Do you hear that? No? Exactly. It's the sound of relative silence, of not being enveloped by more than 2,200 bands at South by Southwest.
It's Sunday evening, the crowds have thinned, and my hands are covered in marks of the beast (ink stamps and bracelets that verify I'm over 21 years old). Truly, five days at SXSW, which for me meant 43 bands in 28 venues, feels like a lifetime. You'll forgive me if I want to skip shows back in Boston for at least a week.
I also had a great time, of course, and I'm leaving Austin with incredible memories. Check out tomorrow's Boston Globe and BostonGlobe.com for full reports, including a Page One story on Boston's Debo Band at SXSW. (And in case you missed my tweets, follow me here.)
In the meantime, here's my list of the 10 best things I saw this year:
1. Bruce Springsteen’s keynote address (Thursday)
2. Fiona Apple (Wednesday)
3. “Big Easy Express” film screening (followed by performances from Mumford & Sons & Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Saturday)
4. The Alabama Shakes (Wednesday)
5. THEESatisfaction (Friday)
6. Kali Mutsa (Thursday)
7. Kat Edmonson (Thursday)
8. Jonny Corndawg (Thursday)
9. Grimes (Thursday, above)
10. Dustin Wong (Tuesday)
I woke up today, had a sit-down breakfast for the first time in nearly a week, and vowed not to have a crazy day. Then I looked at the SXSW schedule and realized that's not an option. It's never an option here, actually.
On what's unofficially the music festival's last night, Austin is ramping up for one final hurrah. I've barely recovered from last night, a long evening of bands that transported me to 1970s Ethiopia (Boston's own Debo Band), the back roads of dusky Americana (Field Report), the neo-soul of the '90s (THEESatisfaction, above), and the future of global hip-hop (Spoek Mathambo).
I've learned it's especially nice -- restorative, even -- to call it a night with a low-key performance in a cozy listening room. Last night that happened to be Scott Matthew (below), a New York singer-songwriter who carries the weight of the world in his transcendent voice. Shivers went up the spine as he closed his set with a stark rendition of "Smile," the standard written by Charlie Chaplin.
On today's agenda, and since it's St. Patrick's Day and I'm homesick for Boston, I'm supporting the hometown crowd. DigBoston has an official day party that features a solid lineup of Boston's finest, including the Wandas and Bad Rabbits. One street over, Ryan Spaulding of Ryan's Smashing Life has teamed up with his bud Adam Duritz from the Counting Crows for a 19-band blowout they've branded the Outlaw Roadshow. Some New England acts are on the bill (Boston's Casey Desmond, Providence's Brown Bird), but it's also flush with big names like Heartless Bastards. It's probably my last chance to see JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound.
And if the SXSW gods are good to me, I'll slip into a theater at 4 p.m. for a screening of "Big Easy Express," Emmett Malloy's new film that chronicles the community and camaraderie of bands like Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show. Why will it be so packed? Because members of those bands will be on hand for a performance after the screening. Wish me luck.
In the meantime, get all my updates on Twitter: @GlobeJamesReed.
Proving it's never too early for hard-driving Ethiopian funk music, Debo Band (above) taped a segment for NPR Music earlier this afternoon. Squeezing into a corner on the back patio of Joe's Crab Shack, the troupe's 11 members (minus one who couldn't make this trip) hail mostly from Jamaica Plain. It was the first stop on a long day for Debo, which hopes to make a splash at SXSW this year in advance of the band's July debut on Sub Pop Records imprint Next Ambiance. They'll be at Sub Pop's showcase at 9 p.m. and then hustle their way to an appearance at globalFEST's lineup.
Already Debo Band has made some influential fans. Bob Boilen, the host and creator of NPR's All Songs Considered who has been championing Debo since catching the group at globalFEST in January, arranged this afternoon's NPR taping. Boilen watched their performance from afar, nodding in approval and later raving about the band's contemporary take on Ethiopian pop. There are worse ways to spend a lunch break.
From there, it was a brisk walk down South Congress Avenue, which feels like the classy cousin to the anything-goes madness of 6th Street. They share one thing in common, though: Music seeps out of every door. Behind the Yard Dog Art Gallery, Bloodshot Records held its annual showcase of bands determined to raise some hell, from honky-tonk revivalist Wayne Hancock to alt-country spitfire Lydia Loveless. Beers definitely not optional.
Back across the river, I caught the tail end of Lost in the Trees' performance, solely on Boilen's recommendation. Good tip, Bob. With a new album out on Anti- Records, "A Church That Fits Our Needs," the North Carolina band, led by Ari Picker (below), unfurled a glowing set of chamber folk.
As for tonight's lineup, I'll be shadowing Debo Band for a feature that will appear in the Globe next week. I'm also hoping to check out THEESatisfaction, Scott Matthew, and Spoek Mathambo. From R&B to indie rock to South African hip-hop within three hours -- that's why you come to SXSW, right? Follow the fun on Twitter: @GlobeJamesReed.
It's halfway done, but South by Southwest seems to be building speed. Bruce Springsteen's keynote address yesterday certainly fired up the 2,500 attendees who packed the conference ballroom where he spoke. NPR streamed it live, and you can listen to it here. It's worth hearing.
And one look along 6th Street, the music festival's epicenter, and the eye didn't know where to land yesterday. Freestyle rap battles raged on one corner; a block up a brass band was ringed by a circle of new fans; and beyond that was a crush of disparate sounds and crowds spilling out of every venue that can afford a sound system. The streets were so clogged, it felt like walking straight into a snowstorm.
Last night was a little more low-key, but not exactly by design. I ended up seeing fewer performances because I waited in longer lines. After 45 minutes with fingers firmly crossed, I got shut out of one of the shows I wanted to see the most: The Jesus & Mary Chain. No making love on the edge of a knife for me. I was one of many. Before that, I waited in vain to see Big K.R.I.T., the Southern rapper on the cusp of stardom.
As usual, it was an evening of opposites. From Chile, Kali Mutsa held a small crowd rapt with its heady mash-up of hip-hop, Roma gypsy melodies, traditional Latin rhythms, and lead singer Celine Reymond's theatrics. That made sense given her other job as a telenovela actress. The more I watched her perform -- chanting one moment, hiccuping the next -- the more I wondered if she was actually just a new Tracey Ullman character.
