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Chairlift, The Soft Pack, Wild Light Lead SXSW 2009's Indie Rock Invasion

March 20, 2009 2:13 PM ET

A slew of indie-rock next-big-things used Thursday night performances at SXSW as a platform to further fuel the hype machine. California art-dance mutant Nite Jewel has been making waves this year with her mix of '80s freestyle grooves, distorted synths and ghostly vocals. At Red 7 she wanted to make sure everyone knew she didn't care about their opinions or, for that matter, anything. She looked as cold and impenetrable as possible in a gray T-shirt, a face-obscuring haircut, and a chilly demeanor — at one point she even put on sunglasses. But no amount of impersonal affects could take the wind out the impossibly lush grooves she was culling from small keyboards.

(Check out photos from Austin's hottest shows in our SXSW gallery.)

Brooklyn lo-fi jangle-punk band Crystal Stilts hit the stage after and tried to keep things more upbeat, with keyboardist Kyle Forester taking requests from the full-capacity audience and running in place as he played. But no amount of levity could take away from the smug posturing of lead singer Brad Hargett, whose affectations wavered somewhere between Joy Division's Ian Curtis and someone about to throw up. The member were a pretty unique mixture of sass and snark, but then again, the band's music is itself an interesting mix of prickly noise and cuddly pop.

A similar juxtaposition was going on around the corner at Emo's by Boston's much-hyped Wild Light. The four dudes, dressed in black, sounded like the Cure but played like the Clash. They were dwelling in the moody hooks of mid-'80s college rock, and worked up quite a sweat, even getting the audience to clap along to some of their more anthemic parts.

Way down 6th Street at Opal's Divine Palace, San Diego's the Soft Pack (formerly known as the Muslims) were dedicating "Come On," the first single from their new album, to their lawyer. The band unleashed perky basslines over swift drumming, concluding their set of loose and limber garage rock with a stretched- and fuzzed-out version of "Parasites."

Up next, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart kicked off their set of subtley anthemic indie pop with "This Love Is Fucking Right!" a song that may or may not be about inappropriate feelings for one's sister. Frontman Kip Berman's nasal croon is the perfect foil for singer-keyboardist Peggy Wang-East's sweet harmonies, and together their vocals rode waves of chiming rock toward a sound that was truly dreamy.

Back in the barn-like Red 7, the iPhone ad-scoring band Chairlift were incredibly busy. Drummer Patrick Wimberly hopped between his drumset, a keyboard and bass guitar, sometimes playing two instruments at once to get all the sounds this spectral indie band uses. The band often went drummerless, opting for a keyboard-heavy, Casiopunk version of their single "Evident Utensil." Seemingly leaderless, the focus constantly shifted from between the Wimberly, spinning keyboardist/vocalist Caroline Polachek, and guitarist/vocalist Aaron Pfenning — a sign this band cares about what sounds they make more than who makes them.

Right next door at Beauty Bar, secret unlisted special guest band Jaguar Love pulled out an especially spazzy set. It was somewhat triumphant for them since this was their first American show after paring their lineup down from a trio to a duo. Guitarist Cody Votolato was especially lively, doing a leap off the amps that almost had him tumbling off the stage. "I was scared," he told Rolling Stone after the gig. "I haven't done a jump like that in a long, long time. I might have hurt my back!"

(Find all of our video, photos and live reports from Austin's SXSW in our Rock Daily blog.)

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