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.
SHOWS WE LIKED
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)
Rick Trevino — The mainstream country artist was turned on to traditional Mexican music by his participation in the Latin supergroup Los Super Seven. Now he's singing in Spanish full-time (albeit phonetically) and doing it well. Take that, Christina Aguilera! Trevino's album Mi Son will be released May 8 on Vanguard. (DD)
Los Super Seven — But of course. The Latino all-star collective was basically formed via special jams at a local restaurant, so any performance by the Seven in Austin is a homecoming. It also helps that its new album is another landmark creative achievement, which made its Thursday night showcase a delight, from Mavericks leader Raul Malo's bring-down-the-house rendering of "Siboney" to booty-shaking guest appearances by members of Ozomatli, who dashed over from their own showcase to join in the fun. (GG)
TOP 10 BAND NAMES
10: Japancakes 9: The New Pornographers 8: Speaker Bite Me 7: The Cruel and Unusual 6: From Bubblegum to Sky 5: Tie: I Am Spoonbender I Am the World Trade Center Je Suis France 4: Swearing at Motorists 3: The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash 2: Genitallica And the number one band name at this year's SXSW … 1: DJ Muppetfucker
SPOTTED IN THE THRONG
Ray Davies followed his keynote speech by hanging out and hopping onstage with The New Pornographers for a version of the Kinks' "Starstruck."
Isaac and Taylor Hanson were seen smoking stogies at the Lost Highway Records showcase and signing autographs for female fans at the Four Seasons hotel bar. The duo — especially Taylor — was also rocking out to Creeper Lagoon and The Cult at the Revolver party at Stubb's.
Mötley Crüe's Nikki Sixx was hanging out at a variety of venues to scout acts for his Americoma Records label.
A woman named Pennie Lane, claiming to be the real-life version of the Penny Lane character from the movie Almost Famous, handed out business cards with a picture of a U.S. penny on them outside of a panel discussion titled after the film.
Jimmie Dale Gilmore, revered Austin singer-songwriter, checked out some shows and had dinner around town but didn't do any playing himself.
Dixie Chicks Emily Robison and her sister, Marti Seidel, during Robison's husband, Bruce's concert at Waterloo Park.
Jack Osbourne, son of Ozzy and Sharon, chatting up aspiring headbangers during mom's interview session at the Austin Convention Center.
Legendary Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton jammed on five songs from the Iggy days as a special guest of J Mascis.
"I wanted it to sound like Leadbelly or Big Bill Broonzy, but I was a white kid from North London." — Ray Davies, on writing the song "You Really Got Me," during his SXSW keynote speech
"I want more people to tap their feet rather than tap a computer." — Ray Davies
"Shawn leaned over and said, 'You know, that really sucked. You want to do it again?' I didn't know quite how to take it." — Lyle Lovett, on doing another take of his song "The Road to Ensenada" with Shawn Colvin on the set of Austin City Limits
"It's OK, really. It's OK again. Nobody's watching, honest. You're all free to rock again. The confirmation has come down from above. This is the principal reason why we're here." — The Cult's Ian Astbury, during his group's Saturday night performance at Stubb's
"Sex/ Is my best friend/ But without condoms/ I ain't going in." — Ike Turner, performing his song "Sex" at Antone's
"A lot of fucking money. Otherwise it doesn't come out." — Sharon Osbourne, on what it's going to take for a record company to buy the rights to the new Black Sabbath album that's currently being recorded
"Can you imagine, a song about AIDS at the Broken Spoke?" — Rodney Crowell, introducing his song "I Wish It Would Rain," about a bisexual hustler, at the legendary Texas dance hall
"Y'all like country music? If you put your hands up, mean it!" — Kasey Chambers, at the Yard Dog
"You get paid the same as you did in 1961 to do a live show. Everyone has to keep a day job." — Neko Case, at an artists panel
"I remember Interscope hated the record with a capital H. I got this idea … Daniel is a fellow Canadian, and he had a good name because of working with U2 and Peter Gabriel, so I thought I could go with him to do something that the label would like. I went into the room with him in the worst mood possible." — singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith, on working with Daniel Lanois on the song "There's a Rhythm" for his Ron Sexsmith album
"Somehow I knew I had to do this, get up onstage and sing about a psycho killer, what I couldn't express socially and personally, one person to another. I could do it onstage; 'This is a room full of strangers. I don't care what they think. I'm never going to meet them again, and if I do, I'll be too shy to speak to them, anyway.'" — David Byrne, talking about how he overcame his shyness to become a performer
"We lost control three songs ago." — Mark Solomon, of the band Clumsy, during the fourth song of his group's show