In many ways, SXSW doesn’t totally reveal its character until Friday each year, and this seems to be a year of particularly consistent quality.
Jeff Leven Gives This Year's Fest High Marks as He Takes in a Wealth of Talent on the Hoof
The great thing about SXSW is that it’s just long enough for you to get a second wind, and there are always just enough great shows to reignite you. Today was packed with amazing performances from all genres and corners of the world. I threw on my favorite Husker Du “New Day Rising” shirt and began my day with an amazing double-header at the Speakeasy with a pair of beautiful but gritty vocal performances from James Vincent McMorrow and the plangent and magisterial City and Colour, with Dallas Green’s commanding presence dazzling a packed room. At a time when synthesizer-heavy pop seems to be at its apex, it’s sometimes utterly refreshing to hear a guy with an amazing voice and some simple but effective chord changes cut straight to the bone. From there, it was on to see Australian buzz band the Jezabels, who seem to be key figures in a particularly strong year for Aussie bands at SXSW. Along with the previously-mentioned Cloud Control, the Jezabels, Art vs. Science, the Chevelles and An Horse are all garnering accolades and turning heads. Canada is also fielding a particularly strong field of bands this year, including the Sheepdogs, whose expansive jams hearken to the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd while still sounding contemporary. Other highlights of the day included BMI performances by The Civil Wars and Kina Grannis, an ASCAP performance by Antonia Bennett, and shows by Goldheart Assembly, Kitten, Maxim Ludwig and the Santa Fe Seven and Olin and the Moon. Kelley James improvised topical raps and warmed up a bustling crowd eagerly awaiting the Cataracs featuring Dev (the brains and voice behind “Like a G-6”), and the Dangerbird showcase was utterly overrun, making my planned stop at Fitz and the Tantrums all but impossible. Instead, I got a quick fix from Helmet (who were preceded earlier in the night by Georgia’s stunning and multi-dimensional Kylesa), followed by a sizzling dose of the Naked and Famous before wandering to catch late night sets from Jonquil and Mount Kimbie, key players in the current crop of ambient music that seems to be turning the ears of indie rock connoisseurs… While developing bands are the lifeblood of SXSW, this year has seen its share of big-ticket surprises as well, with Jack White playing a parking lot in support of the Third Man Records truck, Kanye West playing his widely publicized secret-but-not-that-secret show tonight, and an appearance earlier in the week by the Foo Fighters. With Duran Duran playing the C3 party (as well as Stubb’s) and other star turns from the Strokes and Queens of the Stone Age, SXSW has also had its fill of marquee names this year… In many ways, SXSW doesn’t totally reveal its character until Friday each year, and this seems to be a year of particularly consistent quality. While the overall festival has turned into as much a promotional and consumer-facing function and as open field for A&R discovery, the depth and quality of the offerings only seems to improve annually. It’s literally all you can eat—all varieties, tastes, sizes and in more or less unlimited quantities. It’s an invigorating overload, but oddly rejuvenating in its own right. 
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