17 March 2013

SXSW 2013: Day Five [Saturday]

On Saturday night I was in a church pew and a mosh pit, within the span of about two hours.  I suppose that might not be so unusual if you're used to attending Sunday hardcore matinees.  But this was a hip hop mosh pit.  At various other points of the night, I was also at a sweaty, debaucherous Brazilian dance party, a big outdoor rock show, a big shiny auditorium pop show, an orchestral concert, a dingy basement dance club, on a gorgeous landscaped bike path at sunset and in a clothing store, eating pizza.  Such is the quick-change mish-mash and experiential overload of South by Southwest, which wrapped up for me in typically chaotic, multivalent fashion.

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell at the W Hotel, 11am
The day started early, with this live taping for KGSR which we sort of unintentionally snuck into.  They were quite late getting started, despite it being live radio, which is probably why they only played two songs.  Somehow just two was enough, though, and it was also a treat getting to hear them talk a bit in between, telling stories about their long friendship (they've been collaborating in one way or another since the early '70s.)  Not sure if this was age or just a week full of shows, but Emmylou's voice, miraculous as it definitely still is, was getting awfully whispery in the upper registers.

Ivan & Alyosha at Peckerheads, 12:30pm
Biked across town precisely too late to catch an evidently very prompt 20-minute set by West Philly's own Waxahatchee, then doubled back to see a few songs by this very nice, spirited New York folk-pop band, who seem like they ought to do very well.  E thought they seemed like good Christian boys. 

Little Daylight at Cedar Door, 12:30pm
Then a small second helping of Little Daylight, just in time to wile out to "Overdose," which, I'm gonna call it, was my SXSW anthem for this year.  Only, I feel like it really should be performed with a battalion of at least a dozen field drummers.  Great free tacos and strawberry tic-tacs, too!

Generationals at Stage on Sixth, 1pm
Saw a bit of this upbeat New Orleans band; more rootsy folk-pop (maybe closer to folk-rock), which is more or less the default setting for several of my Austin friends.  Enjoyable enough but didn't make a huge impression, so I left them there and went off in search of free coconut water and to try to catch Wild Belle.

Feathers at The Jr., 1:30pm
No dice there (the Mohawk indoor entrace is a major bottleneck) but I did snag some promotional Zico (flavor ranking: passionfruit>natural>chocolate>mango>latte) and another free American Apparel shirt (raspberry!) and catch some of this pretty cool Australian band, another four-lady-plus-guy-drummer outfit who play somewhat dark, punky synth-rock.

Eric Burdon at Stage on Sixth, 2pm
Okay, and then it got serious.  Another day, another still-ragin' '60s legend, although this set by the one-time Animal took a bit more from his days with War, which I tend to forget about.  He and his fairly large band kicked off with "Spill The Wine" and featured a bunch of similarly grooving, bluesy tunes from his new album, including an impressively non-schmaltzy one about "when I was young."  They did rip out "House of the Rising Sun" to close, however.  ("The shortest song I ever recorded.")  His voice is hardly the pristinely preserved marvel of Colin Blunstone's, but it's still a force to reckon with, a fierce, toughened near-bark.  As Kelly Hogan remarked afterward, it was great to see his bulging neck muscles in person.

Kelly Hogan at Stage on Sixth Patio, 2:30pm
Had been really hoping to catch this Atlanta-based singer, who put out one of my favorite and most-listened-to albums last year.  She played most of the highlights from that record, I Like To Keep Myself In Pain (including the title track, written by Robyn Hitchcock, who I missed seeing but whose birthday it apparently was) and threw in a rendition of the Magnetic Fields' classic "Papa Was A Rodeo."  It all sounded pretty damn fabulous, although I couldn't help missing Booker T. Jones' organ contributions.  Hogan is clearly content to record and perform at a leisurely, almost dabbling pace, but it's really a shame she doesn't get out there more.  Nearly as good as her singing, however, was her outfit, which included a red neckscarf and matching ribbons tied just above her ankle socks. 

Kitty at the W Hotel Terrace, 3:30
Tried to see Detroit trio Jamaican Queens, but they were just lackadaisically soundchecking and playing improvised acoustic reggae (contrary to the name, they aren't actually a reggae band at all) for about twenty minutes before I figured out that they were merely stalling because their set had been pushed back by an hour.  So, instead, we swung back by the W to catch this red-headed ray of teenybop hip-hop Florida sunshine.  Kitty, who I saw this summer on her Tumblr-hype-fueled first-ever tour (before she unfortunately dropped the Pryde part of her moniker) is still an outrageously adorable stage presence, utterly giddy and unselfconscious, bouncing around through the crowd, peppering her garrulous banter with giggles and wooos and quasi-nervous pleas for attention ("Just joking!  Not really, I really do love attention!") – but she's also come a long way as a performer.  Whereas before she seemed to be approaching her whole so-called "career" with amused, self-mocking disbelief, she's clearly gotten a lot more serious about rapping and performing, despite never giving the impression that she takes herself at all seriously.  She pulled rapper Lakutis up from the crowd for an impromptu collab (Le1f reportedly did the same thing with Kitty at his set immediately afterwards), enlisted her brother/DJ to rap RiFF RaFF's part on "Orion's Belt" and generally endeared herself to an already fawning (and awesomely dressed) audience.

