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“Austin is the one that put me on the map.”
So declared Charles Bradley, who was an unlikely SXSW buzz act in 2012 at the age of 62. The Florida soul-man showman came back triumphant Thursday night, wowing a crowd of about 8,000 at Auditorium Shores with a view of the skyline that matched his shimmery silvery muscle shirt. It was a quintessential SXSW showcase, with gorgeous spring weather, a cool hidden-gem artist like Bradley and a revered hometown band for a headliner, Spoon, who similarly reiterated their worth in a set reminiscent of last year's Rock the Garden finale.
Here’s how the rest of Thursday went.
MOST QUOTABLE: “I hope when they put these pictures up on BrooklynVegan, they’ll objectify my whole band, not just me. I don’t want to leave them out.” –Speedy Ortiz frontwoman Sadie Dupuis at Red 7’s patio, apparently unhappy with some of the media coverage her ¾-male band has gotten this week.
“We’ve played about six shows today. I’ve been drinking beer since about noon.” –Brandon Rush of the slick, chant-loving Portland pop/rock band Priory, who replaced an ailing Catfish & the Bottleman at the ACL Live theater and could pick up where Imagine Dragons left off at commercial FM radio.
“I thought there’d be a buffet.” –Slug of Atmosphere’s opening remark on the industry panel celebrating the 20th anniversary of Minneapolis’ Rhymesayers Entertainment at the Austin Convention Center.
CAN’T WAIT TO SEE HER AGAIN: Australian rocker Courtney Barnett -- who's lined up to play Rock the Garden in Minneapolis on June 20 – took a bold approach that paid off beautifully Thursday afternoon at the Tumblr day party in a dark club off Sixth Street. After playing a couple songs off her earlier EPs (but surprisingly not her hit “Avant Gardner”), she proceeded to roll straight through her entire new album, which comes out next week. The new songs alternated between a cool, cocky, Lou Reed-like sleazy swagger and Nirvana-like bombast, all of which her noticeably tightened band nailed. They’re definitely ready for festival gigs like RTG.
HOPE TO SEE THEM AGAIN: Neither the Districts nor Palma Violets have Minneapolis gigs on their current itineraries, which is really a shame. Both of the garagey, spunky fuzz-rock bands put on impressively full-throttle, rock starry showings late Thursday night at the Parish. Pennsylvanians the Districts sounded less polished and more grimy – in a good way – than it often does on record, with traces of early Kings of Leon and a nice cocksure stage show. A band that has been scarce on tour since their breakout at SXSW 2013, scruffy Londonites Palma Violets earned even more Libertines comparisons with their rowdy, unhinged, could-fall-apart-any-moment approach. But they never actually did burst at the seams, and in fact were gloriously in step on by the time they got to “Best of Friends” at the end of the night -- about the best way imaginable to end an 14-hour day of watching bands.
Thursday night’s other big treat was a near-opposite live music experience in a downtown church, where Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear – a son-and-mother acoustic duo out of the Kansas City area – charmed the bejeezus out of its audience. Madisen, 26, has a deep-but-smooth baritone voice and evocative folk-writer lyricism that would make him a worthy act on his own. His mother Ruth added a valuable sweetness and serenity, though, with her rich harmony vocals and extra guitar work. I could see them fitting in nicely at the Dakota or Cedar Cultural Center on the other end of I-35.
THE EH FACTOR: Arcade Fire bassist/keyboardist/whateverist Will Butler, brother of the band’s frontman Win Butler, took a noticeably (and admirably) different approach to his outing behind a new solo album Thursday at Pitchfork’s day party outside, but it was only mildly enticing. Sporting matching T-shirts with their first names emblazoned on the front, he and his band – which featured three women on backup vocals and keyboards but no bassist – giddily tore through his choppy, semi-manic, Jonathan Richman-evoking songs but were a bit disjointed and really just silly in their fun-loving delivery. Hopefully they will have their act together better by the time Butler hits the Cedar on June 3.
Big Data won’t have quite as much time to gel, as it’s due at the Fine Line in Minneapolis on March 31. Producer Alan Wilkis’ poppy Brooklyn-based electro synth-wave band came off like a cross between Fitz & the Tantrums and Erasure musically, with sexy grooves and dramatic melodies. But it wound up sounding like a hot mess despite being at the most hi-fi facility in town, the ACL Live Moody Theater, with a sometimes murky sound and overthought arrangements.
