Like everyone who went to South by Southwest, I am exhausted and have a raging headache, but I have some wonderful sonic memories of the past weekend to snuggle. Here’s a brief rundown of what I made it to at SXSW.
The Dutchess and the Duke – Galaxy Room
The first show I caught was part of the Dutchess and the Duke, who I’ve liked for some time but haven’t seen and didn’t realize would be playing. Part of the sweetness that is South By is that with more than 1,000 bands playing in venues all over the city, it’s impossible to keep track of every performance and you can incidentally stumble upon great bands you’ve never heard of as well as ones that have been on your radar for a while. The performance was about what I would have expected out of the acoustic duo of Jesse Lortz and Kimberly Morrison, who sound like Nuggets-era Bob Dylan acolytes covering the Kinks. A small but devoted crowd gathered around Lortz and Morrison, who exude more than enough charm to get past an essentially limited setup. On record, the band’s sound is occasionally garnished with 12-string guitar, violin and other dressing, but at its core sounds very much like two wandering hippies playing for scraps. Morrison lit up her cigarette with glee at the fact that she could do so partway into the set, and I was glad to find that she seemed as cheery and slackery as she sounds on record. “Resevoir Park,” from the band’s self-titled debut, sounded as assured and dynamic as a laid-back acoustic duo can get.
Dum Dum Girls – Galaxy Room Backyard / Fader Fort
Dum Dum Girls were the band I was most looking forward to going into SXSW, on the eve of the release of their debut LP, I Will Be. I thought they delivered on both occasions, with the first show being slightly better, although I think neither outdoor venue did their dumpster-distortion Shangri-Las sound many favors. No matter. Even in an outdoor, very music-festival setting, it was obvious how far the Dum Dum Girls have come from just last year, when lead Dum Dum Girl, Dee Dee, pretty much was the band, releasing excellent but smothered-in-din EPs that somewhat obscured her formidable Siouxsie-meets-Chan Marshall voice and songwriting talent. Now buoyed by fellow Dum Dums Jules, Bambi and Franki Rose, it’s a full-band thing with a decidedly deliberate Barbarella-Fembot thing going on image-wise. Sound-wise, one guitar played distortion-free, allowing for the harmonies in songs like “Hey Sis” and “Jail La La” to float rather than seep like milk over the music. Both short sets were impeccably rehearsed and drew large, appreciative crowds. A guy next to me at Galaxy Room regaled his friends with how he’s “just not into nostalgia” during most of the show, which is ironic since he didn’t seem to listen to a single note being played at the time. Or it wasn’t ironic, it was just kind of annoying. I could see what he was getting at — minus the copious feedback, it’s easier to dismiss the band as girl-group rehash. I thought the band definitely rose to the occasion at SXSW, but I can’t wait to see them at a smaller, indoor venue to capture more of that sweetness-with-chaos thing they do so well.
The xx – Mohawk
After watching a few songs of Bear in Heaven next door (sounded good!) and seeing two bartenders run into each other and eat shit, I walked into a massively crowded room to watch The xx play an impressive set. As a relative latecomer to the band’s fold, I’m just now really excited about them. So perhaps I am a bit biased, but I thought their set sounded as polished and controlled as the record, but still felt like something you wanted to see someone create before your eyes. The band isn’t that exciting to watch necessarily, as much as I do enjoy the fact that both singers dress exactly like shoegaze lesbian grandmas, but the sound couldn’t have been more appropriate for its setting — a partially exposed bar space at 1 a.m. to a crowd of out-of-towners swaying fluidly to the band’s icy sexuality.
Original photo by cheesebikini.