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If we ignore some of the "real life" issues we had to contend with, Aftermath spent three excellent days in Austin for SXSW 2010. Our energy remained consistently up, mostly fueled by being constantly on the move, as we saw 40 different performances in three days. Admittedly, it's easy to point out the cracks in the cheery, booze-fueled bacchanalia - paying too much attention to the rampant corporate sponsorship for even the smallest of day parties will kill anyone's optimism - but we're here to talk about the festivities, not provide cultural criticism. We typically set out with a relatively defined schedule of the bands we want to see during the week, but we know that it's key to remain open to change, especially when you happen across acts that you really enjoy. We saw The xx and Duchess Says twice each, and that isn't usually our thing, as we try to see as many shows as possible without any overlap. With The xx, it was because we are huge fans of the band's 2009 debut LP, and we wanted to see how its understated, minimalist electro-pop would work in a live setting. As we have already noted, these sounds are best reserved for indoors where the sound can reverberate off the walls and the vocalist's breathy coos can be heard, as opposed to a set at the French Legation where everything dissipates out of the tent and into the atmosphere. Yes, the trio's demure, spaced-out aesthetic isn't for everyone, but we dig it, counting its Friday performance at the Village Voice day party as one of our favorites of the week.
Regarding Duchess Says, we had never even heard of this act until Thursday night, and we were insanely impressed by how the over-the-top, rampant energy displayed by the ferocious lead singer. Offstage, she's a bubbly housewife, but once the music starts, she's a woman possessed, as she bounds about the crowd growling and shrieking into the face of the audience members, begging them to uncross their arms and get into the music. Thursday night, she spazzed out and danced about with anyone who would respond to the music (complete with saturating the crowd and floor with a jar of cherries), while on Saturday afternoon, she corralled eight hipsters into a foot-race set to the aggressive electroclash of her bandmates. Other key shows we really enjoyed include the gothy, '60s-inspired mod-rock of The Dum Dum Girls, the R&B/soul revue flavor of Fitz & The Tantrums, the post-Fratellis '50s rock of Codeine Velvet Club, and a bare-bones version of Vivian Girls' lo-fi girl-pop. While the cold and windy weather that attacked Austin on Saturday might negatively color the memory of some festival attendees, we will remember the music and activity of SXSW 2010 rather fondly (despite our personal parking issues).