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With the horrific accident juxtaposed against a thousand moments of revelry, it was certainly a strange and emotionally conflicting year in Austin, but ain’t that the music business and life in general?

FINAL DISPATCH FROM SXSW 2014

Our Man in Austin Jeff Leven Retraces the Steps of His Multi-Band Marathon

One of the challenges of having an increasingly legit entertainment law practice is that a day of meetings can sideswipe best intentions to write a dispatch, which is what happened with Friday’s summary of Thursday’s shows. So, in the same way that Grantland’s Bill Simmons does a mega-mailbag when he’s skipped a few, it’s time for the big, big wrap-up!

As various mass publications file their own SXSW wrap-ups, it’s worth remembering that there are several different SXSWs. Those looking for an "old SXSW" with core Austin bands can generally head south of the river, those looking for scrappy youth frenzy a la Burger and Thrasher should head east of the freeway, and the megastars populate the Moody and the rooftop and Stubb’s and the damn Doritos thing. The "has SXSW sold out?" line of discussion tends to forget that all of these things coexist simultaneously, and even if the net result is a bit of mass chaos, it remains a case of choose your own adventure. Certainly having Kanye and Jay-Z and Lady Gaga and Rick Ross and Coldplay draws some fire away from emerging artists, but I’m not sure how much of Gaga’s audience was going to go with me to see 30 minutes and 300 decibels of old school hardcore at the Judge show. Likewise, you could skate through much of the week without seeing the acts you could catch at Barclay’s or the new Forum, and I generally did. My SXSW, (aside from a particularly high volume of meetings) obviously revolves around clients, but the next concentric circle out is a range of discoveries.

So What Did you See? It’s nice to see that SXSW has a good jazz room again, and new Glassnote signing Tor Miller played a gorgeous set at the Elephant Room, his voice alighting from his layered piano work. Other quiet and beautiful parts of the week found me spending a lot of time in churches, notably the Pitchfork showcase at Central Presbyterian, where a lush Forest Swords set preceded Mark Kozelek, also known at times as Sun Kil Moon. His new album under that moniker has earned waves of particularly sweaty critical praise, which Kozelek cheerfully noted and joked about as he worked through the majority of it in a set accompanied only by a drummer. In alternate sentences, the record can put you off with its plainspoken detail, only to reduce you to near-tears with its emotive realism in half a turn. It was a powerful set, and you could tell that Kozelek knows he’s hit something vital and canon-seeking in this one.

The thing that everyone told me that I had to see that I veered off schedule for was Royal Blood. Like Death From Above 1979 before them, Royal Blood manages to create a range of textures with just a bass and drums, while also relentlessly rocking. In the oncoming twist back to a heavier version of "alternative" rock and a more "alternative" version of "active" rock, they are making an early bid to become one of the standard bearers. It’s heavy and tight, with hooks and little kitsch—truly, truly tasty. Also fantastic was Highly Suspect, who revved up Indegoot’s Yard Dog party with scorching guitar work and plaintive vocals. Closing with a wild Chuck Berry cover, they bring a degree of brawn while also hearkening to the days where a leather jacket might really mean you’re trouble—you get the sense they just might claim that back.

Another compelling "royal" was Royal Canoe¸ who, along with Bear Hands treated the IFC park setup with a kaleidoscope of sounds and tight arrangements. Joy Wave draw from a similar instinct, but with a more dance-oriented approach, answering, say, Hot Chip with great sonics and a knack for big payoffs. Also great was FMLYBND, who ride heavy party basslines through their modern rock sounds. I caught a cool hand Last Internationale acoustic mini-set that was notable for showing all that Brad Wilk can do, even with a tambourine and a box. Thumpers sounded fantastic (particularly in a bike shop!) and both Jetta and Kurt Vile brought impeccable musicianship to a set at the Clive Bar.

Iration managed to stuff some truly compelling jams even into a tight SXSW set (with amazing crowd response), while catching the legendary Saharan unit Tinariwen in a club was a truly special experience—the reverb finding every corner of the room and drenching it in the tone of sunset over dunes. Beautiful Bodies served up a house-closer shoot-the-lights-out set even at 8pm, while Diarrhea Planet did their inimitable thing—imagine the last four minutes of "Free Bird" filtered through the Japandroids’ aspirational shout choruses and you’ll see why you need to care. Gavin Turek out-danced basically everyone else on campus, while together PANGEA’s crowd stage-dove relentlessly. The Burger scene’s vitality continues unabated. Night Riots brought sweeping choruses and plangent guitars, The Silent Comedy crushed set after set of new material while acts like Twin Shadow, Phantogram, the 1975, A Great Big Sea and Wild Feathers continue their winning streaks. HOLYCHILD had career moment after career moment, while Phox grabbed ears at the BMI Brunch lead-blocking for American Authors.

While Tyler the Creator joined the annals of Austin artist arrests, it was a strong hip hop year again. The masses got a taste of Childish Gambino’s new production show, while in other corners the A$AP Mob and Chance the Rapper brought pure heat. And Snoop, as always, was everywhere. Their recreational similarities aside, Snoop’s somehow become hip hop’s Willie Nelson, the slightly warped elder statesman there to collaborate with all comers (including Dam Funk as part of the 7 Days of Funk project), act as the genre’s roving ambassador, and generally be the character everyone counts on him to be.

The week was stocked with other great moments, too: me accidentally being the jerk who wore a Coachella sweatshirt to a C3 party and having Daryl Eaton notice; the guys from +++ (crosses) roaming the far corners of Austin with me; funny photos of me leaking from the phones of folks like Jacqueline Saturn and my frequent partner-in-crime Mike Daly; seeing Velvet Hammer’s Graham Martin at pretty much every good show with guitars; the Red Bull Records team hitting the street en masse; FBR hotshot Adam Samiljan following his Parahoy stint with a double-header at SXSW; moving the ball on various other projects large and small.

With the horrific accident juxtaposed against a thousand moments of revelry, it was certainly a strange and emotionally conflicting year in Austin, but ain’t that the music business and life in general? Beyond the meta-stories there are a thousand small ones, and as much as any week, this one remained a good place to find a powerful batch of them.

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