(Day One for me, Day Two-ish or more for the conference.. the sloppiness has already set in. Aw, Austin, I missed ya.)
"Torreblanca & Amigas" (Ximena Sariñana, Natalia Lafourcade, Javiera Mena), 3pm, Austin Convention Center
Much of my early afternoon was spent dealing with some logistical folderol around getting ahold of my badge – no major losses except for missing Bruce Springsteen's keynote speech (apparently he talked a bunch about his influences.) I did see a few songs apiece by cheerful '80s-babies Chairlift, Italian hairdos A Classic Education, and slightly poncy (in a nice way) surf-bouncers The Drums; all pleasant enough pop sorts – but my musical day proper really started with this loose "jam session" showcase of twenty-something Latina pop singers, including Ximena Sariñana and Natalia Lafourcade from Mexico and Chile's Javiera Mena, accompanied by the members of the band Torreblanca. Despite the sterile convention center setting, this was a loose and utterly charming affair; a sweet, low-key introduction to some very talented young ladies ("friends from a long time," explained Ximena, whose tiny frame – she looks like she's about fourteen – hides a huge, brassy pop/soul voice) who happen to be major stars in their home countries.
Andrew WK, 5pm, Scoot Inn
A total maniac, in the best possible way. A highly wise, intelligent man who's selflessly dedicated his life to the noble cause of throwing a totally kick-ass party. To which end: while WK's performance – his mere presence, really – was plenty inspiring in itself, the truly awesome thing is what it inspired: a cheerfully hyperactive audience ready and willing, at the slightest provocation, to toss any and everything – arms, beer, t-shirts, multiple simultaneous crowd-surfers – up into the air, and dive into a mosh-pit maelstrom.
Just sick. For a rapper who goes to considerable lengths to present himself as a certified weirdo – today, in addition to his distinctively asymmetrical kinked shock of hair, he was rocking a sequined, camouflage Adidas jersey (!) and some totally befuddling plasticky "cow-print" sneaker/cowboy boot things – Danny Brown actually seems like a reasonably down-to-earth, relatable guy. Whose favorite topics of conversation just happen to be Adderall and cunnilingus. He enlisted us to chant the hook of "Blunt after Blunt" (that's pretty much how it goes, and goes, and goes) after an audience member passed him one, using the opportunity to partake of said item, contributed by an audience member. Then he slapped everyone in the room five.
Brazilian Churrascaria (though actually I just stuck to the salad bar) with a couple of Swedish high school girl interns. Long story.
Fiona Apple, 8:00pm, Central Presbyterian Church
She opened with four spot-on favorites from When the Pawn... – rushing out and ripping into a furious, feral "Fast As You Can," then "On The Bound," "Paper Bag" and "A Mistake." Man, watching her notoriously stick-like frame and her uncomfortably frail, anguished-looking physical/facial mannerisms as she sang some of those lyrics really drove home the dark, dark pathos – self-hatred may not be too strong a word – that runs through those songs ("I know I'm a mess no-one wants to clean up"?), in a pretty powerful way. Almost chilling. Started to feel a bit less painfully vulnerable as she moved on to the self-righteous defiance of "Extraordinary Machine" and "Sleep To Dream" (holy shit...) and cracked a few weird but half-decent jokes (something about her hairband being the elastic from a pair of sweatpants she got out of the trash?) She still looked too nervous and fearful to really smile, though. Still, as a presence, a singer, and just all-around singular and uncompromising artist, she's impossible to deny. The new songs – especially "Valentine," a relatively straight, but pithy piano ballad number – sounded exceptionally promising.
Bad Weather California, 9:00pm, Valhalla
These guys, on the other hand, couldn't stop smiling. Denver bros and Akron/Family pals/signees/tourmates, they've got a pretty versatile style...a little punky, a little retro, a lot jammy, mostly happy to lay back in an old-fashioned rock'n'roll sweet spot. At one point the lead singer took his shoe off and sang into it as a phone. Then he introduced his bandmates as horror-movie monsters. ("Wolfman on the drums!") Kinda felt like watching an especially goofy bar band. But a really happy bar band.
Javiera Mena, 11:00, Maggie Mays
After some annoying delays/runarounds due to set time confusion and general wonkiness (it turned out I probably could have caught both Grimes and Purity Ring if I'd handled things just a touch differently), I caught most of the set by this Chilean artist, in a totally different mode from the couple of acoustic numbers I'd seen her do in the afternoon. This was all-out electro-disco-pop en español, giddy and dreamy and really funky. She is adorable, and had a great rapport with the mostly-Latino, totally-enthralled crowd. She didn't even play "Hasta La Verdad," my favorite of her tunes and what I thought was her biggest hit, but it was hard to complain.
Miguel, 12ish, The Stage at Sixth
Bizarrely, this LA Afro-Latino R'n'B cat gave me some strong Little Richard vibes when he took the stage – not just because he rocks a pompadour. There's also some James Brown, definitely some Prince, and maybe a touch of Kanye in his DNA. What I mean is, he's a killer performer; dancing, mugging, hyping the crowd (who seemed a little weirdly less-than-responsive.) He does his silky-smooth lover-man numbers with a sorta punkish 'tude, and his ghetto swag numbers with a big ol' grin. Also, damn he can sing. Wow. His hit, "Sure Thing," felt beautifully lightweight and floaty pumping over the airwaves all last year, but it gained quite a bit of heft as he played it live, turning into an extended paisley-funk jam and eventually chanting to us, mantra-like: "You are all free to love!"
Jimmy Cliff, 12:45ish Hype Hotel
I walk in and he's singing "You Can Get It If You Really Want." I mean, what more do you want out of life? Also: "Sitting Here in Limbo," "I Can See Clearly Now," "The Harder They Come"... He's in fine voice, and looks great for 63, too. Beatific. And I almost managed to get a massage at the same time.
Buraka Som Sistema, 1:30pm, Beso Cantina
Instead I dashed out to catch these fierce, Afro-Portuguese party starters. Turned out to be just a DJ set, and a pretty brief one at that. But whatever, they know how to bring the funk, flat-out. And now my body is a sleepless wreck. Don't know how I'm gonna make it through two more days, but here we go...
[reposted from Philly City Paper]