South by Southwest Austin, TX - March 15 to 18, 2006
Published Apr 01, 2006To give an inkling of the ever-increasing importance of Austin's South by Southwest music festival as it celebrates its 20th birthday, when erstwhile Wu-Tanger Ghostface overslept and missed his flight, his Def Jam boss Jay-Z chartered a private plane so the rapper could join new label-mate Lady Sovereign and the 1,400 other artists turning the Texas capital into a citywide concert as streets closed, clubs filled and parking lots overflowed. Hell, it's grown into the kind of festival where local band Spoon and '80s refugees Echo and the Bunnymen can attract about 30,000 to a lakeside park; where Morrissey can be overshadowed by upstarts the Arctic Monkeys; where TV on the Radio's afro'd Kyp Malone can test out solo material; and where the festival highlight consists of a secret parking lot performance by the Flaming Lips, who followed up an onstage marriage proposal by bringing out Peaches and blasting through a mind-blowing cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" as the crowd rushed forward to dance amidst the instruments. Though there was a major influx of older musicians this year ranging from the Pretenders and Lyle Lovett to the Beastie Boys and Gang of Four, with the latter showing everyone how to reunite properly with a savagely unsentimental set at URB magazine's tenth anniversary party on a rooftop parking lot the newbie buzz flowed fast and furious. Sometimes the hype was right on the money. Hot Chip laid waste with a harder-than-the-album performance that sounded like the Postal Service if they weren't such pussies, while Norwegian noise-gazers Sareena Maneesh wore silly hippie outfits that belied their eardrum-blowing sound and made up for a lack of "songs" with a mesmerising sonic squall. Meanwhile, the Subways, one of a bazillion British bands in attendance, far exceeded expectations with a beyond-rousing closing performance of their single "Rock And Roll Queen." Other times, the hype was not to be believed, as with the allegedly lauded Tapes N Tapes, who got numerous high-profile showcases and parties yet played abysmally average indie rock representing the genre at its most generic. But SXSW wasn't just about indie rock. There was plenty of room over the four-day fest for Brooklyn cow-punks the Flatwheelers to busk for bucks on Sixth street, for Nigerian afrobeat hero Femi Kuti to wow a massive afternoon crowd with swirling dancers and a 12-piece band, for techno mainstay Matthew Dear to play out his dirty-minded Audion alias and for an invasion of Houston hip-hop led by Devin the Dude, Chamillionaire and Swishahouse, who spun a hilariously screwed version of "Since U Been Gone." But if that track sounded like Kelly Clarkson had been sipping on some sizzurp, it was the only part of South by Southwest that showed any signs of slowing down.