SXSW: Seen and Heard

Amid all the glad-handing, panel discussions, schmoozing, and free booze 'n' barbecue parties, the annual South by Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas, is, at the core, about hearing music and designating which acts will enjoy the all-important "buzz" during the coming year. Here's a sampling of what Wall of Sound's delegation — Daniel Durchholz and Gary Graff — liked at this year's SXSW.


The Black Crowes and The Cult — Two platinum rock veterans previewed their new albums with hot-ticket shows in the field outside Stubb's barbecue joint and brought a bit of arena-style mania to the generally low-tech confines of SXSW. The Crowes opened with two tracks from Lions (due out May 8) but really caught fire during extended versions of "Thorn in My Pride" and "My Morning Song," during which guitarists Rich Robinson and Audley Freed generated some vintage Allman Brothers Band-style communication on their instruments. During its appearance at Revolver magazine's controversial non-SXSW party, The Cult's Ian Astbury declared, "You're all free to rock again!" and the band did just that, with songs ("The Saint," "War") from its new, as-yet untitled reunion album due in June and a generous selection of hits such as "Fire Woman," "Sweet Soul Sister," "She Sells Sanctuary," and "Love Removal Machine." (Gary Graff)

Kasey Chambers — A young Aussie singer whose music actually fits into the Americana mold, Chambers is a fast-rising star who charmed a capacity crowd at Yard Dog with songs from her debut album, The Captain, plus some choice covers, including Lucinda Williams' "Changed the Locks" and Fred Eaglesmith's "Water in the Fuel." (Daniel Durchholz)

The New Pornographers — Those in the know were already enamored with alt-country favorite Neko Case's new project, a melodic pop outfit that at times sounds like a Canadian B-52's. Case's playful repartee with guitarist Carl Newman ("Dost thou disrespect me, woman?" sayeth he. "Thou dost, but thou dost it out of love for thee," replieth she) was a hoot, and SXSW keynote speaker Ray Davies' cameo appearance for a rendition of The Kinks' chestnut "Starstruck" (with lyric cheat-sheet in hand) helped to cement the band's hipness. (GG)

The Holmes Brothers — The New York gospel and R&B trio The Holmes Brothers debuted songs from their new Joan Osborne-produced album, Speaking in Tongues, including Bob Dylan's "Man of Peace" and the O'Jays' "Love Train." (DD)

David Byrne — The former Talking Heads leader didn't forget his old band, playing "Nothing But Flowers," "And She Was," and "Once in a Lifetime." But the emphasis was on his solo material, particularly songs from his upcoming album, Look Into the Eyeball, which were delivered by Byrne's four-piece band and accented by string players from the local group Tosca. (GG)

Tift Merritt — Merritt's labelmates on Universal's new Lost Highway imprint include Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams, but the North Carolina singer should still be able to distinguish herself amid such company. A tiny woman with a great big voice, Merritt's debut album will likely be out late this year or early next. (DD)

Cosmic Rough Riders — A U.K. band signed to former Creation Records mogul Alan McGee's (Oasis) new Poptones imprint, the Rough Riders impressed with their catchy, breezy tunefulness and cheeky humor that at one point led to an a capella snippet of the Beach Boys' "California Girls" (changed, of course, to "Scottish girls"). (GG)

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