Wow. An Album of the Year Grammy, mega sales and sold-out tours almost made me forgot where indie rock came from.
Just as SXSW-curated Speed Sets banged out a lot of music quickly, I’m going to do a Speed Set to bang out a lot of information quickly.
Danish electro-pop diva Oh Land played a very solid set. You may have heard the infectious single “Son of a Gun,” which she closed with. The rest of her set was nice, but not anything especially fantastic.
Versus played a similarly solid set of guitar-based indie rock. They’re a Merge Records band that has been around in various forms since 1990, so that should tell you a lot about the quality and content of the set. It ain’t trendy, but it’s consistent, strong music.
Dance-punk phenomenon !!! (aka Chk-chk-chk) turns its myriad of instrumentalists into one funky, fast-paced machine live. Their lead singer is an absolute wonder, as he prances, dances, makes eyes at the crowd, wanders into the audience, hollers, sings and generally goes ballistic. He put his hand on my head and sung into my face from several inches away for a line. I am not unique in this treatment. Yes. You must see them live.
Malajube’s rock was equal parts Muse and The Bravery. It was fun, but I keep wondering how long the hat-snare dance-rock beat is going to last.
Little Scream’s epic-leaning indie rock included a bass flute, group vocals (primarily led by a female vocalist) and great songwriting. They’re also from Montreal. Has Arcade Fire asked them to tour together yet? Please say “yes” when they do, Little Scream.
Owen Pallett’s looped violin and piano lines create polyphonic, mind-blowing, mini-symphonies. The fact that you can sing along to them is just a bonus. His energetic tunes had the impressed audience smiling. Pallett proves that string virtuosos can be cool.
Braids laid down a mesmerizing set. Starting off with highlight track “Glass Deers” off their album “Native Speaker,” they entranced the audience with their ambient, fuzzy indie rock. I got lost in the sound; it’s like listening to a warm blanket. They thoroughly impressed me, and I can’t wait to see them again.
Erin McLaughlin played a quick but beautiful folk show. Her poignant, acoustic-based songs speak for themselves. I was so moved that I bought her EP (the only music I bought in the entire SXSW week). You must check it out.
Slije Nes’ gentle and ethereal tunes so affected me that I was tearing up during the set. The Norwegian woman spent much of her time sitting on the ground playing, and she turned all the lights off, except for one tiny strand of Christmas lights piled next to her foot pedals. It created an intimate, immersive experience, as her gentle voice and hushed accompaniment (how quiet? One of the songs features the percussionist scratching his arm into a microphone — and we could hear it) created an absolutely fascinating performance. Beautiful, beautiful music, even when she ratcheted up the electric guitar volume for one track.
Sharon Van Etten’s speaking voice was hoarse, but her singing one was not, as she filled Central Presbyterian Church with her mournful voice and somber harmonium. It was gorgeous.
With horns, strings, four percussionists (two with drumsets, two with auxiliary percussion) augmenting your average guitars and such, Typhoon’s sound filled an entire church. When all twelve of them sang, it became a revelatory experience. The songs are brilliant in their recorded format, but they become something else entirely when played live. It was easily the best set I saw at SXSW. If you haven’t heard of Typhoon yet, you will. (That's as many of them as I could fit in a frame, up there at the top of the post)
The Rural Alberta Advantage’s “Departing” just came out, and I found it to be a lot different than their previous work. Live, however, the new tunes fit in neatly with the older ones. The set was fun, with a nice mix of old and new songs. The highlight was the encore/closer, which had the three members of RAA come down from the stage to the audience for an acoustic version of “Good Night,” the somber closer of “Departing.” It was an incredibly fitting end to a massive week of music.