What It Was Like: Eighteen Bands In Twelve Hours.

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Pete Freedman
LA's Local Natives offered up the finest set of SXSW's second day.
The second day of SXSW 2010 proved quite the copious one--and, for this here showgoer, a fortunate one. Seemed every time I popped into a different venue, another band was just cuing up its set. In total, SXSW brought some 18 acts across these eyes and ears--probably more, too, but my pen ran out of ink and the rest is kind of a blur.

After the jump, brief dissections of the 18 sets caught on Thursday. But, before that, a quick plug: Follow us on Twitter for real-time reactions to these shows.

Alright. You ready to break down some buzz?

Act: Cymbals Eat Guitars
Where: Mad Decent and I Heart Comix's Carniville day party at the Mexican Cultural Center
What It Was Like: Like an alarm clock set to 11. The four-piece didn't start its set till arond 2 o'clock yesterday afternoon, but even as it did, it did so to a relatively small crowd. People, it seemed, were still waking up, and still trickling into the venue to catch early day party shows. Verdict: Cymbals Eat Guitar's songs did a solid job of jolting the crowd out of its slumber. With a gritty and loud delivery, the band offered up a rather spastic brand of post-punk, with screamo and shoegaze tendencies--but good additions on those fronts--and some classic Malkmusian indie tossed in. And the time and style changes were quite the nice touch. A very solid offering, indeed.

Act: Ringo Deathstar
Where: The Independent
What It Was Like: Like a flashback to a time when Reality Bites, like, so spoke to the issues I'm having at this point in my life, man. Everything about Ringo Deathstar--from its loud, psych-meets-grunge sound to its female bassist and co-lead vocalist--just screamed early '90s.
Verdict: Now that I think about it, I kind of loved the '90s. Especially the parts of the decade that RIngo Deathstar recalled. Stumbling upon this show was a blatant accident on my part--and a pleasant one once I'd noticed Ringo Deathstar on the bill. It only got better once the band started playing. This band's been around for a few years now, but still just oozes with potential, likely awaiting the time when the 20-year cycle of music retreading catches up to it and finally, completely, reaches 1993.

Act: Neon Indian, ever heard of 'em?
Where: The Fader Fort
What It Was Like: Like bumping into an old friend. Dallasites were everywhere in Austin yesterday--seemed I'd bump into someone I knew at every turn--and catching Neon Indian at the Fader Fort wasn't unlike that. Didn't necessarily mean to catch 'em--seen 'em plenty already, no doubt--but did nonetheless. And, man, the band drew a big crowd. No surprise there: Overheard buzz seems to place the former DFW-based act among the buzziest bands at SXSW.
Verdict: Sound issues plagued the four-piece's set a tad and, to a degree, it seemed like it was the buzz and not the music that drew the crowds to this show as the audience seemed a little miffed and unsure about how to react to Neon Indian's sounds. Is this a dance band or a electro-psych project. Can't it be both? Leader Alan Palomo seems to think so, given his releases thus far. And, despite the sound issues, the band continued its increasingly confident live show rise.

Act: Local Natives
Where: The Fader Fort
What It Was Like: Like ordering a slice and getting the whole pizza pie for free. I'd heard some of Local Natives' material online before and enjoyed its Fleet Foxes-cum-Yeasayer vibe. Didn't know what to expect live, though. And, man, this LA act hardly disappointed, Quite the opposite, actually: With full five-part harmonies, tribal drum-beats and an honest sincerity to match its danceable folk-rock, this band kind of blew me out of the water.
Verdict: Guess I kind of already revealed the verdict in the paragraph above, but, for real, this band put on one of the best shows I've seen at SXSW 2010. Place it right at the top of my list, alongside We Were Promised Jetpacks and Frightened Rabbit for best shows seen so far. Oh, and the band is coming to The Cavern in April. Expect that sucker to be packed--and get sold out early once the buzz on this band truly breaks.

Act: Bomba Estereo
Where: The Fader Fort
What It Was Like: Like watching a Colombian M.I.A. try her damnedest to pull off an impressive set--the three-piece's rapping frontwoman raced and jumped energetically about the stage--and only impressing those who really weren't paying the closest attention.
Verdict: If you're not really paying attention, Bomba Estereo's music can seem pretty cool--it's dancy, worldly, and, sure, quite fun--but, as the band continued its set on Thursday, its catalog seemed pretty darn one-sided. Each song featured an only slightly altered beat from the last, and the vocals hardly switched up its patterns from song to song, either.

