SXSW: The Best of the Festival

I just got back from South by Southwest after watching dozens of bands, eating lots of pizza and having more Lone Stars that I’d care to admit.

SXSW is always an incredible experience and this year was no different. I made tons of discoveries and I’m going to be buying a lot of music in the coming days (I cringe at the amount of money iTunes and Homer’s are going to get from me.

The best way to read everything, is to go right here where all of my stuff is posted (videos, photos and all).

MY TOP FIVE OF SXSW 2012

Kaiser Chiefs

This amazing British rock band doesn’t come to Nebraska. Ever. But they’re so amazing to see live that someone should jump on booking them. It was rock ‘n’ roll madness when the band played “I Predict a Riot,” “The Angry Mob” and “Ruby.” It was definitely the best thing I saw all week.

Norah Jones

Jones debuted her new album, “Little Broken Hearts,” at SXSW and I was lucky enough to get into the show and hear the sweet, endearing songs about lost love. I’m looking forward to picking up a copy of the album.

Icky Blossoms

The Omaha band got people grooving on the dance floor. Though they’ve played in town many times, the band’s refined sound after recording its album in Los Angeles made them one of the best sets at the festival. And they drew big crowds for a virtually unknown band that hasn’t even released an album. Not bad at all.

Lucero

This is a band that I’ve seen many times before, but the whiskey-soaked, bluesy rock group was one of my SXSW favorites. Their new album, “Women & Work,” was a tiny part of the set. Mostly, the band played old songs, and frontman Ben Nichols laughed with the crowd, took requests and took shots with his fans.

Alabama Shakes

Watch out for this Alabama blues band. They came into SXSW with tons of well-earned buzz and they’re going to be big this year. They band already has festival dates planned throughout the year.

THE NOT SO GREAT

M. Ward

I really like M. Ward and was excited to see him at Central Presbyterian Church, a quiet, but acoustically beautiful old church. It’s one of the coolest venues in town. But Ward made the set super-slow and laid back. All but a couple songs were ballads.

He ramped up the energy the next day with a performance at Auditorium Shores, but that was on a huge stage in front of thousands. I would have preferred that energetic set performed in the intimate church venue.

The Chain Gang of 1974

They’re a great dance-punk band, but I could tell they just didn’t have the energy when I saw them. That’s one of the downsides of SXSW: bands sometimes perform up to 10 times over four days and their lack of energy can detract from the performance. The Chain Gang admitted they had been performing a lot over the weekend.

BEST DISCOVERY

River City Extension

I’m not sure I had heard of these guys until I walked in and they started playing. I was absolutely blown away. They played with a passion that’s rare in a lesser-known band. Every member sang their hearts out and sometimes not for a harmony but just because they loved the songs. I hope they come to town soon.

Harouki Zombi
Harouki Zombi is very hard to describe. Part performance art, part DJ duo and part pop group, the collective combined all kinds of stuff for a crazy set. You could dance or you could just watch the geisha-like dancers paint each other or throw glitter on the crowd. You’ll be entertained either way.

WEIRDEST THING I SAW

Harouki Zombi was seriously strange. But it was simultaneously amazing.

BEST FOOD

Tacos

I’ve never had better tacos than the ones from trucks in Austin, Texas. Grub House’s steak fajita tacos were made with warm, fresh tortillas and tender steak. They were topped so high with lettuce, tomato and cheese that they spilled all over. The spicy red salsa they came with didn’t hurt, either. I’ll be eating there when I go back.

THINGS I WAS BUMMED I MISSED

Jack White and Bill Murray, who were at the same show. Bruce Springsteen, but tickets were impossible to get anyway. Two Gallants, who I sort of saw, but only two songs of their set (they were great). Pujol played about a dozen shows, but when I showed up somewhere to see him, I found out the scheduling website I used was wrong.

THING I DIDN’T CARE (AT ALL) THAT I MISSED

Fiona Apple. Everyone else raved about her. I couldn’t care less.

BEST MOMENTS

After informing the crowd they had one more song to play, River City Extension picked up its instruments and walked out into the audience. They played “Bone Marrow Twist & Shout) with no amplification and only a couple acoustic instruments. The band’s harmonious voices carried the song and made for a moment I’ll never forget.

During Harouki Zombi’s set, Orenda Fink (of Azure Ray and O+S) played “Glass Danse” by The Faint, which includes Fink’s husband Todd Fink and brother-in-law Clark Baechle. Fink and Baechle, standing behind me, didn’t seem to notice and I’m not sure anyone else in the crowd did either. Harouki Zombi also played “Killer Babes” by Icky Blossoms whose members were out dancing up a storm on the dance floor.

Lucero’s Ben Nichols talking to crowd members, taking requests and doing several shots of whiskey was funny and endearing. When he capped the incredible set off with solo renditions of “Mom” and “Fist Full of Tears,” it sealed it for me. Fantastic stuff.

MOST FULFILLING SONG

“New Slang” from The Shins, which I’ve never seen performed live before. It’s one of my favorite indie rock songs ever and it was wonderful.

AWESOME THING THAT HAPPENED A LOT

Running into people from Nebraska, which was way cool. It happened on the street, at shows and in the convention center. There were a lot of fans, journalists and bands from Nebraska at SXSW – probably more than ever before.

NICEST PERSON I TALKED TO

Jake Bellows, Omaha guy and guitarist for Whispertown, is one of the nicest guys on the planet. We talked for awhile after one of his shows, including this interview.

COOLEST VENUE NOT NEAR THE REST OF SXSW

Mean Eyed Cat. It’s next to a new development, but the place looks 100 years old. The patio is made out of old wood and corrugated steel and covered in old posters and Johnny Cash memoribilia. It felt very much Austin.

SONG I’D REALLY LIKE TO BUY, BUT CAN’T

“Bone Marrow Twist & Shout” by River City Extension. It’s the song they played in the crowd, but I don’t think they’ve recorded it or released it.

ALBUMS I’M MOST LOOKING FORWARD TO

Norah Jones’s new album, “Little Broken Hearts.” Alabama Shakes’ upcoming record, “Boys & Girls.” And Icky Blossoms’ as-yet-unnamed record coming out on Saddle Creek.

RANDOM CELEBRITY RUN-IN

While others saw Bill Murry and some friends spotted Pete Wentz, I ran into Carson Daly. He was escorted by at least one security guard and two assistants.

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