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Pre-SXSW Music: Those Darlins aren't afraid to get dirty

March 18, 2009 | 12:04 am

The annual South by Southwest (SXSW) festival and conference will be fully ramped up by about noon on Wednesday, but there was music to be had Tuesday night. Those with connections -- and willing to brave a line that stretched more than a block -- got a preview of the Decemberists' forthcoming "Hazards of Love" at a small club show (the orch-pop band will have its official SXSW showcase late Thursday evening), and about a dozen people witnessed an early-evening performance from Tennessee's Those Darlins, who were up first at a yearly pre-SXSW party hosted by BMI.

As the music business braces for four days of industry discussions and hype-baiting showcases, Those Darlins laid down a far less serious manifesto for the remainder of the week: "Slut it up." Singer/ukuleleist Nikki Darlin may have been going for irony, but as CD sales continue to plummet and retail chains dwindle, such a what-the-hell attitude may be just the right antidote for this year's conference. If so, Those Darlins have the harmonies -- and the cow-punk strut -- to deliver it.

While a bit of an alt-country throwback, Those Darlins are playing a string of well-branded shows over the next week, including the Brookyln Vegan showcase Wednesday evening. The group -- three women, one male drummer -- wraps its tales of booze and debauchery in a ukulele-enhanced snarl. They all employ the last-name Darlin, but the act avoids the novelty tag by keeping the melodies strong, the lyrics sarcastic and the music fast. 

There's plenty of silliness here -- a desire to eat some fried chicken is enough to fuel some guitar-driven rage -- but it works, as whenever Those Darlins get sloppy, they deliver a swoon-worthy harmony or a pint-raising chorus. "Wild One" is the group at the top of its game, turning its nonchalant swing into a should-be crowd sing-along.

-- Todd Martens

Photo credit Those Darlins, via MySpace