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Beyond some of the more visible victory laps, there’s a fairly high degree of fresh A&R activity around up-and-coming artists.
SXSW DISPATCH: DAY TWO
Jeff Leven Confronts Long Lines and Long Shots as He Settles in for the Annual Austin Marathon
As we all know, one of the main pastimes at SXSW is delivering some form of rant about SXSW—how it used to be more user-friendly, more about the music, less overloaded/overwhelming, etc. While the overall overkill, the sheer volume of lines (getting a Purevolume RSVP bracelet alone has become a Kafkaesque enterprise) remains pretty much at fever pitch, this year you can start to feel a sea change back towards more sincere A&R. While there is still a part of SXSW that is like the television upfronts or a giant press junket, this year is actually short on received leaders of the pack—you know, that band that plays nine times, is already on Coachella, gets a significant chunk of the press and is the thing everyone talks about seeing or having seen or intending to see. In years past, many of these hyper-buzz acts became breakout stars (Amy Winehouse, The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, AWOLNATION, Cage the Elephant), while others still await the jury’s return (James Blake, Little Boots, Dead Confederate) and some flamed out entirely (Deadboy & Elephantman, Be Your Own Pet, Test Icicles). This year’s big buzz candidates are more modest in their ubiquity, the closest contenders being Ed Sheeran, fun., We Are Augustines and the Alabama Shakes, who come into SXSW already fairly far down that road. But beyond some of the more visible victory laps, there’s a fairly high degree of fresh A&R activity around up-and-coming artists. With a heavy A&R presence at their Carson Daly showcase, Roll the Tanks played a satisfying, fast-charged set, while 1,2,3 helped an eclectic crowd transition between Devin and San Diego’s Crocodiles (who are much improved over years past). MENEW tore up the Swinghouse set earlier in the day while Blondfire, Lex Land and Dead Sara all got breathless mentions. 

While part of my day was besieged by conference calls and fragments of work (inevitably, my time at SXSW is oddly punctuated by an unusual rush of deadlines—somehow people have a radar for it), a special treat was a trip north and east to Joe’s Place, where No Depression editor Peter Blackstock and New West’s Peter Jesperson (also known as a key figure in Minneapolis mecca record store Oarfolkjokeopus, the force behind the legendary Twin/Tone Records and former manager of the Replacements!) hosted their special Dos Pedros party, featuring, purely and simply, three bands they happen to love—the Parson Red Heads, the Mastersons and Australia’s gorgeous Luluc. Staged in a pretty backyard and hosted with sheer love, their party was a living and breathing reimagination of a good old South By Southwest that perhaps exists now as much as ever. 

As always, a day at SXSW is a day of hard choices. Faced with a longish walk and the chance of a daunting crowd surge at Lionel Richie, I opted for the obvious alternative in Corrosion Of Conformity. Stripped back to their power trio form, they tore through the earlier punk-edged chapters of their career before completing the circle with a brace of bashing numbers from their latest release. Woody Weatherman remains a hesher’s shredder extraordinaire, and the band has lost none of their punch in well over 20 years. Heavy in a different way was Denton, TX’s This Will Destroy You, a texture-heavy trio that fits comfortably alongside Explosions in the Sky and Lift to Experience in the Texas triumvirate of post-rock bands that give bands like Mogwai a Technicolor run (or elegant slog) for their money. Also satisfying was the guitar-flecked power pop of Free Energy and the plangent jigsaw puzzle pop of Tennis. Juxtaposed against all the new for me was the utterly timeless—a mind-blowing set from Jimmy Cliff, whose voice is as limber and strong as you could ever hope for even decades past his breakout role in The Harder They Come, as he reprised key songs from the soundtrack, crucial covers and a sprinkling of new material. Looking great and sounding better, he’s a force of nature and a treat in his recent renaissance.

Eclectic as ever, SXSW continues to justify itself as a major destination, crowds, overload, scramble and sheer sprawl be damned.

JOHN PRINE HAD
A CANDY HEART
Brilliance illuminated (4/8a)
YOUR TOP 20: WEEKND VS. WAVE
Deja vu all over again? (4/8a)
IT'S OFFICIAL: ROTHSCHILD JOINS RCA
Tails are wagging at the news. (4/8a)
A MESSAGE FROM
SIR LUCIAN
Hallelujah (4/7a)
MAYBE, JUST MAYBE, PART 5: EVERYBODY’S WORKING FOR
THE WEEKEND
More werds of whizdom from our Editur in Cheef (4/6a)
WE FOUND SOME TOILET PAPER
Also known as back issues of HITS.
SOCIAL DISTANCING
We turn out to be pioneers.
STREAMING STORIES
The music doc shows new muscle.
ELECTION 2020
Not postponed yet.
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