It was an off year for SXSW music. Normally I get psyched about several bands that are coming and then discover a few during the week, but not this year. I saw many bands during the conference, but only a few stood out.
Honorable mentions go to VHS or Beta and Supersystem. VHS or Beta worked a huge crowd at Stubb's and seemed rather awe-struck by how well they were doing. They do the dancey rock thing better than most of the dancey rock bands (oh Gang of Four what you have inspired) and the singer's spot-on Robert Smith vocals were both cool and creepy. I had my hopes way up for Supersystem and they kind of delivered. The energy in the room was off and they were clearly nervous, but about halfway through their set they turned it around and ended well.
Third prize goes to Jim & Jennie and the Pine Tops for their day show at B.D. Riley's. Damn but they can get me going. Piercing vocals and furious strumming are wonderful in the afternoon. I was less enthused by their recent move toward electric instruments, but the day show was all traditional bluegrass.
Second prize goes to Calexico. I've seen them something like 5 times before, but I swear they're one of the best live bands around and are not to be missed. They didn't disappoint. During their day show at Emo's and their regular showcase at Antone's, they impressed me all over again with brilliantly textured songs and a zeal for performing. "Crystal Frontier" rocked my lame ass, as witnessed by those standing behind me.
First prize is easily earned by Kings of Convenience. From the moment they started their quiet set of acoustic folk-pop, they had the audience in the palm of their hand. They began by hushing the crowd, which actually worked, despite the overabundance of music industry types. Then they requested that photographers get picture-taking out of the way and helpfully posed smiling, then "rocking out". Then, they just started to play. Beautiful. Highly recommend picking up their albums. The highlights were a version of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" where they got the audience to sing the backup chorus and a song performed with a guest female vocalist, Feist (thanks mybloodyself). I walked out of the show smiling, glad that I'd had at least one perfect moment during SXSW this year.