Sunday, March 17, 2013

SXSW 2013 – Saturday: The Limousines, Paws, The Little Ones

If you wake up on the Saturday morning of South By Southwest and don’t feel like you might die, you might be doing it wrong.  The multi-day music frenzy can certainly take its toll, but the promises of day parties and warm sunny weather are too tough to pass up. 

On the patio of the Mohawk, Scottish rockers Paws slammed on their guitars.  Wearing a long-sleeved flannel shirt, and with the ends of his dark hair bleached, lead vocalist Phillip Taylor looked like ‘90s skater – an image perhaps propped up by Taylor’s admittance that he’d spent the previous evening screaming at the Less Than Jake show like he was 15 again.  Paws was followed by the Canadian punk trio Metz.  How these dudes are able to channel so much energy into every song is completely remarkable.  They’re bombastically noisy – just as punk should be.

The Limousines at Dirty Dog
If there was to be an award for the venue having the stickiest floors in Austin, that award would probably go to the Dirty Dog bar.  On one hand, you have to appreciate a bar that’s not trying to pull one over on anyone – “dirty” is in the venue’s name (for heaven’s sake, their logo is a dog humping a woman’s leg) – but on the other hand, it’s nice to be able to freely move your feet.  Especially if you wanted to dance a little to the sounds of San Francisco’s The Limousines.  Their early electro-driven sound, most notably captured in “Very Busy People,” bore some resemblance to MGMT, but hearing the band now, it’s hard not to want to put them in the more raucous 3OH!3-type camp.  The band played a number of new songs, which will hopefully turn up on their long-anticipated second album, expected this summer. 

Los Angeles band The Little Ones played an enjoyably breezy set, unfurling their Ra Ra Riot-ish brand of indie rock best with songs like “Ordinary Song.”  Watching the band’s upbeat vibe on stage, for a moment it seemed possible to forget there was a festival going on at all.  At least, until you tried to move your feet.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

SXSW 2013 – Friday: Willy Moon, Shout Out Louds, Haerts

Converted into Rolling Stone‘s “Rock Room,” the front corridor of La Zona Rosa was quietly buzzing when Chicago’s JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound took the stage.  Dressed in tight dark blue striped pants and a not-quite-matching dark blue blazer, Brooks danced along to his songs, backed by a keyboardist, two guitarists, drums and bongos.  His vibe might be a little bit faux neo-James Brown, but his songs are definitely more offbeat – with chorus lyrics like “before you die, girl, give me that number,” and “Baltimore is the new Brooklyn.”  The band closed out the set with a soul-ified version of Wilco’s “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” – which apparently has won them props from Jeff Tweedy himself.

If the Shout Out Louds seemed a little tired, it was likely because they’d played a 1AM show the night before, and had a full day ahead of them.  Touring behind their newly released Optica, sxsw is a stop off before a month of dates in Europe.  While Optica may prove to be a stronger album than their previous, Work, the band chose to end their set with “Walls” – a set that included the new “Blue Ice.”

Willy Moon at the W Hotel

On a balcony at the W Hotel at the Nylon Magazine party, singer Willy Moon arrived in a dapper suit (a move that proved dangerous, given how hot it was).  Backed by a female drummer in a black and white bra and a tall female guitarist in a low-cut black dress, Moon used his whole body to sing “Yeah Yeah” and “Railroad Track” – the latter which sounds like a layered version of “Hit The Road Jack” backed by Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks.”

In the early evening Auditorium Shores was absolutely packed with people who’d turned out for a free show from Divine Fits, Jim James, and The Flaming Lips. 

Auditorium Shores

Walking across Sixth Street, at least one band had made the decision to cover "Call Me Maybe."  Over at Empire Automotive, Los Angeles band Sir Sly cranked out a number of energetic songs, including “Gold” and “Ghost,” sometimes employing an organ-sounding keyboard.  (If the band is drawing comparisons to both Coldplay and Maroon 5, those seem unwarranted, but perhaps point more to the fact that the band's sound seems hard to categorize.)  They were followed by the New York band Haerts, who played a too-short set to a pumped-up crowd.  If it would be possible to have an indie band fronted by a young, alternative Bonnie Raitt, that might give some idea of what Haerts sounds like.


Friday, March 15, 2013

SXSW 2013 – Thursday: Iron & Wine, Delorean, Third Eye Blind

If there’s something that’s appealing about South By Southwest, it may be the ability to reach a lot of people very quickly.  For the faded San Francisco band Third Eye Blind, that may be part of the attraction to sxsw – reminding fans that they’re still around and trying to produce new music.  As they played on the rooftop of Hangar Bar, singer Stephan Jenkins explained they were working out new material.  Their last album, Ursa Major, was released in 2009, after the band had headlined a South By Southwest show at Stubb’s.  3EB played through some new songs, which often found Jenkins venturing into falsetto territory, and promised they’d play some older songs – which included “Crystal Baller,” “Never Let You Go,” and the audience-requested “Motorcycle Drive-By” (a deep-cut from the band’s 1997 self-titled album).  While 3EB’s musical style may not have changed much through the years, it does seem that the band, and Jenkins’s voice in particular, are indelibly linked to a certain time period.  If the current musical landscape finds bands feeling the influence of the 1980s, perhaps all 3EB needs to do is wait a few more years until late ‘90s rock comes back into fashion, and they’ll be golden.

Inside a very packed Mellow Johnny’s, Iron & Wine set up for a KEXP show.  Having performed the previous night at ACL Live, it’s likely that Sam Beam was feeling rather tired, as he admitted he hadn’t actually prepared a set list.  Instead, he let the crowd call out what they’d like to hear, and set about spinning beautiful songs from just his voice and guitar.

