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The 2010 edition of the SXSW Music Conference & Festival proved once again that this is the greatest festival in the world. Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Outside Lands, Austin City Limits, High Sierra, these are all great events. But no other festival in the world immerses you in four non-stop days and nights of music in an urban setting where you are guaranteed not only to catch some of your favorite bands but also to randomly discover new favorites on pure happenstance because there is so much going on.

Attending SXSW Music is almost a little bit like taking acid (We'll take your word for it – Ed.), in the sense that there's always a little bit of anxiety at the beginning about whether you've planned well enough and will be able to get in to see all the bands you want to. You definitely want to be flexible, but planning is absolutely essential to having the best possible time when there are almost 2,000 bands playing over four days. I encountered several people who said they didn't have as great a SXSW as they could have because they didn't do enough planning. If you don't take the time to make a plan, you're not going to have the best possible time. Going through all the grids to compare who's playing when and where and sample the bands online is time-consuming, but absolutely essential to having the best time possible.

Check back over the next week or so as we continue to write about some of the festivals music highlights!



SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: Pretty Lights

After Dengue Fever's hot set at Emo's, I was down to my final showcase of the festival as I pedaled over to La Zona Rosa on West 4th Street for a 12:45 AM set from Pretty Lights that I figured would close out the festival in maximum party style. The Colorado rock-tronica duo have been blowing up over the past year, winning raves while opening for Sound Tribe Sector 9 at Red Rocks last summer and becoming the hot new flavor in the livetronica scene.

The club was already hopping when I arrived, with the Crystal Method wrapping up what had clearly been a hot set of their own. Pretty Lights soon hit the stage and owned the crowd from the start, as DJ/synth master Derek Vincent Smith and drummer Cory Eberhard threw down one smoking hot groove after another with a spectacularly psychedelic light show behind them.

"Sunday School” was a scintillating jam, featuring a sampled vocal of “Fuck 'em, I didn't want to go to heaven anyway” over a big trippy groove that had the whole room moving and grooving. It was a 75-minute dance party of block-rocking beats whose energy never waned as the set went right up until 2:00 AM. Some of the songs tended to sound kind of the same due to similar beats and tempos, perhaps suggesting Pretty Lights could go even higher by adding a guitarist. But there's no doubt that this duo knows how keep a psychedelic dance party rocking.

“Finally Moving” closed out the festivities with a fresh bite on “All Along the Watchtower,” showing that there's always another way to use the same three chords. Pretty Lights transformed the three-chord progression into a psychedelic down-tempo dance groove tricked out with all kinds of sonic bells and whistles for a dynamic 21st century remake of the classic groove. It was an elated crowd that wandered out into the night afterward. SXSW 2010 had just gone by in a flash, but it was hard to imagine a better ending.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: Dengue Fever

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: The Watson Twins, again

I'd found The Watson Twins' Friday day party set at the Belmont to be somewhat disappointing, but was still intrigued to see their 9:00 Saturday headliner set at the Central Presbyterian Church on 8th Street. Boy, was I glad I made it. This is an incredible venue since it is, as it sounds, an actual church with otherworldly acoustics that were perfectly suited to enhance the Watson Twins' dynamic sound to a higher level. There's no booze for sale, but I took that as a sign from God that I should slow down on my drinking for an hour.

The Twins opened with “Modern Man” again, but I was now hearing the new material in a whole different light. I still find the new album to be missing the rich melodic hooks of some of their earlier material (“How Am I to Be,” “Dig a Little Deeper,” “Bar Woman Blues,” “Waves”), but hearing the new songs sparkle in this setting provided a new window into what the Twins are going for on , with jazzier and torchy soul flavors. "Harpeth River” took on a shimmering evening ambiance that was missing on Friday afternoon, and the sexy dancing between Leigh and Chandra Watson definitely enhanced the vibe. Chandra said she had enjoyed seeing Everest and Billy Bragg, as well as visiting East Austin, which she felt provided the “true Austin vibe” that some may find wanting on the more commercialized 6th Street. “Devil in You” also featured an extra shimmer with the brilliant church acoustics, with Chandra proclaiming the song as an exorcism.