Act: Chew Lips
Where: The Fader Fort
What It Was Like: Like watching Blondie, kind of? Only not nearly as good: Chew Lips has a new wave feel and the three-piece's frontwoman no doubt exudes a Debbie Harry vibe, but its dancier, more bass-heavy offering seemed bland and unenthusiastic.
Verdict: The problem with electronic music's recent catapulting to the top of the buzziest music heap is the number of also-rans that pop up, trying to capitalize on it. Chew Lips fell squarely in this also-ran camp.

Act: The Daylights
Where: Dirty Dog Bar
What It Was Like: Ugh. This show seemed full of radio types, and, worse, radio types who were really into this LA band's rather pedestrian, if remotely catchy, pop-rock songs. It just seemed such a contrived set from these pretty boys--and so too did its pearl-snap shirts and hints of country that were tossed into the sonic mix.
Verdict: Honestly? I kind of hated this set, but I was the only one in the room who appeared to feel this way. Girls swooned and radio-types high-fived one another. Watch out, Clear Channel: Here come the Daylights! [Rolls eyes.]

Act: The Soft Pack
Where: Stubb's
What It Was Like: Like watching a crowd full of Broken Social Scene and Band of Horses fans slowly get won over by this San Diego quartet's bouncy, catchy, indie garage rock.
Verdict: Kind of great, actually. The Soft Pack, like Neon Indian, appears to be one of the more talked-about up-and-comers at this festival, and for good reason: The band's songs are undeniable, seeping into your head and sounding familiar from first listen. And this crowd, which was filled with early arrivers looking to get position for the venue's later performers and headliners, seemed to get a real kick out of the SoCal outfit.

Act: The Lonely Forest
Where: Club De Ville
What It Was Like: Well, for starters, not a Lonely Island offshoot, which the name could seem to apply. Rather, a tender-hearted indie rock four-piece from Washington state with surprisingly complex song structures and time changes. A small crowd showed for this set--but it was a no doubt passionate one, singing along exuberantly and being heard audibly over the mix. It was so loud, even, that the overwhelmed frontman jokingly asked the audience if they'd prefer the microphone.
Verdict: Enjoyable, if a little generic. Were Garden State being made today, The Lonely Forest's music would be a good candidate for the soundtrack. But it wasn't all soft; when the band rocked, it did so enjoyably--and heavily.

Act: jj
Where: Mohawk Patio
What It Was Like: jj's got a hell of a voice--and cool enough ambient-electro and tribal backing music to merit the kind of attention the solo Scandinavian artist has been receiving of late. But, aside from a few acoustic guitar plucks on some early songs, jj just sat on stage on a stool, singing lazily (and, OK, hazily) into her microphone. No backing band, either--just tracks piped in over the PA.
Verdict: Super disappointing, really. jj's got the vocal goods--she's the real deal on that front--but whoever it is that's managing her really needs to tell her to step up her performance game. This was pretty dreadful. At the very least, sign her up a backing band so there's something to keep the audience from dying of boredom.

Act: dd/mm/yyyy
Where: Emo's Jr.
What It Was Like: This five-piece was ridiculously high-energy and spastic as all hell with its math-y art-punk. Not unlike watching the Butthole Surfers in some ways--if the Surfers were from Toronto and formed only recently.
Verdict: Kind of amazing. Another favorite performance from the day. This band's sonic offerings were all over the maps, with hints of math-, electro-, experimental and ambient rock in its rather out-of-control--but endlessly interesting and never once forced--repertoire. Plus, the band sells it live, emphatically playing its instruments--and switching up who takes which instrument from song to song. Tough to delve into, perhaps, but endlessly rewarding upon committing to it.

Act: Acid Girls
Where: Beauty Bar
What It Was Like: Watching two DJs spin solid-but-not-great remix of songs from Salt-N-Pepa and the like. Supposedly hip, but hardly entertaining--at one point in the duo's early set, one member pushed the microphone away from his face, as if to openly say, "Take my mediocre performance for what it is. It's all I've got."
Verdict: Listen: I like DJs. But at an official SXSW showcase, you've got to step your game up beyond flipping through your CD book. A classic--and kinda tragic--misstep.