A short walk away, the Americana Music Association was holding its annual showcase that tipped its cowboy hat to "real-deal country music." Chuck Mead made my Texas dreams come true with covers of tunes by Hank Williams and Tammy Wynette. Up next was Jonny Corndawg (above), which is fronted by a guy who looks and sounds like an old-school honky-tonk singer, but his songs are anything but; it's safe to say Merle Haggard never named an album "Down on the Bikini Line."
Winding down the night, it felt good to get off the beaten (and battered) path known as 6th Street. I moved over to St. David's Bethell Hall, an episcopal church where Austin's own jazz songbird Kat Edmonson was holding court in a chapel. Her elegant phrasing and repertoire reminded me occasionally of the late Blossom Dearie. On my way out, I dropped by Patrick Watson's intimate performance (below) in an adjacent sanctuary. I'm glad I did. His big-hearted songs roared to life with a communal intensity usually reserved for old tent rivals.
I was tempted to check out other venues, but the prospect of more than four hours of sleep tonight won. Besides, tomorrow is another full day. I'm going to explore the action on South Congress, including Oklahoma folk-blues troubadour John Fullbright at a restaurant called Lucy's Fried Chicken (tunes *and* lunch), and some of the free daytime shows outside the Hotel San Jose. You'll hear more about that on Twitter: @GlobeJamesReed.
As if I even need to answer that question. As this year's keynote speaker at SXSW, Bruce Springsteen just delivered a moving discussion on why music is so important, so necessary. I could write a short book on his one-hour talk, but essentially Springsteen traced his own roots in rock and connected them to the larger culture.
He kept the timeline short but potent. He still remembers the shock and awe of seeing Elvis Presley on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1956. Doo-wop was the sound of unrequited desires, of "bras popping" in backseats of cars.
Roy Orbison was the king of adolescent heartache. "The coolest uncool loser you've ever seen," Orbison was the guy whose pop songs stabbed like a knife into the belly of teenage insecurities. From there it was a short leap to Phil Spector and his fabled Wall of Sound productions. "If Roy was opera, Phil was symphonies," Springsteen said.
The British Invasion struck closer to home, full of bands whose members were closer to Springsteen's age and gave him hope that he could be a musician, too. He wisely noted that punk rock wasn't shocking, but rather frightening. Meanwhile, James Brown separated the boys (including the Rolling Stones) from the men.
On Bob Dylan's influence, he neatly summarized. "He gave us the words to understand our hearts," Springsteen said. As did the stark simplicity of Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie. And I couldn't help but let out a gleeful "yes!" when Springsteen sang the refrain from a song by country crooner Charlie Rich, which happens to be my favorite:
Springsteen left the stage as a respected elder statesmen of rock 'n' roll, with a final bit of advice for younger musicians: "Learn how to bring it live, and do it night after night after night. Your audience will remember you."
It's no small feat getting a rock crowd to dance, let alone at 2 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon. But Brown Bird, the Providence-based duo of Dave Lamb and MorganEve Swain (above), pulled it off earlier today at SXSW with a spirited set that weaved in and out of different genres. For simplicity's sake, let's call them a rustic Americana band; then again, that downplays their penchant for the blues, country, and Eastern European rhythms. "It's not easy to play this early in the day," Swain said, but you didn't believe her.
Is it appropriate to dim the lights in a conference ballroom? Because Michael Kiwanuka is obviously for lovers. As part of the tastemaking Los Angeles radio station KCRW's day showcase, the British singer-songwriter eased into his after-hours soul with just his acoustic guitar and a back-up musician on electric. Even Kiwanuka seemed mindful of all the comparisons he gets to Bill Withers; he ended his performance with a cover of Withers's "I Don't Know."
Next up was the Alabama Shakes, the first act I've seen down here that clearly is primed for a major breakthrough. Led by a fierce frontwoman, Brittany Howard, the four-piece found the sweet spot between roiling '70s rock and its funky James Brown flip side. You couldn't tell if Howard wanted to love you or tear you apart. I suspect it was a little of both. (The band comes to Boston's Paradise Rock Club on April 15, not long after its debut, "Boys & Girls," will be released on April 10. Go see these guys.)
Now you'll excuse me while I race over to Stubb's to catch Fiona Apple's opening set at NPR Music's showcase. She's on at 7:45 p.m., and I'm guessing the line is already snaking three blocks down. In other words, a perfect time to grab some tacos to go.
Also on my radar tonight: Sharon Van Etten, Jimmy Cliff, Bleached, Hindi Zahra, Bahamas, Rodríguez, and Andrew Bird. As Lana Del Rey would say, feet don't fail me now. As usual, I'm a mad man on Twitter this week. Join me: @GlobeJamesReed.
It was the perfect greeting. "We're Bear in Heaven. We're from New York, and you're beautiful." With that bit of flattery, courtesy of the Brooklyn indie-rock band's disarming frontman, Jon Philpot, the South by Southwest music conference felt like it started in earnest late last night.
Certainly the throngs already clogging the streets in Austin, Texas, made it feel like this five-day event is just ramping up. I started my first night on a low-key note, dropping by Vex Ruffin's set at the showcase for Stones Throw, the eclectic indie hip-hop label. Ruffin doesn't exactly fall under that banner. But his performance was taut and tense, anchored by Ruffin on vocals with a drummer, bassist, and synth player behind him.
En route to see Santigold clear across town, I suddenly stopped in my tracks when I heard Dustin Wong's songs seeping out of a venue next door. Wong, a New York musician, used pedals to loop and layer the melodies he played on electric guitar into dense yet ethereal electronic symphonies. They were instrumental pieces, seemingly conducted by his feet clad in mismatched socks.
At La Zona Rosa, Santigold made a triumphant return after a lengthy hiatus. She's got an album coming out in May, and it was the first time most of the crowd had heard the new songs. Flanked as usual by her stoic back-up dancers, she wore a gold crown that was as crooked as her music: hip-hop one moment, electro-pop the next, and then down another rabbit hole.
Shut out from seeing Daniel Johnston, no doubt because he's so beloved in this town, instead I moved on to catch Bear in Heaven's pulsating dance rock at the Mohawk Patio. It was a good prelude to Caveman's similarly euphoric songs aimed at both the head and the heart.