 Delicate Steve at Stage on Sixth Patio, 4:30pm
I'd seen him briefly the night before, but I'm really glad I caught a full set by this New Jersey-based guitarist (a.k.a. Steve Marion), whose music is something like Ratatat but with a full rock band instead of electronic beats backing his shiny metallic guitar leads.  He's great on record too, but it definitely took the energy several notches up to see him on stage, in tank top, jean shorts and beat-up sneakers, shaggy hair spilling out from a ski cap, and seeming to spend about half the time leaning dramatically into a battle-ready rock'n'roll lunge stance.  


King Tuff at The Jr, 5:15pm
Speaking of classic rock posturing, this guy's got it all: long lustrous locks, an inimitably croaky croon, scruffy bandmates named Magic Jake and Kenny, whom he ribbed with almost Butthead-ish glee about their lost voice and oversized big toe (?), respectively and – best of all – a black studded vest emblazoned with his magisterial moniker.  He's practically a rock'n'roll cartoon – but he knows damn well what to do with a couple chords and a righteous riff.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams
The next touring entity we encountered (right by the line for the impossible-to-even-consider-trying-to-think-about-getting-into Prince show) was not a band but an ice cream cart, staffed by a pair of scoopers who'd travelled down from Columbus, OH to rep Jeni's Splendid – now sold in pints in Austin, evidently – whose James Beard Award-winning, decidedly unorthodox ice cream cookbook I can very highly recommend.  Now I can do the same for their actual ice cream, especially their signature salty caramel and whiskey-pecan.  Mmhmm.

Angel Haze at Austin Music Hall, 6:30
Oh man – if there's one artist I saw this year who seems clearly destined for stardom, it's this upstart up-and-coming rapper (and singer) from New York City.  Apart from her impossibly rapid flow and solid singing voice, she's got a compelling back-story that she is not the least bit shy about drawing on for dramatic effect, and a strong, classically populist inspirational message, both of which simultaneously underscore one another and help balance each other out.  She has all the fierceness (and lurid sensationalism) of Azalea Banks, without the flippant/flaky goofball tendencies –indeed, if she has a shortcoming, it's that she comes off as fairly humorless, though I suppose you could say she comes by her stoniness honestly.  And she commanded the still-sparse early-evening crowd at Perez Hilton's annual one-night pop showcase – all alone on an auditorium stage that's got to be bigger than pretty much anywhere she's played before – like it was midnight at Madison Square Garden.

Bonde Do Role at Stage on Sixth, 8pm
I always look to end my last night of Southby with the best, biggest dance party I can find.  This time it started out that way.  These nutzo Brazilian baile funk schticksters – who returned after a long absence to drop probably the greatest party album of 2012, the aptly named Tropicalbacanal – stormed the Stage on Sixth (only recently vacated by a week's worth of Paste-approved singer-songwriters and tasteful roots-rockers) dressed in big furry animal costumes – a dinosaur, a penguin, a green parrot and a kangaroo (vocalist Laura Taylor, who quickly zipped down the top half of the costume to reveal a bathing suit underneath) – and started chucking blow-up dolls (both male and female, of various skin colors) into the crowd.  From that point on, all four members were in constant, frenzied motion, as were the dolls, as was the audience.  They dispensed with anything so fussy and humdrum as actually playing instruments, instead just trading off on rapped and sung and chanted nonsense vocals – except for the parrot, who mostly just ran around, typically shirtless, adding to the chaos.  They threw out the dolls, we threw them back.  They jumped offstage, ran around in the audience and came back, Taylor at one point establishing a limbo line using her microphone cable, somebody else seemingly initiating a congo line.  They energetically and inventively used the dolls, one another, the oversized head-masks and other components of the gradually disassembled costumes, and anything else at hand as simulated sex objects.  They played a bunch of faves from both albums, and then some even more rudimentary, banging Brazilian-rap tracks that I didn't recognize.  Then at some point they threw on a crazy electro revamp of "Surfin' Bird" and abandoned the stage entirely to come and party in the crowd.  Not a bad way to start off the night.

The Little Ones at Dirty Dog Bar, 9pm
Very sweet, upbeat indie-pop, with a nice rhythmic energy and some good sing-along hooks.  The lead singer has a funny, high, kinda froggy voice, and a funny habit of bending one knee behind the other (toe on the ground) while he sang.  I liked them.

