Two takes on South by Southwest: Take one

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    Ten minutes into English punkers Art Brut’s set, I remembered why I voluntarily gave up my Spring Break to cover the South by Southwest music conference.”Look at us! We formed a band!” declared Art Brut frontman Eddie Argos to a crowd huddled inside a tent in the Emo’s parking lot .

    In the midst of all the big names, it’s easy to forget SXSW is really about uncovering that hidden gem of a band that played at the same time everyone else was fawning over the Arctic Monkeys or realizing their 16-year-old dream of seeing former-Smith Morrissey live.

    I spent the first few days of the conference pushing past cigarette-happy hipsters only to find out I’d either missed the show (The Flaming Lips), the rumors about the band playing were untrue (Built to Spill) or that the act had canceled (Beastie Boys).

    The disappointment was driven even further home by the Secret Machines at La Zona Rosa.

    The band went on about an hour late, and once on stage, it started and stopped songs like they were traffic lights. Amid all the bad music, the band members still found time to curse the festival, the fans and each other.

    It might just be me, but I wasn’t buying what the Machines were selling. In the first 10 minutes of the set, it became obvious that the band spent more time practicing its rock star poses under laser lights and not enough time writing lyrics. After the 10th “blowing all the other kids away” refrain in “Road Leads Where It’s Led,” I was heading for the door.

    To me, the Secret Machines represented everything wrong with indie rock. Overhyped and overblown, the Secret Machines made a bigger point of appearing larger-than-life than playing larger-than-life songs. Instead, it settled for trying to look cool.

    As I headed into Friday, I was disappointed to think my stint at SXSW was shaping up to be something of a bust.

    And then came Art Brut.

    Something like a hybrid of Monty Python and The Sex Pistols, Art Brut is far and away, the snottiest band still alive and making records.

    Decked out in black-framed glasses and a full length raincoat, guitarist Jasper Future looked frightfully similar to Andy Warhol, and lead singer Eddie Argos sported a pencil-thin mustache while spouting off half-spoken, half-sung lyrics.

    “What do you want us to play?” Argos asked the crowd midway through the set.

    After the crowd’s request, the Brut broke into “Emily Kane,” written about Argos’ first girlfriend. After writing the song, Argos ran into his old flame and added it.

    “I realized I wasn’t in love with Emily Kane; I was in love with being 15 and in love,” Argos said. “It’s complicated.”

    Midway through the note-perfect set, Argos jumped into the middle of the crowd for the fist-pumping chorus of “Modern Art.” The band ended the too-short show with the cry of “Art Brut, Top of the Pops!”

    Art Brut delivered what most of the music industry missed at SXSW. Rather than chasing down the legends or the already overhyped, the real show was in the young, desperate artists, such as Art Brut, who played every show like its life depended on it, even if the lights don’t go off at the right time.