On my agenda for later today: rising British soul singer Michael Kiwanuka, reggae legend Jimmy Cliff, and Fiona Apple's hotly anticipated return, among (too) many other shows. I'll be blogging during the day, but for more frequent updates, you can follow me on Twitter: @GlobeJamesReed.
As if enough music didn’t already await me, I made a 60-song playlist for my trip to South by Southwest. It’s a mix of bands I plan to see in Austin this week, old songs I’ve had stuck in my head lately, stuff that just seems suited to Texas, and at least one tune by Austin’s patron saint, Willie Nelson.
From A to W, here’s what I’ll have in heavy rotation on my headphones at SXSW. You know, for those daily two hours of downtime. (Be sure to follow me on Twitter: @GlobeJamesReed.)
1. Anaïs Mitchell, “Venus”
2. Andrew Bird, “Fatal Shore”
3. Ane Brun, “These Days”
4. Anya Marina, “Body Knows Best”
5. Bahamas, “Lost in the Light”
6. Barna Howard, “Promise, I Won’t Laugh”
7. Bear in Heaven, “The Reflection of You”
8. Bert Jansch, “Texas Cowboy Blues”
9. Birdy, “White Winter Hymnal”
10. Bowerbirds, “In the Yard”
11. Cate Le Bon, “Puts Me to Work”
12. Caveman, “Decide”
13. Charles Bradley, “Heart of Gold”
14. Cheyenne Marie Mize, “Going Under”
15. Chiddy Bang, “Ray Charles”
16. Class Actress, “Keep You”
17. Damien Jurado, “Nothing Is the News”
18. Dayna Kurtz, “Your Fool Again”
19. Debo Band, “Asha Gedawo”
20. Dick Curless, “Bury the Bottle With Me”
21. Dr. John, “Locked Down”
22. The Everly Brothers, “T for Texas”
23. Fanfarlo, “Tunguska”
24. First Aid Kit, “King of the World”
25. Frankie Rose, “Know Me”
26. Glen Campbell, “Truck Drivin’ Man”
27. Grimes, “Oblivion”
28. Hoyt Axton, “Woman at the Well”
29. Judy Roderick, “Born in the Country”
30. Justin Townes Earle, “Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way…”
31. Kali Mutsa, “Tunupa”
32. Kat Edmonson, “Hopelessly Blue”
33. Kelly Hogan, “Pass on By”
34. Leonard Cohen, “Darkness”
35. Long John Baldry, “Got My Mojo Working”
36. Lost in the Trees, “Tall Ceilings”
37. The Magnetic Fields, “Andrew in Drag”
38. Marissa Nadler, “The Wrecking Ball Company”
39. Michael Kiwanuka, “Worry Walks Beside Me”
40. Monomono, “Find Out”
41. Neko Case, “Buckets of Rain” (live in Austin)
42. Nite Jewel, “One Second of Love”
43. Parkington Sisters, “Sailor Song”
44. Quilt, “Lost & Lewd”
45. Rose Cousins, “One Way”
46. Ruthie Foster, “Everlasting Light”
47. Ry Cooder, “Paris, Texas”
48. Scott Matthew, “True Sting”
49. Sharon Van Etten, “All I Can”
50. Sir Douglas Quintet, “San Francisco FM Blues”
51. Spoek Mathambo, “Let Them Talk”
52. Tennis, “Origins”
53. THEESatisfaction, “Queens”
54. Tim Hardin, “Speak Like a Child”
55. Tiny Yong, “Je t’aime t’aime tant”
56. Tom Waits, “Chicago”
57. Townes Van Zandt, “Gypsy Friday”
58. Vex Ruffin, “Secret Weapon”
59. Willie Nelson, “Pretend I Never Happened”
60. Willis Earl Beal, “Take Me Away”
It's the night before I head to the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, Texas, and already I've got the bloodshot eyes I'll be sporting for the next straight week.
It's impossible not to: From March 13-18, thousands of bands, industry folks, and every stripe of music fan will descend on Austin for performances, day parties, and panels (not to mention breakfast tacos and a couple of cold ones). The fun starts in the morning and usually ends the next morning.
Even the Boss, Bruce Springsteen, will be there on Thursday to deliver the keynote address. I'll be blogging on Sound Effects throughout the week, but for more up-to-date observations, follow me on Twitter: @GlobeJamesReed.
I've just spent 90 minutes carefully mapping out my show schedule -- and that's only the first day. Oy. I'll make sense of it all eventually. In the meantime, here's a partial list of the bands I'm excited to see, time permitting:
Jesus and Mary Chain
The Magnetic Fields
Lost in the Trees
Sharon Van Etten
Bear in Heaven
Justin Townes Earle
Billy Joe Shaver
Cheyenne Marie Mize
The Hobart Brothers & Lil' Sis Hobart
Showing some hometown love, I'll also be keeping tabs on bands with local ties, including Debo Band, Quilt, and Providence's Brown Bird. I'll drop by Berklee College of Music's day party on Friday. And in keeping with our city's pride, both The Dig and local music blogger Ryan Spaulding's Outlaw Roadshow will be hosting their showcases on St. Patrick's Day. You can take the Bostonian out of Boston, but....
I'll be a one-man show down in Austin, but I'll do my best to keep pace with the madness. And I promise I'll have those bloodshot eyes to prove it.
After a Thursday night jam-packed with heavyweights like B.o.B., TV on the Radio and the Strokes, a more subdued Friday evening allowed for some much-needed musical off-roading.
Seeking a quieter place and slower pace than the city's crowded bars and clubs, I headed to the Central Presbyterian Church, a spectacular space that put every other Austin venue's sound mix to shame. I took a shot in the dark and checked out Lanterns on the Lake, an English sextet that created grandiose rock soundscapes from the simple sounds of bowed guitar, flittering violin and lead singer Hazel Wilde's wispy vocals. The music's triumphant swoops and ascents were made all the more dramatic by the church's glorious acoustics – by the time the band tore through the tension and release of set-closer "I Love You, Sleepyhead," it was pure goosebumps.
