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SXSW Thursday: Austra, DeVotchka, Wiz Khalifa, The Head And The Heart

Emily Wilson |
March 18, 2011 | 9:53 a.m. PDT

South by Southwest (SXSW)
South by Southwest (SXSW)
The sun came out in Austin on Thursday, pounding heat down on a city crawling with people and overflowing with the sounds of hundreds of bands playing simultaneously.
After seeing a number of great acts, here are the highlights from Thursday:
Austra :: Classically trained vocalist and lead singer Katie Stelmanis of the Toronto-based Austra hauntingly and beautifully sang over a gothic electronic beat supported by band mates Maya Postepski on drums and Dorian Wolf on bass. Two backup singers and a keyboardist joined the band onstage at Emo's for a visually mesmerizing performance of glittered faces, blank stares and synchronized sways. The group’s set was chilling, but in such a way that leaves want for more. This wasn’t just watching any other electronic band play over a backbeat; this was the witnessing of an emerging band with a unique vocal approach and careful stage presence. Austra's debut album is due out in May.
Wiz Khalifa :: Best known so far for his Pittsburg Steelers’ anthem “Black and Yellow,” rapper Wiz Khalifa headlined a capacity tent at the FADER Fort on Thursday evening, giving the crowd reason to dig deeper into his musical collection and go beyond listening to just the radio hits. With a blonde streak dyed into the front of his dark hair, and with sunglasses unmoved from his face, Khalifa bounced and jumped and waved his arms across the stage, winning over the audience with his energy and charisma. 
DeVotchka ::  During a 9-song set inside the Austin Convention Center on Thursday afternoon, Devotchka’s instrumentation was as sharp as their clean-cut, evening-out attire. The group utilized 17 different instruments between the five members in just a 40-minute set, often with spellbinding results. Performing together since 1997, the cohesion and precision on display is surely something that other bands could learn from. Behind their signature mix of multinational musical inspirations (Greek, Mariachi, punk, folk, Romani, etc), DeVotchka impressed upon the crowd, as they seem to do with every new album (of which they just released their 5th), that it’s unnecessary to stick to one genre or one musical expectation.
The Head and the Heart :: Seattle’s The Head and the Heart performed as part of a live broadcast for the New York City radio station WFUV on Thursday afternoon. From the Austin Convention Center, the six-piece neo-folk outfit played songs from their self-titled 2010 debut album with all the foot-stomping fervor that a fan of their recordings might expect. Many of the songs climb from beautiful, soft and gentle Americana origins to still beautiful, soulful, resounding climaxes full of tambourine, violin, beating drums and wonderful vocal harmonies. All of which provided a serious challenge to the sit-down audience: try to remain unmoved, clap-free and in your seat during the live radio show, even amidst music that makes that nearly impossible.
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