Leigh donned an acoustic guitar on several tunes, including the melodic closer “U N Me,” which once again sparkled in a new way in this fantastic setting. The band jammed it out a bit and received a rousing ovation for what was most definitely a triumphant set and another top highlight of the week. The Central Presbyterian Church is a venue not to be missed at SXSW.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: Antennas Up

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: She & Him

Rachel Ray's day party at Stubbs BBQ was on a roll from Jakob Dylan to Street Sweeper Social Club, then back to the main stage for She & Him. It was quite a change in vibe to downshift from the powerhouse rock of SSSC to the mellower vintage pop stylings of She & Him, but Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward rose to the occasion with a well-received set to close out the party.

The charming Deschanel has the voice of an angel and Ward seems like the perfect choice to orchestrate a band around her to maximize those talents. The Chapin Sisters were brought out to add extra harmonies as well, which was an extra treat. The band's sound pays tribute to a bygone era, but there's still a fresh vibe demonstrating that classic sounds never go out of style. Deschanel and Ward conjure a dreamy ambiance, making it feel as if the band has set up on a cloud somewhere. The final song even featured the band revving up for a big jam, with Ward rocking out some bluesy riffage on guitar, showing that the band has diverse skills at their fingertips. It's a rare actress that can hold her own musically as well as she does on screen, and Deschanel delivers.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: Street Sweeper Social Club

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 4: Jakob Dylan and Three Legs (featuring Neko Case)

This is where the weather gods ceased to cooperate, with a storm front moving in overnight that plunged Saturday's high temperatures into the low 50s. It was a chilly, windy day that felt more like a late autumn football Saturday in Columbus than spring equinox in Austin, but SXSW fans would not be deterred. Rachel Ray's day party at Stubbs BBQ was the place to be on Saturday afternoon. Free margaritas and bloody Marys were served, along with tasty chicken mini-quesadillas and meatball sandwiches.

Jakob Dylan played a half-hour set with the fabulous Neko Case accompanying him to create a bluesy sound with majestic Americana flavor that seemed to fit the gray afternoon perfectly. The sound was reminiscent of some of Dylan's father's recent work, blending a variety of retro flavors for an artful old-school vibe. The younger Dylan's distinctive rasp sounded great, and even more so with Case harmonizing.

The last song, perhaps titled “Shine Along,” featured some mandolin on a melodic major key tune for a more uplifting vibe. The harmonies between Dylan and Case were superb throughout the set, like two great tastes that tasted even better together. Fans can only hope that these two will continue to work together further.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 3: Hole

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 3: Girl in a Coma

After Muse's electrifying set, I rushed over to Buffalo Billiards on 6th Street, where San Antone's grrl power trio were rocking the upstairs hall with their trademark Tex-Mex grunge sound. Guitarist/vocalist Nina Diaz is a truly mesmerizing talent, while sister/drummer Phanie Diaz and bassist Jenn Silva form an increasingly strong rhythmic backbone behind her. The 22-year-old Nina has fronted the band since she was 13 and has added an increasing sonic complexity to her guitar playing, with some nice alt-grunge delay-harmonics on “Pleasure and Pain.” Another song was dedicated to Jeff Buckley and started off with Diaz emoting in a slow and bluesy way before the band moved into a swinging jam.

Another extra special SXSW treat occurred when the band welcomed girl rock pioneer Cherie Currie of the Runaways to the stage for a fabulous sit-in on “Cherry Bomb,” which saw the whole crowd singing along on the classic chorus. Currie looked and sounded fabulous, and the Coma girls were clearly thrilled at the chance to play with one of their idols (The Runaways' Joan Jett signed the band to her own Blackheart Records label.) “Static Mind” was also a major highlight, with the band rocking out on one of the best cuts from 2009's superb album, blending a Latina rock intro with an alt-rock surge that had the delighted crowd rocking out once more. Girl in a Coma remains a unique band poised for even bigger and better things.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 3: Muse

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 3: Metric

Canada's Metric kicked off the evening at Stubbs BBQ with an 8:00 set before a big crowd that reveled in the band's power-pop prowess. The group was filling the Friday pre-semi-secret headliner slot that Silversun Pickups had occupied last year when opening for Metallica, and Metric rose to the occasion with an entertaining set that never lagged while the crowd awaited the headlining set from Muse.

