photo by Adam Conner-Simons
Even with the plethora of big names at SXSW, the focus of the festival ultimately rests in the inexact art of discovering new music. While thousands of late-night revelers peacefully slumbered, Oregon-based outfit Ages and Ages proved a delightful lunchtime treat at Barbarella, with handclaps, harmonies and a battery of shakers and noise-makers figuring prominently on upbeat numbers like “No Nostalgia.”
At the venue's outside patio, Boston folksters David Wax Museum performed a few rambunctious Americana songs as raging heavy-metal bands played at ear-splitting volume on either sides of the tent. Some vocal participation from the audience helped the group somehow overtake all the musical madness around them.
Worcester fuzz-rockers Dom played an unshackled set at Stubb's earlier in the afternoon, rattling the walls with surf-punk gems like “Jesus” (which concerns, of all things, an LSD trip). “It's so sexy to be living in America,” the singer proudly proclaimed. It wasn't clear whether he was being ironic, but the crowd was too busy banging its collective head to care.
Elsewhere, the Under the Radar party – despite its name – managed to reel in some high-profile indie acts, from the warped power-pop of Surfer Blood to the violin antics of Owen Pallett, who looped beats and motifs with fine-tuned dexterity.
Over on the east side of Austin I caught a few songs from Fang Island, a Providence-born band that describes its music as “everyone high-fiving everyone.” (They even requested that the whole Scoot Inn audience partake in exactly that activity halfway through the set.) The group's propulsive instrumentals featured slithery '70s rock riffs bursting into hummable shoutalong choruses, as on the show-closing single “Daisy.”
The French Legation Museum, a historical building that dates back to 1841, served as a beautiful backdrop for the unique sounds of rising talents Cults and James Blake. Both artists came into the festival with only a handful of songs to their names, yet expectations from the press illuminati were at a fever pitch.
Alas, Cults suffered from significant mixing problems that muddied its doo-wop-infused indie-pop. Singles like “Go Outside” and “Curse” lost their giddy girl-group luster with all of the feedback issues and overpowering bass lines.
For Blake, SXSW represents his first American gig outside of a New York show earlier this week. On record, the Brit's slow-building compositions give off a captivating intensity, as he samples, chops and distorts his bluesy white-boy warble into a rainstorm of twitchy electronic soul. That nuance and musical arc didn't take the same shape live – the 21-year-old seemed uncomfortable on-stage, and even tracks like the haunting “The Wilhelm Scream” sounded limp compared to the pristine multi-tracking on the album. Some listeners got restless, and headed back to 6th Street to take in the overload of other acts around town.
About Sound Effects
ContributorsSarah Rodman is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.
James Reed is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.
Jonathan Perry is the Globe's Scene & Heard columnist, covering local music.
Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.
Julian Benbow is a staff writer at the Boston Globe, covering sports and music.
Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.