9 Bands: That Blew Us Away at SXSW 2011

Well, that’s done. Another SXSW is in the books and, not having anything to compare it with, I’d call it a success! And we could sit here and try to catch you up on every showcase we went to, but instead it’ll be more efficient to just share with you the 9 Bands That Blew Us Away. This list is clearly dependent on the shows that we made it to (which were heavy on non-Austin bands since we can see Austin bands any time), so feel free to include your own lists in the comments!

(Why “9 Bands” you ask? Well clearly you aren’t familiar with the anatomy of the Texas armadillo.)

9) Fang Island

Fang Island - Daisy

Derick and I caught this Brooklyn band inside the Scoot Inn on Friday while Killer Mike was playing outside. It’s remarkable what they can do without a lead vocalist. Some songs are instrumental; others have a chorus of unison vocals. They’ve clearly listened to a lot of heavy metal and their sound should appeal to followers of that genre, but they’re just so positive and energetic that their appeal should expand beyond that demographic. Highlight: When they made all 80 of us high five our neighbors.

8 ) Foster the People

Foster the People - Pumped Up Kicks

This is a new LA group, still yet to release their full-length debut, but I’ve been a fan since the “Pumped Up Kicks” single came out last summer. My expectations for seeing them were sky-high and their set at Shangri-La on Wednesday met that. They were dance-y, fun, and had a set’s worth of great material. I’m pumped up (!) for their album’s release this summer.

7) The Head and the Heart

The Head and the Heart - Down in the Valley

Brittany would probably rank this Seattle band higher, and I expect she’ll make that case in an upcoming article about her quintessential SXSW experience. She and I saw them together, though, at Lustre Pearl on Thursday. She had billed them to me as a folk-y Fleet Foxes-type band, replete with acoustic guitars and harmonies. After an uptempo set from The Naked and Famous right before them, we were worried about how their mellow vibe would translate. Our worries were all for naught, however. The crowd was energetic and the music is far more uptempo and exciting than Fleet Foxes’ material, while still being just as gorgeous.

6) Friendly Fires

Friendly Fires - Jump in the Pool

What took me so long to find this British group? They brought their quintessential indie dance-rock to Shangri-La right before Foster the People, and I might have ranked FtP higher if Friendly Fires weren’t incredible. The band had a massive sound that included live horns and the singer had a quirky charisma that got everyone dancing. I already can’t wait for their inevitable return to Austin to see them again.

5) Reptar

Reptar - Houseboat Babies

These kids from Athens, Georgia look no more than 16, but maybe that’s just the freshness of their sound and the earnest energy of their live show. The band I most wanted to see at SXSW, I caught them at The Driskill Hotel on Thursday night in what was some of the most fun I had all week. They were all decked out in painters’ onesies, with a lighting guy dressed up as a teletubby. They had choreographed dance moves and a squishy fish pillow that all worked because the band members believed in their show and music so earnestly. I can’t speak highly enough of these super nice guys, and will be watching them closely in the future.

4) tUnE-yArDs

tUnE-yArDs - Sunlight

Before seeing this set of Merrill Garbus and friends at the Mohawk on Saturday, I had a couple of their tracks on my iTunes. Now I have their entire debut album and can’t wait for April’s w h o k i l l. About halfway through their set, I just started choking up. It’s amazing to me that this Oaklandite exists and is making the music she is making. The forms, arrangements, and melodies of her songs are all totally original, while still being accessible. The show was riveting, and I expect their new album to blow up.

3) Wild Flag

Wild Flag - Dirty Water (live)

This was another one I have to attribute to Brittany. These Portland natives are made up of two-thirds Sleater-Kinney plus two others. They’re able to retain a lot of the power and energy of S-K, while adding some of those keyboards that are all the rage these days. With only one 7” out, no one knew their music terribly well, but after their set at the Mohawk on Saturday, many in the crowd were remarking on their amazement. Their performances at SXSW have definitely upped the expectations for their debut.

2) TV on the Radio

TV on the Radio - Caffeinated Consciousness

Completing a hat trick from Saturday’s Mohawk show on our list, Brooklynites TV on the Radio made their triumphant return to live music at this SXSW after a nearly two-year hiatus. In the interest of full disclosure, y’all should know that I am a huge TVotR fan. This was my third time seeing them live, and it was possibly the best. It’s reassuring to know that their time apart from each other hasn’t dulled the chemistry, and the two new songs they played sounded great.

1) Odd Future

This LA rap collective were easily the breakout act of the festival. I’ve been entranced by the antics of Tyler the Creator, Hodgy Beats and company for weeks now, but finally getting to see them live at the MTVU Woodie Awards on Wednesday night was thrilling. Their live show is about as crazy and raucous as it gets, as the video above attests. They are born performers, and seeing them for even one song was a spectacle. Odd Future is officially here and SXSW was their coming out party.

Odd Future - Sandwitches