Four down, one to go, and the ratio of great showcase performances to disappointments so far has to be at least 3 to 1 — as good as any SXSW I’ve ever attended.
Night four started at Emo’s with a short but strong set by Crystal Castles, an experimental duo from Toronto that alternated between lulling chill-out electronica and much more aggressive punk-techno, with multi-instrumentalist Ethan Kath creating undulating washes of sound as captivating vocalist Alice Glass commanded the room.
The next stop was a twisted Tiki bar called Head Hunters for another of the many non-SXSW gigs, a showcase for Sinister Muse, a Chicago punk label with an excellent roster and one of the coolest logos ever. I was eager to catch the Frantic, an ultra-energetic punk foursome in their late teens that had piqued my interest with their recent debut album "Audio & Murder."
The group didn't play anything at a tempo of less than 110 miles per hour, but it never skimped on melody, either in its originals ("This is a song about someone saying you can't do what you want in life and you proving that they're wrong every step of the f---ing way!") or their killer cover of the Foundations' classic "Build Me Up Buttercup."
"There are 10 million bands in town tonight, and it means a lot to us that you came out to see us," guitarist-vocalist Kyle Dee exclaimed, and the band's enthusiasm and undeniably frantic tempos (talk about truth in advertising) were impossible to resist.
From there, I returned to Emo's for the red-hot, beyond-packed Chicago hip-hop showcase sponsored by Chicago's Biz 3 Publicity and featuring party music DJs Flosstradamus, old-school rappers the Cool Kids, DJ A-Trak (who’s actually from Montreal, though Chicago has adopted him because of his work with Kanye West) and the magnetic Melissa Young, a k a Kid Sister, who also hosted “Kid Sister’s Pro Nails Salon,” with several of her girlfriends doing women’s nails for free throughout the evening.
Clearly, Friday was a night for breaking my "no Chicago bands at SXSW" rule. But there absolutely were no more promising artists that I wanted to see anywhere in Austin, and I was eager to see if the hometown excitement about these bands and the increasing national interest would begin to blossom into something much bigger at SXSW.
I'd seen that happen before for hometown heroes, back at the onset of the alternative era, with artists such as Liz Phair, Veruca Salt and Red Red Meat, when national tastemakers descended on their showcase to see if the word out of Chicago was right.
In those cases, it certainly was. And with all of Friday's local artists delivering as good as they ever have, and the buzz in the room palpable, the same was true this energizing Friday evening.