South by Southwest is just a fancy term for spring break for the music industry. Held annually in Austin, Texas, it's also a chance to see as many bands as possible in intimate settings before they hit big settings. Norah Jones played Starbucks during SXSW 2002, and we're guessing she won't be back there in 2004.
Here's the best of what we saw:
Best Stage Banter: Ottawa native Kathleen Edwards has a pretty voice and a dirty mouth. During her Antone's show, she announced, "Compared to Texans, Canadians are fuckin' assholes." At press time, nobody back home had destroyed any of her records.
Best Stage Exit: Cat Power slinked back and forth from the piano to her guitar to play her soft, moody numbers. It's not the sort of thing that normally spices up Stubb's outdoor barbeque, so when she finished her meek cover of the White Stripes' "Dead Leaves in the Dirty Ground," she announced her departure with one wavering word: "Sorry."
Best Cover: The Frames traveled from their native Dublin, Ireland, and they were damn well gonna treat the good folks at Club DeVille to some sort of western song. Their choice: Glen Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy."
Best New Yardbirds Guitarist: Slash! For one night anyway.
Best Credo: VHS or Beta hail from Louisville, Kentucky, but instrumental disco, not bluegrass, is their bag. For their late-night Saturday show, they opened with a simple message: "This is not a showcase or a show -- this is a party!"
Best Company Man: While playing a party sponsored by the New Times, the company that owns regional alternative weeklies across the country, at Antone's, Camper Van Beethoven bass player Victor Krummenacher wore a black t-shirt that read, "Corporate weeklies still suck." When Camper's not touring, Krummenacher serves as art director for the independently owned San Francisco Bay Guardian. From "All Her Favorite Fruit" through "Where the Hell Is Bill," Camper rocked.
Best Swedish Band: The Soundtrack of Our Lives beat Citizen Bird here in 2002, but this year it was all about the ladies. We give the nod to Maria Andersson and her hard-rockin' Sahara Hotnights over Maja Ivarsson and the New Wave sounds of the Sounds. The Hives' Howlin' Pelle Almqvist concurs -- he's dating Maria.
Best Canadian Band: It's a draw between Calgary's folky twin-sister singer-songwriters Tegan and Sara, and Montreal's dreamy guitar rockers the Stills. "We're not French Canadians," declared the latter band's singer onstage at Momo's. "We're freedom Canadians!"
Best Guitar Techs: As past SXSW's have demonstrated, an inmate on Texas' death row has about as much chance of survival as an instrument in the hands of a member of . . .And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. True to their name, as Conrad Keely and Jason Reece switched back and forth from guitar to drums at Emo's, they seized every opportunity to break stuff. Each time, two (count 'em!) men standing at either one of the stage were ready with new six-strings.
Best Emo Show Not at Emo's: Former Knapsack frontman Blair Shehan rocked Momo's with his new crew the Jealous Sound. Among Shehan's emo disciples in the house: Talking Back Sunday's Adam Lazzara.
Best Band Name: Austin's own I Love You but I've Chosen Darkness. Runner up: Fellow hometowners Oh, Beast!
Best Time for a Name Change: Poor, poor Datson Four. Originally called the Datsons, these Montreal rockers changed their name after the emergence of New Zealand's Datsuns. Now another similarly named New Zealand band, the D4, are blowing up. Do we hear the Nissans?
Best Shoutout: How do you know you're at the right SXSW show? When St. Louis DJ Beatle Bob is front and center cutting some rug. And it pays to dance at a Visqueen show, as Rachel Flotard sang "Beatle Bob" over the final power chord she struck at the Red Eyed Fly.
Best Secret Show: As the line down the street proved, everybody south of the Red River knew who La Zona Rosa's Thursday night "special guests" were. The long dormant Blur opened with a couple world-beat-y selections from their upcoming Think Tank, and then singer Damon Albarn made the faithful feel ancient by introducing "Girls & Boys": "This is a hit from 1994."
Best Crowd Awareness: On Saturday morning behind the Yard Dog art gallery, Mississippi country singer Claire Holley played her pretty tunes for a bunch of hungover adults and a couple dancing toddlers. When her cover of Tom Waits' "Ol' 55" didn't quite move the kiddies, she switched to "Itsy Bitsy Spider."
Best Sing-Along: On Saturday night, thanks to the reunited Joe Jackson Band, thousands of Austonians and their guests were side by side singing the same seven-word question . . . You got it: "Is she really going out with him?"