Sixpence None the Richer (Austin Music Awards, March 13, www.sixpence-ntr.com) — We've all heard their biggest hit "Kiss Me" at least once on the radio, and our ears are none the worse for the wear. What you didn't know about this band from New Braunfels — near Austin — is that they're not one-hit wonders. At the Austin Music Awards they offered some harder-edged songs that hinted at a future beyond the sappier fare radio loves so much.
Spoon (Austin Music Awards, March 13, www.reed.edu/~marzbane) — It's more difficult every year to walk down the street without tripping over a never-was four-piece pop band. Austin-based Spoon fearlessly goes where many have gone before: straightforward, guitar-based rock. They don't offer gimmicks, just songs that start innocently, then steadily build to majestic numbers that almost knock you on your heels, judging by the response at the Austin Music Awards during their three-song set.
Drive-By Truckers (Antone's, March 14, 1 a.m., www.drivebytruckers.com) — Patterson Hood and the Athens, Ga.-based Truckers are rewriting the history of the South with three guitars and Hood's sneering, gravely voice — one gig at a time. Hood grew up in Muscle Shoals in Northern Alabama with a reverence for Lynyrd Skynyrd and a chip on his shoulder about the stereotypes of the south. The double-disc Southern Rock Opera was his answer, originally planned as a movie before it became an album. Songs such as "The Southern Thing" tie it all together: "Ain't about the races, the crying shame; To the fucking rich man all poor people look the same ...
It's a little about some rebels but it ain't about the past; Ain't about no foolish pride, Ain't about no flag; Hate's the only thing that my truck would want to drag." The packed house at Antone's, a key venue for blues musicians, loved their balls-out rock and roll.
Sing-Sing (Buffalo Billiards, March 14, 8 p.m., www.sing-sing.co.uk) — Singer Lisa O'Neill and guitarist Emma Anderson (ex-Lush) have put together a beautiful album with The Joy of Sing-Sing. The problem is the blips and bleeps and other details woven into its luscious pop tapestry got lost in this venue's large, long space. A second album is due this year, so prick up your ears.
Kinski (Elysium, March 14, 9 p.m., homepage.mac.com/aaront/kinski/about.html) — Is it the rain in Seattle? What else could explain the deep, dark vibes coming from Kinski's long, almost trance-like rock and roll? Kinski smoothly negotiates the gulf between ambient electronic musings and walls of guitars a la My Bloody Valentine. But there's something more here — unexpected touches such as the eerie squeal that, during the peak of one particular song, made the hair stand up on the back of my neck.
Geraldine (Beerland, March 16, late afternoon, www.orangerecordings.com) — For years Athens, Ohio has supported a number of rough-around-the-edges punk bands from the early 1990s Poobah and Appalachian Death Ride to Geraldine, perhaps the survivor of them all. Despite the confines of a small town more an hour from the nearest Interstate, Geraldine have managed to keep up the intensity for 10 years. Instead of just punk rock, their trademark harmonica adds a psycho-bluesy layer, pulling them away from the punk pack.
The Jerry Lee Phantom (Mercury Entertainment at Jazz, March 15, 1 a.m.) — Good hooks, great passion, reverberating guitars, and just a little insanity drive this Japanese guitar/base/keyboard/drums progressive rock foursome. Their songs do go on a bit longer than they should, but it was forgivable and better than some of the other bands in the two Japan Nite showcases at SXSW.
Roo Nation (Le Privilege, March 14, 12 midnight, roonation.freewebspace.com) — This vocal-free Belfast three-piece — comprised by bass, drums, and miscellaneous electronic support and samples — is someone's theme music waiting to happen. Armed with a range of backbeats, from hip-hop to rock, it's only appropriate they've been working on soundtracks for the BBC.
South/Elbow (Strait Music Building, SPIN Magazine SXSW after hours party, March 16, 2a.m., www.elbow.co.uk) — "We're Elbow. We're from Manchester, England. And we're going to depress the shit out of you for the next hour," said Guy Garvey, Elbow's lead singer, self-deprecating but with a completely straight face. It, of course, wasn't true. But you can almost see the snotty backlash coming against these two English bands because they sound just a little too much like Radiohead. Putting that baggage aside, both bands — and especially Elbow — put out some solid tunes. Music that, in the Radiohead style, builds from simple beats and hooks into reverberating, cavernous songs, highlighted in Elbow's case by Garvey's sweet voice — especially sweet for a man who looks more suited for the football field. South mine the same territory, but without the grandiose finishes of Elbow. If only the Austin Police had taken a moment to listen, maybe they would have mellowed out and not felt the need to stop SPIN from dispensing any more alcohol when this party was only half-finished. As South's lead singer observed minutes after the venue dried up and they took the stage, how is it possible that you "can't have beer at a free beer party" in Austin?
Thee Shams: www.theeshams.com
The Greenhornes: www.greenhornes.com
Ray's Music Exchange: www.raysmusicexchange.com
Petty Booka: www.sister.co.jp/pettybooka
The Polyphonic Spree: www.thepolyphonicspree.com
The Gift: www.thegift.tv
Shorty Long: www.shortylong.com