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South By Southwest Day Three: Emotional Rescue

Fleet The true magic of South by Southwest is the endless permutations of "moments" - the chance encounters with old buddies while stumbling around 6th Street, the laughs so intense they make you fall to the ground and the bite-sized chunks of music that jolt your entire body and make you say wow.

Day three featured all of them, and it really made us stop and think about the deeper meaning of all this. Concentrating all this energy in one place is really something else. Of course, this event is a showcase for new and emerging talent. Of course, there will always be superstar bands around as well.

But what SXSW really is is the grand total of all those "moments" extrapolated out ad infinitum; an intangible mass that leaves its imprint on this business we call music, and ourselves as people, in ways we aren't able to truly see when we're all wrapped up in it.

Two moments illustrated the spectrum for J.I. on Thursday. We saw fresh Sub Pop signee Fleet Foxes (pictured) twice -- once in the afternoon at Emo's and later during the label's showcase at Bourbon Rocks - and basically came away thinking they're the most exciting new band we've experienced in a long time.

Fleet Foxes are in no uncertain terms a vocal group, purveying four-part harmonies so sweet that they don't really need instruments behind them. They are embodying a move back toward the singing being the crucial aspect of the songs, a significant contrast from '90s indie rock, which was often more about messing with tradition. And the songs are so well constructed that you forget frontman Robin Pecknold just turned 21; he has an intuitive knack for melody that is eye-opening. Here is a band with limitless possibilities, just beginning to realize the impact its music is having on people.

On the other hand, for the members of Chamberlain, SXSW was about dipping back into the glory days with no more goal than to have the time of their lives (full disclosure: J.I. is close friends with these guys). To cap the Doghouse Records showcase at the Rio, the band played together for the first time in eight years, jolting the 50 die-hards back to a time when emo wasn't yet called emo: it was just rock'n'roll that made you think just as hard as it made you feel.

It was self-indulgent. It was a little sloppy. But it was glorious and fun as hell -- a "moment" only to be found here, for one night only.

Earlier on Friday, we made a point to catch some of the buzzy acts before it was too late. Bon Iver was sensational during an afternoon set at Emo's; anybody who likes Iron & Wine or Red House Painters should know this group right away. We were impressed by the Deerhunter side project Atlas Sound, which largely eschewed that band's sonic terrorism for a sound more gently disturbing. Also intriguing was Yeasayer, who played an idiosyncratic blend of noise rock and burbling electro to a packed room.

Our traditional late afternoon session at the Fader Fort treated us to Working For A Nuclear Free City, a British band with satisfying grooves and cool t-shirts. As for burgeoning U.K. superstar vocalist Duffy ... meh. Her short set was just okay, a little bit style-over-substance ("She'll definitely be on 'Grey's Anatomy,'" a friend astutely pointed out). To us, Duffy was Amy Winehouse with the rough edges sanded off. That's fine for a wider audience, but we were looking for something more distinctive.

We started the night ducking into Flamingo's for Clipd Beaks, a freaky California band introduced to us by a friend back east. The shirtless frontman blew psychotic trumpet licks while balanced precariously on the monitors, creating an unholy racket for the confused onlookers (which included our first sighting of a Rush t-shirt this week).

From there it was Billboard's showcase at Pangaea for singer/songwriter Christopher Denny and Switchfoot frontman Jon Foreman. Denny played catchy, blues-rooted songs accented by his high-register vocals, while Foreman scaled back Switchfoot's glossy modern rock sound for acoustic tracks like "The Moon Is a Magnet" and a cover of Bad Religion's "Sorrow."

Australian rockers the Vines staged a comeback just after midnight, even tossing in a cover of OutKast's "Ms. Jackson" for good measure. The hair-metal groupies wedged up against the stage were quite a sight, especially the woman wielding a hot pink cast on her broken arm. Sexy!

Sexier still was Swedish pop diva Robyn, playing one of her first U.S. shows in many years. The metal groupies were replaced up front by a horde of deliriously excited gay men, who cheered even the slightest sound coming from the stage during setup. Once Robyn took the stage in full black leather regalia to the strains of "Cobrastyle," they went bananas.

J.I. had too much rumbling around in his head to call it a night, so with a trusty mate in tow, we somehow wound up at a suite in the Driskill Hotel kicking back a few more Shiners while we watched friends mack on the ladies, play "Guitar Hero" and pour way-too-large plastic cups of vodka & cranberries for the late hour. I guess nobody wanted the party to end last night. We know we didn't. -- Jonathan Cohen

March 15, 2008 in SXSW | Permalink

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Comments

Hey...hey guys, make up your mind, either come in or leave, we can't have people hanging out on the front porch all night. Neighbors get pissed, ya know.
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It's impossible!

Posted by: Flamernog | Mar 15, 2008 5:03:12 PM

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