Boston takes Austin

Area bands make some noise at South by Southwest festival

Jan Rosenfeld (left) leads Yes Giantess at SXSW last weekend. Jan Rosenfeld (left) leads Yes Giantess at SXSW last weekend. (Jessica Hodge for The Boston Globe)
By Hilary Hughes
Globe Correspondent / March 23, 2010

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AUSTIN, Texas — Boston bands are no strangers to success at South by Southwest, one of the country’s most celebrated and longest-running music festivals. The falsetto of Passion Pit’s Michael Angelakos rang out as one of the most talked about sounds at SXSW 2009, and Magic Magic, Cassavettes, and Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles all returned here this year for SXSW 2010.

The eclectic eccentricities of New England’s artists set them apart from other buzz bands at SXSW, which wrapped up Sunday. The number of local acts may have been smaller than years past, but their sounds were mighty — and they spanned multiple genres.

The music began last Wednesday, but most bands arrived in Austin earlier to play additional shows. Such was the case with Yes Giantess, an explosive Boston dance band that sacrificed sleep in order to play eight gigs in four days. “SXSW is like summer camp for bands,’’ said frontman Jan Rosenfeld, hopping offstage after selling out Lambert’s with popular British pop act Marina and the Diamonds. “We toured with Marina for a month in the UK. Here, we get to see her and everyone else we’ve toured with this past year who we haven’t seen since. It’s great to watch them play and hang with them again.’’ Yes Giantess opened its SXSW sets with “Get It Right,’’ a track off the band’s forthcoming EP.

Worcester’s the Wandas also had a packed schedule, playing shows daily before loading up their 30-foot RV and heading north. The Wandas, whose sound is a dreamy lovechild of rock radio and your grandpa’s record collection, have spent most of 2009 and the early part of 2010 on the road. They have honed their set list down to a well-oiled, high-volume machine packed with 4/4 melodies and a ’50s rock feel. “Lose You’’ is an endearing moment in the live show of the Wandas, with singer Keith McEachern leaping from a croon to a howl in the matter of a measure. “The end of ‘Lose You’ tends to get the crowd going,’’ McEachern says. “That’s where I scream for five minutes. There are pictures on Facebook of me singing that song where you can practically see down into my stomach.’’

Melissa Ferrick, too, held high notes for minutes on end and did so while barreling down on the strings of her acoustic guitar until they gave way at her fingertips. A Massachusetts native and stalwart on the national singer-songwriter circuit, Ferrick has been to SXSW many times, but the timing of SXSW 2010 worked out especially well for her. “I don’t think I’ve come to SXSW with a brand-new piece of product like ‘Enough About Me,’ ’’ she says, referring to her new album of covers. “That, coupled with the launch of my new website and the use of Twitter, feels like all of this is happening at the same time and getting thrown together in a good way. When you don’t try to line everything up, it seems to fall together on its own.’’

Just as Ferrick was thanking the crowd for coming out at the Ale House, the Boston roots rock boys of Girls Guns and Glory were warming up at the infamous Driskill Hotel down the street. The Driskill, the oldest accommodation in Texas and allegedly one of its most haunted sites, is where the Americana outfit took to the stage for a flawless set of boisterous boot-stompin’ glee. What sets Girls Guns and Glory apart from standard American roots fare? The band members don’t hesitate to plug in and turn up the volume. “Our energy is more punk rock in a lot of ways,’’ says Ward Hayden, singer and founder. “We’ve still got a 1940s country backdrop, but we can’t deny that we’ve been influenced by acts like Green Day or Radiohead as we were by Hank Williams III.’’

Two bands from Providence left SXSW with a slew of new fans. The Low Anthem and Deer Tick — both of which played the Newport Folk Festival — packed Beauty Bar for Rolling Stone magazine’s SXSW showcase. It’s a rare ability to hush a crowd of more than 300 people with a solemn low from a clarinet, and the captivating quality of the Low Anthem serves its quiet folk well. Deer Tick, on the other hand, is all about getting rowdy and making a lot of noise: After headlining the Rolling Stone party, the band threw a shindig of its own at a barbecue joint nearby and invited a few friends, including modern rockabilly mavens Those Darlins, for an afternoon of singalong debauchery.


Deer Tick singer John J. McCauley III with Nikki Darlin from Those Darlins

Boston bands at SXSW

Boston-area bands make some noise at South by Southwest festival.