5. Polly Mackey & The Pleasure Principle
Meandering through downtown Austin, Polly Mackey & The Pleasure Principle were rocking out loudly and early, easily luring myself and a slew of other hungover weirdos into a random bar. Once inside, I realized that the band happened to be SxSW showcase openers getting in one last show, so I made myself comfortable between two heavily bearded men. Tip for the solo traveler: sitting between two largish, fully bearded men at a bar is, I’ve come to learn, the equivalent of going out with eight friends. I assure you: things will get cozy and familiar quickly. Meanwhile, the band was cranking out classic rock riffs with some kind of emo punk sliced in. Their high energy, combined with the multiple pitchers of Bloody Mary’s making their way around, equated to an early morning crowd ready to party. What sold the show for me though, was their intriguing vocalist Polly Mackey. A tiny woman wearing the most unimpressed expression stood center stage, strumming her guitar with this huge voice that I overwhelmingly got the feeling she was holding back. Maybe the show was a fluke, or maybe it was all the facial hair in my way, but someone needs to tell Mackey to stop holding back and let that voice rip.
4. The Lonely Forest
I’m not going to lie. What first caught my attention about The Lonely Forest was vocalist/guitarist John Van Deusen’s jacket. Van Deusen casually strolled onto stage at the SxSeattle showcase in an electric blue Seahawks’ Starter jacket and started jamming out some Pacific Northwest indie rock. The entire crowd was eerily captivated. Perhaps it’s eerily captivating any time you’ve successfully assembled that many Seattlites in the middle of Texas, but I’m more apt to believe the jacket produced some kind of crowd hypnosis. Regardless, The Lonely Forest’s impassioned vocals over drum and guitar had the room’s attention from the jump. Indie rock at its best. Just when you’re about to get out your pen to reflect and write down some lyrics or feelings, everyone in the band goes completely nuts, and so do you.
3. Major Lazer / Juiceboxxx
www.majorlazer.com / www.juiceboxxx.com
Major Lazer and Juiceboxxx tie for number three. Major Lazer are on my list because I finally saw them, and for me, that was a battle in itself. Juiceboxxx because he raps so hard, I was 90% sure he was going to have a rap-induced heart attack in front of my eyes. He’s fine.
2. Neon Indian
What I’m about to divulge is not going to go over very well in some circles. I don’t like Neon Indian. That is to say… I didn’t like them, before seeing them perform at Club de Ville at SxSW. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve received a Neon Indian link in an e-mail, coupled with a frenzied subject line such as, “OMGz NEW NEON INDiAN!!!” and forgotten midway through the track what I was listening to or what I was doing. I have to retract all of my snarky replies to these e-mails now, though, as the band personally showed me the light, and then, through a fence, punched me in the face with it. Waiting in the crowd outside of the venue, I complained to a friend, saying, “Hey you know what? I don’t like these guys.” Ten minutes passed, and I’d getten into full street-dance mode with the rest of the line, and my friend remarked, “Wow, you really like these guys to not like them.” Well said, friend. For some reason, I was never able to fully appreciate how complex Neon Indian’s sound actually is, and how it manages to remain so wonderfully simple at the same time… until that moment, with Neon Indian before me, on a stage with a backdrop reminiscent of a spaceship powered by neon lights, spooning silky lyrics over a tangle of electropop. And in a crowd of 5,000 plus, I was dancing in a line and straining to peer through a fence at them, unable to wait to get in.
What can I say about Le Tigre’s side project, Men? A lot. Lead vocalist JD Samson first appeared at the Mad Decent Carniville in a shirt that could only be created if you sewed MIA into a kimono. Actually, it was more normal than that, but the designs on her shirt were similarly funky. Careful not to let her top outshine the rest of her, she wore a cardboard cutout of a miniature house over her face and head periodically throughout the performance. The guitarist ingeniously packed a 1980s snow suit one-piece that I was both baffled by and extremely jealous of, as it was damn near 35 degrees and I was wearing a pair of sandals. Wardrobe aside, this band totally rocked live and was my favorite SxSW act, hands down. Super fresh lyrics (that I won’t get into here) and accelerated beats that were too catchy to not move to. For a moment, I felt a bit bad — like I wasn’t giving the message of their songs enough attention — but when I looked up, the keyboard and guitarist were going to town and Samson was wearing a house on her head and in the middle of some kind of march-in-place thing. I was about to freeze to death. So I got over it, and I think sometimes that’s the point.