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SXSW 2011 Recap

Words by Donny Kutzbach, Photos by Daryl P. Brothers

SXSW: It’s that annual week in the middle of March when the Texas capital city of Austin briefly becomes the center of the music world. More than 2,000 bands, shows, and events run all day and into the wee hours of the morning, along with dozens of music industry panels and a trade show—and those are the just the “official” events, not including the thousands of other “non-SXSW-sanctioned” events. While it seemed AV spent too much time filling up on Texas BBQ brisket, migas, and huevos rancheros along with local brews and potables, we also managed to see more live music in one week than an average person probably does in the course of several years. Some of the many highlights are recapped here.

Hard-working London-based Yuck (seen here at the big and dusty but fun backyard confines of Stubbs BBQ) played a whopping 9 shows to our best count. With sets compiled with tracks from their undeniably hook-heavy self-titled debut, Yuck pulls together the best of the last 25 years of Blighty guitar rock leaning on Britpop penchant clever and compact pop with just enough musing and fuzz to call it “shoegaze”…and every song could be a single. It’s worth noting that this English band boasts a drummer from Brooklyn (Jonny Rogoff) and he in turn boasts a seriously badass, enviable afro.

The man in the van with the bass in his hand rides on. There are few figures in American punk who have earned and deserve the kind of love that people have for Mike Watt. We piled in with an adoring coterie of devotees who filled the patio at the Gingerman bar from fence to fence as the Minutemen/fiREHOSE bassist/singer played his brand new rock opera— the triumphantly Minutemen-like Hyphenated-Man—from front to back with power, precision and joy as only Watt can deliver.

SXSW is a known as a place where hot new young acts that are pushing music into new places are discovered. The hot young boundary-pushing act for 2011 just happened to be a 62-year-old guy singing traditional soul music. A long-term project of the crew at NYC’s Daptone label—Buffalo music aficionados caught him last month supporting Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings—SXSW was like a coming out party for Charles Bradley as he celebrated the release of his debut No Time For Dreaming. We made sure to catch all three of Bradley’s performances and each one was a showstopper as the singer— like a hybrid James Brown and Al Green— and the Menahan Street Band brought the house down ever time with pure soul ecstasy. Here, Bradley and the band perform at Lance Armstrong’s Mellow Johnny’s bike shop.

Jerry Lee Lewis + MC5 + Nick Cave + Dr. Feelgood = Jim Jones Revue! This London band that is everything that rock and roll should be, but so rarely is, explode onstage like a thousand pounds of dynamite at Antone’s.

Following 2010’s Melted—a record that both owned and pushed the limits our speakers last year while easily earning a spot among AV’s best of the year albums—Ty Segall was a top-of-the-list must-see at this installment of SXSW. He and his band fully delivered on their promise of droney, over-driven, blues-raucous garage pop, seen here at a final night show on the patio venue at Austin’s Mohawk in a brash 30-minute set that left everyone begging for more.

If Charles Bradley proved himself a star at SXSW by bringing traditional, old school soul, credit Fitz and the Tantrums from Los Angeles, CA for doing the same via twisting Motown conventions into a uniquely 21st century bit of pop perfection. Guitarless and getting by just fine, Michael Fitzpatrick shares vocal duties with powerhouse chanteuse Noelle Scaggs in front of the crack Tantrums.

People always ask, “What was the best thing you saw at SXSW?” For this year, if push comes to shove, we are going to go with Dávila 666. The unrelenting garage rockers straight outta Puerto Rico were a great surprise, with energy to burn and as hot as any band over the 50 or so we saw. Dávila 666 clearly had a fruitful SXSW, scoring a live record release with Jack White’s Third Man Records in the wake of the festival.

You never know when a mosh pit is going to erupt. When one did during a Valient Thorr set in the last slot on the final official night of the festival, we just went with the flow, jumped in, and enjoyed the slam. Luckily, it was like old-timers day and we fit right in among the mix of sweaty dudes who probably had their pit heyday 15 or 20 years ago, Valient Thorr, who recently came through the Queen City supporting Clutch, brought their irrepressible blend of pure punk, metal boogie, and Southern rock. In a moment truly celebrating SXSW’s culminating of music and business, the band even hoisted their agent Chris Paules up over the stage and onto the audience for a brief crowd ride.

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