Vocalist Emily Haines exuded charm and charisma while dancing around and belting out high-energy tunes like "Sick Muse" and hit single “Help I'm Alive,” which rocked the assembled with its melodic hooks and hard rocking groove. Another tune featured Haines' teasing the chorus of The Beastie Boys' “You've Got to Fight for Your Right to Party” over a big beat that had lots of sonic space. "We're just a couple of kids from Toronto and a couple of hometown kids from Texas,” said Haines in the middle of the set. “We're all just trying keep the dream alive, we're all here for music... Every day I repeat this to myself and I hope that it's true.” Haines proceeded to a sing a bit of fellow Canadian Neil Young's “Hey hey, my my, rock 'n' roll will never die... rock 'n' roll is here to stay,” striking a chord with everyone in the crowd who felt saved by rock 'n' roll, which seemed like most of those in attendance. “Stadium Love” closed out the rousing set with a big arena rock sound, and it sounded like Metric are well on their way to achieving such status.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 3: Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, again

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 3: Sass Jordan

After missing her the previous day, I caught up with Sass Jordan for a 5:00 set at the Canadian Blast party at Paradise on 6th Street. This was a cool little shindig with free enchiladas served up with rice and beans, and $3 drafts of Magic Hat. Jordan only had two acoustic guitarists with her as opposed to a whole band, but the rock goddess who hit it big in the early '90s did not disappoint.

Jordan sang and moved as if she had a full band behind her, making the hard rocking “High Road Easy” a definite treat. “What I Need” from Jordan's new album rocked as well, followed by breakthrough hit “Make You a Believer,” which rocked into a brief but tasty jam on Stephen Stills' “Love the One You're With” before segueing back into “Believer.” It was the type of cool musical curve ball move you might expect from Jordan and one can only hope she's back out on tour with a full band soon.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 3: The Watson Twins

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 3: Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles

I hightailed it over to The Belmont on West 6th Street for a day party featuring the Watson Twins. But the party was running behind, so I was fortunate enough to hear another band that caught my ear from the moment I heard them across the street.

Sarah Borges was on stage rocking out a melodic and bluesy sound to a good crowd at the Belmont's outdoor stage, an excellent intimate venue for such a party. Based in Boston, Borges looks a bit like comedian Sarah Silverman, but she's got a dynamite voice. Borges does humor too though, noting that she was glad to know her bassist because he “looks like he's holding.” Borges and the band veered from harder rocking tunes to bluesier Americana, and did both very well. She exuded a dynamic presence throughout the set that made it hard to take your eyes off her. The band closed their set with a great cover of Texan Doug Sahm's “Walking the Streets Tonight,” with Borges projecting a charisma and talent making her one to watch going forward.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 3: "When You're Strange" panel

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 2: Grace Potter & the Nocturnals

I had one more to go over at Antone's, where Vermont's Grace Potter was scheduled to hit the stage at 12:20 AM. Things were running a little behind, but Potter and band hit the stage around 12:40 and threw down a triumphant set that went right up til 2:00. A variety of strong material from the band's upcoming new album was a treat, featuring tunes like melodic rocker “Oasis” and a reggae-ish break-up song. New single “Tiny Light” was a bluesy yet uplifting rocker and featured a huge jam powered by new bassist Catherine Popper (formerly with Ryan Adams & the Cardinals). Popper's dynamic skills provide an element that was missing from the Nocturnals before, taking the band's sound to a higher level that enables them to throw down a big jam whenever the mood strikes. This is like the Cleveland Cavaliers acquiring extra muscle with Shaquille O'Neal, and whoever spearheaded Popper's entry to the band should win an award for best musical trade of the year.

