Another SXSW is in the books and I have to say, it was the best one in a few years. This past week in Austin wasn't met with the same barrage of corporate sponsorships and big name pop acts that seemed to overtake the last couple of conferences. It was a return to what many love most about SXSW and that's seeing lots and lots of great live music.
Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Diaz, 20-year-old twins with Cuba in their blood and percussive soul in their hearts, have sprung from their home in Paris to take over the world. Where has Ibeyi been hiding all of this time?
The quirky, rhythmic Naomi blends traditional drumbeats and layers of sampled cadence to build a steely spine for their sound (the twins' father was Anga Díaz of Buena Vista Social Club fame). She's the one making the crowd sway in waves from her perch on a cajón percussion box.
Heartless Bastards are fresh off a tour with Bob Seger and back home in Austin, TX, just in time for a world of crazy to show up for SXSW 2015. They're contributing some of their own crazy by playing at Willie Nelson's big annual bash outside of town, and for contrast also doing a kids show during the fest, renamed 'The Heartless Bathtubs' for the occasion.
This should be a big year for singer/guitarist/songwriter Erika Wennerstrom and the band—for one thing, they're celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the release of their debut album, Stairs and Elevators. And according to Twitter in late January, the recording sessions they started in August have resulted in a new finished album.
Britain's post-punk pioneers Gang of Four could have dissolved after the departure of singer and co-founder Jon King in 2012, but guitarist and producer Andy Gill, the last remaining original member since 1977, had no intention of disbanding. Gill, cited by St. Vincent's Annie Clark, Franz Ferdinand, Red Hot Chili Peppers and scores of fellow guitarists as a major influence (he was crowned by Spin as the 12th greatest guitarist of all time), viewed King's exit as an opportunity, not a finale.
Maybe it was bullriding on the rodeo circuit that put the dust and whiskey into Ryan Bingham's voice. Even if you're not super familiar with this Texas wanderer, you might recall his worn-down voice from the movie "Crazy Heart"—Bingham won a Golden Globe for his song "The Weary Kind," further evidence of T Bone Burnett's eerily magic touch.
The euphoric Los Angeles pop of Best Coast's Bethany Cosentino and Bobb Bruno has always been as sun-drenched as summertime. But for the duo's third album, California Nights, self-described insomniac Cosentino has twilight and late night on her mind, finding inspiration in what happens in the City of Angels after the sun sets. Best Coast won't release this new album, the pair's first for a major label, until May 5 so their SXSW set at Public Radio Rocks on March 20 was the first live unveiling of many of these new songs, like California Nights' sensual and majestic title track.
Twin Shadow's George Lewis Jr. has never hidden his producer's crush on New Wave and the textures of '80s synth-pop, but on his third album, Eclipse, he also expands his emotional palette dramatically as a lyricist and vocalist. The catalyst for Eclipse was a hard one for the now Los Angeles-based Lewis—his father's struggles with mental illness and the deaths of several friends cast a pallor on the past year—but despite that hardship, Lewis forged a closer bond with his mother and found an inner balance.
Examinations of love and loyalty abound on Eclipse, and when Twin Shadow kicked off Public Radio Rocks on the Day Stage of the Austin Convention Center on March 20, bold tracks like the slow-burning "Turn Me Up" resonated for both audience and artist, especially with Lewis's stripped-back, haunting arrangement.
Since the summer of 2013, Aussie dynamo Courtney Barnett has been on a dizzying ascent, sparked by her vivid, very funny song detailing a panic attack, "Avant Gardener," which became an unlikely international hit. A flurry of brilliant gigs at New York's CMJ Music Marathon later that fall sealed the deal: the Melbourne-based songwriter was utterly unique, a genial Scheherazade of the indie rock set with a wickedly dry sense of humor.
Courtney Barnett (photo by Mia Mala McDonald)