If the crowd at NPR’s annual SXSW showcase/broadcast were still hurting from last night’s green beer, they barely showed it. And if much-hyped headliners Sleigh Bells (just signed to M.I.A.’s upstart imprint NEET) were thrown by their set’s recurring technical difficulties, the co-ed Brooklyn duo still pulled off one of the most contagious, sloppy-fun moments of the festival so far.
The Sleigh Bells stage experience is pretty straightforward: A girl, a boy, and a MacBook Pro. Ripping through raucous renditions of “A/B Machines” and “Infinity Guitars,” frontwoman Alexis Krauss writhed her body and whipped her hair around like a cat on ecstasy, pressing her voice through multiple foot-pedal effects as her bandmate Derek Miller distorted and shredded his guitar; together, the chaotic, melodic noise they make is pretty hard to describe—kind of like NWA meets Le Tigre, with Sabbath riffs and ESG on backup. (Not helping?)
Despite several false starts and computer-glitch do-overs, the pair wrapped up with clear fan-kid favorite (and EW 2009 Top Singles pick) “Crown on the Ground” to wild hoots, chant-alongs and applause:
Young Florida foursome Surfer Blood, Sleigh Bells’ near-equals in the SXSW wind tunnel of uber-hype, pulled off a similarly dynamic, if more traditional rock-y show. My notes say perplexing things like “singer button-down Vamp Weekend prep, drummer afro awesome = Animal” and “My Morning Jacket w/ sun tan lotion + ’60s garage rawk party reverb,” But I do know they had me at the cowbell on jangly epic “Twin Peaks”’ and that ending with “the hit,” ” Swim to Reach the End,” (which I swear, always makes me think of the voice-and-guitar breakdown on Asia’s “Heat of the Moment,” I am deranged) turned almost every face in the room entirely giddy:
Also excellent? L.A.’s Local Natives, whom their label head at French Kiss Records, Syd Butler (he’s also Les Savy Fav’s bassist) described as “the Eagles of indie rock.” I was actually thinking maybe more “Fleet Foxes after a hearty breakfast and a Red Bull,” but we can split the difference. Their cover of the Talking Heads’ “Warning Signs” and the lovely, harmony-laden “Shapeshifter,” “Airplane” and “Sun Hands” were all met with wild cheers from a crowd that clearly knew their (brief) catalog.
I only caught the tail end of Chicago rockers Smith Westerns, whose fuzzy, jalopy-rock tempo seemed slightly outplayed by their wild hair moves, but I’m sure I’ll get a chance to see them again this weekend.
Readers, if you were there, what did you think? And if you’re not here but you wish you were, who would be on your must-see list?
More from EW.com’s Music Mix:
Alex Chilton: Big Star drummer Jody Stephens says he is ‘just feeling numb’ about bandmate’s death
SXSW: Smokey Robinson charms with keynote Q&A
Alex Chilton, R.I.P: Paul Westerberg of the Replacements, Craig Finn of the Hold Steady, and Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers share their thoughts
Ludacris battles to the top of the charts
The Specials: Terry Hall and Lynval Golding on the ska-rock legends’ reunion shows—and why their absent keyboard player is a ‘Scrooge’