Either way, I saw a cloud of smoke erupt during "Lookin' Out My Back Door," a sight that would make Jeff Lebowski smile that beardy smile. And, honestly, a show with True Believers (Alejandro Escovedo's lost '80s band), Junior Brown, and Bobby Bare Sr. as support was just a slice of all right. By the way, True Believers were delightfully loud, and their return to the stage is welcome. Craig Hlavaty
Reignwolf: Reignwolf is a one-man band, mostly, when Jordan Cook isn't aided by bass and drums. His Friday night showcase woke me from my SXSW sniffles and aches and actually made me jam out for a change.
He'll probably have to contend with lazy Black Keys references, but give him time. Blues-punk with a dark slant, the likes of which I've seen only Dax Riggs pull off. Plus, Reignwolf is hella acrobatic onstage, so he's tailor-made for sweaty, smallish venues. Craig Hlavaty
Sheepdogs: I slept on this Canadian act when they were being feted by Rolling Stone for a cover contest, when in fact I should have been getting in on the ground floor. Shades of Grateful Dead, Moby Grape, and Neil Young abound. They brought a raucous -- yet polite -- Canadian crowd with them to Sixth Street. There was even a trumpet solo. Craig Hlavaty
Slipknot's Corey Taylor fronts the Sound City Players, with ringleader Dave Grohl on drums
And who would have thought that in the span of four hours I would be singing along to Fear's "I Love Livin' In The City," Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," and "Jessie's Girl"? That was the pop-drenched world that Grohl created with Sound City. Craig Hlavaty
But, by far, my favorite little rhetorical turn was the way he made both Pitchfork and reality singing shows look so incredibly silly, just by talking about them in the same sentence. Because it's true, isn't it, that the difference between Christina Aguilera and the lazier end of Pitchfork's criticism boils down to little more than amount of hairspray. Kiernan Maletsky
Trash Talk: A consistent highlight of SXSW every year has been rising hardcore band and festival veterans Trash Talk. Regardless of their rising star, the band shows no signs of cleaning up their act. One of their most exciting assets is the absolute chaos and mayhem that takes place any time they play, and that was true even when they played at the Mohawk at 4 p.m. last Wednesday afternoon.
Frontman Lee Spielman was literally bouncing off the walls when I arrived slightly late. While I was busy standing in line and worrying whether I would get in, Spielman suddenly appeared on the Mohawk's outdoor wall, notably sporting a cast on one leg and yelling at the top of his lungs at those of us still outside.
The insanity only continued when I got in and witnessed Spielman's antics completely uninhibited by his injury, including crowd-surfing from the stage to the merch table by the end of the set and enlisting a 10-year-old to write for Pitchfork Media, which was sponsoring the show. Corey Deiterman
Haim: If saying, "These guys are going to blow up" makes it so, then Haim would be making us all forget about Justin Bieber by next week. As it stands, the band ("We are Haim. Three fuckin' Jewish sisters from LA," as Este Haim described it from the stage at one point) is candy on record and feral on stage, and that's more than enough. Kiernan Maletsky
But once you separated yourself from the people who were in Austin on "official" business, you quickly found yourself among real, actual music fans, people who came from all over the world to listen to bands play songs and find other humans who also like to do that. The happiest people I found at SXSW were those with the least access. Kiernan Maletsky
Ume: The Yeah Yeah Yeahs have been one of the most exciting rock bands for several years running, pushing the boundaries of what a modern pop-rock band is expected to do, but I guess I've always longed a little bit for the days when they were New York's favorite art-punks. Who, I wondered, would bring that kind of energy and excitement to SXSW this year in lieu of the now-certified stadium-rock Yeah Yeah Yeahs?
Apparently, that's local Austin psych-rockers (and former Houstonians) Ume. A growing band just about to break out, they secured a beautiful opening spot for Cloud Nothings and Portugal. The Man at The Mohawk early on the first Sunday of the fest. Ume immediately won me over with their raucus bursts of guitar-driven art rock, with front woman Lauren Larson threatening to take the whole thing off the rails with the abuse of her guitar strings.
Still, underneath this Ume possesses an air of intelligence and depth rare in a genre known primarily for its copious drug usage. When it comes to art, psychedelia, and rock 'n' roll, it doesn't get much better. Corey Deiterman
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Honorable Mentions (Hlavaty): Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Jim James, Natalie Maines, Charlie Mars, Tontons, the Specials, Eric Burdon