South by Southwest is the festival whose “best-of” lists you should view with the most skepticism. More than 2,000 acts played its official events, and it’s impossible to tally how many more performances were staged in the warehouses, parks, and dives of East Austin. One could go on a live music bender and see bands play non-stop from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. (or later), Tuesday through Sunday, and miss 98 percent of them. So, this list acknowledges James Williamson, Rick Nielsen, and the thousands of other players unseen and unheard by many attendees.
It’s worth repeating that yes, it is actually possible to see bands play non-stop and around the clock for the entire week of SXSW. Perhaps not if you wanted to emerge with your feet, liver, ears, and brain intact, but you could do it. Or, you can remain unscathed, save your health, and just read about eight of the best players we saw this year.
Photo by Daniel Muller, hearnebraska.org
Jim Schroeder, UUVVWWZ
UUVVWWZ can’t be an easy band to play guitar in. The rhythm section is groovy and skilled, but on many songs, it’s a closed system that doesn’t have room for a guitar to ride along with it. Meanwhile, singer Teal Gardner covers a wide range and sits at the top of the mix, as she should.
You can imagine how a lesser player might try to fit. It would be tempting to hang back a lot, and equally easy to overplay and get in Gardner’s way. A guitarist could simply be a counterpoint to her, playing melodies in between the ones she sings.
With the exception of some well-chosen silences, Jim Schroeder doesn’t do any of these things. He’s the most dynamic player in a dynamic band, employing muted riffs, percussive rhythms, and massive distortion, depending on the moment. He switches quickly between these and other techniques within songs, and makes it look as though they’re all natural, intuitive ways for him to play. His variety is chosen well, though: a quiet two-note riff played at the beginning of a song might be reprised as a wall of sound at the end.
Schroeder plays the guitar he wanted “really bad in high school”—an Epiphone Dot LE. He’s had it for 11 years, and it’s now his only guitar. “I think it’s good for sustain,” he says, with “a really dark, low, mid-range-y tone, which I am just really drawn to.”
A surprising feature of this band’s show was interpreter Chelsea Richardson, a longtime friend of Gardner’s who signed the lyrics from the stage. Standing next to Gardner and dancing gently, her movements were so fluid as to make her seem like a natural extension of the band.
Watch UUVVWWZ at SXSW 2013: