Mar 4, 2015 · 4 minutes

Pando's going to SXSW!

More specifically, I'll be attending the music/tech/culture festival in Austin later this month. I'm insanely excited, but -- like all festivals where an event's "popularity" has arguably outlived its "cool" factor -- SXSW has in recent years received a healthy dose of criticism. And while I for one was delighted by the absurdity of the politically-conscious rap group Public Enemy performing on a 62-foot Doritos vending machine "powered by tweets" (both Doritos and Public Enemy are #bold, you see), the critics have a point.

That doesn't mean there aren't dozens of fantastic musical acts performing this year, on vending machines or otherwise. I went through the list of hundreds of performers and picked the ten most essential performances you don't want to miss.

10. Riff Raff

Wearing neon cornrows and holding a husky puppy and a baby on his cover, Riff Raff is absurd, man. But with Diplo and other notable producers behind the boards, the rapper has been gifted some of the most fun and unique beats of 2014. And if his live show is even half as ridiculous as his album, it's not to be missed.

9. Big K.R.I.T.

Big K.R.I.T. will simply not stop putting out great albums and mixtapes. I've been waiting for the moment when the Mississippi rapper born Justin Scott breaks out to the mainstream, and I swear it's going to happen some day. But even if it doesn't, that won't stop him from putting out one release after another of maddeningly high quality.

8. Future Islands

Barring some colossal error of judgement, Future Islands will play "Seasons (Waiting On You)," which might be the greatest pop song of the decade. You should, therefore, see Future Islands. In the meantime, watch the performance of this song on David Letterman because it never gets old.

 7. Action Bronson

Action Bronson is often criticized for sounding, well, exactly like Ghostface Killah -- right down to his fixation on rapping about food. But you know what? Ghostface is such a phenomenally talented rapper, and Bronson's approximation is so impressive, that it's hard to complain. So there's basically two Ghostfaces where before there was only one. So what?

6. TV on the Radio

Many shockingly original bands burn bright early, by virtue of sounding like nothing else out there. Once the novelty fades, however, these acts often burst into oblivion as quickly as they arrived. But not TV on the Radio. In their later years, they've become one of the most consistent and workmanlike bands on the planet, while still repping their unforgettably strange combination of jazz, avant-garde rock, and electronic music.

5. The Damned

A classic's a classic, and it doesn't get more classic punk rock than The Damned. Almost forty years after their debut album, they still keep it weird, even if their original, wonderfully-named drummer Rat Scabies is no longer in the band.

4. Spoon

Spoon is in many ways of victim of their own workmanlike consistency. With each new Spoon album, the reaction has become, "Yep. That's a Spoon album." But over a career now approaching two decades, the band brings with it a catalog of great songs like few others. Oh and they're from Austin, and their homecoming performances are not to be missed.

3. Viet Cong

So I guess some people are offended by their name. That's fine. I wonder how many of these outrage-mongers listen to R. Kelly despite that artist most certainly having committed horrific crimes -- crimes far worse than exhibiting questionable taste in naming a band. In any case, Viet Cong's self-titled debut album is the most thrilling release of this young year, fusing disparate influences from the 1980s -- from ear-splitting noisemakers like My Bloody Valentine to the theatrics of the Smiths -- into something that, despite its obvious influences, sounds wholly original.

2. Run the Jewels

Not only did the hip-hop duo Run the Jewels release the best album of last year -- an intense firebomb of a record that was more "punk rock" than any punk album in years -- they're also the best live group in the world today. I saw them last October in Manhattan and my skull is still shattered. Mixing the bravado of hip-hop, the anger of punk, and the political consciousness of a human rights organization, Run the Jewels serves as a mirror for these fucked-up times -- when just because you're rolling down the street listening to the sickest of beats, doesn't mean you're not disgusted by the world around you.

1. The Zombies

Although they lacked the consistency and prolific output of the Beatles, the Zombies' 1968 British Invasion masterpiece Odessey and Oracle is every bit as good as Abbey RoadRevolver, or any of the Fab Four's other iconic releases. Everybody knows "Time of the Season" and "She's Not There," but the group's deeper album cuts like "Friends of Mine" and "This Will Be Our Year" -- which got a much-deserved shot of attention as the closing song of a Mad Men episode last season -- are among the greatest songs that era produced.

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