing Harper plopped in the middle of the store on a barstool with an acoustic guitar in hand was kind of like a mini VH1 Storytellers session. The purpose was to push material from "Diamonds on the Inside, a recently released project preserving Harper's psychedelic approach with more prevalent leanings towards his spiritual side. And unlike most of the festival's acts that demonstrated a "cooler than thou" attitude towards attendees, Harper signed autographs for a tangled maze of people wrapped all along the store.
Hot Hot Heat- - Spin's Day For Night Party
The vocalist for Hot Hot Heat sounds peculiarly like The Cure's Robert Smith in his early days, and like those pioneering dance rockers, these Canadians trade in a guitar dominated sound for roaring keyboards. Like many of the other acts on the SxSW bill, Hot Hot Heat cites groups like XTC, The Clash, and Elvis Costello as influences, and despite appearing redundant of many others mentioned in the previous road reports, these guys are probably the most potent. Melodies are also a key ingredient in the band's recorded and live game plan, which are just as pleasing and plentiful as their hooks.
Gob - Maggie Mae's
If you were to look up the dictionary definition of "lame power punk band," I'm certain Gob would have their picture displayed next to it prominently. These guys fit exactly into the sterilized clone niche of groups like Sum 41, Simple Plan, and Good Charlotte with the same old testosterone driven stage antics that continue to be recycled within those disposable teeny bop realms. It's sickening that groups like Gob claim to propagate the punk rock mentality when in actuality they're worthless puppets of major label conglomerates that will be here today and gone even quicker than tomorrow.
The Thorns - Aware/Columbia's Driskill Ballroom Showcase
Comprised of former solo artists Matthew Sweet, Shawn Mullins, and Pete Droge, The Thorns turned in a debut set of earthy atmospheric tones with a slight southern feel. The trio played seated for the first half of the set, calling to mind in sound and spirit The Eagles' "Hell Freezes Over" period, followed by a stand-up session featuring escalated organics. Though The Thorns are far from a super group, the individuals comprising this outfit have reputable pasts steeped in lyrical intelligence. Their chemistry may still be developing, but when put together; each member's strengths are even more magnified.
Sahara Hotnights - Spin's Day For Night Party
I'd venture to guess that the four females who make up Sahara Hotnights all grew up listening to The Go Go's. At the Spin showcase, they knew how to balance their sexual prowess and instrumental edge, teasing the guys in the crowd from time to time while cheering the girls towards a state of empowerment. Material from Sahara Hotnights' current Jet Set Records project "Jennie Bomb" was well liked, but upon dissection of the set, these Stockholm, Sweden bred girls were really nothing more than a carbon copy of The Donnas- a band known for their playful meets punk rock gimmickry. One of those types of bands in the industry is all that's really needed, as the cuteness wears off real quick upon duplication.
The Datsuns - La Zona Rosa
When the major labels pull out the big bucks to wine and dine their contacts to try and get them interested in a particular band, you know they must really believe in that acts' cause (or at the very least think they can turnaround a substantial profit). More often than not, such hyped up groups can talk the talk but can't walk the walk once they take the stage, resulting in ignored sessions of boozing and schmoozing by those invited. But when New Zealand's The Datsuns participated in V2's showcase, drinks were put down, side conversations halted, and a few hundred fists pumped in the air to their commanding vocals steeped in the 70s guitar rock era of excess. Besides just catering towards the arena rock intensity of Aerosmith and AC/DC, The Datsuns unveiled contemporary cacophony propelled by their singer's reckless rebellion. Besides seemingly rubbing most critics the right way, The Datsuns have productively built an accessible bridge from the past to present for the listening public.
Willie Nelson - Austin Music Hall
Sure, he's getting pretty old and no he's not exactly at the top of his game, but just to stand in the presence of such country fried rock royalty was a privilege to close down Friday's festivities. Nelson's generous career spanning set reminded all in the room that he unquestionably remains the voice of American music.
Stay tuned for Day 4 coverage of the festival. For up to the minute information, log onto www.sxsw.com.
Check out: Day 1 - Day 2 - Day 4
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