An entirely different demographic soaked in rap group Das Racist's set at Emo's. An Indian-American and a half-black kid who met at Wesleyan University, Himanshu Suri and Victor Vazquez have built serious buzz through recent mixtapes "Shut Up, Dude" and "Sit Down, Man" (not to mention their abrasively witty Q&A with the New York Times' Deborah Solomon in December). The duo delivered a dizzying display of stream-of-consciousness rhymes that referenced everything from U.S. race relations to Pat Sajak and Danny DeVito. They mixed political barbs and social commentary with a slapdash attitude and even a goofy rendition of Usher's "You Make Me Wanna."
[After the jump, photos and video from SXSW 2011.]
photo by Adam Conner-Simons
Even with the plethora of big names at SXSW, the focus of the festival ultimately rests in the inexact art of discovering new music. While thousands of late-night revelers peacefully slumbered, Oregon-based outfit Ages and Ages proved a delightful lunchtime treat at Barbarella, with handclaps, harmonies and a battery of shakers and noise-makers figuring prominently on upbeat numbers like “No Nostalgia.”
At the venue's outside patio, Boston folksters David Wax Museum performed a few rambunctious Americana songs as raging heavy-metal bands played at ear-splitting volume on either sides of the tent. Some vocal participation from the audience helped the group somehow overtake all the musical madness around them.
Worcester fuzz-rockers Dom played an unshackled set at Stubb's earlier in the afternoon, rattling the walls with surf-punk gems like “Jesus” (which concerns, of all things, an LSD trip). “It's so sexy to be living in America,” the singer proudly proclaimed. It wasn't clear whether he was being ironic, but the crowd was too busy banging its collective head to care.
Elsewhere, the Under the Radar party – despite its name – managed to reel in some high-profile indie acts, from the warped power-pop of Surfer Blood to the violin antics of Owen Pallett, who looped beats and motifs with fine-tuned dexterity.
Over on the east side of Austin I caught a few songs from Fang Island, a Providence-born band that describes its music as “everyone high-fiving everyone.” (They even requested that the whole Scoot Inn audience partake in exactly that activity halfway through the set.) The group's propulsive instrumentals featured slithery '70s rock riffs bursting into hummable shoutalong choruses, as on the show-closing single “Daisy.”
The French Legation Museum, a historical building that dates back to 1841, served as a beautiful backdrop for the unique sounds of rising talents Cults and James Blake. Both artists came into the festival with only a handful of songs to their names, yet expectations from the press illuminati were at a fever pitch.
Alas, Cults suffered from significant mixing problems that muddied its doo-wop-infused indie-pop. Singles like “Go Outside” and “Curse” lost their giddy girl-group luster with all of the feedback issues and overpowering bass lines.
For Blake, SXSW represents his first American gig outside of a New York show earlier this week. On record, the Brit's slow-building compositions give off a captivating intensity, as he samples, chops and distorts his bluesy white-boy warble into a rainstorm of twitchy electronic soul. That nuance and musical arc didn't take the same shape live – the 21-year-old seemed uncomfortable on-stage, and even tracks like the haunting “The Wilhelm Scream” sounded limp compared to the pristine multi-tracking on the album. Some listeners got restless, and headed back to 6th Street to take in the overload of other acts around town.
AP Photo/Jack Plunkett
“Who are the headliners at South-by?”
People have been asking me the same question for three weeks, and when they are (inevitably) dissatisfied with my answer – a stammering “Uh, well, it doesn't really work like that...” I bring up the Strokes, the rockers who gave SXSW a major jolt earlier in the month when they announced a free concert tonight at Auditorium Shores Stage. Festival-goers didn't disappoint: an estimated 40,000 people trekked across the Lady Bird Lake reservoir for the show.
Outside of an “SNL” appearance and a Vegas gig earlier this week, Julian Casablancas and crew had never performed any of the songs from their upcoming album “Angles,” out Tuesday. While there was space in the 75-minute set for a handful of new tracks – “Life is Simple In the Moonlight” and first single “Under Cover of Darkness" sounded particularly well-honed – the group ultimately relied on fan favorites from “Is This It” and “Room On Fire.”
Clad in his standard black leather jacket ensemble, Casablancas gave an inspired frontman performance, his hair blowing in the breeze like some indie-fied L'Oréal commercial. He's grown as a singer, nimbly shifting between lounge croon, arena-rock bombast and unhinged howl. Things reached a fever pitch in the encore, as a cascade of fireworks illuminated the skies over Lady Bird Lake, the last clanging notes of “Last Nite” reverberating across the water and onto downtown Austin.
photo by Rahav Segev
A few hours later, a chaotic game of musical chairs was at play: with Lupe Fiasco losing his voice and Cee-Lo unable to make it to Austin, the Rolling Stone/Atlantic Records party roped in new headliners B.o.B. and Janelle Monáe to perform alongside Wiz Khalifa. The replacements filled in admirably, even if the crowd at La Zona Rosa seemed a tad disappointed to not be singing along to Cee-Lo's obscenities.
photo by Rahav Segev
B.o.B, who in the space of a year has gone from “the guy who did that song with the Paramore chick” to a prolific hip-hop hit-maker, brought a lot of elements to the stage: he sang, rapped, played guitar, and energized the crowd with the help of his high-octane live band. He sped through his radio singles, like the Rivers Cuomo collaboration “Magic,” the Bruno Mars-assisted “Nothin' On You,” and, of course, “Airplanes,” while also playing deeper cuts like “Voltage,” which interpolates the funky clavinet riff from Led Zeppelin's “Trampled Underfoot.”
photo by Rahav Segev
Janelle Monáe, meanwhile, exhibited an immaculate degree of showmanship that had been lacking all night. Her rubber-band-tight eight-piece band was decked out in white dress shirts, black bowties and top-hats – an ode to the past that seemed oddly apt in its jarring opposition to Monáe's theatrical, futuristic R&B. While the bass and guitar frequently threatened to overtake her vocals, she proved a transfixing presence on stage as she switched outfits, threw on masks, experimented with different cadences and jump-roped from genre to genre.
