SXSW 2009 Music Festival - Day 3 - Afternoon
Juliette & The New Romantiques, The Fumes, Gabriella Cilmi, Great Northern, Melissa Auf Der Maur, Living Things, Chatterton, Hill Country Revue, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit
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Juliette & The New Romantiques @ Bat Bar
It was a day with a truly staggering amount of choices: not that the previous days had offered weak line-ups, but on Friday there were 2 or 3 options for almost every time slot, many of them bands who only played a single performance during the festival. My afternoon started with a short walk to the Convention Center, where DirecTV had once again set up two studios dubbed the "Bat Bar" and the "Lone Star Lounge", which offered fantastic sound and lights. After ditching The Licks last year, Juliette Lewis chose SXSW to launch her new band, The New Romantiques. Their upcoming debut (Terra Incognita) was produced by Omar Rodríguez-López (Mars Volta, At The Drive-In), and judging from the songs they played, it should be a bit more sonically
diverse than her somewhat one-dimensional work with The Licks.

The Fumes @ Brush Square Part (East Tent) 
“While their studio output is tastefully aggressive blues-rock, live, they are an entirely different proposition. Stomping work-outs like ‘Automobile’ are hammered into the audience with a power that is humbling in its intensity, whereas driving anthems like ‘The Dogs’ are transformed from ZZ Top to Minor Threat .” – Time Out
Just across the street the Aussie BBQ was already in full swing. The Fumes were the third Australian band I saw this year, and two of the three were guitar/drum duos: maybe there a shortage of bass players down under? But nothing was missing from the potent performance by Steve Merry (vocals/guitar) and Joel Battersby (drums). Listen to “Automobiles” here on the SXSW web site.

Gabriela Cilmi @ Brush Square Part (East Tent)
“U.K.-based Australian teenager Gabriella Cilmi released her debut album at the end of March 2008 to critical acclaim but not much public notice. However, as is often the case, word of mouth spread slowly and the album built into a Top Ten hit as more people discovered it. […] A good debut album, but it had all been heard before, many times in a crowded market, with her voice sounding like a cross between Anastacia and Joss Stone. In particular, the recent albums by Duffy and Adele were brought to mind, with Cilmi sounding quite like Duffy on the song "Sanctuary" and therefore also evoking memories of Dusty Springfield — not a bad thing, once again, but Duffy did it a couple of months before.“ - Sharon Mawer,
The Aussie BBQ is always a good place to hang out for a bit, and getting to see a Top 10 artist on a very small stage in front of a couple of hundred people is always interesting. Gabriella Cilmi certainly has an impressive voice, which became most evident during the two cover versions she performed: opener “Mercedes-Benz” and “Whole Lotta Love”, the final song of her set. Listen to “Sweet About Me” here on the SXSW Web site.

Great Northern @ Red Eyed Fly (outside)
“The Los Angeles-based quartet Great Northern creates a shimmering, folk-influenced style of dream pop that's anchored with just enough of a rock & roll heart to keep it from floating off into the ether.“ - Stewart Mason,
My next destination was the Little Radio party at Red Eyed Fly. I arrived a bit early and got to see a good portion of Great Northern's set. I had not heard of the band before, but their performance was not bad at all. Listen to “Houses” here on the SXSW website.

Melissa Auf der Maur @ Red Eyed Fly (inside)
“[Melissa Auf der Maur] took over four-string duties when drug problems forced Hole and the Smashing Pumpkins to find a new bassist, but the auburn-maned Montrealer seems set to disprove her transience with a suitably eponymous debut LP. She wrangles the fretwork of Queens of the Stone Age front-man (and seemingly only man) Josh Homme as well as QOTSA’s producer Chris Goss — and you can tell by the dangerously heavy blend of metal and melody on the Kyuss-esque “Followed the Waves.” [...] Even by the end of the disc, when you get a sinking feeling of familiarity, tracks still maintain the ineluctable heavy edge and charming choruses, making you realise that MAdM’s managed to do what none of her former bands have: make an album that’s actually fun to listen to.” - Andrew Steenberg,
After playing acoustic guitar at the Leonard Cohen tribute show a couple a few days before, Melissa was back to her usual four strings for this 30-minute set, which included songs from her debut and her upcoming album: “Heartbeat”, “Lightning Is My Girl”, “Real A Lie”, “Lead Horse”, “Out Of Your Mind”, “I Need I Want I Will”, and “Followed The Waves”. Listen to “Followed The Waves” here on the SXSW website.

On the way back to the hotel I stopped at Antone’s for Little Steven’s Underground Garage party, but my timing was off. While the line-up featured some excellent bands like the Arc Angels and The Chesterfield Kings, I witnessed the weakest show I saw all week: the Living Things' performance was an continuous parade of tired Rock'n'Roll clichés with little musical substance, so I moved on quickly…

Chatterton @ Dominican Joe Coffee House
After two days of walking back and forth on Sixth Street and Red River it was now time to venture a bit further south. My first stop was slightly off the beaten path on South Congress, where Chatterton from Fort Worth, Texas played on a sunny patio in a very relaxed setting. The band released their debut EP in 2006 and also played SXSW that year, but I didn’t get a chance to see them back then. They have been flying under the radar for a couple of years, which may have something to do with the fact that they still haven't released a full-length album. The contrast to the Living Things' performance could not have been greater: with Chatterton there were no dramatic show elements, just first-rate songs. If you like Austin Collins or Leeroy Stagger you will enjoy this band.

Hill Country Revue @ Jo’s
“Playing a by-now patented ragged and loose North Mississippi juke joint-based version of southern rock and blues, the Hill Country Revue was formed in 2008 by Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew of the North Mississippi Allstars along with drummer Ed "Hot" Cleveland, blues harpist Daniel Coburn, and guitarist Kirk Smithhart, with frequent appearances by […] guitarist, singer, and songwriter Garry Burnside, the son of legendary bluesman R.L. Burnside. The younger Burnside's songs make up the greater part of the group's debut album, Make A Move, which was released by Razor & Tie in 2009.” - Steve Leggett,
Apparently Austinites like to get their coffee from someone named Jo(e): a couple of blocks south from Dominican Joe Coffee House is Jo’s Hot Coffee, where the makeshift stage on the parking lot is usually the scene of a few good day shows during SXSW. The Hill Country Revue played without Garry Burnside, but got a pretty good reception from the crowd.

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit @ Home Slice Pizza
“Credited to Isbell and his new backing band, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit finds the songwriter reprising the same formula showcased on 2007's Sirens Of The Ditch: a mix of Southern rock and rootsy, melancholic country-soul that manages to both elevate and commiserate during its 52 minutes. [...] Just barely out of his twenties, he writes with the well-worn weariness of someone twice his age, but Isbell's youth nevertheless breathes energy into a formula that's been revisited by many Southern-born songwriters before.” - Andrew Leahey,
Sirens Of The Ditch is a good record, but Jason Isbell's latest album is even better. Most importantly, the band has truly become a unit when playing live. The show at the "Music By The Slice" party featured a good mix of songs from his solo CD’s like the outstanding “Soldiers Get Strange”, songs written during his time with the Drive-By Truckers (“Goddamn Lonely Love”) and cover versions (“Psycho Killer”). Listen to “Seven-Mile Island” here on the SXSW website and watch a video of “Psycho Killer” from this show from below.

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All photos (c) Steffen Paulus 2009