SxSW 2012: Day One: Dan Deacon, Fiona Apple, Sharon Van Etten, Alabama Shakes, Daughter

March 15, 2012

"Rule number one: dance as sassy as you can...rule number two: no cowards," Dan Deacon explained from his DJ pulpit on Stubb's stage. The rules could apply to a number of experiences at South By Southwest Music Festival, with plenty to dance to and boisterous crowds to brave. In this case, however, he was teaching his large audience how to behave at a Dan Deacon show, the main unspoken rule being to have childlike fun, no matter what age. Joined by two drummers, he inspired group interpretive dance and smiles all around.

His set was a reminder of a worthwhile lesson to remember when attending the annual South By Southwest Music Festival. One, is it's smart to make a schedule, mapping out the many artists one hopes to catch and where they'll appear throughout the week. Another is letting that schedule slip by the wayside as often the best stuff is caught by surprise. Dan Deacon was not on my agenda, but having seen him grow from an opening Metro spot to a Pitchfork side stage act to Stubb's stage in Austin, and that his all-inclusive show approach could translate in a larger arena, was good to witness.

He was preceded by some riveting big draws, including Fiona Apple who "opened" the set. I only caught her last two songs, and two from outside the venue. Despite her seven-year break between albums, she sounded confident with a graceful look to match. Sharon Van Etten, whose Tramp album has been in regular rotation, followed. Her voice was compelling with a gauzy intonation that was both vulnerable and powerful. Later, Alabama Shakes impressed, particularly for a band whose Boys & Girls debut album hasn't yet hit the shelves. Singer Brittany Howard's a force, with her strutty, tough as nails delivery. She howled, stomped and worked the stage making every move count.  

Another notable from the night was London's Daughter, whom I happened upon at Red Eye Fly. Hailing Daughter singer Elena Tonra spun melancholic yarns, delivered in an endearing, shy way. Her sweet singing was met with soft picking and bowed guitar and it was lovely. 

While my schedule still includes acts, both well-known (I scored one of those lottery Bruce Springsteen tickets tonight) and others that have been buzzing for a bit that I know and have been wanting to see, I'm going to check out as many random acts as I can this year. In a time when it feels like virtually everything is on everyone's radar, it's all a mouse click away to discover (and many of those worth seeing of course), those never-heard of surprises seem harder to come by. So how to get the best of both worlds? I plan to hit as many international showcases as I can this week, and I'm going in blind (as in I haven't read a lick about them, and have not even listened to the music) to many of them. First time to the States Taiwanese bands playing a showcase? I'm in. German artists rocking out on a boat? Sign me up. It's an experiment that might lead to riches, even if none of them end up my next favorite band. We'll see how this goes. Stay tuned for Day Two.