[A previous version of this post erroneously referred to the Strokes as "British rockers." Haircuts aside, they are not.]
photo by Adam Conner-Simons
AUSTIN, TX -- While Bostonians celebrated their Irish heritage today, over in Austin all eyes were on the equally debaucherous affair known as the South by Southwest Music Festival (SXSW). The annual five-day event, which kicked off Tuesday, showcases a dizzying amount of music, with 2,000 bands playing hundreds of venues.
The first two-and-a-half days have already seen an ungodly number of surprises, including the Foo Fighters playing new tunes at a secret show at Stubb's Bar-B-Q and Jack White busting out an acoustic guitar for a set of stripped-down White Stripes songs in a parking lot on 4th Street. On Wednesday night, Duran Duran repped for the “aging fiftysomethings” demographic, showing up bands 30 years its junior with a propulsive set that kicked off its looming world tour.
At the 512 Bar earlier on Wednesday there was a younger, home-spun vibe with Converse/DigBoston's “Boston to Austin” party. A stacked line-up of local outfits like Dirty Dishes and Mean Creek steamrolled through concise 25-minute sets in front of an almost entirely new audience. The acts, while frazzled by the non-stop gigging around town, were downright giddy about having a showcase centered around Boston talent.
"It's been complete chaos, running from show to show,” said Kingsley Flood lead singer Naseem Khuri. “But it's great to have an event like this that will make people take notice and help put Boston on the map.”
The diverse musical mix spanned Mystery Roar's throbbing disco-funk and Viva Viva's explosive garage-rock. Bodega Girls ran through a few club-ready tunes from its cheekily-titled new EP “Et Tu Bootay?”, which has a record release March 30 at Middlesex Lounge in Cambridge.
Kingsley Flood, meanwhile, delivered some foot-stompin' roots-rock with the occasional trumpet solo performed from within the crowd. Busting out tracks from last year's “Dust Windows,” the sextet revived the sleepy early-afternoon audience and set the stage for concerts for Dirty Dishes and Viva Viva.
"I don't wanna go home,” Khuri sang halfway through the show, and, with a rapt group of newfound Kingsley Flood fans soaking in the music, you can't quite blame him.
Elsewhere, listeners looking for a break from the unending parade of white guys playing guitars took solace in the rollicking R&B of Raphael Saadiq, who steamed up the windows and classed up the joint with a smooth late-afternoon show at Cedar Street Courtyard for Filter Magazine's Culture Collide party.
[Check back through the weekend for continued updates and photos from SXSW 2011]
The crowds have thinned, the clubs have fallen silent, and the realization that I've slept 15 hours over the past five days has set in. (So that explains those dark circles under my eyes.) With the ear plugs finally out, I'll leave you with the way I began at SXSW: a snippet of breakout star Janelle Monáe wowing a crowd, this time with a soaring cover of the Great American Songbook classic "Smile." How fitting since no one else made me smile this week quite like Monáe did.
Running an hour late for her midnight set at Buffalo Billiards on Saturday, Solange Knowles had to contend with sound problems and an audience obviously frustrated by the delay. Knowles, Beyoncé's kid sister, explained that she had rushed over from playing at Perez Hilton's party, where the line to get in snaked around the corner a few hours in advance. To her credit, Knowles, with two back-up singers and a full band behind her, kicked into high gear with a set of frenetic and infectious R&B pop that was worth the wait.
South by Southwest isn't just for discovering the next wave of hot indie-rock bands. More and more heritage acts (R.E.M., last year) are showing up in headlining slots, often hoping to connect with diverse audiences and generate buzz ahead of a new project.
This year's lineup featured performances by '80s hitmakers Echo & the Bunnymen and Devo, both of whom will have new albums out later this year, along with '60s garage-rockers the Sonics. Oldies but goodies such as Cajun legend Doug Kershaw, swamp-blues king Tony Joe White, and folk raconteur Rosalie Sorrels played one-off shows. Metallica made a not-so-secret appearance, and the Indigo Girls shared a bill with PJ Harvey and John Parish, who release a new album, "A Woman a Man Walked By," on March 31.
Confessing that it was her first trip to SXSW, and to Austin, Harvey said she and her longtime collaborator Parish felt very welcome at the festival. With Harvey on vocals and Parish playing guitar and ukulele, they gave a generous sneak peek of the new album, their first together since 1996's "Dance Hall at Louse Point." Behold a first taste of what's to come:
Half the fun of SXSW comes from the late-night scene on the streets, particularly 6th Street, the epicenter of the action. With music spilling out of the clubs and throngs of people winding up and down the road, it's nonstop sensory overload. Imagine Lansdowne Street when the Sox are playing -- with U2 as the game's special musical guests.
You never know whom you're going to see down here, starting with all the street musicians who don't have a venue but still want to jam al fresco:
But nothing has topped this stroke of brilliance: a little food stand called Meatheads, which peddles burgers and sausages but lures you in with '80s videos playing on a screen. Boston really needs this:
Making Providence proud since 2004, homegrown indie-rock band Deer Tick gave a moving and compelling performance last night, the kind that suggests those guys are finally on the verge of a much-deserved breakthrough. And frontman John McCauley won the award for most poignant song dedication at SXSW. Let's roll the tape:
Underground hip-hop has been a staple on stages at this year's SXSW, with a number of the genre's next generation of stars packing clubs: Charles Hamilton, Jean Grae, Brother Ali, and Brazilian trio Choc Quib Town.
Kid Cudi was supposed to make his SXSW debut Thursday, but five minutes past 1 a.m. at Aces Lounge, someone else took the stage with bad news: Kid Cudi was a no-show. Boos and bickering with the club staff promptly ensued.
Minneapolis rapper P.O.S. was a revelation for me, a magnetic performer whose nimble rhymes address everything from the recession to the war. It was hard not to respond to the guy's intensity:
Their name is in Spanish, their sound is distinctly '60s, and they could easily be the next big thing in world music. Brazil's La Pupuña got the crowd worked up at the club Copa last night with its infectious guitarrada music, essentially a hybrid of surf rock, cumbia, and Caribbean sounds. If you weren't dancing to this last night, you weren't listening. If you didn't have a caipirinha or Mojito in your hand, you missed out:
Making her SXSW debut, celebrated Mexican singer-songwriter Natalia Lafourcade played a headlining gig at the Flamingo Cafe last night. A line snaked outside the club a good 20 minutes before she started. The only problem? She and her band got a late start and therefore got to play just a few songs.