The gorgeous Potter dazzled on a wide variety of tunes, from blues to ballads to funk to full-on psychedelic jam rock. She also showed she's not just a pretty frontwoman, jamming out on both keyboards and a Flying V guitar. A cover of Jefferson Airplane's “White Rabbit” was a treat, especially following Krieger's appearance with STP. “I Got the Medicine” closed the set with another great jam, and there's no doubt that Potter's music does indeed possess medicinal properties. The encore closed out with “Nothing but the Water,” an infectious high-energy tune that rocked the packed house one more time and featured another huge jam that blew everyone away. What a killer set.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 2: Stone Temple Pilots

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 2: Ozomatli

At 8:00 it was over to the Auditorium Shores stage on beautiful Town Lake, which annually hosts a series of free shows during SXSW. The headliner here was LA's Ozomatli, who entertained a huge crowd with their fusion of funk, latin rock, jazz, hip-hop and even a little bit of metal. An early song of tight funk paid tribute to the “City of Angels,” while another tune mined James Brown-style funk. It was a family-friendly atmosphere, as kids ran around playing with light sabers in the gorgeous setting as the Austin skyline loomed behind the stage. The highlight of the set occurred when a funky jam suddenly segued into a “Master of Puppets” tease that drove the crowd into a frenzy, with many bouncing up and down before the Metallica segue went back into a cumbia jam.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 2: The Mother Hips, interview with guitarist Tim Bluhm

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 2: Red Cortez

After a quick lunch it was over to Cheers Shot Bar on 6th Street, where Jambase was presenting Kayceman's Treehouse Day Party. This was a small stage, but out on a rooftop deck on a sunny day, very nice setting. Red Cortez out of Los Angeles rocked a two-guitar vintage sound, with vocalist Harley Prechtel-Cortez providing a gritty delivery that grabbed attention. One song sounded a bit like the Airborne Toxic Event, who Red Cortez are friends and former tour mates with. But Red Cortez has a darker and edgier overall sound.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 2: Miles Davis, "Bitches Brew" 40th Anniversary Tribute

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 2: "Music and the Revolution" panel

This panel featured former Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers, Wayne Kramer of the MC5, Country Joe McDonald and Kent State 1970 shooting survivor Alan Canfora in a wide-ranging discussion of how music intersected with revolutionary politics and activism in the late '60s and early '70s. It was only a shame there weren't more young musicians in the audience.

“There seemed to be an agreement among everyone that something was wrong [with society],” said Kramer. “Music fit in... because we tell the stories of it... We had a zeitgeist going.”

McDonald said that it was natural for him to put political lyrics in his music because of his radical upbringing, as opposed to most of his contemporaries who were rebelling against straight parents. He said it was this upbringing that enabled him to write his famous “Fixing to Die Rag.”

“Music empowers people... My song didn't end the war, but it validated your feelings... 'Four Dead in Ohio,' wow, it releases your feelings and empowers you... It [music] is addicting, it's like a drug.”

Ayers said the stomach-turning stories of G.I.s that came home from the Vietnam War were what had energized him and his peers to become active in the anti-war movement and that music was a constant in that movement

“Whenever we came together, we sang,” said Ayers. “It brought us the courage.”

Canfora said he and his classmates never imagined they might actually get shot at in the peaceful May 4, 1970 anti-war protests that saw four students killed and himself among nine wounded.

“We always had the idea that if we kept our distance, we'd be okay,” said Canfora, labeling the May 4 shootings a “barbaric crime which still remains a grievous injustice to this day.”

Ayers called it a “horrible wake-up call to the sewer we lived in,” and went on to describe the lessons of the era. “A mass movement starts with one person, two, three in your own neighborhood... This is the lesson... You fight and lose, you fight and lose, fight and lose, and then you win one.”

Canfora said music was a key part of the activism at Kent State that he felt helped eventually end the Vietnam War.

“Our goal was a strategy to bring the war home... We helped stop a criminal, imperialist war. We rose to that task and we won and that revolution continues today, and it was inspired by music,” said Canfora, who cited Country Joe & the Fish, the MC5 and Jefferson Airplane as key influences.

A line in Jefferson Airplane's 1969 classic “We Can Be Together” was cited by both Canfora and Ayers as one of the most inspiring and on-point lyrics of of the times – “We are forces of chaos and anarchy…and we are very proud of ourselves.” Canfora cited modern punk bands the Casualties, the Unseen and Anti-Flag as current acts following in the revolutionary tradition, saying the lyrics now are much more powerful than what his generation had.

