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SXSW Live 2007

Shout! Factory B000TJ6OXY
Since its inception in 1987, Austin’s SXSW festival has been a destination for young bands eager to make a name for themselves in front of industry-heavy audiences. In 2007, over 1,400 acts performed on 50 stages across the city. That same year, Blast TV custom-built two clubs in the Austin Convention Center where performances were recorded in multi-camera HD and 5.1 surround for broadcast on DirecTV. The SXSW Live 2007 DVD is a best-of collection of these performances along with backstage artist interviews by Andrew WK and Matt Pinfield.
Though some of the live-performance vibe can be lost in the overabundance of digital clarity, the surround sound mix, multiple cameras, and editing is good enough to make you feel as though you’re in Austin. The stylistic diversity of known and unknown bands on the DVD made for a challenging mix of music, and I found myself flipping around rather than watching the DVD from start to finish. I started with the most recognizable names and worked my way down from there. First up was singer-songwriter Rachel Fuller accompanied by boyfriend Pete Townsend on 12 string acoustic guitar for an airy, mid-tempo number called ‘Sunrise.’ Ricky Lee Jones impressed with a guitar-driven, orchestral rock tune called ‘Nobody Knows My Name’ that wouldn’t sound out of place at a Flaming Lips show. A well-accessorized Lee Scratch Perry and his band played a soulful but rambling dub groove called ‘Kiss the Champion.’ However, of greater interest was the time Perry spent in his interview convincing Andrew WK that he should never change his name from Andrew and that Jesus was African American. It all made for fascinating backstage banter for a rock show.
Longtime fan favorites Marc Broussard, Ozomatli, Polylphonic Spree, and Bowling for Soup all put in strong performances, but the point of the festival and the DVD is seeing bands that I haven’t seen before. It turns out that the buzz for Peter Bjorn & John is justified. Their weirdly euro-hipster new wave music had its own sparse groove thanks to great drumming and a catchy, whistled melody. The Bravery was a black-clad, synthy, new-wavish band that surprised me by really rocking out. Aqualung, led by British musician Matt Hales on piano, churned out interesting pop with amazing atmospheric guitar. Overall, my favorite band on the entire DVD was Kraak & Smaak, a DJ group from the Netherlands backed by a live band. At times, their spacey electronic funk sounded like a clubbier version of the Greyboy Allstars.
While it was nice to hear lots of bands not on my radar, the DVD felt a little light without the bigger new buzz-bands from SXSW, such as Lilly Allen, Bloc Party, Spoon, and Amy Winehouse. While most of the bands on the DVD were very good, with some exceptions they weren’t quite at that don’t-blink-or-you-might-miss-something next level. Though this may have just been a question of record label politics, not having any bigger names to anchor the setlist was the DVD’s obvious shortcoming. I can see people passing up the DVD because the more talked about acts aren’t there to pull them in, and it’s a shame, because there’s a lot of gold on this release.

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