When the house lights blared at 2 a.m. on the dot, it was clear Lafourcade was finished. As fans booed the sound guy, Lafourcade shrugged her shoulders, thanked everyone for coming, and stuck around to take photos with eager fans.
Even with just a few songs, though, the beauty and simplicity of her music were capturely right here:
Yes, there were dozens of younger and hipper bands playing on 6th Street at midnight last night. But I doubt any of them could have exuded the wit and charm of Rosalie Sorrels. At 75, the singer-songwriter is a good example of how some old-timers -- Cajun master Doug Kershaw, swamp king Tony Joe White -- made quiet but poignant appearances at this year's festival.
After her show, I asked Sorrels if it was her first time at SXSW, and she it was, though she's played in Austin many times over the years. "The last time was a house party for Molly Ivins," she said. Talk about a perfect pairing.
Sorrels played to a small but attentive seated audience at the Victorian Room of the plush Driskill Hotel, closing with this reflective tune she wrote some years ago:
Ruthie Foster is a hometown star in Austin, where she lives, but she still rallied an impressive crowd that packed Mother Egan's Irish Pub last night. With her cousin on bass and a friend on drums, Foster was a force as she channeled the blues, reggae, and roots rock:
From South Africa, BLK JKS (pronounced Black Jacks) skewed the misconception of what African bands should sound like. (The Fader has an interesting story on BLK JKS's background and intentions at here.) Their thick, hulking songs often incorporate elements of African guitar playing, metal, and reggae.
Their big hit, "Lakeside," sounded especially good at the Mohawk last night:
Always a fan favorite down here, Phosphorescent is at this year's SXSW in support of "To Willie," a new tribute album to Austin's patron saint, Willie Nelson. Sadly, Phosphorescent's set at the Mohawk last night was a bit short, so the band didn't play anything off that album.
Here's Phosphorescent mastermind Matthew Houck and his crack band trying out a new song called "I Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down":
Trying to wrap your mind around the 1,800-plus bands at SXSW can give a music lover a real headache, which is why we really enjoy this humorous breakdown of band names on Paste magazine's blog.
"Anybody read my blog?"
New York rapper Charles Hamilton, who came to SXSW with a lot of love from music blogs (not to mention he's on the cover of The Fader magazine this month), was trying to gauge his fan base at the Back Alley Social last night.
He didn't look too pleased with the results, though, as he counted about 10 hands in the packed house. In fact, Hamilton didn't seem very happy with the crowd in general, stopping the show a few times to ask why everyone was so quiet. The audience wasn't having it, either, and gave him a lukewarm response.
Hamilton did score points for theatrics, at least. He asked one of his bandmates to give him his cell phone onstage. Hamilton boasted that he had a new girlfriend and called her mid-performance -- she didn't pick up.
Larkin Grimm, a surrealist singer-songwriter with a strong connection to mysticism and her Southern upbringing, is always compelling to watch. She played a loose, acoustic set last night with two backing musicians and true to form, offered the evening's best bit of banter: "How many ladies are menstruating right now?," she inquired with wide eyes and a wider smile. Grimm went on to talk about spirit orgasms (hint: she's found a planet where you can have them all the time) and ended her set with this gem, "My Justine":
It's not quite a full-fledged Kiwi Invasion, but Ladyhawke is among a double handful of New Zealand musicians performing at SXSW this year. Here's a clip of Ladyhawke playing her minimalist electro-pop last night at Stubb's right after Janelle Monáe:
I've never met an alien, but I feel confident saying Janelle Monáe might be from another planet, the fictitious one where Grace Jones, David Bowie, OutKast, and Labelle (circa '74) meet every Sunday looking fabulous for a spot of tea.
This rising R&B/hip-hop star is getting a lot of buzz down here at South by Southwest, and I understand why after watching Monáe's wild set at Stubb's last night. The woman is completely magnetic, a petite package as frenetic and fierce as her hair, which is shaved on the sides, sort of a cross between a pompadour and an Afro.
The lights went down right at 8 p.m., and after some gurgling, space-age introductory music, Monáe bounded onstage in a white tuxedo shirt tucked into black trousers, with matching black cummerbund. Here's Monáe digging into her opening number, "Violet Stars Happy Hunting," strutting like the love child of Chuck Berry and '70s funk diva Betty Davis. Like everyone around me with jaws ajar, I was hooked immediately.
Oh, and here's further proof that the lady knows how to work a crowd. You'll have to forgive the 13 seconds were the camera drops to the floor. Monáe was headed right toward me, and I did my part to get her back onstage.
Hey, folks. Live from sunny Austin, Texas, this is James Reed reporting from the South by Southwest music festival. Well, actually, it hasn't started yet (it runs March 18-22), but you'd never guess that from looks of the city so far.
Already 6th Street -- the stretch of bars, restaurants, and clubs that's the epicenter of activity this week as 1,800 bands descend on Austin -- is abuzz with revelers checking out music as much as one another. From all the green attire and shamrock hats, I couldn't tell if tonight's merriment was in honor of St. Patrick or just an excuse to get the party started early. I suspect both. And, of course, it didn't hurt that it was nothing but blue skies and 80-degree weather here today. (Funny how Boston and its March snowstorms make you forget how great the warmth of the sun truly feels.)
Even before I touched down in Austin, it was already resembling a rock festival on my connecting flight from Houston. I was 80 percent sure Ryan Adams was two rows behind me, but then I realized Ryan Adams probably wouldn't be sitting in coach and asking the flight attendant for a Diet Coke. Everyone on my flight, in fact, could have been at a casting call for the next member of the Strokes -- that is, lots of skinny dudes in skinny jeans, wearing tattered cowboy hats and boots they probably bought anywhere but in Texas.
I was lucky enough to sit next to a charming fellow named Ernest, who was also rocking a fedora (hey, when in Rome...). Ernest is an audio engineer and musician who works with Natalia Lafourcade, an exceptional singer-songwriter from Mexico City whom I'm checking out either tomorrow or Thursday night. Lafourcade, who's as feisty as her quirky alt-rock suggests, told me she and her band are in town for their first SXSW appearance, bolstered by a new single, "Azul," that's climbing the pop charts in Mexico. Take a listen here.
