The weather may be better in New York City than it is down here in Austin, Texas, this year, but throngs of music-industry folks are still baring pale white limbs to what sun there is, boozing like spring breakers, and seeing lots and lots of rock shows as part of the South by Southwest music festival, which grows in influence every year. It’s like a real live embodiment of the blogosphere — except much more fun than that sounds.
Broken Bells, the electro-soul group founded by the Shins’ James Mercer and producer Danger Mouse, had the most anticipated performances of the festival — and wound up with one of the more disappointing. Their performance at Stubb’s on Wednesday for the NPR showcase was met with a collective ‘eh’ — the delicate nature of their music didn’t translate so well in a world where bands play twenty-minute sets outside with no time for soundcheck.
Bands like Best Coast fare better under these circumstances. A grimy surf-rock-pop group fronted by Bethany Cosentino, a New York transplant to Los Angeles, offer songs that are so simple (a new one called “Boyfriend” consists mainly of one line: “I miss you so much/I want to go back to the first time, the first place”) that they’re hard to ruin. Dressed like she was bound for the beach, Cosentino plugged in a sea-green Fender at the Levi’s/Fader fort on Thursday afternoon and worked a distracted early afternoon crowd into a rapt audience, bobbing their heads along to a series of remarkably catchy new tunes. She has reportedly completed her new album, but has yet to sign an official record deal. Don’t expect her to remain unsigned through the weekend.
Also hot: “chillwave.” It’s a loose, blogger-invented term for bands who’ve taken the druggy, ambient feel of shoegaze and merged it with the celebratory party sensibility of more straightforward club music. There are several artists drawing attention here with their own interpretations of this sound, including Neon Indian (fronted by the Texas-born Alan Palomo), Washed Out, and Toro Y Moi, who just released their debut album in January.
Gawking, gossiping, and prognosticating is as big a part of SXSW as actually hearing music, of course. There’s been a lot of chatter about The Runaways, in part because its premiere at the earlier film portion of the festival was attended by stars Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, and in part because Runaways Svengali and punk-rock icon Kim Fowley has been here, soaking up all the attention he can get. Surprisingly, Courtney Love, who is reuniting Hole today at the Spin party, has been keeping a relatively low profile … though maybe that’s because she’s just not in town yet. Also on the scene: Adrien Brody, Bill Murray (again), Verne Troyer, and, perhaps even more randomly, Erik Estrada.