See Tony Nelson's photo galleries and more SXSW coverage at startribune.com/sxsw.
AUSTIN, TEXAS -- As the sun broke through the clouds to create the usual Texas spring swelter Wednesday afternoon, one of the new bands with the hottest buzz at the South by Southwest Music Conference reflected back to a gig from a few weeks earlier to remind attendees to soak it up.
"We were just in Minneapolis, and it was negative-26, so this feels good," said Katie Toupin, keyboardist/co-vocalist in Houndmouth.
The harmonious Indiana rock band was among the 2,300-plus acts setting up shop in Austin for the week for the 29th annual SXSW fest, the music industry's biggest hype-generating conference. Houndmouth's first of six gigs in town was at the Spotify House, one of dozens promotional venues set up strictly for corporate SXSW schilling. Budding Fort Worth retro soul-rocker Leon Bridges -- a new favorite at 89.3 the Current in the Twin Cities -- also played the Spotify showcase, treating it as if it were an old supper club with classy cocktails instead of a cheesy marketing hub with free lemonade vodka.
Here's a rundown of Wednesday's standouts:
ALREADY KNEW THEY WERE GOOD: Except for when she toured with Mumford & Sons for a backup band back in 2008 (at a mere 18), Laura Marling has always been strictly an acoustic folk artist in the utmost sense. Her songs still sounded raw, intimate and emotionally racked Wednesday afternoon even as the British singer/songwriter debuted her new band at the Billy Reid/Third Man Records party on the Weather Up patio in East Austin, with a drummer, standup bassist and electric guitarist. She intermittently strapped on an electric herself, too.
Not only did the new sonic approach match the style of her new album, “Short Movie” – several of its songs even sounded heavier live than on the record – she also amped up older tunes such as “Master Hunter” and “Devil’s Spoke,” the latter buoyed with rolling drums and a darker tone. Marling isn’t reinventing herself with the band, she’s just reinforcing her already powerful approach.
TV On the Radio was similarly as captivating as ever late Wednesday night headlining the NPR Music showcase at Stubb’s BBQ. Bathed in dark purple, red and yellow lights that sometimes swirled as frantically as the music, the Brooklyn art-rock heroes alternated between songs off the new “Seeds” album and older tunes such as the opener “Young Liars,” “Golden Age” and “Wolf Like Me.” Highlights among the “Seeds” tracks included the hard-blasting punker “Lazerray,” the fragile rocker “Careful You” and an especially jittery, wild-bent “Happy Idiot.” With no Minneapolis date on their tour itinerary, they proved well worth the wait through the peppy, cutesy Belgian/French house-music pop star Stromae on before them -- whom NPR probably never would’ve booked if he sang over his spring-break brand of dance music in English.
BEST OF THE NEWBIES: The other dozen acts I saw Wednesday were all ones I hadn’t seen before, and many I will go out of my way to see again. Part of the Canadian-heavy showcase on the Mohawk Patio, Toronto’s co-ed whir-pop quartet Alvvays (pronounced as the less Google-able “always”) lived up to the buzz generated off their single “Archie Marry Me.” The collegiate-looking, contagiously smiley kids sounded like Glasgow indie-pop vets Camera Obscura with more shoegazer-flavor guitar work. They were followed by a wildly different Toronto band, Metz, a roaring and bombastic trio that would have fit in nicely on the Am/Rep or Touch & Go label rosters of the ‘90s.
Both Leon Bridges and Houndmouth were impressive at the Spotify House. Bridges’ swaying, slow-but-steady-grooving retro soul-rock suggested he’d be an equally good fit touring with JD McPherson or Charles Bradley (instead, he’s weirdly opening for Lord Huron at First Ave next month). Houndmouth proved even rowdier and livelier on stage than on record. All four band members traded off on lead vocals like a rock ’n’ roll game of tag, but throughout all the change-ups they maintained a loose energy and Dawes-like harmonious sound straight into their fun finale with “Runaround Sue.”
