SXSW: Who’s the Big Winner?

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In a calendar year that saw indie rock land all over the Billboard Top 200 including the No. 1 spot and the poster children of the margins, Arcade Fire, win the Grammy for Album of the Year, one could have predicted that this year’s SXSW crop of talent would have more rising stars than megastars. While artists like the Foo Fighters, Duran Duran and Kanye West still made appearances, the playing field at last week’s Texas Festival was the most level we’ve seen in recent years. So who stood out from the pack? Chill out -- I’m going to tell you.

Deervana: You may be asking yourself; what the heck is a Deervana? Deervana is what happens when the Providence, R.I., boys Deer Tick decide to close the festival with a blistering 45-minute set of all Nirvana covers at the Ground Control Touring showcase. I’ve been to a number of SXSW Festivals, and I can assure you there is no better way to end the week long debauchery than putting down your guard and screaming along to a spot on tribute to one of the best bands in history. Standouts like “School,” “In Bloom” and “Lithium” had the crowd whipped into a massive frenzy. Bonus points to the entire band for smashing all of their gear as the set came to an end. If you missed this or simply don't understand why they would do it, feel free to delete my phone number.

The Antlers: I managed to see these guys twice in the same venue in less than 24 hours and both of their sets were stunning. The Wednesday evening Frenchkiss Records showcase at the Parish had a few new songs spread out among the highlights from their stunning debut Hospice, but the band decided to play the new record in its entirety at Thursday’s NPR showcase. The new songs are absolutely amazing and it sounds as though singer Peter Silberman’s full vocal range was utilized on Burst Apart which is due out this May.

Pop Music: No, this isn’t some new Scandinavian band you want to hate simply because of their name. I’m talking about good old fashion pop – it is back in a big way. Bands like the already established Two Door Cinema Club and the Friendly Fires along with fresh faces like New Zealand’s The Naked and Famous and Los AngelesFoster the People brought pop music to the forefront of the SXSW discussion and had kids in a sweaty dance fueled mess. While they all have a ways to go, Simon Le Bon must be getting nervous when he checks his rear view mirror.

Pete and the Pirates: Wait, you’ve never heard of these guys? C’mon now, stop resting on your laurels and start discovering some new music. I managed to see them at one of the 132 showcases hosted by the BrooklynVegan. Their brand of UK rock is recalls the elements that made Weezer a chart topping band in the 90’s and they do it with a tongue and cheek style that makes me want to dance around like a teenager.

Honorable Mention: If you’re still laboring through this piece, I’d like to point out a couple of artists before closing. First of all, check out City and Colour – you’ll be happy you did. Sure, they populate the somewhat barren space between Dashboard Confessional style emo and Bright Eyes-esque folk rock, but have you really heard anything so emotive played by a gentleman with so many sweet tattoos? Secondly, don’t sleep on Sharon Van Etten – she is a star in waiting. Think Fiona Apple for the cool kids or Cat Power without the baggage. Finally, it wouldn’t be SXSW without a Black Angels show or two. Once again they managed to melt my face and leave me in a puddle of my own sweat and beer.

Also, I’d be remiss to not mention the room service at the Hilton. They sure delivered -- five straight nights of chicken fingers; I couldn’t have done it without you.

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