While huge crowds gathered around The Belmont for an incredibly stacked show that included Surfer Blood, Atlas Genius, Alt-J, and The Flaming Lips, Rainey Street seemed like the manageable alternative.  At Clive, Brooklyn’s Sinkane played a set of funky grooves – originally from Sudan, Ahmed Gallab formed Sinkane after playing with Yeasayer, Caribou, and Born Ruffians – bands whose influences you can hear in his music.

A while later, Spain’s Delorean appeared, and set the crowd to dancing.  While the sound system nearly obscured singer Ekhi Lopetegi’s voice entirely, the crowd still moved to the music, and the keyboardist certainly didn’t shy away from rocking out.  Outside of the recognizable synth pattern of “Real Love,” it was a bit hard to distinguish the songs.  But maybe this music just needed to be felt.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

SXSW 2013 – Wednesday: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Kendrick Lamar, Youngblood Hawke

Macklemore at Antone's

On Austin’s East Side, well before 7PM, hundreds of people were lined up to get into the Spotify outpost at 1100 Warehouse.  Inside, a sea of Spotify-branded graphics spun around the metal walls, and two stages (the second being a catwalk) were set.
On the non-catwalk stage, the six-piece LA band Youngblood Hawke played.  While two of the band’s members formerly belonged to the oddball indie outfit Iglu & Hartly, Youngblood Hawke seems to have none of that band’s goofy weirdness.  If it’s possible to design yourself to be a band that eventually becomes loved by adult contemporary pop radio, Youngblood Hawke may be poised to do just that. 
Most of the crowd was there to see Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar, who’d created a stir last year with good kid. m.A.A.d. city.  Lamar worked the crowd and the stage – his crew took advantage of the long catwalk, jokingly striking mock fashion poses as they walked to the end.  With his DJ punctuating most of his songs with the classic radio DJ air horn sound, Lamar hit his high notes, including “Backseat Freestyle,” “Poetic Justice,” and “Swimming Pools (Drank).”
Later, across downtown at Antone’s, hip hop duo Dead Prez rapped against traditional schooling, and Stic brought out his 11-year-old son (dubbed “Small X”) to show off his guitar skills.  The crowd all sang along to the guitar line of “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  The duo closed with a new song, “Time Travel,” but they also enthusiastically delivered “It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop” and “Mind Sex” (whose lyrics are pretty great).

But the night really belonged to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, whose star has been burning incredibly brightly since the explosion of “Thrift Shop.”  In a set that seemed like part “VH1 Storytellers” (in a good way), Macklemore brought out numerous collaborators from The Heist, including the terrific Seattle soul singer Allen Stone, on “Neon Cathedral,” and the distinctively smooth-voiced Ray Dalton, on “Can’t Hold Us.”  Part of Macklemore’s magnetism is his aggressive positivity and sense of humor.  At the beginning of the set, he explained that earlier in the day he’d energetically performed at Waterloo Records for about a minute and a half before Ryan Lewis informed him that there was no sound and the crowd couldn’t hear him.  “Find it on youtube,” Macklemore said, “there’s some comedy.”  In his mind, he was out there being the “honky Michael Jackson” (his phrase), but to the crowd it just looked like he was miming hip hop motions.  Of course, inside Antone’s he definitely rocked it out, performing “Same Love” with Mary Lambert and “Thrift Shop,” and telling the crowd that it didn’t even feel like a South-by show, but rather a weird basement party.  What more could you ask for?  Cue the air horn sound.  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

SXSW 2013 - Tuesday: The 1975, Blondfire, Robert Delong

While the South By Southwest festival officially opened March 8 for Interactive and Film-goers, Tuesday night marked the start of the Music portion.

Robert Delong kicked things off at Pandora’s Discovery Den at Antone’s.  Working with a drum kit, synthisizers, and a looping machine, Delong functioned as a one-man band – creating the ‘80s-ish background music and singing over it.  It’s like he’s a mash-up DJ instantly mashing up his own music.  He brought out what looked like a Wii game controller and used it to control the backing music with whole body jolts, and mixed in a little Talking Heads sample of “Once In A Lifetime,” for good measure.  If you combined ‘80s synth with the sonic dystopia of Skrillex and added a good dose of Caribou, you might get something like Robert Delong.  And he’s a man in demand – he’s playing at least 12 times during the festival.

Things at the Belmont were running late, so before Blondfire hit the stage, Charli XCX performed.  While she’s had some success working with Icona Pop on “I Love It,” none of her songs are quite as catchy as that one – even when she’s sampling Gold Panda.

Unfortunately, because the stage at the Belmont is on a strange decline, it was fairly impossible to actually see the Los Angeles band Blondfire.  It’s possible the lead singer, Erica Driscoll looks a bit like Jennifer Morrison, but who could really tell?  They played a brand of indie pop in line with San Francisco’s Minipop, but seemed to save most of their energy for their closer, “Where The Kids Are.”

Inside the BBC 1 showcase at Latitude 30, Tall Ships was wrapping up to make way for the Manchester, UK band The 1975.  They’ve rather rightly been compared to ‘80s bands like New Order, but employ more jazzy guitars and longingly expressive looks from lead singer Matthew Healy.  Healy pithily introduced the songs, saying things like, “This is a song about sex,” and then playing the song “Sex.”  Gotta keep it simple.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Hubble (Used To) Got You

A model of the James Webb Space Telescope

Ever wonder just how large a space telescope is?  This weekend a full-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope was on display outside the Long Center.  The telescope reaches four-stories tall, with a sunshield that’s roughly the size of a tennis court.

About 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble, the James Webb is expected to launch in 2018.