Yesterday was kind enough to introduce us to hindsight and we put the kibosh on day two, three and four. But you all know who the Walkmen are. As I’m sure you’ve been acquainted with White Rabbits. White Denim and Arcadia would have been a treat, but it was too damn mustache-freeze cold to go and finagle our way in. So dig the goods that we got:

Stars of day two brought the funk and glam, starting with Chicago trio Baby Teeth. Frontman/arranger Abraham Levitan’s a man of Beck swagger and Bowie pipes. Together, with his wide-eyes and running man dances, he writes struttin’ tunes, popping with arena-sized guitars when bold and disco flash when fancy on the keys. The highlight of their set was “Hustle Beach,” the title track off their forthcoming record that took the audience straight to the 80’s synth shores of Miami Vice.

Baby Teeth

Speaking of Bowie, closer (and another Chicagoan) dubbed Bobby Conn brought his political flamboyance A-game, masquerading the ghost of the Thin White Duke’s flirt with androgyny – the lipstick, the eyeliner and most importantly, the soul/R&B. Bobby, a.k.a., Jeffrey Stafford, is a great guitar player, and just when you’ve had enough funky keyboard bleeps and wa-wa, he steps in and muscles through some knee-bucklin’ solos. He and his crew of fur-coat sporting, sparkly dress clad soul-a-trons were a spectacle, as on the tune “Virginia” that saw a vaudeville-type stage act with one of his back-up singers getting lost amidst the crowd, and sauntering back to give each band member a kiss.

Bobby Conn

Day three was a drag at the start, Cloud Cult canceling for some sickness or personal issue or whatnot. The Redwalls were not a good replacement as headliner. Which is why we will stop talking about them…now…so Bon Iver, a band that would have been more appropriate on day one’s bill, with their melodramatic folk songs. But nonetheless, the best representation of what everyone in that club endured come closing time when Chi-town’s wall of subzero temps got a squeeze on the bones. Justin Vernon and his howlin’ falsetto captures that hide, brood and heal warmth necessary for aching or trapped hearts. The drummer got a little too frantic on the climax of “The Wolves Act I and II,” killing the mass “what might have been lost” sing-along chorus, but otherwise an endearing sentiment paralleled right there with the meaning of the band name – French for “good winter.”

Bon Iver

If Bon Iver was the cabin fever moment, next act, Illinois, were the first day of spring, shredding layers of fuzzy 12th fret guitars, screaming into microphone rigged telephones tales of unbridled Pavement-era independent rockness, albeit with a lack of respect for the city’s new smoking ban. Girls were buying shots for them mid-performance, vocalist Chris Archibald taking time to give a toast “to the greatest state in the country” (p.s. they’re from Pennsylvania). It all came together quite euphorically in the outfit’s ode to failed relationships, “Headphones,” Archibald crooning “Let me know when it’s all gone/Can I just put the headphones on?” before a triple-layered barrage of guitars and a tumble of drums and twinkly keys numbed over the crowd.


Day four said goodbye to drum kits and greeted turntables, MCs and laptops. The winner of rhymes goes to Canada grime prodigy, 21-year-old Rollie Pemberton, a.k.a. Cadence Weapon and his unhinged chicka-chicka-wicka-wicka man, DJ Weez-l. Rollie started as a journo, writing reviews for Pitchfork until they fired him for being “too vague,” which he chronicled mid-set with “Sharks,” spewing, “Use to write for a site, but I didn’t spark smarter. Ritebright! You could think it my first pink slip. But this isn’t a house run by bumper stickers,” the audience joining him for the chorus, “That means stop biting my shit! That means start writing your shit!” Meanwhile DJ Weez-l was hanging from the high beams of the stage in his S&M mask, leaving some industrial electro under the needle.

Cadence Weapon

It was up to electro-popster White Williams to bring it home. Rather a shy showman, he had two guitarists with him from his hometown of Cleveland layering slow, calculated hooks so he could commandeer the digi backbone. A beat would percolate off his mac, and Williams would breath out swaths of reverb-smothered vocals, tweaking 64-bit plunks and bleeps when appropriate. Exiting track “Route To Palm” met a sea of attendees washed over in e-bow and Cure-happy synth fills, slowly grooving in unison – some with their eyes closed – like some beautifully deranged club scene, akin to gobbling a handful of Vicodin at a Joy Division dance party.

White Williams

And then, well, you know, tomorrow was known and so on and so forth, it was still horrid cold outside in Chicago, and if you listened really carefully, you could hear SXSW start to beat its drum. –Gavin Paul, Photos by Gavin Paul