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Straining to be Heard

From now on, if I want to see a understated and under-promoted singer-songwriter perform at SXSW, I'm going to record that person playing in an alley and post it to the site. I just saw two of my favorite young singer-songwriters in separate concerts — Laura Gibson and Sera Cahoone, neither of whom make it from the Pacific Northwest to Washington, D.C., with great frequency — and both were drowned out and distracted by horrid sound (in Cahoone's case) or a massive crowd of natterers (in Gibson's case).

Bob spent a huge chunk of his time at the festival meeting up with artists to record interviews — and, in some cases, exclusive performances. Next year, I may well do the same. After we strained to hear Gibson's show, I suggested to Bob that we launch a new Studio Sessions series called Live at Bob's Desk (or, say, Desk Set), wherein we all get to huddle around and watch our visiting favorites without traveling more than 10 feet. The acoustics would be preferable, though we'd probably want to mute the phones, and we could share the performances on the site.

Cahoone and Gibson had it easy compared to poor Nada Surf, one of the most reliably tight and energetic live bands in America, but one rendered downright hapless by the worst sound I've experienced in 12 years of SXSW. (That includes Eef Barzelay's performance in a room where the sound guy couldn't figure out how to turn off the venue's canned dance music.) Between the jank speakers, the awful tent acoustics, the 15 metal bands that seemed to be playing overhead, and the massive gaggle of conversationalists in the back, it was horrible. Singer Matthew Caws is a notoriously upbeat guy, but when he's encouraging sing-alongs because no one in the band can hear himself through the monitors? That's not a good sign.

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It's enough to make me want to drive to the 9:30 Club in D.C. — where Nada Surf performs on April 12 — and give the whole venue a great big hug.