A host of British and European acts seemed to stir the most buzz at the 2007 SXSW Music Festival, a leading music event attended by recording industry executives, thousands of locals, numerous journalists, and a number of film folks who stuck around to catch some shows. But tackling the music festival can be daunting, considering that it features some 1400 bands playing over four nights at 65 competing venues around downtown Austin. Thankfully, some acts also perform at one of the many day parties or private gatherings that flesh out an SXSW attendee’s jammed schedule. Even before the essential music event begins, press, blogs and attendees buzz about must-see shows and once the many concurrent showcases kick-in during the music festival, anticipation for some acts intensifies before and after their official SXSW appearances. Those who keep their ear to the ground and their eyes on the daily online and print coverage can get great tips on shows to catch. Based on informal surveys of a mix of attendees, acts from across the Atlantic seemed to be among the most popular at this year’s showcase.
Among the biggest buzz acts at SXSW was UK soul and jazz artist Amy Winehouse who performed a few times in Austin, stirring increasing interest after a first showcase when she performed only a couple of songs. Chatter about her apparent refusal to do media interviews in light of a recent breakup just created a bigger frenzy of interest leading up to a BBC2 night set that was met with strong reviews. Of the other British female acts, UK pop artist Lily Allen also stirred talk at SXSW.
A pair of popular male acts from the UK filled the large backyard venue at popular BBQ and live music venue Stubbs. On one night it was a set by British band The Good, The Bad & The Queen that lured a large crowd. The group features Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz, former Clash member Paul Simonon, former Verve member Simon Tong, and early Afrobeat artist Tony Allen. Meanwhile on a subsequent night, British indie band Bloc Party filled the outdoor venue and had attendees buzzing.
Music fans have been talking about hot Swedish indie rock group Peter, Bjorn and John for months now. The debut of their infectious “Young Folks” single late last year, affectionately dubbed by some as “the whistling song,” lured crowds to one of many P, B & J sets this week in Austin, culminating in a large audience that packed the Austin Convention Center’s ‘Bat Bar’, one of two large studio sets created to host the exclusive daily eight-hour DirectTV concerts that were broadcast live via satellite during SXSW for the first time. Meanwhile, Norwegian singer songwriter Sondre Lerche was another indieWIRE fav during label Astralwerks‘ evening set.
Other favorite iW sets included a pair from acts that break conventions. Saturday night was all about Pittsburgh DJ act Girl Talk (the stage name for Gregg Gillis) for an energetic assembly of fans who jammed the intimate Elysium club. Armed only with a laptop and a mic, Girl Talk delivered an eclectic array of mash-ups and samples mixing everything from Justin Timberlake and Nirvana to Smashing Pumpkins and Tag Team, rambunctiously bouncing around the stage while DJing from the computer. Not long into the set, Girl Talk welcomed many fans to the stage transforming his set into a raucous dance party that many hoped would go well past the 2 a.m. cut-off time–it didn’t. Equally eclectic was Bonde de Role, a DJ/MC act from Sao Paulo that mixed heavy metal samples with Portuguese rapping. Particulary popular with the crowd was a tune that mixed “Summer Lovin'” from “Grease” with Salt n’ Pepa‘s “Push It.”
SXSW also delivered a number of nostalgic sets. Influential American rock band The Stooges and frontman Iggy Pop) capped a weekend of music with an overwhelmingly popular late-night set at Stubb’s. The reunion was much anticipated all week and filled the venue nearly three hours before the Stooges would hit the stage. But, persistent SXSW attendees who waited patiently online were able to get in as others exited the venue just before the show. Iggy Pop wasn’t the only rock legend in Austin, Pete Townsend of The Who performed at a number of places around town, as did British punk band The Buzzcocks, who despite their age, delivered sets of songs that rivaled the young upstarts at SXSW.
Finally, the most memorable moments of the week came during a surprise set at The Parish on crowded 6th St. A few insiders were apparently tipped off early about something special in the works, so music industry types joined those who came to watch a late-night performance listed in the SXSW Music Guide as The Nightwatchman — a solo set from former Rage Against the Machine frontman Tom Morello. The outspoken artist kicked off the set with Perry Farrell, formerly of Jane’s Addiction, and Guns n’ Roses‘ Slash, performing a pair of Jane’s tunes that sent the crowd into near hysterics. Then, taking things down a notch, Morello played a few new Nightwatchman tunes and later stepped aside to let friends, including former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer and increasingly popular British singer/songwriter Alexi Murdoch sing a pair of tunes. Then later, backed by Farrell, Slash, Kramer, Les Claypool from Primus, and Portuguese music artist Nuno Bettencourt (who now works with Farrell on Satellite Party), Morello lead the house in a rousing rendition of Woody Guthrie‘s “This Land Is Your Land,” explaining that he wanted to redefine the song that night.
The all-stars on stage sang through Guthrie’s American anthem, pausing as Morello set up the finale. “History is made by people whose names you do not read about in history, people like you.” Morello told the cheering crowd, “Whether it was women getting the right to vote, desegregating lunch counters (or) bringing the harmonic power of rock and roll to the stage and tonight.”
Continuing Morello offered, “There are some lyrics to the Woody Guthrie song that they did not teach you in the third grade becasue they were afraid that if you heard those lyris that you might one day find your ass at a Nitghtwatchman show…thinking for yourselves.” And before a final version of the familiar chorus belted out loudly by the crowd and those on stage, Morello sang solo:
“In the squares of the city, In the shadow of the steeple, near the relief office, I see my people. And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’, if this land’s still made for you and me.”
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