So in between figuring out the bands I hope to catch tomorrow -- I already have 15 on my list, a good five too many -- I used tonight to get a feel for the city. And by that, I mean this:
With or without that cupcake, stay tuned for more updates on the big buzz out of Austin. Bleary-eyed at 3 in the morning, I'll be happily reporting for duty.
Tulsa, an indie-rock band from Boston fronted by Carter Tanton, was a big hit at its last SXSW appearance Saturday night at Emo's Annex. After the trio's set, a young guy from Alabama near the front was incredulous. "Man, no offense, but that didn't sound like it was from Boston at all," he told me. "It sounded Southern. They should be opening for My Morning Jacket."
Crowd excitement was palpable at Ezra Furman & the Harpoons' final SXSW performance, a spot on the Minty Fresh showcase Saturday just after 11 p.m. at Habana Annex. Furman, who's finishing his last semester at Tufts, had his mother, father, and sister in the audience.
Fresh from playing a Lou Reed tribute three nights prior, indie singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur covered the Velvet Underground's "Pale Blue Eyes" at an intimate show at the Red Fez Saturday afternoon.
Boston-based electro-pop band Fantasy Mirrors, featuring Nathanael Bluhm on vocals, performed its showcase at Karma Lounge Friday. By the end of the night, the audience had moved to the front and danced along with Bluhm and bandmates.
Boston indie-rock band Drug Rug played its final SXSW show at the Jackalope Saturday, wrapping up the night with the gritty "For the Rest of Your Life."
Joe Shepard, who used to tend bar at Zuzu in Cambridge, lives in Brooklyn now and performs as a dancer (in spandex!) and back-up singer in Heloise & the Savoir Faire.
Heloise Williams leads the brash disco-rock band Heloise & the Savoir Faire, which played at BUST magazine's party at Habana Calle 6 Friday. The band is signed to actor Elijah Wood's Simian Records label.
Elijah Wood was at SXSW for a Saturday showcase for the label he owns, Simian Records. Heloise & the Savoir Faire is the second artist Wood signed, after the Apples in Stereo. He spent most of Heloise's performance snapping photos with adoring fans who approached him nearly every five minutes.
Beloved indie-country rocker Matthew Houck, leader of Phosphorescent, got a late start for his set at Mohawk Patio Thursday night. He and the band waited a little bit for the many fans waiting outside in the long line to fill up the venue.
Aussie dance-pop chanteuse Sia played to a full house as part of a live TV taping Thursday afternoon. She and her band have been opening their shows in neon cardboard costumes that glow in the dark.
Drawing more from Marvin Gaye than Tito Puente, Cuban singer-songwriter Alex Cuba treated a dancing crowd to his soul tunes at Copa Thursday night.
Martha Wainwright previewed songs from her upcoming album, "I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too," at a live TV taping Thursday afternoon. Producer-musician Daniel Lanois dropped by for a cameo as well.
This night comes to an end with us watching a video of last night's performance, courtesy of Gene and John McCullagh. Man, looking back, I was not exaggerating how fun last night was. It was just one of those special moments for the band. I hope to get some videos up soon, but for now, we can gawk at this nice write-up and photo gallery on Mass Culture.
Today, we spent much of the day with The Sterns, coming to realize we'd actually met Emeen and Andrew before when we played with Age Rings last summer in New York City, and they were filling in. We went for burgers, and to this little local mom-and-pop shop called Guitar Center, before sending them on their way. Fear not, we'll meet again in Austin.
We ended up doing an impromptu house party in Denton tonight, which was pretty cool. There's something about doing a Monday night show in a college town during exams week that's just unsettling. It seemed like a recipe for disaster (i.e. angry neighbors and police), but alas, we pulled out a quick set of fan favorites for the local loyals, in this order: Shotgun Wedding / Loose Lips / On The Lam / Whitewashed / Shine A Light / You Better, You Better (cover)
We depart in a matter of hours for San Antonio with my main man Mike driving most of the equipment and a few friends helping get the bodies down there. We still don't have a drumset for the trip. However, we'll make it work -- we've got one coming in time for the Waco show, it appears, and the rest of the week we'll be backlining. I'm working very hard to confirm another Austin show, since our SXSW party has a limit to the amount of guests allowed and we want to make sure we can play to our fans' hearts' content.
If any Boston bands are looking for a show in Austin this week, we're trying to set something up down there. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I feel kind of strange and exposed being the only one blogging so far. But then again, SXSW doesn't start for another couple days, so it makes sense that I should entertain in the interim with wild stories of the road. So, here goes...
Tonight, Cassavettes played a headlining set at Rubber Gloves in Denton, a legendary club in this town that's as cozy as it is familiar. I've been seeing shows there since I started going to shows, but I've only played there once -- a solo show two years ago. Tonight easily topped that. In fact, tonight I'd say was in my top three Cassavettes shows of all time (my short list: 1) Cassavettes' anniversary show at the Middle East, July 11, 2006; 2) TT the Bear's Place, April 2006 or Rodfest, Paradise Rock Club, Jan. 19. 2007; 3) Rubber Gloves, March 11, 2007). The crowd was lively, the place was comfortable, and the drinks were flowing. We played with Boston's own, The Sterns, a fine band of fine gentlemen who have a fine taste for fine drinks. In fact, it was Emeen's 23rd birthday, and considering he was celebrating it with us in our hometown, I made sure he was properly taken care of. But seriously, these guys are a hard-touring machine. I really have a lot of respect for what they're doing. So, after getting them properly fed at Steak & Shake, we found some places for them to sleep tonight to ensure they make it to Austin.
One of the things I was really looking forward to about these Texas shows are the lax set times. In Boston, everything is on a proper schedule (which is awesome because it keeps things running smoothly, ensuring most folks get their money's worth before the last T departs), but here, there are no trains to catch (also cool). There are no limits about how late you can play. So, we took some liberties with the set, and went for a robust 12-song lineup. It even included an impromptu surprise: Before the show, a young woman came up to me and told me she went to the New England Conservatory and that we had a mutual friend (and a mutual love of Pete & Pete DVDs). After some talking, I found out she's a viola player, now attending the nearby University of North Texas. I told her we have a song with a violin part, and if she was willing to learn its two simple parts, it'd be a real treat to get her onstage. Much to her credit, she learned it in less than 30 minutes and jumped into the mix, joining Scott and I on a rare live version of "Set Free." We'd never tried it before, and it was pretty cool to give it a shot. But the whole night was awesome, beginning to end. It's one of those times when you're onstage and don't want the night to end. Luckily, when you're playing a dozen songs (one of which is nearly 10 minutes long), it doesn't really feel like it's ending any time soon. I'll try to get some videos and pictures up ASAP. Until then, it's time to sleep.