Act: Hollywood Holt
Where: Beauty Bar
What It Was Like: At the start of Chicago party-rapper Hollywood Holt's set, the room was crowded, but pretty dead. Then Holt came out and singlehandely turned things around. By the end of his set, Holt, who has a pretty hard delivery to match his electro-meets-gangsta beats, had the room in full-on party mode and completely at his mercy. The crowd-surfing helped, no doubt.
Verdict: It was just a 20-minute set, but Holt's display was beyond impressive. "This is the best motherfucking show I've ever done!" Holt exclaimed excitedly into the microphone toward the end of his set. The crowd roared. And, after promising to "kill myself on stage" for his last song, Holt managed to take the already hyped-up room to an even higher level. Just an awesome display. And, in an odd turn of events, comedian Bill Murray was standing off to the side of the stage, watching the room jump around with ecstacy. Murray, too, seemed to approve.

Act: The Cave Singers
Where: Club De Ville
What It Was Like: Like watching a crowded show space fall in love. And for good reason: This trio's chanty, almost tribal brand of alt-country-infused folk-rock got this room moving with spirit and cheering loudly.
Verdict: Real entertaining. The Cave Singers kind of have an Akron/Family-meets-Phosphorescent feel, boasting an indie chic and a tribal dance party sensibility. And, stomping around on stage and clapping to the beat as his guitarist sat in a stool and his drummer was banging away behind his kit, the singer provided the crowd plenty to be visually entertained by. Kind of the exact opposite of jj.

Act: Superlito
Where: Maggie Mae's
What It Was Like: Watching a generic Latin band play for way longer than anyone in the room wanted it to.
Verdict: Enough said, really. There was a decent groove to this band's sound, but not enough to stand out amongst the thousand of other acts here in town.

Act: Barcelona
Where: Maggie Mae's Rooftop
What It Was Like: Like watching a band uncertain of its identity. With a classic punk trio lineup, this pop-rock outfit infused its sounds with all sorts of influences--quirky indie sounds at one moment, punk-ish rock the next, and a tender ballad after. But, unlike dd/mm/yyyy, it only distracted from the band's aim, and mostly showing a band unsure of itself.
Verdict: Utterly forgettable. Pleasant enough songs, but no real direction. Add in a generic sound and that doesn't leave much for listeners to grab onto. I really couldn't figure out what, if anything, was supposed to be unique about this outfit.

Act: Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights
Where: Maggie Mae's
What It Was Like: If Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights was nervous before its showcase, its members hardly showed it. And, once on stage, the band only further showcased a confident swagger. And the room loved every second of it. Audience members chatted between songs about past times they'd seen the band, and how they became a fan. Seems like the Northern Lights' attempts to build a grassroots following through constant touring has paid off in spades: The room was packed at the start of the band's set.
Verdict: Another great show from the Dallas outfit. This band's live show has come light-years over the past year along. It's gospel-infused blues- and southern-rock sound tends to draw a very specific type of audience member--namely fans of the red dirt scene--but the band's performances are likely to win over most listeners at this point; it helps that the band boasts a song as good as "Devil's Basement," as epic a blue-rock jam as you're likely to hear.

Act: Eisley
Where: Maggie Mae's Rooftop
What It Was Like: Gorgeous. Just absolutely gorgeous. And the Tyler-based family band's new material? Kind of awesome, actually. It's a little darker, a little less straight-ahead, and a little more muscle-y. The crowd of apparently die-hard fans gathered on the rooftop got quite the kick out of this show, and rightfully so.
Verdict: Guitarist Sherr DuPree-Bemis and keyboardist Stacy DuPree still boast the best vocal interplay of any lead vocal duo in North Texas, folks. Switching leads, the two equally stunned, albeit for different reasons--Stacy for sheer beauty, Sherri for great pacing. After a couple years out of the spotlight, this band really looks primed to return to the spotlight in many ways. Even if its confidence in the wake of its split from its Warner Bros. label has left its confidence shaken: "We reallly doubt ourselves as a band," Sherri told the crowd at Maggie Mae's. No reason. This band appears to be in fine form.

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