I started this blog in 2010. I had been writing review of SXSW for several years and sending them out two a very small audience. Since we have missed SXSW for a couple of years, it seems to make some warped sense to look back a few years and at least remind myself about how I listened, liked and wrote. Here goes–with a couple of comments.

SXSW 2005  TOP 10

After reading some “professional” critics’ reviews of SXSW, and getting some inquiries from friends of mine, I thought it might be of some value to share my views on SXSW this year.

The two best things about SXSW are luck and surprise, and I think each person’s experiences will differ simply because of the infinite number of permutations of day parties, showcases and other music one person can see/hear.  Expectations (especially of great bands doing new material) are usually incredibly high and hard to meet.  And, since the key to happiness is sometimes low expectations, the surprise of a very good or great band when one is not expected is a treasure. and expectation.  Some high expectation bands just cannot meet the memory (Love Tractor, Rezillos, Raveonettes, though Sleater-Kinney almost met extremely high expectations), while the spread between low expectation and above average performance by new bands (especially those you stumble upon)  with new sounds are sometimes more memorable—especially if your ego tells you, you’ve made a “discovery”—well let’s get on with it:

1..        Shonen Knife- Elysium.   I was really surprised how great this band was.  In fact, they were originally my second choice Japanese-punk band of the night.  I first endured a long wait to see Guitar Wolf who played next door and received much more buzz.  However, after 15 minutes, it was clear that Guitar Wolf had the leather jacket and sunglasses look of the Ramones, but  played much more heavy-metal chords.   So I checked out Shonen Knife.  All the  teeny-bopper, bubble gum punk descriptions of the band are only partially true.  This three piece power combo from Japan was much more like the Ramones than Guitar Wolf.   Shonen Knife had the punk chords, driving drums and fun feel of the early Ramones (far better than the Rezillos).  While Naoko does not speak too much English she was able to say “I would like to play my favorite Ramones song” do one final encore of their favorite Ramones song “I Wanna Be Sedated” at 2:30 am, after the bar had closed.   

2.         Steve Wynn and the Miracle Three. – Martha Egan’s.   What could be better than watching live music (and drinking a beer) on Wednesday afternoon at 5:00?  Listening to Steve Wynn’s torrid riffs and awesome guitar harmony.  This is another band I had never seen before, but they were probably the tightest band of the weekend.  I kind of scoffed at first when one of the Austin critics said that Steve Wynn was probably the best band playing SXSW this year.  I’m not scoffing now. [Check out an incredible version of Amphetamine from the KEXP archives on FB!]

3.         The Beangrowers.  Lava Lounge Patio.  This is a band from Malta from all places, but it could have come from Athens, GA in 1979.    With a bass-driven sound and a very strong female vocal, for a moment I thought I was listening to Pylon.  Maybe it was because I was waiting for Love Tractor to play (see honorable mentions below), but maybe it was because they actually sounded that way.  I bought their last album and it was also very good (a new one is supposed to be out soon)—but not as good as they were live.   [Totally forgot about this show and this band. One of the weirdest locations ever for a show–the parking lot of a closed down restaurant!]

4.         Alejandro Escovedo (w/ John Cale) Austin Music Hall and Town Lake Stage.   Amazingly, Alejandro was the only artist I saw more than once this year (as opposed to multiple performances by Jon Langford, John Wesley Harding, Preston School of Industry and Robyn Hitchcock last year).  He looked great played 5 songs with John Cale at the Austin Music Awards, including Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah—which is still ringing through my head 6 days later.  Then, on Friday night, the band played at sunset at the Town Lake Auditorium—the outdoors provided an optimal setting for the ethereal orchestra (w/2 cellos and a violin), highlights including his slow cover of the Gun Club’s Sex Beat (though I would prefer he cover She’s Like Heroin to Me).

5.         Salteens.  Sake on Sixth.  The fact that I heard this band on the street late Thursday night (after a slightly disappointing Chris Stamey) might have had an influence in the rankings.  This was a surprisingly good Vancouver, Canada pop band, with very strong vocal harmonies, guitars, trombone and whiny singing. Kinda Smiths, kinda Only Ones. [Still love this band!]

6.         Sleater-Kinney.  Emo’s. The only band I camped out for all weekend for fear of not getting in, S-K was great as usual and worth it.  I was worried that their new material may be too metallic and disappointing—but it proved to be untrue, and they played a couple of earlier songs to keep the fans at Emo’s happy.  This is still one of the best live bands around with Carrie  kicks, Corin’s howls, and Janet’s pounding drums.

7.         The Living Blue.  Latitude 30.  Who’d of thought that raw, powerful punk/pop  could come from a band from Champaign, Illinois?   Sometimes reminded me of the best of the more powerful Oasis songs, but then, for some reason many of the bands I saw this year reminded me of Oasis.

8,         By Divine Right.  Yard Dog Gallery backyard. Another Canadian band with another quirky and a bit whiny lead singer and great guitars.

9.         Thermals.  Emo’s. A sub-pop band that is getting a lot of buzz for their hotel-room recorded punk rock.  They deserve it.

10.       Jon Langford and the Sexy.  Continental Club.   One of, I think, only 3 of his official iterations at SXSW, when he rocks and engages in only limited tomfoolery, he is still, in my book-one of the best. 

Honorable Mention

David Lowery/John Hickman(Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker acoustic).   Jovita’s. Played at the Sugar Hill Records showcase party at Jovita’s with no other band.  Very strong guitar and lyrics and a great interpretation of an Ike Reilly’s “Duty Free.”   The owner of Jovita’s is very nice, too.  His wife loaned me her Swiss Army Knife to fix my glasses.

AMPOP.  Latitude 30. This band from Iceland sounded like some of  Oasis’s better “light” songs.

Raveonettes.  Antone’s.   While they are a very good band, they lose points from me because they remind me of how great the Jesus and Mary Chain was, and the Raveonettes best songs are clear imitations.  They also lose points because their set was shortened by a power outage and they refused to fight the venue to do one or two more songs.

Steve Malkmus.  The Parish.  Preston School of Industry was one of my 2004 SXSW highlights, and Malkmus’s stuff sounds a little lighter than PSI.   Very good, though. Would have been better in a smaller place.

Nightingales.  Maggie Mae’s.  This reunited Manchester band couldn’t figure out if they were once The Fall or the Gang of Four, but one or two of their songs were very powerful—they just could not sustain.

Love Tractor.  Lava Lounge:  I may be penalizing them for not being who they used to be (who is anyway?) and not playing any instrumentals.  The vocals were haunting and melded well with the music, but not the distinguished and driving sound they used to have (at least they did not  play their Party Train cover).


Luckily not many.   French Kicks had a lot of buzz, but did not deliver, as did Guitar Wolf.  The Rezillos seemed dated and simply did not have the kind of talent of other reunited punks like the Sex Pistols or the Buzzcocks.  

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