SET LIST: Carolyn, Don't Leave Like This / Shotgun Wedding / Debts / Trouble From The Start / Like Secrets Beneath / Set Free / The Nadir / Loose Lips / On The Lam / We Could Be Solo Acts / Lightning In A Bottle / It's Gonna Be Alright
We have arrived! I forgot how big Texas' sky is, and how much I love just driving with no particular location in mind. My boyhood town has sadly developed most of the rural parts I remember, but that's the way it goes, I guess. On the plus side, it was 87 degrees when we got in, so we spent a fair bit of the day shirtless, playing a game our bassist invented years ago, and I'm fairly certain we found a cult in the countryside. Pretty nutty. Anyhow, today, most of the day was spent at the airport, arriving first then returning to pick up various band members and stragglers as they made their way to Dallas/Ft. Worth. From here, we'll get a van and equipment and head south Tuesday. But first, Cassavettes has a big show tomorrow, which has been rumored to have a fair-sized crowd.
Our bass player Scott and I were seated next to each other on the plane ride here. This gave us plenty of time to talk through the important issues: growing "tour beards," coming up with a motto for this trip (see this blog's subject line), and reminiscing about old Saturday Night Live skits, much to the chagrin of those seated around us, I'm sure. Either way, we also had a chance to talk about the state of the band, an imperative before you play a string of a few shows. Once our drummer Matt arrived, we were able to talk about potential songs we'd like to get to on this mini-tour. Matt revealed he's extremely excited about the new songs we're playing this go-round, which is always uplifting. It shows we're all hitting on the same page at the right time. An important job in organizing the group's thoughts is to make sure we're collectively focusing on the same goals, both short-term and long-term. For instance, the goal of this trip is to make an impression and have a good time. Relatively simple, yet harder to execute than you may think. We have to be hitting on all cylinders and to all have our hearts into what we're putting forth. I know it's simple in theory, but getting four heads to meld into a common goal is the most common and frequent struggle a band faces. Therefore, I think it's promising that we're all not putting too much pressure on making this trip into more than we should; we're just riding it and seeing what happens.
Today I got a call from old pal, the affable Jake Brennan, who has taken a different route to get to SXSW -- he's driving down a couple other bands' equipment, like Buffalo Tom. He asked if we needed anything brought down, which would have been perfect, if only we'd known sooner. Either way, we decided to meet up in Austin for a beer and some tunes. I'm actually planning to seek out a number of locals down there, in between doing our best to hit the streets. In sadder news, I found out that local legend, and producer of our last album, Jabe Beyer is officially moving to Nashville in May. While I'm sad to see Boston lose yet another great musician, I wish him all the luck in the world.
But we've got some pressing issues to sort through. For now, I've just got to track down some equipment we're without (a keyboard and some drums), find another means of transport from Dallas down south, and find a place for everyone to sleep tonight. In fact, I'm lucky enough I found a place to blog! But, hey, you make time for what's important.
Let's get straight to the introductions here: My name is Glenn Yoder. I sing and play guitar and piano in the local group Cassavettes. In another shameless plug, I also manage the band independently, and write about the successes and failures on my own blog. I have worked at the Globe in various capacities for the past three years as I made my way through college. So, when Cassavettes decided to head back to our native Texas to lurk around in the shadows of South By Southwest and do a mini-tour, it was natural for me to start blogging about the "musician's experience." This was grand news to me, because now I don't have to walk that fine line between being an unethical journalist and an overzealous musician. I can apparently talk about Cassavettes as much as I wish! But before I realized that I foolishly asked Joan Anderman and Sarah Rodman if they wanted any original reporting from me at SXSW. Then, I put it together -- "Oh wait, they're the pros here." My bad. So, that's that. Hello, nice to meet you.
Anyhow, tonight is the eve of our departure for Texas. It's a sort of homecoming. Three of the four members of the band, myself included, grew up in northeastern Texas, about 40 minutes from Dallas. When I was in high school, I once ventured south to Austin for SXSW but I've never played the festival. Actually, I haven't played anything close to it. But what I learned on that trip is crucial to what I hope makes this trip a success: There are A&R reps literally everywhere. We saw bands play in every nook and cranny of the city, from clubs and street corners to record stores and Urban Outfitters. And the swag, ahh, the swag. So, obviously, my top priority while packing tonight was to cram as many free CDs as I could fit into my bag. You never know who you'll run into, so the plan is to canvas the town. Wish us luck.
The whole thing promises to be an eye-opening affair, if nothing else. It's valuable "tour experience," something we haven't yet had the opportunity to fully test out as I finish school (we've just made short jaunts around the northeast primarily). But here, we're playing several shows -- Denton on Sunday, San Antonio on Tuesday, Austin for the remainder of the work-week, and Waco on Saturday. I'll be writing as we go, and hopefully I'll get some video and maybe audio working, too.
So, for now, I'm getting everything squared away and making sure we have everything we need when we reach home base. But we'll miss Boston while we're gone, that's for sure. This city's been really good to us. Just today, in fact, we landed a big headlining slot at the Middle East Downstairs on July 7 with some of our favorite bands, Three Day Threshold, Girls Guns & Glory, and Jason Anderson.
You gotta love Boston. This is a city that properly kisses you goodbye on your way out the door.
About Sound Effects
ContributorsSarah Rodman is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.
James Reed is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.
Jonathan Perry is the Globe's Scene & Heard columnist, covering local music.
Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.
Julian Benbow is a staff writer at the Boston Globe, covering sports and music.
Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.
Rachel Raczka is a producer for Lifestyle and Arts & Entertainment at Boston.com.
Emily Wright is an Arts & Entertainment producer at Boston.com.