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SXSW 2010 Showgoers' Guide to Bay Area Acts 

Wednesday, Mar 10 2010

Between March 17 and March 20, thousands of musicians, some signed and many more hoping to be signed, will descend upon Austin for the annual South by Southwest music conference. Nearly three dozen of these acts call the Bay Area home, so here are our picks for local bands worth checking out while in Texas. There's no way you'll be able to catch them all, but any of these recommended acts will put your night into the "win" column.

The Morning Benders
The Morning Benders have a mellow, drifting take on acoustic-guitar-and-organ–driven psychedelic pop, with occasional drum machine outbursts to imply modernity. That'll make fans of Badfinger and the Flaming Lips very happy, as well as groupies for Grizzly Bear — whose Chris Taylor coproduced the Benders' new record, Big Echo.

Hunx and His Punx
Hunx, aka Seth of Gravy Train!!!!, plays humorous and homoerotic garage-pop songs like "Hey Rocky" and "You Don't Like Rock 'n' Roll," splitting the difference between Shonen Knife and T. Rex, sonically speaking. The group offers first-take amateurism and juvenile humor — plus plenty of handclaps, which are always a plus.

High on Fire
The heaviest band since amps were invented, Oakland's High on Fire recently released Snakes for the Divine, the trio's most stylistically varied and assured album to date. Live, they'll celebrate by tearing your face off with pure metal fury. Matt Pike's gargling-gravel vocals and post-Sabbath guitar riffs will roll over helpless (and happy about it) audience members like a square-wheeled truck speeding downhill.

The Jacka
If the Jacka's lyrics are to be believed, he likes girls, going out to clubs, showing off his clothes and his car, and earning money in various extralegal ways. It's been a long time since hip-hop was about what you had to say in this way. Here, it's also all about how you say it, and the MC's voice adds a slight edge of gruffness to a 50 Cent–ish delivery, to impressive effect.

Mistah F.A.B.
Hyphy rapper Mistah F.A.B.'s minimalist electro beats and subdued delivery (not to mention his ultragarish MySpace page) can serve to mask real lyrical talent. He's known to fans as a Lil Wayne–level freestyler — and he serves his fans well. Though he's signed to Atlantic, he offers free downloads of almost his entire discography, from official albums to mix tapes, at his own site.

Sonny and the Sunsets
Sonny and the Sunsets are a low-key "beach pop" (imagine a cross between early Beach Boys and a bunch of dudes strumming and singing around a campfire) ensemble that includes leader Sonny Smith and Kelley Stoltz. There are dashes of Jonathan Richman and the softer side of the Velvet Underground in their songs, and they always seem to be enjoying themselves, a point in their favor.

Moon Duo
Moon Duo is a project featuring keyboardist Sanae Yamada and Wooden Shjips singer and guitarist Ripley Johnson. The music the two make is gentle, occasionally muffled drone-rock in the spirit of Silver Apples, Suicide without the hostility, and/or Stereolab without the pop hooks. It offers lots of oscillating hum and occasional stabs at melody.

Grass Widow

Grass Widow is a female trio making don't-mind-us garage-pop in the post-Shaggs spirit of Slant 6 or Shonen Knife, without the Japanese group's overemphasis on cuteness. Its members all sing in a way that combines Nico-esque calm with folky harmonies, while the music jangles along, occasionally revving up to near-rockingness.

Lyrics Born
Japanese-American rapper and producer Lyrics Born has made quite a name for himself as a solo artist, a member of Latyrx, and one of the founders of the Quannum label alongside DJ Shadow and Blackalicious. In addition to his continuing solo work, he most recently served as executive producer on Love and Understanding, the debut solo album by his wife, powerhouse R&B vocalist Joyo Velarde.

Lazer Sword
Production duo Lazer Sword makes "future bass" music — basically, electro with analog synth zaps flying in all directions and a goofy sense of humor. As DJs, a typical set may encompass Dr. Dre, Mr. Oizo, Keak da Sneak, and a dozen or so artists you haven't heard of yet, but soon will.

Wallpaper. is an AutoTune-happy, Chromeo-esque electronic duo that writes silly lyrics ("I'd hit on myself if I could") and song titles ("I Got Soul, I'm So Wasted," "A Million Dollars," "Pool Party"). So, you know, don't come looking for earnest pleas for world peace, but do expect to dance — and perhaps leave with less clothing than you arrived with.

Sleepy Sun
This six-piece band has found a unique and highly worthwhile path through the tangled, overgrown jungle that is the region between psychedelia, stoner rock, and proto-metal. It combines both sides of Led Zeppelin — the bombastic and the acoustic — with SubArachnoid Space's lysergic drift and pastoral folk, winding up with something quite beautiful and sometimes surprisingly heavy and rockin'.

Ty Segall
Ty Segall is a doctrinaire, minimalist garage-rocker. He started out playing shows as a one-man band, cranking up his distorted guitar and kicking a drum with a tambourine attached. You can hear echoes of Jon Spencer and Billy Childish in his sound, but he has a talent for hooks, too, even if he buries them under noise and reverb.

Thee Oh Sees
If you still don't know Thee Oh Sees, the group's name should provide a hint as to what it sounds like. Yes, like Thee Headcoats and Thee Mighty Caesars, they practice primitivist garage-psych with a slightly shambling rhythm section, bare-bones melodies, and seriously echoed and reverbed guitars. Thee Oh Sees add male and female co-lead vocals to the setup, though, for an X-ish feel.

Souls of Mischief
Souls of Mischief are Bay Area hip-hop royalty. Their debut album, 93 'Til Infinity, was named one of the Top 100 Rap Albums by The Source, when that magazine still had credibility in such matters. They're cofounders of the Hieroglyphics collective, and released their latest CD, Montezuma's Revenge, in December.

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Phil Freeman


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  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
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