Sensory Overload: South by Southwest

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Every year, the music industry converges on Austin for its own version of March Madness. South by Southwest draws performers, professionals and fans from around the world for panels and speakers by day followed by concerts galore by night in the town's myriad music venues.

The party keeps expanding as countless unaffiliated concerts spring up to provide free music (and sometimes free booze) day and night. So there's no shortage of sounds to soak in. And soak it in I did.

South by South Best: 10 winsome displays

1. Liars - Magnetic, malevolent and brutal, Angus Andrew and company lambasted my senses with dark yet euphoric art punk. Get these guys to Columbus pronto.

2. Efterklang - The Danish act blended Coldplay's pop touch with Sigur Ros' epic ambition and stitched it all together with a sense of boundless joy evident from the glowing grins on their faces. Ditto on booking this crew in Columbus.

3. The Entrance Band - Drug-fueled psychedelic shredding at the intersection of dynamic songwriting, airtight musicianship and free-flowing fury. They play Columbus a lot. Go.

4. Real Estate - With their ambling Sonic Youth guitars set against summery Shins-style pop, this distinctly suburban band felt like they were conceived just for me.

5. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings -I knew soul sister could sing, but I had no idea she could strut.

6. The Morning Benders - Looking like 12-year-olds, the Grizzly Bear disciples showed their moody, ornate chamber pop has a personality of its own.

7. So Cow - Like the Entrance Band, So Cow plays Columbus frequently. The similarities end there. These Irishmen specialize in clever, punchy pop-punk that's instantly endearing.

8. Fool's Gold - This Afro-pop act featuring The Sun's Brad Caulkins built rich layers of vibrant sonics and started a party everywhere they played.

9. Dam-Funk - Who knew a man, his laptop and his keytar could amount to such a captivating show? Smooth, futuristic synth sounds were a fine background for crooned non-sequiturs like "I don't even f--- with Tiger Woods, n----!"

10. Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers - Ray's harmonium-infused garage rock knocked my socks off. I've never heard such fierce barking and howling from such a tiny lady.

South by South Worst: Three big disappointments

1. Broken Bells - The new project from Danger Mouse and The Shins' James Mercer was a snooze - pedestrian pop performed by slumbering indie-rock zombies.

2. Sleigh Bells - A bad year for "Bells" bands, I suppose. The guy-gal duo's overblown electro-pop plus overblown guitars formula sounds great on my car stereo but translated to a flimsy live show.

3. Everybody Was In the French Resistance ... Now! - Art Brut's Eddie Argos is too obnoxious removed from the bang-bang rock 'n' roll that rocketed him to indie stardom. At least his girlfriend gets to be in the band now.

Locals in Austin

A handful of Columbus bands played official showcases, while several others showed up in Austin for concurrent events.

As for the official participants, The Main Street Gospel brought blistering, bluesy psych rock to the Tee Pee showcase, while brothers in arms Mount Carmel showcased for Siltbreeze. Lydia Loveless turned heads with sweet, twangy ditties. Attack! Attack!'s screamo-trance-crunk hybrid elicited ecstatic responses from stage-diving youth in two appearances.

Other visitors included rap veterans Greenhouse (Blueprint and Illogic), ballsy roots rockers Two Cow Garage and thrashers-to-watch Struck by Lightning, each of whom showed up Saturday to unofficially wrap SXSW madness into their tours. Garage rockers Chelsea Automatic played an in-store for a sweaty, enthusiastic audience at Trailer Space Records.