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The 25 Best Acts We Caught at SXSW 2013

March 20, 2013  |  12:38pm

Even in the offseason, Austin, Texas, proclaims itself to be the Live Music Capital of the World. But when March rolls around, that claim feels like an understatement. During SXSW, every venue, parking lot and restaurant seems to have bands playing day and night. From unknown acts driving up in broken-down vans to massive headliners playing corporate-funded shows, it’s impossible to see it all. But we had every pair of ears on our staff wondering the streets, catching as much as we could. Here are the 25 we’ll remember most:

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25. Soft White Sixties – The Blackheart
Walking into the middle of a set from San Francisco’s Soft White Sixties, all I had was a recommendation from a friend and no clue of even what genre to expect. But as soon as I stepped out into The Blackheart’s courtyard, the old-school blues-rock groove took hold. Led by a wiry, mesmerizing frontman, Octavio Genera, the band could have come straight from a gig booked by Bill Graham at The Fillmore in 1968.—Josh Jackson

24. The Weeks – Bungalow
The long-haired young’uns flung their bodies in and out of the crowd. The crowd breached the stage. Beers and shots and shots and beers passed to the band who willing indulged. Capitalizing on their raucous rock ‘n’ roll spirits, the raw power of the lanky quintet consumed Saturday’s midnight atmosphere.—Kristen Blanton

23. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Stubb’s
Our first night of music at SXSW kicked off with a blonde Karen O taking on the new tracks in a yellow, sparkly cowboy-type outfit that would make Elton John blush. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ not-so-recent addition of bassist/guitarist/keyboard player David Pajo (of Slint fame) on this tour has added a welcome fullness to the trio, especially on the bass-heavy “Mosquito” and the live debut of the chilling, choral “Sacrilege.” Guitarist Nick Zinner seemed to want to capture the show’s moments himself, snapping photos of the crowd during an instrumental break and at the end of the show. If anything, the appearance has given us a lot to look forward to on what’s bound to be an atmospheric set of Yeah Yeah Yeahs tracks.—Tyler Kane

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22. Allah-Las – The Stage on Sixth
It’s always a good sign when a band’s crowd has quadrupled in size by the end of their set, and that was the case with The Allah-Las. Their throwback, psych-rock songs drew more and more people the longer they played—and rightfully so. The California group sounded right at home under the beating sun on our outdoor stage, dropping feel-good tracks from their self-titled debut as well as road-testing some promising new tracks.—Bonnie Stiernberg

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19. The Flaming Lips
As Wayne Coyne puts it, The Flaming Lips love to give SXSW a “radical” show, and they certainly kept Austin weird with this year’s concert at Auditorium Shores. Hours before playing ‘Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots’ at a more intimate venue later in the night, the band performed the entirety of their new album ‘The Terror’ for the huge audience at the Shores, soaring well beyond the realm of normality, even for the strange standards of The Lips. If the unnamed baby doll held in Coyne’s arms and christened occasionally with a kiss on the forehead wasn’t weird enough, the fulfilled request from guest Sarah Barthell of Phantogram for the frontman to pull her hair while she sang “You Lust” next to the him sufficiently blew the gourds of every last person in attendance.—Tyler Bowden

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20. PHOX – The Stage on Sixth
This psychedelic pop collective from Madison, Wisc., has an original, charismatic frontwoman in Monica Martin. This is big-tent music—a trippy party that makes you feel good the way The Flaming Lips or The Polyphonic Spree or Of Montreal makes you feel good, but without the gimmicks. Festival bookers: This is one to scoop up while they’re young.—Josh Jackson

19. Phosphorescent – Bar 96
If you weren’t already looking forward to Phosphorescent’s Muchacho, Matthew Houck and Co. gave you a reason to re-check its release date at the Filter showcase at Bar 96. Sprinkling the set with tracks new and old, Matthew Houck reminded fans of what we loved most about his southern-twinged, slow-rolling tunes and reeled us back in with new tracks like “Muchacho’s Tune.”—Tyler Kane

18. The Lone Bellow – The Blackheart
Singers Zach Williams, Brian Elmquist and Kanene Pipkin are the heart of The Lone Bellow, often touring as a trio. But the band got it’s start as a much bigger collective, and having a rhythm section gives the songs more power. A little more country than The Lumineers, a little more rock ‘n’ roll than The Civil Wars, The Lone Bellow is poised for a breakout year.—Josh Jackson

