02 May 2012

SXSW 2012: Saturday

Justin Townes Earle, 1pm, Austin Convention Center Day Stage
In the interest of taking some advantage of the industry "trade show" part of the conference – in the convention center, where only really special people with badges (like me) are allowed – I rushed to try to catch an interview session with Norwegian hitmakers StarGate (the guys behind "Irreplaceable," "Firework" and about half of Rihanna's hits.) But it was cancelled. So instead I sat in on a couple of random panel sessions with assorted industry types talking about industry stuff (mobile apps, clickthrough conversions, the cloud, listening to N*SYNC in their car in high school...)

And then I wandered into a set by this Nashville songwriter guy – I'd heard the name, but don't they all have names like that? – which was phenomenal. Just, very obviously, the real deal: deft fingerpicking acoustic blues, richly gritty voice, witty poignant wryly observational songwriting, all that good stuff. Also, he has impossibly long legs. Put me in mind of Townes van Zandt (whom he reverentially quoted at one point) or a young Springsteen, but most of all Steve Earle. Come to find out, just now: Steve's his dad. Duh.

Beat Connection, 2pm, Hype Hotel
I came to Hype Hotel – magical blog-sponsored land of free vodka, free (well, for tips) chair massages and free weird, nasty Taco Bell tacos made out of Doritos (and also normal soft tacos, which I'm sheepish to report accounted for about 80% of my food intake today) – to see the super neat Canadian future-electro-pop duo New Look (one of six "New ____" artists listed in the booklet, though that's nothing next to the twelve "Young ___"s, plus three "Yung"s.) But apparently they were never even in Austin. So I got this extremely young-looking Seattle band instead. About what you'd expect from a band named after an LCD Soundsystem song, if on the sunnier end of that spectrum. Ironically, their beats were kind of disconnected – there were some issues with drummer/drum machine sync. Also their lyrics were lame. Pass.

THEESatisfaction, 2pm, Scoot Inn
Way more like it. Two-woman hip-hop tag-team (how often does that happen? does that ever happen?) and Shabazz Palaces besties, from "the top left," as they said. Similar arty/smarty vibe to Shabazz, but much less psych-addled and esoteric; way more accessible, melody-conscious, and just plain fun – hitting a tricky sweet spot between way-cooler-than-you'll-ever-be, don't-give-a-fuck detachment and casual, off-the-cuff relatability. Sweet moves (and afro) too.

Roach Gigz, 2:30pm, Scoot Inn
Before I had a chance to slip out, this hoodied San Francisco rapper dude bum-rushed the stage and commanded my absolute attention for a solid fifteen minutes (no small feat considering habitually ADD-prone SXSW mentality.) I don't think I've ever seen a rapper so dynamic in a literal, physically, kinetic sense – he didn't stop moving for an instant. And his constant, pro forma appeals for attention/energy/love from the crowd felt unusually deserved, and reciprocated.

SBTRKT, 2:15pm, Fader Fort
Just caught the tail, but then again it's just a couple guys with machines. Anyway, solid. "Wildfire" is a total jam. The "tribal" masks kind of looked like they were made from paper plates.

Mr. Muthafuckin eXquire, 3pm, Fader Fort
I don't know what the hell just happened, but suddenly he (and full entourage of maybe eight dudes) was in the middle of the crowd, about two feet away from me, inciting general ruckus and spilling whiskey all over the place. Got some sweet photos. I think this was like a twelve-minute set.

Deerhoof, 3pm, 1100 Warehouse
Sure, why not! Who doesn't love a good Deerhoof? They bashed and popped and did their crazy, inimitable thing. They did that "panda panda panda" song, and then Busdriver jumped on stage and rapped really really fast on top of it. Delicious!

2:54, 3:30pm, 1100 Warehouse
"Dark" rock. "Atmospheric." Whatever. Maybe if it wasn't the middle of the afternoon.

Main Attraktionz, 3:45pm, Scoot Inn
More Bay Area hip-hop (Oakland, in this case), of a somewhat woozier, snoozier variety. There were a lot of people on stage but I think the actual Attraktionz were the two guys standing on top of something up front: one bearded, shirtless, skinny white guy and one black guy with a shirt on, who spent the whole time with their arms around each others' shoulders. Which was very sweet. They seemed to lack some self-confidence though...they kept asking the crowd who was coming on next (it was Kreayshawn), and then they asked "So, are we aiiight?' ...or are we good." Um. I gave the polite response, but the jury's still out.

Tanlines, 4:00pm, 1100 Warehouse
Tanlines are dears, and their new record is solid (or, at least, the single is.) But Tanlines are all about treble (abnormally, for a dance act, but they pull it off well) and the acoustics of the Mess With Texas 1100 Warehouse is all about bassy bassy bass. So that's a fail. Plus, all their songs sound the same (or, at least, the one and a half that I stayed for did.)

