Many bands clearly had not, hence the frayed nerves and indelicate proclamations about "horrible" festivals. Hyped hip-hop artists such as Angel Haze, Odd Future's Earl Sweatshirt and rising Chicago star Chance the Rapper took the risk out of it, with live vocals over backing tracks in short, 15-minute sets that essentially served as advertisements for their on-line music and videos, but fell short as live entertainment.
Pushing through the din and breakdowns were a number of fresh new voices:
--Danish singer and multi-instrumentalist Soren Lokke Juul, the core member in Indians, felt right at home at the Central Presbyterian Church on 8th Street. He made his live debut at a church in Denmark a year ago, and the natural reverb of the high ceiling enhanced his songs of longing and disconnection.
--Guards not only got bonus points for best hair -- brother-sister combo Richie and Madeline Follin must use the same stylist -- they delivered guitar-based, melody-saturated songs in the tradition of great power-pop combos such as the Raspberries and Shoes (the Zion, Ill., home-recording pioneers who also played the festival for the first time).
--U.K. trio No Ceremony/// did the best job of any band I saw of orchestrating their set, starting in a slow, quiet, dimly lit place and building patiently to a big payoff by carefully orchestrating electronic percussion, co-ed harmonies and haunting melodies.
--Sohn, a songwriter who splits his time between London and Vienna, nearly got derailed by the punk band next door, as the sound bleed between venues threatened to drown him out. But he soldiered on, and his music eventually rose above the distractions; his yearning voice and insinuating melodies were too good to be denied.
--The Danish singer who goes by the name of MO, aka Karen Marie Orsted, brought a mix of big vocals, exuberant pony-tailed dance moves and melodies that bridged electro-pop and hard rock. If there's room for a punkier, more down-to-earth voice amid the divas on the pop charts, she has the songs to break through.
--Acts that typically get ignored even more than most at South by Southwest: middle-tier bands that are neither new nor huge commercial successes. But how about the middle-tier bands that just get better at their jobs? Telekenesis debuted new songs from their third album, and the Pacific Northwest band with a retooled lineup led by drummer Michael Benjamin Lerner sounded sharp and exuberant.
--METZ is a Canadian punk band that may never truly capture what they're about on a recording, but their midafternoon set Saturday went off like a blowtorch in a propane warehouse, as the trio pushed itself and its instruments to the breaking point. How that sort of intensity can be sustained night after night is beyond me, but for that moment, they were the best band on Earth.
--Parquet Courts projected a casual, slacker vibe that will be familiar to lovers of mid-'90s indie guitar rock, but their hooks and riffs are precisely deployed, and their sharp lyrics capture that destitute gap between youth and adulthood in all its humor and anxiety. They played most of their brilliant debut album, "Light Up Gold," amping up the melody or the noise as the moment dictated. The quartet found itself in front of a particularly inattentive audience Saturday night and played the moment for laughs. "It's hard to keep up with Twitter," one guitarist said as he gazed out at the smart-phone-laden audience. "I feel like we're failing in our job as entertainers." Later, his counterpart on guitar flipped open his own cellphone as if to count the minutes until the group's exit and let loose with a particularly deranged and aggressively noisy guitar solo.
--With her severe hair and even more severe 1,000-mile stare, singer Jehnny Beth provided the charismatic focal point of Savages. Her smart, scowling lyrics were matched by her bandmates' multi-dimensional attack: lead bass, inventive drumming, textured guitar. The quartet's musicianship and command of dynamics suggested there was much more to them than an arresting look; the band also has great songs that could carry them well beyond 2013 -- though it's highly unlikely they'll be back at South by Southwest, let alone playing on a stage shaped like a vending machine.
(c)2013 Chicago Tribune
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