One more quickie: Houston's buzzing R&B big band the Suffers, who are set to play David Letterman next week, came off like a slower-grooving, more velvety version of Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, a smooth end to the night at Holy Mountain nightclub.
NOT IMPRESSED: Besides the lost-in-translation Stromae, Los Angeles lo-fi punk/pop duo Girlpool – which has many high-profile gigs in town this week (including the slot before Alvvays at Mohawk) -- was the other perplexing and nearly intolerable act on Wednesday’s lineup. They came off like a two-headed Kimya Dawson with twice the cutesy factor. Another act all over this year’s party schedules and preview write-ups, Virginia-bred tunesmith Natalie Prass just issued her Columbia debut following several tours playing in Jenny Lewis' band. Prass certainly wasn’t grating like the others but proved rather generic and sometimes too precious with her wispy rock songs.
Look for Tony Nelson's photo galleries and more SXSW coverage through the weekend at startribune.com/sxsw.
Right about the time Allan Kingdom was on the phone talking about his plans for this week's South by Southwest Music Conference on Tuesday afternoon, his new mentor and greatest ally Kanye West tweeted a link to his new music video with this message:
@kanyewest: I decided to make it the first official video featuring Theophilus Allan Kingdom and Paul McCartney http://t.co/jD2BnEzN5Z
"It's been a crazy experience," Kingdom said of his whirlwind ride on West's coattails, which followed his breakout year locally in 2014. The St. Paul-bred rapper, who turned 21 at the start of the new year, made a surprise visit to the Brit Awards in London last month with West -- a surprise to everyone except his closest confidants, that is. There, he made a prominent two-part guest appearance alongside Kanye during the Chicago rapper's new single, "All Day," which is one of several of his that also features Sir Paul on keyboards and occasional backup vocals. The track soon broke big across the webosphere, with Allan's vocals and name attached.
"That was hard," Kingdom, aka Allan Kyariga, said of keeping his West collaboration a secret. Now, though, he's free to shed more light in the collaboration -- or, rather, collaborations.
"I did some more material with him, but I really don't know if it will make the album or show up somewhere else," he said.
Kingdom came to West's attention via Allan's manager, Kid Cudi cohort Plain Pat, who is pals with one of West's chief right-hand men, Virgil Abloh. "[Kanye] heard my stuff and thought I might be interesting to work with, and that was about it," Kingdom explained.
Their collaborations in the studio have been invaluable learning experiences, he said: "I watch and try to soak up the creativity of everybody I work with making music, but with him it's obviously a little more intense."
Asked whether West has been schooling his young apprentice, Kingdom responded with a reverential quip: "He pretty much gives advice all day, as you might imagine."
Kingdom has four gigs planned Friday and Saturday at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, including the Minnesota-heavy Midwest Showcase at Holy Mountain on Friday afternoon. But what could be his biggest SXSW gig has yet to be confirmed: The rumor mill heavily points to West playing a surprise set Saturday night at Stubb's. If that happens, Kingdom said, "I think there's a pretty good chance I'll be asked [to perform]."
It looked as if Hippo Campus would be heading into next month’s South by Southwest Music Conference with ample record labels trying to woo them to their roster, as used to be the guiding m.o. of SXSW. Instead, the young but clearly ready-for-prime-time Twin Cities rockers will be going into Austin’s big hype-building festival as the newest signing by Grand Jury, the burgeoning New York label that’s also home to Chicago’s breaking fuzz-rockers Twin Peaks as well as Elliott Moss and Avid Dancer.
The deal was revealed by Grand Jury today along with a new video for the song “Souls” and a rather impressive list of six gigs Hippo Campus has booked during SXSW. One of their Austin gigs, for instance, is a party for the AV Club that has them sandiwched between the Walkmen's Hamilton Leithauser and Real Estate in the lineup.
Grand Jury will re-release the quartet’s Alan Sparhawk-produced EP, “Bashful Creatures,” on May 5 (“Souls” is one of its six tracks). Another EP will soon follow, which the lads recorded last month under the same circumstances as the first, with Sparhawk at Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls.
