|Justin Townes Earle at Stubb's BBQ|
Grupo Fantasma - The Stage on Sixth
Anytime Grupo Fantasma plays, one has to fight the feeling that this might be the best band in the world, or at least the most fun. On Saturday, the Grammy-winning Austin Latin funk-rock ensemble crammed nine musicians onto a small stage under a backyard tent and put on the kind of party-rocking performance that can only be achieved with Latin rhythms, a three-piece horn section, and some seriously whammy'd-out guitar solos. Yes, the lyrics are in Spanish. But this group's endless energy and sunglassed cool spoke more than words ever could. When Grupo Fantasma plays, casual observers become blissed-out converts, and even the older ladies in the crowd get up to shake it. Having seen them twice now -- both times in front of hometown crowds -- I've learned to never underestimate this group's powers of seduction. The only thing this writer doesn't understand is why Grupo Fantasma isn't better-known. -- Ian S. Port
Marco Torres Nick Rallo Father John Misty
But then Nas stepped on stage Saturday night at ACL Live and performed the entirety of 1994's Illamatic -- plus a new single -- and I've never seen that venue used to better capacity. The setting for Queensbridge, New York, was there behind him, and from "N.Y. State of Mind," the crowd was lit up. His set, soundtracked by DJs AZ and Pete Rock, made me remember just how singular the album was at the time. I guess what I'm saying is: Can someone please get these two on a summer tour together? -- Audra Schroeder
Mikal Cronin - Mohawk Patio
The sheer fact that there was elbow room during Mikal Cronin's set Saturday evening at Mohawk Patio proved to be as much a coup as the music itself. With fellow San Francisco garage-rock specialist Ty Segall doubling the fuzzy crunch of Cronin's infectious songs, the sweet-strumming, shaggy-haired frontman could be left to splay himself all over the stage with little regard for his body but high regard for his tightly constructed pop. An answer to the sunny beach bliss question "Is It Alright" proved to be a resounding yes. -- Reed Fischer
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Glossary - Jovita's
Glossary is a five-piece band from a small city outside of Nashville that goes well with Drive-by Truckers and Lucero, in which one of the guitarists plays steel. They played Lucero's Family Picnic showcase late Saturday, warming up earlier that afternoon at St. Louis public-radio station KDHX's annual SXSW Twangfest party at South Austin creekside Tex-Mex music venue Jovita's. Glossary turned out to be a good band for St. Patrick's Day, very Thin Lizzy with a twin-guitar attack, choppy riffs and a bluesy heart. (It's always a twin-guitar "attack.") Singer Joey Kneiser introduced "Save Your Money for the Weekend" with "this is about trying to sleep with a Christian girl" and a gleam in his eye, but his wife, Kelly, was not far away on vocals and maracas. One song nipped a bit of Sheila E.'s "A Love Bizarre," but that could have been an accident. And they had a skeleton selling merch. -- Chris Gray
Craig Hlavaty Marco Torres
Jazzy Jeff has taken the concept of "The Mix" to a state of perfection that has been achieved by only a handful of DJs, playing everything from jazz to soul and even some rock. The Crystal Method followed with their brand of movie soundtrack worthy techno music, including their track from the Re:Generation Music Project Movie that they created with Martha Reeves. Erykah Badu & the Cannabinoids hit the stage with their brand of jazzy R&B, neo-soul flavor.
The headliner Z-Trip began his set with tracks by House Of Pain, appropriate for this Saint Patrick's day. His mixing style also jumps from genre to genre, from country to rock to rap, but it is taken a step further by overlapping the beats of one piece over the lyrics of the other. In that respect, he may offer a Johnny Cash song over a Dr. Dre sample. His special invited guest was none other than Mr. Made-You-Look himself, the legendary rapper Nas. "Hip Hop Is Dead", the rock guitar laced track that Nas offered up a few years ago as a call to arms to the rap game, sent the crowd to the tipping point. The Queensbridge rapper had just finished performing his classic album "Illmatic" in it's entirety at the ACL Live theater, and was still gracious enough to give the Red Bull fueled crowd a steller, albeit truncated performance. What a perfect way to end this year's SXSW. -- Marco Torres