April 01, 2005

SXSW 2005: MIKE MADDEN'S BEST/WORST PICKS

This year's South by Southwest music festival/conference has come and gone, so it's only fitting to look back at what was good, bad and average in '05.

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Best Venue: Club DeVille
A place with a great backyard stage that is deceivingly large. What makes this the tops this year was the lack of overcrowding. Friday night's triple bill of The Immortal Lee County Killers, The Woggles and The Forty-Fives could have filled some of Austin's bigger clubs, but a less-cramped outdoor setting was just what these three close-knit yet distinctly different bands were looking for.

Worst Venue: Soho Lounge
Just a complete mess. Whoever had the idea to have the stage upstairs needs to have his or her head examined. There was a second set of stairs in the back of the building that was left unguarded. So even if the main steps worker denied you entry, you could have hung out at the downstairs bar and then just turn up those back steps, which were packed with people. Next year, the Soho Lounge should sit out the showcases and focus on the NCAA tournament.

Best Crowd: Saturday Night at BD Riley's for Brent Best
Hot on the heels of the last shows of his prior band, Slobberbone, one would expect a more subdued and skeptical crowd for Best's showcase. However, with a capacity crowd inside BD Riley's and another 20 or so looking in through the open bay windows in the front, the energy was way up. Good thing Brent brought with him a newly rehearsed four-piece band, including fellow Slobberbone alums Jess Barr and Tony Harper. The new band set the stage for a new phase, and the fans and onlookers ate it up.

Worst Crowd: Wednesday Night at La Zona Rosa for the Lost Highway showcase
This was the type of crowd that SXSW regulars have come to dread: tons of cell phones, clusters of loud chatting during the sets and an overall vibe of "I'm here just to say I was here" that all but ruined the 11 p.m. performance of Tift Merritt. Merritt and her band never hit stride, failing to win over the crowd that had assembled primarily for the closing set by Elvis Costello. And even Costello had trouble keeping this group focused. His set, with its mix of old favorites, deep album cuts and new songs from last year's Delivery Man, was great if you could avoid the talkers and those who were shuffling through the crowd toward the exit to catch another act.

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Best Imported Band: The Blue Van
A showstopper at the TVT Records party Thursday afternoon, this energetic quartet from Denmark (above) delivered a short but powerful performance that will surely spread its growing reputation as one of the premier garage revivalists in the world.

Worst Imported Band: Laika & the Cosmonauts
Their Saturday set during the Yep Roc Records/Harp magazine party at Yard Dog Gallery was an utter bore. The fact that it was pouring out and there was little to do besides watch the band and getting soaked was even worse. You don't play long, drawn-out psychedelic instrumentals to a festival crowd.

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Best New Band: The Redwalls
OK, they're not exactly new (the band released an album with Undertow Records in 2003), but with their major-label debut due out shortly on Capitol, these young men (above) will be new to a lot of people. Sharp vocals and jangly guitars are the main assets this Chicago based quartet possesses. It doesn't hurt that the band comes loaded with terrific songs that recall elements of The Beatles and T. Rex

Worst New Act: Carter Tanton
A very unpolished performer who seemed to be doing his best to attract comparisons to Bright Eyes' "it boy" Conor Oberst. Unfortunately, all Tanton had was the quaky voice and the mannerisms, with none of the songs or charisma.

Worst Act: Hockey Night
Juvenile pop punk with very little concept of timing, despite the presence of two drummers. These wise guys from Minneapolis are giving a city rich in rock history a huge black eye. Grow up, boys.

Best Act: Steve Wynn and the Miracle 3
Now here's a band that knows how to get it done. Wynn and company performed toward the tail end of a packed lineup Wednesday afternoon at the Guitar Town party at Mother Egan's and tore the house down, offering up a solid blend of post-punk guitar grit and clever songwriting. Their show-closing gem, "Amphetamine," was this year's best live song by far.

-- By Mike Madden

Posted by medleyville at April 1, 2005 08:56 PM
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