Poliça, 4:00pm, Clive Bar
I guess these guys are even buzzier than I realized. ("Justin Vernon's favorite band!!") Well, they are good. Possibly much better than good, I couldn't quite tell. I wish I'd gotten here sooner, as it took a while to get inside (partly for shaved-ice-related reasons); what had sounded from outside like very pretty, mellow chill-out/trip-hop music emerged or developed into something much rockier and more energetic once I'd wormed up to the side of the stage for the end of the set. They have two drummers, for one thing. Basically it seemed cool, but I'm going to have to spend some time with the record to fully decide.

Polarsets, 5:00pm, Cive Bar
Only maybe the fifth entire set I've seen at SX, and the first time I got bored doing so. (Though not unpleasantly so.) This is a very nice-seeming young trio from Newcastle, England, who play sunny, tropical-ish indie-dance-pop – a la Friendly Fires or Tanlines or St. Lucia – but with more of a lyrical/song-based (though not necessarily melody/hook-based) focus. Not that I really caught any lyrics, though the song titles included "Tropics" and "Sunshine Eyes," so that probably gives you an idea. The lead singer has an improbably high, interestingly-textured voice that reminded me very much of somebody – Chris Martin, maybe?

Of Montreal, 6:00pm, Clive Bar
Felt some SX guilt for deciding to see this, and sticking around so long for it (other options included catching the awesome, food-obsessed rapper Action Bronson, or a maybe over-ambitious third attempt at Grimes) – since I have seen of Montreal plenty of times, though not in ages. But whatever. It was great to be in a crowd full of fans, just there to see one of their favorite bands play a concert. This was a seriously of Montreal-loving crowd – they sang along to every word, fist-pumped every beat, and half of them were dressed as crazy and colorfully as the band themselves. (Another half were of course wearing green for, as Best Coast called it later on, St. Party's Day.)

And it was a seriously crowd-pleasing set: nothing but hits, or more specifically nothing from outside of their 2005-2007 apex of popularity. They kicked off with the two big ones from The Sunlandic Twins ("The Party's Crashing Us" and "Wraith Pinned To The Mist"), and the rest of the set was entirely drawn from '07's Hissing Fauna..., including set-closing epic "The Past Is A Grotesque Animal," which ended with, first, guitarist BP Helium crowdsurfing, and then his guitar crowdsurfing by itself, being "played" by the whole audience. Personally, I'd have loved to hear at least some of their more recent stuff, but I was probably a minority there. (Nobody does encores at SXSW, but it's hard to imagine a crowd more doggedly insistent in their clamoring for one. I pitched in with the mini-cowbell I had picked up earlier in the day – inventive swag this year!)

Rittz/Gangsta Boo/Stalley, 7:00pm, Fader Fort
Dinner might have been wise, but the mystery of the 8:00 Fader Fort "special guest" (the characteristically wild rumors swirling included Drake, which, basically, I would have died) not to mention my handy-dandy badge-carrying ability to bypass a monster line outside the bulging venue, were just a bit too tempting. When the outrageously red-haired speed-rapper Rittz (who sounded like an angrier Yelawolf) and former Three 6 Mafiosa/Yelawolf co-sign Gangsta Boo showed up for brief sets in the 7:00 "TBA" slot, I was figuring it was gonna be Eminem (who'd turned up the previous night at 50 Cent's Austin Musical Hall show.) But then Stalley, the self-described "newest" member of Maybach Music took the stage, and stayed on the stage, and stayed on the stage – his beard may be, on a technical level, more impressive than Rick Ross's, but it's nowhere near as lovably iconic or charismatic – and it became clear that, once he finally left, we would be graced with the presence of...

Rick Ross, 8:15pm, Fader Fort
Yep. This happened. Totally ridiculous, totally awesome. Couldn't see half the time because of all the cameras/phones in the air, but I had worked my way maybe three-quarters of the way to the stage by this point, and the energy in the crowd was just delirious. Early in the set, after a couple cuts from his recent mixtape, he whipped through four massive hits ("Hustlin," "All I Do Is Win," "B.M.F.", "I'm On One") in the space of fifteen minutes. I guess, just because he could?

Devon Sproule, 8:55pm, Austin Java
I can't actually tell you about this set, because I wasn't there. What I can tell you is that Devon Sproule is a wonderful wonderful songwriter and one of the most endearing and talented performers I've ever had the pleasure to see, and that I biked fifteen hilly minutes to a semi-remote part of town (well, far outside the SXSW hubbub anyway) to see her, only to learn that it was the wrong Austin Java location, and then, another twenty-plus minutes and some bad directions later, to the correct Austin Java location, where Devon had just finished her set and was loading the car. And I chatted a while with her also-charming, also-a-songwriter husband, Paul Currerri, who told me that they'd just moved to Austin (from Berlin) this week. So hopefully they'll be playing some more, better appointed and better publicized shows at future SXSWs, and hopefully then the (impressively comprehensive, but nevertheless fallible) Austin Showlist website will list the address correctly. (And/or I will remember double-check their info.)