“It's still going on today... The fact that SXSW is thriving is a good example of how we have won this revolution,” said Canfora in reference to the way that rock 'n' roll has become a huge part of American culture instead of just the counterculture."

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 1: Spoon

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 1: Nas & Damian Marley

Back over to Emo's main outdoor stage for a highly-anticipated midnight set from Nas & Damian Marley, who have a new collaborative album out. The place was packed and rightfully so, for this was a truly electrifying set mixing the ace hip-hop skills of Nas with the classic reggae vibe of the Marley clan. Nas opened it up with one of his classic raps and then introduced Marley, who sang/rapped over a “One Love” groove. The duo kept mixing reggae and hip-hop throughout the set, such as on “As We Enter,” which featured a line from Nas about the duo being “real revolution rhymers.” “Only the Strong” was another strong moment from Nas, while Marley later rocked a “Road to Zion” jam with Nas proclaiming “revolutionary warfare from Damien Marley.” The crowd loved every minute of the superb 45-minute set. This pair definitely won the best new duo of SXSW award and are surely an act to watch in 2010.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 1: Broken Bells

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 1: Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings

I had to get over to Stubbs BBQ a little early for Sharon Jones' 9:45 PM set because the line is always long to get in at this venue, which tends to host the more popular acts. The place was packed for NPR night, with the radio station broadcasting the entire evening nationally. The soul queen hit the stage with her crack band and owned the audience instantly. The band's rendition of “This Land is My Land” was surely the funkiest version ever played. A new song had an early '70s James Brown funk vibe, while another song took the crowd “back to 1965 on a soul train” and featured a big groovy jam. This stuff was retro to be sure, but with the fresh vibe that comes from top-shelf talent getting the most out of each song. It was a fantastic set.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 1: Here We Go Magic

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 1: Jonneine Zapata

Ms. Zapata's name caught my eye when I saw it on the grid. It's not often you find an artist who shares a surname with legendary Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata (who also begat the modern day Zapatista rebels of Chiapas.) I walked up Red River to the Red Eyed Fly and discovered that the venue has a great little outdoor stage in the back. The set was a treat, with the Los Angeles-based Zapata backed by a full band and displaying a powerful voice that at times recalled another great LA female rocker, Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde. One tune started off slow and almost meditative before building into a hard-edged riff rocker with Zapata really belting it out. It's no surprise to see her album is titled , as Zapata seemed like a tortured soul at times. But watching her channel that energy into the music was compelling. “Burn” was a muted-riff rocker, while “Cowboy” also had an aggressive sound before breaking down into a deep well of bluesy feedback.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 1: The Strange Boys

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 1: Free Energy

Over to the Levis/Fader Fort, which I'd seen described on Twitter the night before as a “funhouse for hipsters.” I wanted to check out Philadelphia buzz band Free Energy, and therefore braved a ridiculous 45-minute line to get in. I was rewarded with free drinks, which are often served at the sponsored day parties, but the power-pop rock quartet turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. They have catchy tunes, vintage gear, a great name and cool looks, but something seemed to be missing. The band members seemed like they were into it, but the tunes kept falling a little flat, like the musicians lacked the chops to propel the songs higher in a live setting. I wanted to love this band, but I just wasn't feeling it and the crowd seemed to feel the same way. I wanted to catch one of their other showcases to give them a second chance, but was unable to do so. The Fort was definitely a great venue though, with lots of spots to chill, beer pong, a blogger's lounge with laptops, a Korg soundlab with musical toys and more.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 1: The Eggmen

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits, Day 1: Yukon Blonde

I tried to catch buzz band Broken Bells doing an impromptu 1:00 PM set in the Red River Street garage that was hosted by AOL Music, but the line was too damn long. I wandered up the street to see what was happening at the Mohawk, one of Austin's finest smaller clubs. This was where I made my first surprise discovery, in the form of Yukon Blonde. The Vancouver-based quartet were rocking a vibrant sound on the outdoor stage that recalled My Morning Jacket and Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Three-part harmonies elevated the tunes further and it was clear this band had both excellent musicianship and strong songwriting skills. A powerful jam at the end of their set brought things to a rousing conclusion before the appreciative audience.

SXSW 2010 Quick Hits: "Successful SXSW," "Caution Before Signing" music panels

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