Monday, March 21, 2011

SXSW 2011 Dispatches: Rap Acts, Pepsi Max, and Deervana

The last Saturday at South By always has a perplexing feel -- on the one hand, it's the last chance to see some amazing bands, but on the other hand, maybe it's time for this thing to be over already so you can go back to your normal life, you know, the one where you sleep and eat regular meals and stuff.

Saturday afternoon I hid out at the Rolling Stone party at La Zona Rosa. The underutilized annex portion of the venue had been transformed into a lounge complete with ottomans and mood lighting (like a hip Pottery Barn). Tennis played their happy melodies, the petite Alaina Moore tapping her keyboard with husband Patrick Riley on guitar. New song "Robin" echoed strains of the "Love" song (title: "Love") from the animated Robin Hood film. I guess you have to take inspiration from wherever you can.

The young kids from Surfer Blood amped up the energy and the volume with their peppy surf rock. They played a couple of new tunes as well as "Floating Vibes" and "Swim." But the energy of the room got taken to new heights by London's The Joy Formidable. Ritzy Bryan's blonde bob shook while Rhydian Dafydd pounded the guitar with a fervor that made the veins in his forehead stick out. There were moments of total guitar freak-outs, on-the-floor writhing, and drum solos. Formidable? Yes. Joyful? Most certainly.
Joy Formidable - The Greatest Light Is The Greatest Shade by The Drift Record Shop

Over at the Cedar Street Courtyard the patio was completely packed with people waiting for New Zealand's The Naked and Famous. Playing most of the songs from "Passive Me, Aggressive You," the band hit high points with 80s-influenced "Girls Like You," and the synth-y "Young Blood."

The evening was buzzing with rumors, mostly regarding the inevitable Kanye show (overheard: "Kanye is playing Stubb's with Pearl Jam!"). But there were a few other hot ticket shows including Donald Glover's Childish Gambino at Red 7. The Community actor and former 30 Rock writer took the mic, accompanied by two guitarists, a drummer, and percussionist, who also played violin. (Not enough rap shows have violin.) Glover rapped with an intensity that seemed to belie his rather bubbly persona, creating an interesting dichotomy between songs and banter. He worked though "Let Me Dope You" and "My Shine" and showcased a pretty good falsetto, hitting some high notes, on "Be Alone." While it would be easy to write Glover off, he's far too self-aware to let that happen, making note of that in his lyrics and commenting on it on stage, thanking the crowd for letting him be a comedian and a musician ("If Dane Cook was playing piccolo, I wouldn't be at that show."). Of course, it's possible that the two careers - comedian and rapper - fit well together -- where else can you comment on popular culture and make double entendre Alf references?

Sometime near 10pm the warehouse at 3rd and San Jacinto, covered in Pepsi Max branding, was getting ready for Snoop Dogg. The space was coated with signs, banners, lights, all touting Pepsi Max -- it quickly made one wonder if Snoop might be contractually obligated to mention the beverage in his songs -- like "sippin' on gin and Pepsi Max." Or perhaps to say the product name in place of swearing, like, "187 on a Pepsi Max-in' cop." Snoop, along with Warren G, did an RIP Rappers portion of the show, covering songs from Tupac and Nate Dogg, and Biggie's "Hypnotize." After that I got the Pepsi Max out of there.

At midnight at Lustre Pearl Dawes played great set, steadily rocking until they were joined for a high-energy sing along love fest with Deer Tick on closer "When My Time Comes." The aforementioned Deer Tick followed, with a set devoted to Nirvana covers. The band seemed to channel Nirvana's ethos, not simply covering the songs, but knocking them out with real feeling. The crowd was only happy to sing along to "All Apologies," crowd surf, and toss cans in the air. Deer Tick finished out the set in the only fitting way -- completely smashing their instruments. If that's not rock and roll, what is.

Dawes - When My Time Comes by RootMusic

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