SXSW 2005

Shivering at Stubbs on Wednesday evening, I was wondering whether the festival was peaking too soon, as the very first band on stage was so fantastic. The Hammond heaven of Detroit’s The Sights was like a 2005 take on The Nice. After guitarist Eddie Baranek had destroyed his own instrument, he disembowelled the Hammond as well. Judging by the horror on Bobby Emmett’s face, this wasn’t rehearsed.
At the Vibe, it was criminal to see artists of the calibre of Willard Grant Conspiracy and South San Gabriel reduced to begging the sound technicians to allow them to hear themselves. Add to this a vile, stinking “bathroom” which made Glastonbury seem like The Ritz hotel and you wonder whether the show’s sponsorship by Uncut might have done the magazine’s reputation more harm than good.
The super Ambulance Ltd managed only three songs in an afternoon monsoon before zooming off for their packed show at Exodus. Other bands “doing the rounds” included the ubiquitous Duke Spirit, who did themselves much good with music which is likely to appeal to an American audience. The Kaiser Chiefs made a good fist of their battle with Bloc Party for coolest new band, almost suffocating under the weight of BBC radio DJs fawning over them. Hobbling around on a walking stick with his rosy cheeks and striped blazer, KC’s singer Ricky Wilson has the air of a country squire.
Dogs Die In Hot Cars were a lowlight of a mainly unexciting “British Invasion”. Their unimaginative and derivative set contrasted tellingly with last year’s equivalent, the show from Franz Ferdinand which sealed their international career. Soundtrack Of Our Lives, fronted by a tribute Demis Roussos, proved that you need a lot more than posing around to really ignite an audience.
There were more than enough really great things, though. The perfectly-formed Ash were on fire, and the unlikely triumph of an incendiary Wreckless Eric at Elysium was a joy to experience. Who else would serenade a Texan audience with a song called “The Golden Hour Of Harry Secombe”? Nashville’s Legendary Shack*Shakers, opening for Robert Plant, were a revelation, hurling themselves into their rockabilly circus with total abandon. Plant himself brought the house down, the audience pinching itself at hearing “Whole Lotta Love” in all its glory. Among other fine performances were the ever-brilliant Richmond Fontaine, the charmingly natural and always engaging Embrace; Willy Mason, seemingly on every street corner; The Bravery (over the top but fun); and an absolute stunner of a show from those uniquely edgy, sexy Kills.
Yes, but who was best? Well, for me, the most exciting, most musical, most emotional, most real and unpolluted band was Centro-Matic, from just down the road in Denton, Texas. Forget their unstudied image and lose yourself in their beautiful, challenging, tough-as-nails music. They are at the heart of SxSW, and they embody its excellence.

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