There's no two ways about it: SXSW (pronounced South by Southwest) in Austin, Texas, has, by its 21st year, grown into the most influential event in the nation for anyone looking to divine the next trends in music. Oh, um, and drink and eat barbecue and develop (or aggravate) tinnitus.
Last week I braved four and a half days of nonstop shows from noon to 2 a.m. (and beyond), mountains of swag, and a scary flow of free alcohol that made all of that very difficult to survive. Tough job, yes, but someone's got to report back on what's new and next. And hey, Miami New Times' parent company, Village Voice Media, was among the sponsors.
Here are a few highlights from the locals who played last week. If you missed our exhaustive day-by-day online coverage of the whole event (including national and legendary acts such as Motörhead, Van Morrison, and X), visit Crossfade, the Miami New Times music blog, at blogs.miaminewtimes.com/crossfade. For tons of pictures of various amazing SXSW gigs, check the slide shows on our homepage.
Torche: I'm a huge fan of these guys, who tend to play with other mind-blowingly demented acts, so I saw them twice in one crazy Thursday. The first time was at a Vice magazine-sponsored showcase in a ramshackle barbecue joint/dive bar. They usually perform with other bands with great names, and here they were preceded by the Moonrats and followed by the Fuckbuttons. To sum up: Torche was impossible to see because the place was so packed, and outside, a random, blown-away-looking dude in his late thirties told guitarist Juan Montoya: "You guys are the heaviest thing I've heard, ever, in a long, long time." Word.
Later that night, the band played an official SXSW showcase sponsored by its new label, Hydra Head Records. They were preceded by the also amazingly named Harvey Milk, from Athens, Georgia (not from San Francisco, like the eponymous assassinated gay politician). With an even better sound system, a bigger (and more packed) venue, and a headlining slot, Torche again killed it. You know a band is heavy when you get whipped by the flinging hair of the guy behind you; I felt, as my ears were being deliciously pummeled, as if I were passing under those droopy blue things at the end of a car wash. I missed the band's last gig in Austin that Saturday (others on the bill: Monotonix and Pissed Jeans).
Then there were the Electric Bunnies at the Sound on Sound record store Saturday. This stripped-down, kinda punkish, kinda garagey band is quickly becoming one of those Miami rock acts that gain more renown outside of their hometown. The trio has played Churchill's and the like only a few times, but it has garnered word-of-mouth momentum on the nation's highly unwashed, grown-out-of-punk scene. Although the band members looked exhausted and dazed by Friday of the extravaganza, they impressed the bouncing crowd of bearded, canned-beer-drinking dudes enough to score another show Sunday night.
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Then there was beloved acoustic wünderkind Rachel Goodrich. I caught her playing the guitar with reckless abandon on a corner of main drag East Sixth Street, and also heard she impressed the big industry honchos at a breakfast gig. Here's what Mike Toms — proprietor of legendary Churchill's Pub and a frequent, tireless SXSW concert buddy of mine — had to say about her:
"Miami native Rachel Goodrich's three-song set at the swanky BMI/Billboard Luncheon on the lawn was truly a coming-out, debutante style. She was accompanied by Mike Bordolon on double bass, and carried, as well, her trademark kazoo and ukulele onstage (besides her guitar). She was one of the newest and, as of then, most unfamiliar names to the crowd of high-profile industry professionals. (This was not true of most of the other artists at the gig, who included Grammy nominee Eldar, international star James Yuill, and well-known composer Kaki King.) However, she proved herself as someone who soon would be recognized in her own right. The producer and publicity agents at the front table were generous in their praise, and she garnered much applause from a large audience. Perhaps next year she can play a full showcase at SXSW."
I didn't get to catch electroey DJ/remixer Lazaro Casanova or the thrash kiddies of Black Tide. They both kick enough ass, though, that I don't have to confirm it. Call It Radar played an unofficial "punk rock breakfast," and with luck, the band will make it onto a nighttime bill next year.
There you have it. Miami: more than just booty bass, and increasingly recognized as such. We'll see if we can represent even harder next year.