What It Was Like: U-N-I, Gil Mantera's Party Dream, Funeral Party, Efterklang, Yelle, The Pack A.D., Bosque Brown, Pete Philly & Perquisite, Bobby Bare Jr.
|Yelle turned her Emo's performance into an all-out dance party on Saturday night.|
Act: U-N-I, a backpacker hip-hop duo from Inglewood, California.
What It Was Like: Stumbling into a nice surprise. There's a high energy feel and definite grittiness to U-N-I's sound, thanks to beats that blend the backing tracks of modern acts like The Cool Kids and older, East Coast acts like Boogie Down Productions.
Verdict: Worth looking into further, for sure. The beats were pretty cool and the lyrics earicatching--"I B-boy stance, I don't Superman dance" got more than a few of U-N-I's audience members smiling. But if there's one thing working against U-N-I, it's that there's a glut of like-minded acts popping up both at SXSW and elsewhere. And though there's not necessarily anything new to the band's package, it was engaging enough to make downloading the duo's upcoming release, A Love Supreme, when it's released as a free download on March 31. After all, it's free.
Act: Gil Mantera's Party Dream, an over-the-top electro-synth pop/sex rock act from Youngstown, Ohio.
Where: Emo's Main Room
What It Was Like: Watching a Spinal Tap-like parody of ironic hipster dance acts. Frontman and band namesake Gil Mantera is a hell of a charatcer, commenting on how thankful he was that his parents didn't abort him as a fetus and generally trying way-too-hard to be obnoxious and subversive. It didn't really work.
Verdict: Nothing against the band's sound--it's danceable and catchy enough. But for the love of God, was this band unlikeable... I'm pretty sure the synth player spent less than ten percent of the performance actually playing his instrument. Instead, he posed and strutted through the whole thing, setting the tone for a band that thought way too highly of itself. It's entertaining for a few minutes, I guess, but boy did it get old fast--especially when the band's best song is nothing more than a remix of Stevie Nicks' "Stand Back". That said, maybe I just misread the whole thing. For instance, were it actually a performance art piece that stood to satirize everything wrong with the hipster set, I'd consider it brilliant.
Act: Funeral Party, poppy-but-gritty synth-punk band from Los Angeles.
Where: Emo's Jr.
What It Was Like: Heaven after popping into Emo's Jr. to get away from Gil Mantera's set in the main room. And these guys weren't too bad, either. Past tours with Yelle and an upcoming slew of dates with Trail of Dead seem to further validate that belief.
Verdict: I liked it enough in a live setting--although I definitely didn't hear nearly as much synth at Emo's Jr. as you will if you visit the band's Myspace page. Live, it was flourishes of synth; over there, it's synth-based. Wierd because I kinda heard a more modern Black Lips live, and now all I hear is Shiny Toy Guns. Still, fun set.
Act: Efterklang, a seven-piece collective of musicians from Copenhagen whose music draws equally from chamber pop and traditional folk influences.
Where: Emo's Jr.
What It Was Like: Imagne if Arcade Fire, instead of bowing to the golden Boss, prayed to the altar of Sting, circa "Desert Rose". I swear that's a compliment.
Verdict: This was a great, distant, understated, movie score-like performance that kept the crowded Emo'S Jr. audience (a much bigger crowd than had been there for Funeral Party's earlire set) completely riveted. I don't own an Efterklang disc--nor had I ever really listened to the band before. But buying the band's latest? Now atop my to-do list.
Act: Yelle, the adorable French dance-pop star... who is everything you'd expect, given that description.
Where: Emo's Main Room
What It Was Like: Like a rave, circa 1994--but with bubblegum dance music leading the craze, not industrial music. Yelle, in her final SXSW performance, didn't have to work very hard to get her crowd engaged--it was willing from the start of her set, dancing as soon as the first note of Yelle's performance came pblasting through the PA system. And, by the end of her set, the dancing had only intensified. So too did the applause and aodration for the singer. The crowd was so enamored, in fact, that it demanded an encore--which Yelle was more than happy to offer up in return.
Verdict: Honestly, I'd always thought Yelle was a little too bubble-gummy for my tastes. But as she paraded around the stage like Jane Fonda hosting an aerobics workout DVD, it was tough not to find her act impressive. And while there's nothing new about her '80s-influenced sound, it still manages to be incredibly bouncy and danceable. Plus, the way she pronounced Austin ("Hell-o Aus-teeeeen!")? Say it with me: Awwwwwwwwww. Even in her space-age, shoulder-padded lycra get-up, she managed to come across endearingly. Gil Mantera and crew could leanr a thing or two from her...
Act: The Pack A.D., a pretty straight-ahead blues-rock duo of some hard-looking punk rock chicks from Vancouver.
Where: Habana Calle 6
What It Was Like: Easiest comparison? The White Stripes. But not just because The Pack A.D. is a duo, or because they're based in the blues-rock realm. Rather, it's because the frontwoman was pretty charismatic and clearly the better performer of the two, with a whiskey-soaked voice that sits somewhere between Lucinda Williams and Joan Jett on the vocal spectrum, and the drummer just seems to be along for the ride, hitting her kit as hard as she can. Also: The drummer wore a Storm Trooper mask through much of the performance.
Verdict: It was captivating enough--and in a small room like this one, where the band could quickly and easily interact and banter with its audience, it came off pretty well. Don't know hoow great it'd be in a bigger room, though. So, yeah, I'd probably check The Pack A.D. out again if it stopped through one of the regions smaller clubs.
Act: Bosque Brown, the honey-voiced Mara Lee Miller-fronted Stephenville Americana/folk outift.
Where: Habana Bar
What It Was Like: Nice enough, I guess. But nowhere near as nice as the band's performance at its Dan's Silverleaf CD release show. Blame the sound guy for that one, though. The P.A. was a little choppy.
Verdict: Just go buy Baby already. It's great.
Act: Pete Philly & Perquisite, a dutch hip-hop act with a live backing band.
Where: Buffalo Billiards
What It Was Like: Like watching a group of Dutch hip-hoppers trying to crack the lucrative Shwayze/G. Love & Special Sauce surf-rap market.
Verdict: Not really my thing. Just had a played-out vibe to it. Also, I really didn't go to Buffalo Billiards to see them; I wanted to see Solange and then maybe Black Joe Lewis. But Pete Philly ran late and then it took Solange over an hour to get ready and sound-check.The crowd--filled with Solange fans--justified it anyway it could, saying "This is her third show fo the dy, it's cool" and "She's a superstar. What do you expect?" Well, for one, I expect her show not to run over an hour late. Oh, and superstars don't open for Estelle. I left, pretty frustrated.
Act: Bobby Bare Jr., the alt-country performing son of country legend Bobby Bare.
Where: Maggie Mae's Gibson Room
What It Was Like: Like watching goofy Bare Jr. room straight through his excellent 2006 release, The Longest Meow.
Verdict: Very fun. Granted, after the Solange/Black Joe Lewis/Pete Philly time waste, I wanted to check out sure thing. And thoguh I'd never seen Bare live before, I knew I loved The Longest Meow. In person, it didn't disappoint.