Top Ten SXSW Artists

It has taken us just about a week to come to a reasonable consensus about who we loved the most during SXSW.  We compiled our lists based on individual preferences and tried to give you a broad range of acts, so now you can consider our SXSW coverage complete with our list of the ten best bands we saw.

Little Dragon

I ate the $10 bucks for the pedicab across town from Mellow Johnny’s to Lustre Pearl to make sure I was inside in time to catch Little Dragon’s showcase.  Xpress pass, front of line, in I go. I managed to catch the latter half of Black Lips’ usual antics, including a finale with butt cheeks in the air, penis on guitar.  Once done, my brain had to recalibrate to take in Yakumi Nagano’s haunting vocal.  There was a transformation from mosh pit to dance party, “Blinking Pigs” sealing the deal and first time live song “If You Need” (what my notes say at least) followed by a seven minute instrumental jam where Yakumi jumped from keys to drums to just dancing with the rest of us. There was a James Blake sighting.  Little Dragon’s set finished with soft and elegant song in tribute to relatives and friends in Japan.  Moving stuff.

Veronica Falls

Tipped off by a long time source, I meandered to the British Music Embassy knowing literally nothing about this band other then I should be there.  Buddy Holly meets Bauhaus meets Beach Boys? They are still listed as unsigned, they are still a bit under the radar and they are exactly what I love about SxSW.  Pair of guys, pair of gals, vocals thrown about through songs, trading lead even within the lines of verses, twangy and jangly guitars, hollow at times and full others, and a  great live performance on a small stage yielding some of my favorite pics of the conference.  Take in “Found Love in a Graveyard” and “Beachy Head” to hear why they should be on your radar.

Sharon Van Etten

It is easier to fall in love anyone you see at the Central Presbyterian Church.  The acoustics alone are worth he walk uphill, but seeing Sharon Van Etten there pushed my appreciation for her talent many notches higher.  Sharon informed us that she had “blown out her voice” at a showcase the night before, but then unleashed songs sounding better than any of her recorded material.  If this is blown out, she should sing this way all the time. I found out that her mom’s favorite song of hers is mine, as well.  “One Day” brought an ovation.  Another highlight was the solo performance of “Consolation Prize”, moving stuff.  Her set was finished with Sharon playing her Harmonium.  Every music fan deserves a set at the Church like this.

Screaming Females

I first caught this band opening for Ted Leo, and seeing them then did just as much for me as their set at SXSW.  This band is full of ridiculous energy, and Marissa Paternoster is one of the most enjoyable lead females around today.  She shreds her guitar, all the while screaming, as the band’s name would indicate, at the top of her lungs.  Oddly, every time I see her on the stage I just can’t help but think of how fragile she seems, so tiny, yet so incredibly powerful.  And that’s only 1/3 of the band!  You get the picture here, don’t you?  A tiny lady leading one of the most forceful bands around.

Wye Oak

SXSW Friday seemed like it was going to be one of the longest days of my life, as our own ATH party left my body thirsting for hydration.  However, over at the Mohawk I just kept seeing killer act after killer act, and Wye Oak definitely lived up to my expectations. This East Coast band was obviously enjoying themselves down in the warm bastions of Texas, and maybe even sweating a little bit.  As the sun beat down upon us all, the guitars echoed in that limestone cavern making their set, most of which included tracks from Civilian, all the more special.  Nothing like the beautiful echo of female echoes and pounding drums to wake one from the slumber.

No Joy

Admittedly, I’m just now catching on to the hype of this band, but as I tried to wait and pine for some of my favorite artists, I walked in to find these two ladies leading their band, tearing at their guitar strings while their hair covered their faces.  Not only did it bring up nostalgic emotions for the 6th Grader inside me, but it got me really excited.  It’s hard for me, personally, to connect to a female vocalist, but when they play music like this, both striking and loud, I can’t help but fawn over them for the rest of the day.  I honestly can’t even tell you if they’re good looking, which doesn’t really matter, but all I know is that I adored everything about their set, and them early on a SXSW afternoon.

Gentleman Jesse and His Men

Love them. New man crush. If you’re ever looking for a band to just play straight up guitar pop worthy of sing-a-long choruses and chugging beers then this is the band for you.  I sang along to all my old hits, got excited by the catchier new ones, and tapped my toes until the set ended.  Jesse just continues to write hit after hit of music that seems so simple, yet so important to everything going on in my life. Sometimes you just want your music to be done simple and well, and in that case, you need a band like GJ&HM to just kick down the doors and play solid rock n’ roll. Thank god they were there, or I would have struggled to wake up.

The Vaccines

Damn am I glad I made the call to go see these guys.  I was in a funk Wednesday brought on by too many laptop/mediocre bands, so my crew decided to run over to Emo’s in hopes that the Vaccines could remedy my funk.  In only 15 minutes time, these guys brought me right out of my sickness and turned me into a fist pumping mad man.  Old school UK rock and a front man who worked the crowd like a veteran beyond his years made this the best band I saw all week.  Some may claim they take themselves way too seriously, and i won’t disagree, but these guys gave me a much needed lift from a string of average drum machine bands.

Lord Huron

Lord Huron was the very first band I saw at noon when the music side of SXSW officially began on Wednesday.  Most of my day would be left yearning for more bands as fun and gracious as these guys seemed to be during their 30 minute set.  Fleshed out versions from the small catalogue of Lord Huron also made me appreciate them even more.  We picked “Might” as one of our songs of the year and it honestly sounded ten times better live.  I caught these guys a second time at Flamingo Cantina on Thursday, and while they didn’t quite deliver as well, they were still one of the better bands I saw that day.  I expect this band to blow up soon.

Cloud Control

Oh no you didn’t… A shameless plug from the ATH crew never hurt anybody people.  No offense to any of our other bands as they were all great, but these guys truly stole the show on Thursday night.  A high energy set focusing on all their catchiest tunes got the crowd actively involved in the Empire Garage lot.  Their sound was superb and a mid-song cover of “Pepper” by veteran Texas band Butthole Surfers amped the crowd enjoyment up even more.  This was the one band on our lineup that I knew very little about before booking them and now I’m glad I did.  *Pat on the back*


  • I went to see Wye Oak in Norman on the 15th and they were great. Without a doubt, they are one of my favorite acts making music right now and they are even better live than on record.

  • Ok, I’ll throw out my honorable mentions.

    The Joy Formidable – they were formidable. Really.

    Still Corners – they were still. And haunting and beautiful and perfect.

    Friendly Fires – manic frontman nearly punched my camera and successfully kneed me in the chest with edge of stage antics. Awesome stuff.

    Duran Duran – they’re pros. The did ‘The Chauffeur’.

    Menomena – longest soundcheck, absolutely worth the delay. See them ASAP.

  • Saw Surfer Blood, they were kick ass.

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