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At SXSW, Choc Quib Town, Yelawolf, Court Yard Hounds, jj

By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 22, 2010; C03

AUSTIN -- It's one of spring's most exhilarating and exhausting rites: The South by Southwest music festival, a five-day continuum of concerts where pop music's sprawling blogosphere is transposed into real life. With countless gigs dotted across Austin's city grid, bands that are normally a few mouse clicks away are now just a few blocks away. Dancing shoes recommended, walking shoes required.

Now in its 24th year, SXSW used to be about discovering fledgling artists. This weekend, it was about affirming what you already hoped to be true. Is your favorite band on MySpace (or YouTube or Vimeo or SoundCloud) really all that? There's often a sweet-and-sour dissonance between what our earbuds have been telling us for months and what we finally witnessed onstage.

This year, thousands of acts crammed onto Austin's stages -- with more than two dozen visiting from the Washington area. Of the 60-odd performances I sought out at SXSW between Wednesday afternoon and the tiny hours of Sunday morning, here are nine that met my expectations in the most refreshing, mysterious ways -- or even exceeded them.

And heads up: Many of them are scheduled to storm Washington stages soon.

Choc Quib Town

The biggest thrills at SXSW came from an emerging Colombian trio who can sing, rap and trigger dance floor delirium like the Fugees reincarnate. They're called Choc Quib Town and their new album is a gritty-gorgeous tropical swirl of Latin hip-hop. But at the Beauty Bar Palm Door on Saturday night, the pogoing threesome proved there's no substitute for the thrill of a dance floor rumbling under stomping feet.

Choc Quib Town's U.S. debut album "Oro" is available now, with no pending local gig.

Liturgy

Metal is synonymous with machinelike precision, but these Brooklyn headbangers deliver the goods in a loose, ecstatic blur. Onstage, guitarist and vocalist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix unleashed jangled blasts of distortion and throaty jaguar roars as if they were involuntary actions. It didn't seem like he was playing these songs so much they were happening to him. And during the opening blast of Liturgy's outdoor show on Saturday afternoon, a violent wind came gusting across the patio as if on cue. It felt like heavy metal magic.

Liturgy is scheduled to perform at the Talking Head in Baltimore on April 1.

Yelawolf

This Alabama rapper pounced onstage at Klub Krucial on Saturday night sporting a Joe Strummer mullet and a constellation of tattoos etched on his pasty skin. Twenty sweaty minutes later, he had proven himself one of the most riveting performers at SXSW, thanks to a nasal, petulant sneer that reaffirmed rap music's rebel spirit.

Yelawolf is scheduled to perform at the 9:30 club on March 28.

Cloud Nothings

SXSW is overrun by the young and under-rehearsed, drawing a fine line between charming and annoying. Cleveland's Cloud Nothings were all ramshackle charm on Wednesday, though, barreling through a handful of rousing indie rock tunes with youthful abandon. And they're plenty youthful. Songwriter and frontman Dylan Baldi is bespectacled, fired up and all of 18 years old.

Cloud Nothings are scheduled to perform at Random Row Books in Charlottesville on April 1.

Vivian Girls

The Brooklyn trio cashed in on its perennial buzz by playing a gaggle of rowdy shows at SXSW, but took a smart left turn with a hushed daylight performance on Saturday. The band's recordings suffer an unfortunate addiction to reverb and distortion, but instead of cranking it up to 11 , they turned it down to one. With that protective sonic shell peeled away, the punky threesome revealed just how lovely their pining love songs really are.

Vivian Girls are scheduled to perform at the Otto Bar in Baltimore on March 27.

Court Yard Hounds

One of the big marquee premieres at this year's festival lived up to its hype with an understated elegance: The debut of Dixie Chicks side project Court Yard Hounds. On mewling fiddle and sparkling guitar, sisters Emily Robison and Martie Maguire played sad songs (snifflers, not tear-jerkers) and robust romps (toe-tappers, not barnburners). Amid the frantic pace of SXSW, it was a joy to see such an anticipated debut delivered with such a steady hand.

Court Yard Hounds' debut album is scheduled to be released on May 4, and the Dixie Chicks are coming to Nationals Park on June 15.

Freddie Gibbs

Headlining an all-day rap showcase dubbed Hustlepalooza, Freddie Gibbs of Gary, Ind., stood out the same way he stands out in the blogosphere: with a lean, unflappable confidence. Preceded by dozens of rhyme-slingers trying to break out with brash, boisterous couplets, Gibbs sounded like a veteran rapper who had already arrived.

Freddie Gibbs's mix tape "Midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik" is available online now, with no pending D.C. date.

Titus Andronicus

This New Jersey troupe (and proud of it!) emerged as critical darlings from this year's festival for their achingly earnest, wildly anthemic rock tunes. Rightfully so. They sound like the Pogues filtered through the Boss and then doused in gasoline, sweat and Red Bull. But fans at the group's Saturday performance at Red 7 might have been doused in Budweiser -- some beery-eyed bros spilled much of their drinks as they barked "USA! USA!" between songs. If that's not an omen for future rock stardom, I don't know what is.

Titus Andronicus is scheduled to perform at St. Stephen's Church in Northwest Washington on April 16.

jj

This enigmatic Swedish duo delivered 2009's most paralyzing pop songs ("Things Will Never Be the Same Again," "From Africa to Malaga"), but prior to their U.S. debut at SXSW, had played only seven shows. Ever! Accordingly, the impossibly stylish duo's SXSW performances were nervous and glitchy. But singer Elin Kastlander's voice was still the most beautiful thing I heard in Texas. It might be the most beautiful thing I'll hear in 2010.

jj is scheduled to perform at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue on March 28.

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