Be it SXSW or Kindiefest, there are different reasons to see an artists' showcase at a music conference. You can see your favorite bands, or perhaps bands you're familiar with but are curious to see and hear them live. And sometimes you stumble upon a new favorite. The Kindiefest 2011 artists' showcase on Saturday night was for me a combination of all three, which suggests how well the lineup was put together. Now, I should note that though the lineup featured several artists I'd consider my favorites, I'd never actually seen any of them perform live. (That would have to wait for Sunday's public performance, for whom I'd seen half the lineup live.) But as someone who puts together shows here in the Phoenix area, that live aspect is important to me.
This summary is long, but I encourage you to skim the entire thing, you never know when you'll find your new favorite artist.
The lineup kicked off with Billy Kelly and the Blah Blah Blahs, faced with the unenviable task of starting the show while everybody filed back from dinner or a run to their hotel rooms. That and selecting from a bunch of great songs. They went meta ("This Is The First Song" -- they should close with that one day), sweet ("Family Garden"), doubly sweet ("Pen Pal," duetting with Lunch Money's Molly Ledford), and classic ("The Legend of Johnny Box"). The last song featured none other than Johnny Box himself, played by... well, let's just say by someone very familiar to Zooglobble readers. Good stuff.
From there it was on to The Pop Ups, whose set was basically a very abbreviated version of their PASTA! musical. Were there puppets? Yes! Were there apes in capes? Yes! Was there lots of hand-clapping? Yes! Was there lots of pasta? Well, you'll just have to see the musical for yourself to see the answer. But it's hard not to see how the musical would be very popular with the 5-year-old set.
The Pop Ups - "Pasta" [YouTube]
But we were just getting started, with six more artists to go...
After the fizzy pop of The Pop Ups it was time for the fuzzy rock of the Not-Its!. I thought the Not-Its!' ("Not-Its'!"? "Not-Its'"? Note: exclamation points as part of the name: very confusing, grammatically) was just about perfect as a "showcase set" goes -- they came out spent the next 20 minutes conveying the exact same energy and image they have on disk... just better. Seriously, just watch the video below (or the other video I took, for "We Are the Not-Its," though the sound isn't as good, here) and tell me that isn't something that would have your kids bouncing and pretty much wiped out on the car/stroller-ride home.
The Not-Its! - "First Kid in Outer Space" [YouTube]
And then there's Shine and the Moonbeams, a band so new I'm linking to their Facebook page. Remember category #3, stumbling upon a new favorite? That would be this band, a collaboration between singer Shawana Kemp and guitarist Jeff Feagler, featuring some soul and a little bit of jazz. It was a set where the buzz in the audience was just palpable. I mean, there were a lot of great sets Saturday night, but there was something different going on here, a recognition of something missing in the genre that had now been found. After the set, Bill Childs stepped up to the microphone and said, slightly stunned, "Oh. My. God." Those of us in the audience started describing the set with small curse words, then moved up to the larger curse words, and everybody, and I mean everybody was asking, "When did Stephanie say that album was coming out?" The answer (hopefully) is, this fall. I could probably critique the songs in some way, and listening to an album in a home or car might result in a diminished experience, but as another artist said later that night, there was something in the performance -- and Shawana's in particular -- that touched folks emotionally. I don't know of another debut album that will be as highly anticipated as theirs...
Shine and the Moonbeams - "High Five" [YouTube]
Seattle's Central Services Board of Education had the unenviable task of trying to follow up Shine and the Moonbeams, and I think they pretty much succeeded by bringing their own energy to the room. Lead singer and drummer Kevin Emerson plays standing up, and the five-piece band really sold the highly literate and slightly skewed songs live. Sadly, they didn't have time to play any of their new stuff from their forthcoming album, but luckily their first album is pretty much awesome.
Central Services Board of Education - "Ice Ages Are Fun!" [YouTube]
I liked Cat and a Bird, but after the whirlwind of energy from the first five acts, their chamber-Gypsy-pop almost felt a little out of place. (They would have fit in a little better on Sunday's lineup, I think.) I use the phrase "chamber" pursposefully -- the trio sat down for the entire performance, two violins and a guitar. As performers, the band's probably the newest of the bunch (even Shine and the Moonbeams have played a few shows and the members have been performing music for a looong time), and I think with experience they'll figure out how to turn their sweet songs (performed very well) into something a little more interactive. [Edit: Apparently that was the first public performance for that particular lineup of the band... pretty good from that perspective.]
Cat and a Bird - "Cat and a Bird" [YouTube]
The list of kid-hop artists -- good ones, anyway, is short. Boston artist RhymeZwell made a compelling case for adding his name to that list. Unlike Secret Agent 23 Skidoo (who was in the crowd, nodding his head), RhymeZwell targets a slightly younger set (preschoolers and kindergarteners), so his lyrics aren't quite as intricate as Skidoo's. But he got the crowd moving and cheering, so count me in as intrigued.
RhymeZwell - "I Love Music" [YouTube]
We wrapped up the night with a set from Detroit's Candy Band, the undisputed veterans of the showcase, with five (six?) albums to their name and a finely honed live show. The advantage of being a bunch of punk rockers is that you can power through, like, 9 or 10 songs, as they did. And that's without the two-song encore they had the privilege of taking thanks to their position at the end of the show. It was exactly how I pictured a Candy Band set being, maybe better.
Candy Band - "Skip To My Lou" [YouTube]
With that, the crowd buzzed around the venue for another half-hour or so, then went out into the beautiful Brooklyn night to carry on the conversations...