So I’ve finally gotten a decent night’s sleep after getting back on Sunday from SXSW. And, while here in Miami, we have to start down the countdown to WMC (next Tuesday! Get excited)! I still wanted to wrap-up a summary of the live music I saw out in Texas. The actual event is such a circus that while I tried to blog daily, I gave up after the first day (which was intense from the get-go – you can read my summary of Wednesday, March 12, Day 1, here).
Day 2, Thursday, March 13
Thursday was one of my busiest days, with a crazy array of genres, and both old and new acts represented.
There was a LOT of quality heavy music at SXSW this year, and Thursday got to an unbelievably, well, fucking awesome start: the Vice magazine/Scion metal party at Stubb’s, with doors opening at the very un-metal time of noon. Also, it was extremely sunny and hot – not good weather for black, or for leather. Didn’t matter to the crowd, which stretched two blocks deep by the time I got there, around 1 p.m. (and just after an abortive set by Norway’s black metal legends Enslaved, d’oh! Not sure why they were cut off early).
I weaseled my way inside (the joy of disorganized check-in wristband lines) in time for Napalm Death. In summation: the lineup here was most recent incarnation of members from the late Eighties and early Nineties. The frontman was, of course, Barney Greenway, more or less the guy in the job since 1989 and ... he's still a badass. A freaking-out-onstage, singing-into-monster-growl, badass. And though he wasn't the band's earliest singer, they tackled material from their first album, and even ended, interestingly, with a cover of the Dead Kennedy's "Nazi Punks Fuck Off."
In between sets, DJ Mixhell's (a.k.a. Igor Calavera, former drummer for Sepultura), threw down some, uh, Rage Against the Machine as well as crunchy hip electro that got the metal purists' panties in a bunch. It was incongruous, but pleasant to at least hear a different kind of distortion for a few minutes.
Oakland's High On Fire was up next, but as I was lucky enough to witness their recent super-intimate set at Churchill's, and, I was hungry, I headed over to Brush Square Park by the Austin Convention Center for one of the week's many international barbecues. This was sponsored by the "British Music Embassy."
The main musical entertainment here was Scouting For Girls, a poppy, keyboard-driven three-piece from West London whose 2007 self-titled debut album actually hit number one on the English music charts. You have to love a country where earnest, quirky rock by a few skinny dudes with instruments can actually chart so high. The band's music was intensely bright and fun, but not terribly my cup of tea -- lots of surface shine, inoffensive, but a little gimmicky and thin for my tastes (songs about wishing they could be James Bond, etc.). On the other hand, though, singer/keys man Roy Stride is absolutely charismatic, charming, and funny, almost to the point where the rest of his band is almost rendered interchangeable.
London trio Scouting for Girls
Back to Stubb's for the main event: Motörhead!!!! While the sheer volume was not as loud as I expected, the band still treated us to a set over an hour long, a rarity at SXSW, which specializes in truncated 30- or 40-minute "industry sets." "Killed By Death," "The Ace of Spades," the works. Lemmy is still the badass of all badasses.
On from there, a couple of quick pit stops. First, smooth operators Tigercity from Brooklyn at the Thirsty Nickel. Singer Aynsley Powell never fails to impress with his elastic falsetto, especially incongruous with the Public Enemy shirt and dookie chains he was sporting. That, as well as the band's wacka-wacka guitar and slightly tongue-in-cheek, Kenny-Loggins-style easy-breeziness, give them the rare distinction of actually NOT sounding like anyone else on the scene. Too bad some technical issue cut off their set early, but they were playing often enough around town that a break was probably in order.
I know after that I went to NME's ongoing event at a funny, surf-themed venue called the Wave, and caught the punky, girl-fronted London band the Noisettes.... But things get fuzzy at that point.
Then, a New Zealand-sponsored barbecue (on the same plot of land that earlier hosted the England barbecue), which had among some of the tastiest food, and New Zealand wine, of course. The one musical act here I caught was Pig Out, a neon-attired acid-house revival type of group with, refreshingly, a live bassist and a particularly kickass drummer. The sound mix rendered most vocals and anything beyond the basic rhythm hard to hear, but the rest was of a solid enough groove that the band just needs one well-placed Internet remix to blow up all over the house/electro blogs.
At this point, it was only something like 6 p.m.
Next, to Emo's, where another monster line awaited a special set by Swedish crooner Jens Lekman... And an equally disorganized entry point allowed the more cunning to bypass said monster line. In light of a set later that night, Lekman went for a special set of sort of B-sides, to a rapt, astonishingly hushed audience. But Lekman isn't mopey, he's hopeful, and remember, he comes from Gothenburg so he's got to be good.
Finally, it was time for a personal intermission of a few hours. Recharged, I set out for the last leg of the night, heading over to Bourbon Rocks to check out Activator, from New York. The quartet boasts the unlikely status of being the only rock band on the hip-hop label Definitive Jux. They churn out a floor-punch-worthy brand of breakneck, punky hardcore, of the kind hearkening back to an era before tight pants and bad haircuts. Frontman Shannon charges around the stage like a possessed beast, and the rest of the band possesses enough whallop to knock the air out of a room. In a good way. Next year they should garner bigger crowds.
Finally, the last stop, in which I rolled with Activator to a Def Jux showcase at the Scoot Inn, outside of downtown Austin, which looked like some kind of underground hip-hop ranch. We missed sets by the usual luminaries like El-P, but did arrive in time for an extended set by Dizzee Rascal and his crew from En-ger-land. Among the most interesting numbers were tracks rapped over straight techno beats, in that awesome genre-crossing English way, where dance music is the national heritage by now.
And, Austin closes up at 2 a.m., so over 12 hours later, it was (mercifully) time to finish up the music for the day, and head to a late-night diner where we watched a very intoxicated, very jiggly woman in cutoff denim shorts do a striptease for her tablemate, who videotaped with her cell phone. Nobody can say anything bad about the people-watching in and around SXSW. -- Arielle Castillo