Contributor Anders Smith Lindall reports:
The last show of South by Southwest 2010--the tribute to Alex Chilton--was its one must-see event, and its emotional capstone. Starring original Big Star members Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel plus Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer (who played with the band in recent reunions for more than a decade), the gig drew special guests Mike Mills of R.E.M., John Doe (X), Chris Stamey (the dBs), Chuck Prophet (Green on Red) and more. In all the dozen and a half songs they delivered at Antone's formed a moving tribute to Chilton's artistry and legacy. (Read Jim DeRogatis's full review and his Chilton obituary.)
Otherwise, the conference and festival ended not with a whimper or a bang but a shiver. Chicago-like wind gusts and temperatures diving below 40 degrees on Saturday afternoon made hats, scarves and mittens the most-sought fashion accessories.
Aside from the Big Star performance, the best act I saw on this last day of Austin show-going was Miss Li, stage name of the Swedish songwriter, singer and piano player Linda Carlsson who played at the opulent, historic Driskill Hotel.
Shouting and fervently pounding the keys, Miss Li radiated spunky energy. She's grounded in pop and the blues, not punk, so the likeness wasn't exact, but her showy persona resembled Ida Maria, another young female force of nature from the same part of the world. Carlsson's excellent band sang spot-on harmonies while plying acoustic and electric guitars, saxophone, bass and drums, serving as the foil for arch lyrics like, "Deep down I know I'm not a stupid girl, but I still make all those mistakes."
Another group that proved its ability to entertain was The Bewitched Hands on the Top of Our Heads, a sextet from Reims, France. With three guitars surging and everyone singing, their rattling rock filled the St. David's sanctuary and called to mind recent collectives Broken Social Scene, the Arcade Fire and even the Polyphonic Spree, minus the white robes and weird hippie-cult vibe. They managed to get some people up and dancing in the pews.
At Emo's, the young rapper Grieves (Benjamin Laub) showed tenacity in a tough situation, playing first on a long bill before a cold, tired crowd. But the real find here was Budo (Josh Karp), a beatmaker who did more than scratch records and program drums. When Grieves paused to "introduce the band," he gave separate introductions for a trumpeter, a guitarist, a keyboard player and a DJ, every one of which was the very busy Budo.
Earlier at Stubb's, actress Zooey Deschanel and singer-songwriter M. Ward made the last of their many SXSW appearances as She & Him. They were charming and fun, though Ward's distinctive voice and guitar chops were both underused; as a singer, Deschanel was just OK. All this isn't hurting anyone, of course, though it's tough to tell exactly what's the point. I'm not sure that girl-group pop, Emmylou Harris country and lilting show tunes were crying out for a contemporary update, but if so, Chicago's own Kelly Hogan certainly does it better.
Throughout Saturday I also heard several songs or full sets from, among others, the French-born, Tucson-resident singer Marianne Dissard, who performed material from an album produced by Calexico's Joey Burns; the indie rockers Real Estate, who didn't seem to have an agenda greater than cranking out a pleasant R.E.M. jangle; Washed Out, whose mostly electronic pop sounded like ho-hum wallpaper to these ears; and Broken Bells, the collaboration between James Mercer (the Shins) and drummer/producer Brian Burton (Danger Mouse).that drew blocks-long lines to every gig.
Anders Smith Lindall is a Chicago freelance writer and longtime contributor to the Sun-Times.