sxsw1-1

SXSW 2012: Day One | X-Rated

by Hilary Stohs-Krause

SXSW isn’t what it used to be.

This is my fourth time attending the music portion of the festival since 2007, and it’s gotten progressively more massive and techy — used to be you had to cart around a print copy of the Austin Chronicle to know who was playing where; now, you can just download the official SXSW app.

I saw upwards of 200,000 people making the trek for the festival this year — though that number is still dwarfed by the city’s bat population — and the data crunch is so vast that a company hired homeless people to act as living hotspots. Seriously.

(One projection onto a parking garage wall was perhaps emblematic of the tricky nature of rapidly-adopted public-use tech — patiently covering the actual context of the projection was a warning that the iPhone used to run it was almost out of battery.)

More telling of the overgrowth of SXSW, however, is the lineup. It used to be the festival where bands actually stood a chance of being “discovered,” a veritable real-life YouTube, and where music fans could go to hear incredible new music at relatively small venues with relatively easygoing lines.

Now bands like Eve 6, Counting Crows, Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj are playing.

All this means, really, is you have to dig deeper into the glut to find the gems.

Luckily, there are still plenty of gems to be found.

The Screaming Females

SXSW 2012: Screaming Females

The Screaming Females, a three-piece band from New Brunswick, N.J., eviscerated Bar 96 last night with their unapologetic punk rock. I’d heard one or two tracks from the band — even played their song “Boyfriend” on the X-Rated radio show — but hadn’t had time to really give them a listen.

Dear god, I was seriously missing out.

The band, led by Marissa Paternoster, a dead-ringer for the character of Harold from the cult '70s film Harold and Maude, crafts fierce, tautly melodic rock with feminist themes — think the Sex Pistols meets the Coathangers.

Paternoster is the driving force — woman can shred, both vocally and on guitar. It was delightful. 

I caught two other acts last night — the first, a Nebraska neighbor with a runaway debut album under their belt and a newly released follow-up, and the other from halfway across the world who’s known in the U.S. only from a guest appearance on a different musician’s track.

Tennis

SXSW 2012: Tennis

Beach-duo Tennis was first:

(And yes, I spelled “Daly” wrong. But given the subject matter, I’m kind of OK with not knowing that.)

Tennis made a name for themselves with their 2011 debut Cape Dory. You’ve probably heard the story by now: Two landlocked lovers taught themselves to use a boat and sailed across the ocean, returning home to craft and an album of seaworthy love songs buoyed by '50s-inspired indie-pop.

At the show last night, one of the band members was wearing a Hawaiian shirt.

As a big fan of Cape Dory, I was worried Tennis wouldn’t be able to keep the momentum going — especially since their debut was essentially a concept album. But the group’s latest release, Young & Old, is already making waves. It’s cleaner and crisper, and a little more dancey. Most of their tracks last night were from the new album, though they pulled out a few from the first (like “Pigeon”).

Lead singer Alaina Moore (and apparently other band members) quenched her thirst during the show with milk, which is oddly symbolic of their carefree, breezy, optimistic home-grown music.

Tennis played in Omaha last month when I was out of town, so I seized the chance to catch the group here. The venue last night was packed, but lead singer Alaina Moore seemed at ease on stage, bobbing and bopping to the music. Here’s hoping they come our way again soon.

Kimbra

SXSW 2012: Kimbra

The other act I saw last night is doing just that in April, in a manner of speaking:

You’ve probably heard the New Zealand spunk-rocker’s vocals on the ubiquitous Gotye track “Somebody That I Used to Know.” Kimbra’s 2011 debut album Vows isn’t being released in the U.S. till May, and this was her first show ever in the states.

She had a late start, which visibly and audibly irritated crowdgoers running on a necessarily tight schedule, but that irritation disappeared when she took the stage. While the Screaming Females’ Paternoster drew you in with a sort of tense enigma, Kimbra was smiles from ear-to-ear — her persona practically bubbled with a sense of, “Gosh, there’s so many people here!”

This could easily have drifted into insincerity or frivolity, but her warmth was infectious. She constantly gave ground for her backing band, praising them to the audience. The fact that they were all men made the live multitude of harmonies a nice change from the album's at-times saccharinely sweet.

She kicked off her set with “Cameo Lover,” followed by “Good Intent,” two of Vows' three singles in New Zealand and Australia. I had to leave before the set was over, but I can only assume she played the third, “Settle Down,” in which the narrator tells her lover she wants to get married, have a daughter and name her “Nebraska Jones.”

Bright and poppy with jaunty production, Vows is a solid debut — but like its creator, it’s a little too wide-eyed and cheery. Kimbra’s music just has a little growing up to do, but she’s proved she’s capable. Whatever your thoughts on “Somebody I Used to Know,” Kimbra’s part shows a subtlety and range missing from her album. I look forward to more of that in the future.

Hilary Stohs-Krause is thoroughly enjoying her latest trek to Austin, meeting up with old friends (and newer friends) from around the country and checking out sweet, sweet tunes. She gets her local music fix through HN and as a cocktail waitress at Duffy's Tavern. For more on Nebraska ladies making music, tune into the "X-Rated: Women in Music" radio show every Thursday from 1:05 to 3 p.m. CST at 89.3 FM KZUM in Lincoln or streaming live at kzum.org. Find it on Facebook at facebook.com/xmusicnebraska.