Texas highlights

Street performers, Jimmy Cliff, and organ-rattling beats at SXSW 2012

All hands on deck in Austin

>>View Mirissa's complete SXSW 2012 diary here.

MUSIC To be at SXSW is to know you're missing out on a lot of good music. Fortunately the music you do see makes up for the difference, and very often it's the unexpected showcases, the things that weren't on your radar until that very moment, that end up being the highlights of your experience. That said, here are some of my impressions from this year's slate:



On the way to the ZZ Ward show I stumbled upon Grupo Canalon playing on a street corner. Incidentally, a friend from SF had recommended it as an act that shouldn't be missed. The group hails from the town of Timbiqui in Cauca and plays traditional Afro-Colombian roots music, with lots of percussion, a marimba, and a capella vocals. Even the hipsters on Sixth Street couldn't resist dancing.

Amid an extended sound check plagued by feedback, a frustrated ZZ Ward assured the Bat Bar audience that her performance would be worth the wait. The words seemed cocky in the moment but she and her band delivered. Based in LA, the chanteuse's "dirty blues with beats" sound has gathered its fair share of buzz and she seems to have the poise and the chops to become a star.

As I walked through the heart of Sixth Street not only was every venue overflowing with showcases but it was hard to swing a stick without hitting an "unofficial" street showcase. I snapped photos of two guys furiously strumming acoustic guitars in front of the Ritz Theater. When asked what their band's name was, the taller one replied "Well I'm Mike and he's Gabe... that's as far as we've gotten."



In the afternoon I wandered downtown only to run into Andy and Christian of San Franpsycho. They had a rack of clothes and a mobile screenprinting setup — representing SF style deep in the heart of Texas. As we commiserated about the craziness that is SXSW, SF local Danny Lannon of The Frail happened by.

Then it was off to catch a few songs by the White Eyes at the Taiwan music showcase. Frontperson Gau Xiao-gao was festooned in a nude leotard with fabric streamers while she led her band through the punk and straight-forward rock paces.

Later on I went to Spinlet's All Africa party at Copa. After some confusion about the schedule, Kenya's Sauti Sol took the stage. The first thing to notice about Sauti Sol was the band's incredible clothing. The musicians were all wearing these beautifully tailored kanga-print jackets with beaded epaulets. En masse it kind of resembled an East African Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The second thing to notice was the great music. It navigated effortlessly from rocking out to singing soaring harmonies, all the while spontaneously breaking into lockstep dancing. The crowd ate it up.



At the big SPIN blowout Santigold's rhythm section entered the stage wearing Max Headroom-esque caps, her backup singers came out in outfits that were a spin on matador chic, then Santigold herself finally came out donning a crown. While her big hits like "L.E.S. Artistes" sent the crowd into frenzied sing-a-longs, her new material was received almost as enthusiastically, boding well for her album release come April.