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17. METZ – Bar 96
After a day of walking, over-exposure to the sun, dehydration and all-around exhaustion, there’s nothing like the 30-minute, ear-drum pummeling that Canadian trio METZ provided to revive your spirits. The band was showing off cuts from their self-titled Sub Pop debut, and—love it or hate it—they grabbed the attention of every person in the packed Bar 96 with their sweat-soaked set. On day three of the demanding festival, the show proved that METZ’s might as a space-flooding trio doesn’t stop in the studio and that Austin needed to try a bit harder to break down these current kings of hardcore.—Tyler Kane

16. Telekinesis – The Parish
Telekinesis is fronted by drummer-on-stage/multi-instrumentalist-in-the-studio Michael Benjamin Lerner, whose back catalog we’ve been fans of for years. But tonight, Lerner was testing out his new cuts from the forthcoming Dormarion and introducing his new band: Erik Walters of The Globes on guitar, Say Hi’s Eric Elbogen on bass and Wild Flag’s Rebecca Cole on keyboards. It’s hard to think of a band that looked happier on stage than this foursome, showing off material that promises a great new album in Dormarion and also convincingly tackling Lerner’s back catalog.—Tyler Kane

15. Spirit Family Reunion – The Stage on Sixth
SXSW is all about promoting your music, and it was mission accomplished for Spirit Family Reunion on day three of our parties at the Stage on Sixth. The group scored a room full of new fans during their passionate performance. They hail from Brooklyn, but their sound is pure Appalachia. They closed their set full-force with “I’ll Find A Way,” with the entire crowd singing along to the chorus. By the time they left the stage, I heard “who are those guys? They were great!” more times than I could count.—Bonnie Stiernberg

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14. Devendra Banhart – Convention Center
Eight albums later the thirty-one year old is still raining fervor and spirit into his performances. Sitting perfectly along on stage in the Convention Center, he plugged in and gave an declarative 35-minute set including five tracks of new album Mala. No one can match the range of Devendra’s vibrato and the oddity of his words.—Kristen Blanton

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13. Red Baraat – The Stage on Sixth
The big band leanings of Red Baraat were an amazing start to Saturday morning at Paste’s Stages on Sixth event. The band’s stage presence is undeniable, filling the room with a unique energy which got the party started with loud brass and handclaps. You can’t help but dance to their blend of noise, which draws from so many disparate roots of world music that no one influence really stands out over another. Their explosive sound couldn’t be contained indoors, however, as the band led the audience out into the street at the end of their set for a riveting finale that many will surely remember for years to come.—Tyler Bowden

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12. King Tuff – Bar 96
On Friday night, some of the Paste team decided it was time to blow off a little steam, and King Tuff’s raucous set at Bar 96 was the perfect place to rage. Tuff’s self-titled album was one of our favorites of last year, and it didn’t disappoint in a live setting. Whiney vocals, a healthy-sized mosh pit, beer in hand…punk paradise.—Bonnie Stiernberg

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11. Sharon Jones – ACL Live
Introduced as “the shining diamond of the Daptone family,” Sharon Jones shimmered through her headlining slot at the label’s soul revue. Following the incredible Charles Bradley is a damn-near impossible task, but Jones handled it with aplomb. Clad in a royal blue fringe dress, she schooled fans on the dance crazes of 1965, offering a lesson in the pony, the twist, the mashed potato, the swim and more before bringing a few male admirers onstage and getting down and dirty.—Bonnie Stiernberg

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10. Leagues – The Stage on Sixth
Thad Cockrell’s new band has that indefinable “it”—the magic when a group of musicians gets together and the result sounds like nothing any of them have played before. Ditching his guitar and his country twang, Cockrell is free to sing and dance with newfound swagger. But none of it would matter if it weren’t for a collection of fantastic songs that seem crafted for the arena stage.—Josh Jackson

