Despite the big names that dropped by for some monumental sets – Metallica at Stubbs BBQ on Friday, and Kanye West's two gigs on Saturday across the city — the festival felt like it had returned to its roots, with unsigned bands and fresh new artists really making the biggest splashes.
One of which was Melbourne, Australia's the Temper Trap, who across their handful of gigs (including the one we caught on Saturday at the Aussie BBQ at Brush Square Park), made hundreds of influential followers. Their sound – full of angular but emotive guitars — is as dynamic as their frontman, Dougie, who captured the audience throughout their set like an indie mini messiah as he jumped on speakers and threw himself into the thick of things, as the crowd grabbed at him greedily.
There's been quite a lot of interest in the group, but the boys said they didn't let the pressure of being one of SXSW's buzziest band get to them.
"If I sat down and thought about it maybe, but I'm doing my best to just kind of keep the blinkers on and just play the shows and have fun," drummer Toby told us.
Another band the crowds stepped out in force for was Manchester electro-rock mashers The Whip. Their daytime set at the Liverpool Sound City showcase at Lattitude 30 was oversubscribed, forcing people to spill out into the street, standing on toes and shoulders to peer through the windows to the group's sweaty, infectious explosion of songs from their debut album, "X Marks Destination."
Also new-ish and going from unknowns to swoon-able stars-on-the-rise at the festival was White Lies, who had a coveted slot playing the same bill as PJ Harvey and John Parrish on Saturday at Stubbs BBQ. Taking the best pages out of the Echo & The Bunnymen/The Cure handbook – dark, stylized tuneful rock – they pulled off the soaring vocal-led stylish songs from their Universal debut, "To Lose My Life," with a large measure of panache.
Asher Roth, currently blowing up the singles chart with "I Love College," churned out some fiery performances over the weekend that had even normally stiff industry vets throwing their hands up. Hip-hop's white guy of the moment, who releases his debut album, "Asleep In the Bread Aisle," on April 20, churned out a calorie-burning set of songs that live, were all as fun as "I Love College," during the gig we caught — Friday at Club DeVille."
"Coming from the 'burbs, I listed to all [kinds of music]. I've got two older sisters, a mother who's totally into Motown and a father that's totally into rock n' roll so I had all this music coming into the household," Asher told On The Download of the bag he pulled from to make his songs. "So this album is like 23 years of me assimilating that music and putting it into something."
And ladies hip-hop was represented as well by a rocking On The Download fave, Kid Sister, who managed to bring out the most frenetic backup dancer despite a very tiny stage at Club DeVille just after Asher's set. Lady Sovereign, who was the first on of the three rap acts, looked pint-sized on stage, but muscled through her set of classics and new ones from her upcoming April-due album, "Jigsaw," leaving the place sweaty, glowing and in need of a catch-your-breath sit down session afterward.
Ecclecto-rockers The Mae Shi, from Los Angeles, put on one of the weekend's most sprightly performances at Mohawk's on Saturday that featured quirky tunes, loud licks and one of those parachutes you break out at school for children to all run under.
Harlem, a homegrown group from Austin, TX, also put in a boisterous showing Saturday evening at the Beauty Bar, where with at least one of them dressed in a sweaty old undershirt (complete with corsage), they garage-rocked it Detroit style with loud vocals, smashing guitar chords and plenty of instrument swapping.
But the festival wasn't complete without a few special parties. The cleaner, well-dressed were spotted dancing to DJs on the rooftop of The Belmont Friday as they rubbed shoulders with Sleater Kinney and NPR "Monitor Mix" radio host Carrie Brownstein at NPR's soiree with Vanity Fair. And things all neatly, or rather loudly, ended as Saturday slipped away with Spin magazine's closing party with And You Will Know Us By the Trail of the Dead, who tore up the stage of the Warehouse bash as fellow rockers Melissa Auf Der Maur and members of Echo & the Bunnymen looked on.
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