The Lone Bellow at St. David's Historic Sanctuary, 10pm
It's a sort of ironic band name because they actually have three singers, who specialize in lovely harmonies.  Really lovely.  This is the kind of straightforward, generally earnest folk band that I tend not to pay too much attention to, but it was really nice to see them, and they have some strong songwriting in their corner too.  They also covered "Angel From Montgomery," managing to charm me with a song that I often find somewhat annoying.

Mac DeMarco at The Parish, 10:30pm
Was glad to finally get to see a bit of Mac – even though I'd just seen him play a fully satisfying show a few weeks ago – because I'd long since declared him to be the MVP of this year's conference.  I don't know how many shows he actually played, but he seemed to be on nearly every schedule I looked at, criss-crossing demographics to appeal everyone from the skate-punks at the Scoot Inn's Death Match to the preppy-flannel Paste types, from Pitchfork hipsterati to the brand-hawking swag hucksters behind Fader Fort and Hype Hotel.  Even without seeing him, I really enjoyed the mental image of him bouncing around here and there across Austin all week like a kind of muppet, with his wagging tongue and goofy grin and nutty, frequently juvenile banter.  By the time I caught up with him, for three gems off of 2, he'd clearly taken a beating – his speaking voice was craggy and close to shot – but he was still smiling that distinctive smile, big and dopey and just a little bit creepy.

HAIM at Stubb's, 11pm
Word on the street was that there wasn't much of a line for Vampire Weekend's big festival-closing set, which meant a good opportunity to catch their openers, this young trio of long-haired L.A. sisters (plus, again, a guy drummer.)  "Pop-rock" doesn't feel quite right for their sound; let's call it '80s-style hard rock with strong, even stadium-ready pop appeal.  There were definitely some Fleetwood Mac vibes in there; I also got Michael Jackson on a few songs.  It did take me a few songs into the set to really warm up to them, but as they went on (and got to the stronger part of the setlist, perhaps) I grew increasingly impressed, and the set ended on a high note with all three wailing away on drums at the front of the stage.

Lunice at 1100 Warehouse, 11:30pm?
Around this point somebody hung a lit pink glowstick on my bike, so I threw it around my neck and set off – only later realized that it happened to be shaped like a penis.  The huge and generally chaotic Boiler Room party was running behind so I caught a good chunk of Lunice's DJ set, though I didn't figure out that's what was going on until he dropped his TNGHT trap smash "Higher Ground" and somebody announced who it was.  

Death Grips at 1100 Warehouse, 11:45pm
Then the action switched to a different stage in the center of the space, and within minutes I was in the middle of a seething mosh pit, struggling to keep aloft two giant inflatable pills, at least six feet in diameter, which were built more like heavy-duty white-water rafts than stage props.  The unmistakeable figure of MC Ride appeared on the stage: bald, bearded, bare-chested, rail-thin and muscly and sporting some intense ski-goggles.  His crushing, rapid-fire flow was completely incomprehensible, even the transition from one song to the next was hard to completely discern, and I only stayed in the pit for maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, so not sure if they played "I've Seen Footage" or any other hits – maybe I should have stuck around, that would have been a pretty incredible release – but it was damn fun anyway.

Jackmaster at Barcelona, 12:30am
Looking for the next party (after just missing Norway's MØ at Hype Hotel) I headed to this Sixth St. basement bar, where I'd heard Jacques Green turn in a transcendent DJ set the year before.  Somewhat similarly, but far less inventively, Scottish producer Jackmaster was playing to the not-very-SXSW crowd, flipping the likes of Ludacris, New Order and Outkast.  It was all fine stuff, and well mixed, but clearly not his normal set...made me wonder what Rustie, up next, was gonna do with this place – anything close to resembling the earth-scorching set he played on Thursday would be liable to cause a riot.

!!! at Hype Hotel, 1am
Somebody earlier in the week suggested that this might be the party to beat, so we investigated... Not sure, but I wasn't really drawn in; for some reason it just seemed kind of disorienting.

Mother Falcon at Esther's Follies, 1am
So we caught a few numbers by these guys, the local indie chamber orchestra, including "Paranoid Android," which we'd missed the day before (another interesting arrangement, with the dreamy comedown section scored for saxophones rather than the more obvious strings.)  Realized that vocals are probably their weakest point – whereas they'd given some of the OK Computer parts to trained classical-style singers, to excellent effect, the main singers for their original tunes have kind of plain, uninteresting voices.  Still, a real joy to watch.  That might have been a fitting enough end to the week's festivities, but we were still itching to dance some more.

George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic at Empire Automotive, 1am
We'd hoped to catch the tail end of Big Freedia's set but that had wrapped a bit early, so we wandered across the street, where this funk band was playing.  This was sort of confusing...it really didn't look like George Clinton to me, but I guess it's just that, as it turns out, he actually has aged since the last time I saw him with P-Funk back in the '90s.  They did play "Atomic Dog," so I suppose that was a pretty good confirmation.  I also didn't realize that there had been some beef among the band over the last decade or so, and this was actually something of a reunion.  I guess I was just too spent by this point to appreciate what was going on.

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