SXSW Report #7: A Little Something For Everyone, As Always

With more than 900 bands and 70 Internet companies, everything from hip-hop to startups are represented.

AUSTIN, Texas — The wide variety of styles featured at the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference on Saturday — traditionally the biggest night of the affair — illustrated the diversity upon which SXSW has built its reputation.

While the Lynyrd Skynyrd–inspired boogie-metal of Tallahassee's Syrup rattled the Red Eyed Fly, the frantic turntable scratching of local DJ duo Soundscape had heads bobbing at Stubb's.

Half a block in the other direction, Riverside, Calif.'s Los Infernos were grinding out their aggressively melodic cow-punk at the Atomic Cafe, while the Hookers, from Lexington, Ky., galloped their way through a set of Motörhead-inspired speed-punk at Emo's.

It's this kind of eclecticism that drew 7,000 music-industry professionals and 1,200 members of the media to see 900 bands perform along the Sixth Street strip and around the revitalized warehouse entertainment district west of downtown Austin.

Once one got past the sight of sad-sack singer/songwriter Mark Eitzel hugging ex–Urge Overkill frontman Nash Kato on the sidewalk outside the Flamingo Cantina, he or she might have moved on to the blinding punk of Albuquerque, N.M.'s Scared of Chaka. Back at Stubb's, Sacramento, Calif's three-man, one-woman rap crew, Smackola, set chests thumping with some booming hardcore gangsta rap.

Across town, at the venerable yet intimate Hole in the Wall, many of these musical styles were colliding all at once during an inspired set from the Bellrays. Delighting a sweaty, enthusiastic crowd, the four-piece L.A. group united Tina Turner–style soul-belter vocals with MC5-like crunching rock 'n' roll.

At Antone's, country-rockers the Mekons battled feedback, as well as each other. Singer Sally Timms sniped at bandmates, sometimes humorously, sometimes not. Maggie Mae's East presented Sumack, a hip, musical Hollywood five-piece, slightly more pop than Beck and jazzier than Smash Mouth.

The First Dot-Com SXSW

Though no band or musical trend stood out as the big buzz at this year's 14th annual SXSW, the Internet made its presence felt as never before. Last year barely a dozen online companies participated in SXSW; this year, more than 70 took part in panels and on the trade-show floor, leading many to dub this year's gathering "the first dot-com SXSW."

Others had their own ideas about the event. "This is a spring break for music lovers," said Brad Buldak, 27, lead singer of Champaign, Ill.'s Tummler. "It's an honor thing to be here."

And when partying meets business, the schmoozing begins.

Before their Blind Pig Pub debut, Tokyo guitar-rock band Supercar grabbed a bite with record company execs at a small restaurant around the corner.

Sony Music Japan sponsored a showcase at the Park Ave., where Love Love Straw came on like a cross between early Smashing Pumpkins, Sonic Youth and '70s power-pop bands.

Singer/guitarist Tetsuo Kitame was pleased with his band's eight-song set, hoping it would help Love Love Straw get an American distribution deal.

"It's good for the band to play for different audiences. Texas audiences are very open — that's not so in Japan," said Kitame, whose band's influences range from Dinosaur Jr. to Neil Young to the Carpenters.

Ex–Led Zep Bassist Wows Crowd

And then there were the veterans, who were on hand to make sure nobody forgot about them amid a torrent of up-and-comers.

Former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, for example, had an instrumental set at La Zona Rosa that left the audience practically gasping for breath.

"I was totally blown away," 20-year-old Rocky Magnuson said. "It was like Led Zeppelin went through the grunge scene and came out the other side."

More than 1,000 fans saw Jones performing songs off his Zooma album (RealAudio excerpt of title track), plus the classics "When the Levee Breaks" and "Black Dog." Jones played 10- and 12-string basses, an electric mandolin and lap steel; he also referred to Zep as "that band."

At Waterloo Park, the Meat Puppets did not try to win the crowd with a safe set of familiar songs. The influential psychedelic-country-punk band played just three songs from its storied '80s and '90s catalog, including "Lake of Fire" and "Sam" (RealAudio excerpt).

Legendary hip-hopper Doug E. Fresh helped close the show at Stubb's with a spirited, turntable-assisted journey through the history of rap and his own two-decade career.

As a light rain began to fall on the rainbow-colored crowd, Fresh took a moment during his biggest hit, "The Show," to break out a trick he promised some of his peers had never seen before. Interrupting his patented beat-boxing routine, Fresh wrapped his lips around a harmonica and drew raucous cheers with a unique harp-inflected, dancehall-reggae beat-box breakdown.

Among the other notable acts who played the five-day festival were pop-rockers Apples in Stereo, UK pop-rockers Gomez, pot-lovin' hip-hop group Cypress Hill, Seattle-scene veterans the Fastbacks, Boston pop-rockers Papas Fritas, Latin-rockers Los Lobos, spacey surf-guitar combo Man ... or Astroman?, emo-core band At the Drive-In and punk-turned-poet Elliott Smith.

(Senior Writers Gil Kaufman and Chris Nelson contributed to this report.)