9. Mikal Cronin – The Parish
The first set we caught at Merge’s showcase was Mikal Cronin, who you might have seen before playing bass for Ty Segall. Cronin’s show has all the energy and bite you’d expect from a Segall collaborator, but this songwriter serves it with heaping piles of pop sensibility, smart songwriting and for-real, non-effect-soaked solos. Cronin’s set leaned heavily on his upcoming album, MCII, which is out in May. It’s fantastic, and you should be waiting for it.—Tyler Kane

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8. Foxygen – The Stage on Sixth
Say whatever you will about Foxygen’s mid-week collapse and subsequent cancelation of their remaining showcases. When we caught the group at our Wednesday day party, they were in top form, with frontman Sam France positively wailing through tracks off their stunning We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic in a way that makes us inclined to believe that lofty title. France apologized to fans for a lack of intensity, but—as we said in our initial recap of the set—if this is the band running on empty, we can’t wait to see what they can do with a full tank.—Bonnie Stiernberg

7. Wild Belle
Wild Belle fuses neo-soul swagger with the rhythym of ska, a seductive combination which results in sexy tunes that stay in your head for days on end. Officially billed as the duo of siblings Elliot and Natalie Bergman, the group’s live sound is produced by much bigger band consisting of an array of strings, percussion, and backup vocalists. It was disappointing that they played the opening slot on a docket featuring Toro Y Moi, Ra Ra Riot, and Atlas Genius, meaning those still stuck in line missed out, but luckily Natalie’s soulful singing and Elliot’s sweet saxophone permeated the venue and bled out readily into the street.—Tyler Bowden

6. John Baizley – The North Door
Since Baroness’ August 2012 bus crash, we haven’t seen many live outings from recovering frontman John Baizley, who put on—and this is a grand understatement—an inspiring set on SXSW’s final night. Baizley took the stage with a lone electric guitar and his voice, showcasing that beneath Baroness’ triumphant roar of high-jacked guitars and thundering drums, there’s also an equally gifted songsmith in Baizley. The frontman also used the venue to bring some songs to light that helped him through his long recovery, grinning ear-to-ear before taking on Townes Van Zandt’s “If I Needed You” and Bruce Springsteen’s sparse Nebraska cut “My Father’s House.” But more than anything, Baizley was grateful to be up on The North Door’s stage that night, repeatedly thanking the audience for writing him, sending support and listening while he was there. The event also gave him a chance address live performances from his (sort of) new album, Yellow and Green, which were cut short by that fateful August day. Regardless of what happened after he took that stage, it was amazing to see Baizley back doing what he does best, and the tear-summoning set that followed was just the icing on the cake. —Tyler Kane

5. A Tribe Called Quest – La Zona Rosa
Opening for Prince, Tribe playing nearly all of their hits with chemistry and in-your-face gusto…especially Q-Tip. In addition to stopping the show several times to playfully chastise the audience for not matching the trio’s energy, he went through a number of sweat towels, one of which he used to wipe the floor down for Prince after they finished their set.—Ryan Bort

4. Lucius – Hotel San Jose
Outstanding. Watching Holly and Jess is like taking a trip into the melodic unknown. The gap between wake and sleep where you want to remain as their voices evoke an eternal bliss. That’s what the quintet is – blissful resonance to the ears.—Kristen Blanton

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3. Charles Bradley – ACL Live
The Screamin’ Eagle of Soul blew the roof off of ACL Live during the Daptone Super Soul Review on Thursday. No artist brings as much passion, appreciation or funky old school dance moves to the stage as Bradley. After a costume change and powerful closing number, he came down into the audience to hug his fans. Inspirational stuff.—Ryan Bort

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2. Iron & Wine – Central Presbyternian Church
Sam Beam played a couple of new songs before taking requests from the crowd, seated in pews in the gorgeous chapel. With just his voice and an acoustic guitar, it was a return to the whispered secrets of his earliest records. The highlight, though, was his cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights.”—Josh Jackson

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1. Prince – La Zona Rosa
I now feel kind of naive not having known just how good Prince is live, but I guess you can’t really know until you actually see him. Backed by a 22-person band, he played (at least) five encores, was on stage until 3 a.m. and gave everyone in attendance a dose of funk they’ll remember forever. Quick fact I later learned from the source: Prince had a feng shui expert examine La Zona Rosa before he performed.—Ryan Bort

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