My mischievous old laptop picked SXSW as the time to commence its long-anticipated death rattle. And, as if faced with the imminent passing of a wealthy relative, I'm both crestfallen over the looming loss and hoping against hope that it leaves me all of my files in the will.
Fortunately, I was able to do a little bit of old-school blogging — also known as "scribbling on a spiral-bound notebook" — and later discovered that my notes were legible enough to convert to a post. Here's a bit of what I heard in the last couple days, with links to let you explore further.
* I've always liked Irish singer Paddy Casey, whose 2000 album Amen (So Be It) strikes me as the sort of briskly catchy folk-rock record that should/could have reached a mass audience, a la the work of David Gray. (Here's a reworked cut from that album, called "Fear," from next month's Addicted to Company.) But Casey won me over completely with a set-closing cover of "No Diggity" — the sort of stunt that many attempt but few achieve with such tunefulness and crowd-pleasing charisma.
* The Moldy Peaches' Kimya Dawson showed up in the middle of a comedy lineup in a park on Saturday. I've said it before, but if someone could figure out how to routinely harness the 15 percent of her sound that's fragile and beautiful and not unbearably precious? I'd love her to pieces. (See also: Joanna Newsom.)
* Reclusive singer-songwriter Jandek has a massive catalog, but remains shrouded in mystery: His identity remains unknown, and he's played only a handful of shows despite courting an intense cult following. He showed up at Austin's Central Presbyterian Church (I didn't even get carded!) clad entirely in black, and played a set of weird Americana that only occasionally located a melody. I wasn't dazzled, but I also... still don't have a handle on him, which may be part of the point.
* Las Vegas has probably placed decent odds on Duffy winning the Next Amy Winehouse Sweepstakes, thanks to a room-filling voice and an approachable persona as a '60s-style white soul diva. Duffy certainly looks the part with her giant blonde hair, and the songs are there, but she doesn't really advance or modernize the nostalgic sounds she's referencing. It doesn't feel heartfelt, I think is the thing.
* I ducked out midway through Duffy's set because several people had recommended that I see Tulsa. At first, the music seemed like the work of the umpty-katrillionth band of floppy-haired dudes with guitars, but the group's big, chiming rock was the kind you don't notice until you find yourself thinking, "Hey! This is great!"
* Perhaps the most endearing performance I saw at SXSW this year came right at the end of the festival, as Canadian singer-songwriter Luke Doucet assembled a huge cast of guest vocalists to come up and sing his songs. It turns out he was battling a rough case of laryngitis — an emcee called him "Mute Doucet" — so someone used an overhead projector to beam his hand-written lyrics against the wall on the side of the stage. The resulting Luke Doucet Karaoke was enormously good-natured and infectiously sweet, with Doucet playing guitar and grinning infectiously the entire time. He wasn't the only one doing so.
As Bob Boilen noted in a previous post, he, Carrie Brownstein, and I will recap (and play) more of the artists we heard this past week for the next episode of All Songs Considered. Until then, many thanks to Bob and to Robin Hilton (for sharing their blog), to Carrie Brownstein (for being a funny and knowledgeable co-host at our various events), to everyone who helped make NPR Music's presence at SXSW a success, and to everyone who's read and listened in the past few days.