Django Django, 10:00pm, Latitude 30
Buzzy Brits, playing to a sardine-packed room of badgers. Energetic, danceable, slightly synthy rock, with plenty of texture and personality...made me think of Hot Chip, XTC, and other bands I really like. Also, for some reason, their vocal harmonies reminded me a lot of the Dandy Warhols. Not all of the songs made an instant connection, but a few of them did, and I bet their album (if it exists yet) will be very worth hearing. They also had a really big tambourine.

Fanfarlo, 10:00pm, Hype Hotel
I've reviewed two Fanfarlo albums now, and I'm not sure I could recall any of their songs if you asked me to. But they're always perfectly enjoyable when I'm actually listening to them, and they really sounded fantastic live. Epic, anthemic – but somehow not affected or overblown – indie rock stuff, with trumpet and saxophone and violin and big blue lights. Plus, they were adorably Scottish and polite. Nice one.

Best Coast, 11:00pm, Hype Hotel
Bethany Cosentino as a person is as refreshingly straight-shooting and pretense-free as her music, which as she performs it live doesn't even come off as cutesy, just matter-of-fact: she wishes her cat could talk, okay? She made no bones about being pissed off by lame, unenthusiastic SXSW audiences, and asked us if we could just be cool and party with her, for a change. The crowd responded by demanding that she chug the cup of white whiskey she'd been making skeptical remarks about throughout the set. (Meanwhile her guitarist, silent Bobb Bruno, was tossing back a handle of Jim Beam.) She was almost apologetic about playing new songs ("four in a row, is that okay?") but they were some of the highlights of the set, even sandwiched between all the first album faves. (The forthcoming Best Coast album shows, to me, a marked step up in her songwriting and sound – I'm expecting some good things for her this year.)

Wavves, 12:00am, Hype Hotel
Then I got a chair massage from the very cool Kate, which was great except for when Wavves started playing partway through it.

Jacques Greene, 12:40am, Barcelona
SXSW really does not do electronic music well. I guess that's the USA for you. Montrealer Jacques Greene is probably doing as much as anybody these days to underscore the shared fabric of bass music (dubstep/funky/house/whatever) and R&B, and this DJ set was a beautiful illustration of that connection, encompassing everything from Jackmaster to Burial to Moloko's "Sing it Back" and Storm Queen's masterful 2011 soulful house epic "It Goes On," right alongside Waka Flocka Flame, a funky Destiny's Child remix, and Drake/The-Dream's "Shut It Down" (with Greene grinning and singing along to every word) – all in a tight, seamless forty-minute set, pretty much the most exciting, energetic set of dance music you could ask for. (Though as far as I could tell he didn't drop any of his own excellent productions.) But the venue was a cramped, anonymous basement bar, and the crowd, despite several pockets of serious, enthusiastic dancing, seemed inappropriately diffuse and indifferent, mostly hook-up-seeking locals and St. Party's Day revelers who just happened to be there.

Toddla T, 1:00am, Latitude 30
Around the corner, Toddla T seemed be on a similar tip in his DJ set, albeit more populist in his selections (while I was in there SBTRKT's "Wildfire" and Big Sean's "A$$.") Not quite the party I was looking for though.

XV, 1:00am, Hype Hotel
Was on my way to check Flosstradamus but got distracted and pleasantly side-tracked by a prominent Pixies sample blaring out of ye olde Hype Hotel (and, okay, I was running pretty low on tacos.)   Such was my introduction to the very silly, young Wichita, KS (?!) rapper XV. Chipper, vaguely nerdy pop-rap, Chiddy Bang kind of thing. Mindless fun, and sure, why not, as his set-closing single has it, "Awesome." Or something.

Mujuice, 2:00am, Hype Hotel
Never heard of this guy either – I didn't even know who it was when he was playing, as it wasn't listed or anything. But I was pretty impressed by his music, which I was having a hard time slotting into any of the usual electronic-music subdivisions. Subtle, stylish, danceable. Apparently he's "one of the cornerstones of today’s Russian electronica." Okay, cool.

And that was SXSW 2012. Cruised around for awhile (both through the streets and on twitter) trying to track down an afterparty, but it seemed like things had pretty much wrapped up. Diplo was in New Orleans, Rick Ross was allegedly already back in Miami. And it ends, not with a bang, but a well-deserved sleep.

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