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Rocks Off's Must-See Music Picks For SXSW '11

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UPDATED to include Adam P. Newton's picks (3/15, 10:02 a.m.)

As you may have heard, there's a teeny-tiny little music festival going on in Austin later this week. Some of the early birds on team Rocks Off are either already there or well on their way, as a matter of fact.

With more than 2,000 artists playing the official part of SXSW alone, trying to figure out who to go see and when is a little daunting, to say the least. So a few days ago, Rocks Off polled our esteemed staff and asked them to tell us - regardless of whether or not they are going; as it turns out, everyone who responded save one will be there - their three can't-miss acts for the festival.

Note: Links of artists' names are to the page at sxsw.com that lists their offical showcase day and time. That may not be their only performance in Austin this week - or even at SXSW, in which case the link is to the first one - and probably isn't.


Emmylou Harris: A no-brainer. Harris has been among my favorite female singers - maybe my favorite female singer - since I got into her via the Portraits box set in the mid-'90s. The silver-haired queen of Americana with the voice of an angel will be previewing songs from Hard Bargain, due out next month and her first since 2008's All I Intended to Be.

Those Darlins: Just saw these three Nashville gals and their dude drummer between Buxton and the Old 97's earlier this month, and their scrappy roots-rock with a dash of Phil Spector-ish pop has me ready for an encore.

Two Star Symphony: I've been on the Two Star Symphony bandwagon after stumbling across the quasi-classical ensemble with the shifting personnel's set at Notsuoh during my very first Houston Press Music Awards showcase. So don't take my word for it... how about The Huffington Post's?


Liz Phair: Because c'mon, it's Liz Phair - and she's been pulling liberally from Exile In Guyville on this mini-tour. I will never, ever grow tired of hearing "Fuck and Run" live. And because she's not coming to Houston. [Ed. Note: Showcase day and time TBA.]

Yuck: Because they're really good and I showed up too late to catch them opening for Smith Westerns last month. I've been kicking myself ever since.

Kurt Vile: I love Kurt Vile... rather, I love his recordings. But I saw him live last year, and it was disastrous. I'm eager to give him a second shot at wow-ing me live.


O'Death: This crew definitely does not sound like they're from Brooklyn, rather they seem to have just strolled away from their moonshine stills in the Appalachian foothills. I've seen them a couple times, and it's always fun. After nearly a year-long hiatus due to the drummer requiring a shoulder replacement, the band is back and the first track "Bugs" from the upcoming record Outside, was released last month.

Damien Jurado: A favorite of mine for years, but I've never managed to catch him in concert. He writes absolutely gorgeous little heartbreakers, songs that are so simplistic they make me break. His voice and minimal accompaniment weigh heavy on the listener, like a thousand years of sorrow has poured into each number. For those not making the trek to Austin, he'll be at The Mink Wednesday, and everybody should check out his recent NPR Tiny Desk Concert.

Deer Tick: I've only heard and seen snippets, but the final number that Craig Hlavaty and I stumbled in on last year was enough to make me an immediate fan. This group is raucous and rowdy, and to top it all off, they'll be playing an entire set of Nirvana songs. Yup. Bonus: Robert Ellis and Dawes both play earlier in the evening.


Screeching Weasel: Because I loved them in high school.

Okkervil River: It's been three years since I've seen them and I want to see their new shit.

Kylesa: I just recently got into them and I really want to see them.


Queens of the Stone Age: Come on, now. I couldn't miss Josh Homme, the Ginger Elvis, and Queens of The Stone Age playing the whole of their self-titled debut, now could I? With the reissue of the 1998 album this year, the band will be playing it in its entirety at La Zona Rosa. I've only heard a handful of these songs played live in my QOTSA history, but I wore out my copy of the disc long ago, necessitating the need to buy a new one a few years ago. This bill will also feature J. Mascis and the Black Angels as support, so I will be camping out early.

Buxton: I have followed the Buxton boys (and now girl) recording their new album, Nothing Here Seems Strange, since they started beaming pictures onto Twitter about a year ago as they set out to record at Sugarhill. Aside from being a long-time fan, I really want to see them play in front of an international crowd at SXSW. I missed them opening up for the Old 97's this month, and I do not want to miss their showcase or day party slot while I am at SXSW trying to look important and hip.

Trampled By Turtles: It's one of those band names that could either mean a really awful jam-band type deal, or something really cool and unique. What Trampled By Turtles turned out to be was a foot-stomping hillbilly/bluegrass five-piece crew from Minnesota. Their album Palomino brings to mind the Replacements, Justin Townes Earle, and Lucero in a way that we haven't heard before. We didn't know people could play bluegrass this fast until we heard "It's A War." They're closing out the Swan Dive Thursday after Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, Those Darlins and Caitlin Rose, the latter of whom I bought a beer for during her last Fitzgerald's set in a bid to look debonair.


