The fourth and final night of SXSW 2012 was not off to the greatest musical start. The first act I caught was Kat Graham. Known mostly for her role as Bonnie Bennett on Vampire Diaries, she's been dabbling in music while acting and recently signed a record contract. Her performance was raunchy, her singing marginal, and was pretty much the worst act I caught at SXSW. Flanked by two dancing women -- all of them dressed in bikini/bra tops and mini skirts, their choreographed numbers were overly-sexed and her pap single, "Put Your Graffiti On Me," didn't help matters. Unfortunately for them, the scantily-clad distraction could not detract from the awful backing track nor her singing. Thankfully, Givers followed and were a nice surprise. The Louisiana quintet's whimsical, infectious melodies were married with bouncy beats and their blissful performance and attitude was contagious.
Next up New Zealand native/Australia dwelling Kimbra was another artist with pep and a wide range of styles (from uber pop to soul to scatty jazz), which came off a bit unfocused. She had a lot of energy and an eclectic style, from her colorful dress to her scattershot musical approach, which could be more engaging if she finds direction. Ed Sheeran has blown up in the UK with his debut album, +, hitting No. 1 on their charts. He had built a fanbase independently before that major label debut however, and he seemed an unlikely character to hit such heights when I caught him at Austin Music Hall. The songs were OK, but he was not particularly charismatic onstage, he was sheepish when he was delivering fast-paced, almost rapped lyrics to backing tracks, though he looked more comfortable when he held a guitar for some less frenetic numbers. Perhaps that self-consciousness was part of his charm, but it was lost in translation for me.
Nneka, however, was completely engaging, and I am still kicking myself for not queuing in line earlier to get inside the venue. Fortunately, Stage on Sixth has large open windows where the sound spilled into the streets, and unlike the mob that surrounded the venue the night before with Jack White, she was easily viewable as well. I watched a bit from outside as the Nigerian singer's smooth voice glided over reggae musical undertones.
I managed to catch acts from eight different countries (including the U.S.) by the completion of SXSW 2012, which isn't too bad for an around-the-world whirl in four days. Overall, there were some interesting international discoveries for me, including Nneka, The White Eyes, The Balconies, 2:54 and Daughter. I also enjoyed seeing Iceland's Of Monsters and Men's quick rise within five months' time. I saw some promising acts, such as the aforementioned artists and also Howler and Givers. Alabama Shakes exceeded expectations, I finally caught The War on Drugs and Sharon Van Etten, both of whom impressed, and Bruce Springsteen's show lives among one of the best I've seen. I may not have found my new favorite band this time around, but what I did unearth was plenty worthwhile.
Until next year, Austin.