Gary Wilson: Recently-ish rediscovered pioneer of basement-sculpted sleaze promotes his new Electric Endicott LP.

Awesome Tapes from Africa: Brian Shimkovitz, author of the Awesome Tapes from Africa blog, digitizes rare cassette-tape cuts from all over the Motherland; he'll play some of these sonic goodies during a DJ set.


Ellie Goulding: along with The Irrespressibles, Goulding is one of the two best things coming out of England, and I firmly believe she will be the middle point in modern pop music, between the outrageousness of Lady Gaga and the sweetness of Taylor Swift. The Wife With One F has been spinning her imported copy of Goulding's debut for weeks now, and you can take our word for it that she is going to be the name that defines the next decade of pop.

Chromeo: I got into Chromeo at the suggestion of Mick Cullen up at Subterranean Radio, who led us to their ultra-funky but uber-disturbing video for "Don't Turn the Lights On." Since I noticed them, the band hasn't really toured extensively, or at least hasn't made it back down to Houston. I've had to make do with watching their appearance on Yo Gabba Gabba.

Hanson: Everyone has at least one song they love that earns them a shoryuken right in the taint. Mine is "Where's the Love?" the second single off their debut Middle of Nowhere. Also, I'm always really curious to see what happens to young musicians when they reach their 30s and mature musically. Sometimes they surprise you.


Esben and the Witch: A UK-based trio that's influenced by Bjork, Blonde Redhead, and '90s goth sensibilities

Braids: A Canadian troupe playing ethereal indie-pop that mixes together the airier elements of Animal Collective with Dirty Projectors and M83.

Odd Future: Running counter to those insular, overly sensitive, straight-from-the-diary projects is my desire to partake of the mutant hip-hop being foisted upon the world by OFWGKMA - aka Odd Future. The beats are killer, the lyrics are wry musings penned by self-aware barely twentysomethings, and, if the group's recent appearance on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon is any indication, these gentlemen know how to put on a show.

All of that being said, I'll be in Austin for three straight days, so there's plenty of music out there that I'm planning to enjoy. I just hope I don't run into Rocks Off Jr too often - his penchant for those Helldorado beverages is nearly legendary.


I've already noted that I'll be attending the Candy Golde showcase at Club Deville, but there are other must-see rockers this year.

Ian Moore and the Lossy Coils: Yes, that's a dumb band name, but after seeing Moore's smoking power-trio performance at the Continental Club Saturday night, we've added him to our list of must-sees for this year's festival. Touring on his rocking new album El Sonido Nuevo, Moore drove his amassed throng of cult members to the edge of madness and over Saturday night with a smoking 90-minute show that matches anything I've seen in a long time for muscle, smarts, virtuosity, and rock and roll enthusiasm. We never know if we're going to get Ian the Rocker or Ian the Artist, but we had a premonition that with a full-on rock record to push, Moore would probably amp it up and bring it hard. And that's exactly what he did, beginning with the smoking opening track of El Sonido Nuevo, the politically charged

"Secondhand Store."

Moore served notice from the first note that his trio can hang with any band on the planet. Yeah, that good. Then he encored with a cover of Sir Douglas Quintet anthem "At the Crossroads." 'Bout as Texas as it gets.

The Raveonettes: Danish duo of Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo have been making their thick, oozy noise rock for a decade now. Without the signature surf-drum beat and snarly guitars, the band's latest album, Raven In the Grave, is a sonic departure of sorts for this iconic outfit that has literally influenced dozens of bands that came after. Midnight on a Saturday should be a perfect time for seeing what these power poppers have up their musical sleeves in 2011.

Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit: OK, Isbell qualifies as Americana, but his new album Here We Rest is a mix of folk balladry and screaming Southern guitar. But what makes this album a surefire Top 10 2011 choice if I had to make my picks today is Isbell's plaintive vocals, coupled with some of the smartest hurting songs I've heard from anyone in a while. If you don't feel the pain in these, move outta your mama's basement and go let some significant other fuck you up a bit. Hit play every time it hurts. Click here for a free download of



Das Racist: I've read that their live shows range from being offensively ironic to just blatantly offensive. They're playing three official showcases at SXSW before they come to Houston next Tuesday.

Dum Dum Girls: They're an all-girl noise pop group and earlier this week at a show they covered "Rhiannon" by Fleetwood Mac. They also played a stripped down, lo-fi version of "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out" by The Smiths on their most recent EP, He Gets Me High. A group of girls who dig the Mac and Morrissey-I can't miss that. My little brother probably wouldn't allow us to miss it, anyway.

Odd Future: This will be Odd Future's first SXSW performance. It will be fun and also potentially dangerous to see these boys and their devoted "Golf Wang" audience wild out together.

Follow Rocks Off on Facebook and on Twitter at @HPRocksOff.

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