All still in the 19-20 age range and mostly just a year out of high school (click here for our November profile of them), Hippo Campus’ members will hit the road for their first tour right after SXSW, a month-long trek with California’s fun co-ed ensemble the Mowgli’s (coming April 3 to the Varsity). Before SXSW, they’re playing what is no doubt a well-paying promotional gig for Lagunitas Brewery at Aria Event Center on March 12, tickets for which can be obtained via Eventbrite.
Is there a better finale for five days at South by Southwest than a brass band born out of New Orleans' second-line funeral march traditions? Not this year. In truth, though, one of the reasons we wound up at the Hot 8 showcase on Rainey Street was our easy decision to get as far away from Sixth Street as possible. Austin's answer to Bourbon Street was in its most delirious state Saturday, bulging with hanger-ons and spring breakers who are to SXSW what rubberneckers are to traffic. There was no one performing on Sixth worth the hassle or aroma. Maybe if the rumors of Jack White playing again proved true this year I'd have braved it, but he, too, probably didn't want to deal with the seemingly uncontrollable masses.
BEST OF THE DAY: An up and coming part of the NOLA scene when Spike Lee spotlighted them in his post-Katrina documentaries "When the Levees Broke," the Hot 8 Brass Band are finally starting to tour more beyond Louisiana, which makes them perfect for SXSW exposure. They closed out the party along Rainey at the patio of the Half Step and seemed to display the mixed emotions most attendees and performers feel at the end: glad it's almost over, but it's not over yet. Theirs is a little more contemporary brand of brass funk, with more rap-flavored vocals and extra blasts of bombastic funk. They started with a P-Funk medley and ended with a surprisingly hard-rocking "Sexual Healing," returning for an encore -- a rarity during SXSW -- to do their chanting hometown homage "504." Here's hoping they make it to Minnesota before the next SXSW.
BEST OF THE NIGHT BECAUSE IT WAS OUTSIDE AT NIGHT: One band we already know is coming to Minneapolis -- their April 13 gig at First Avenue sold out fast -- Phantogram wound down its SXSW run on the same hi-fi, high-elevation "Guitar Center Sessions" stage, atop a parking garage where I caught Damon Albarn's taping two nights earlier. Unlike the rather flat Albarn, though, the Upstate New York electronic rockers rose to the impressive settings. Many of the songs on the group's new album, "Voices," reflected the stage's swirling, lights and cosmopolitan vibe with their wildly whirring atmospheric tone and strutting rhythms. One the rockiest of the batch, "Nothing But Trouble," came off especially eerily, while the 2010 hit "Mouthful of Diamonds" shimmered under the stars and city lights, too. Singer Sarah Barthel similarly showed more spark and spectacle than before, dancing with her jet-black hair over her face every chance she could get out from behind her keyboards. Here's hoping the First Ave gig is as mesmerizing, even if it has to be on the ground floor.
THE PARTY TO END ALL PARTIES: Somehow, not-exactly-cool TV cooking show host Rachael Ray has become the host of the biggest closing-day party for the all-too-cool South by Southwest Music Conference. Ray's latest Feedback soirée at Stubb's BBQ was as festive as any, with ample free grub and cocktails and a extra lively dance-party sets by both Cee Lo Green and Blondie.
Sandwiched between Blondie and Cee Lo on the hilltop stage opposite the main Stubb's stage -- what a choice time slot! -- Har Mar Superstar and his band kept the party going with a wham-bam tear through "Tallboy," "Lady You Shot Me," "Restless Leg" and other recent standards. He actually stopped the fun in a good way when he sent his band off stage he stood there shirtless with a guitar and sang a naked cover of Sam Cooke's "Bring it on Home." It was a bigger wow moment and prettier finale than his old show-stopping routine of taking his pants off.
"I'm your adult entertainment for the evening," Cee Lo said as he took the stage with female band mates dressed in see-through garb befitting a Las Vegas dancer. He went on to sing funked-up David Bowie and MGMT songs and reunited with his former Goodie Mob mate Big Gipp. After four days in Austin, Blondie's Debbie Harry fought through a raspy voice but had plenty of help from the crowd during a rowdy cover of the Beastie Boys' "Fight for Your Right (To Party)" -- perfect for the occasion.
BAD RAP/WRAP ON THE FEST?: Los Angeles rapper Tyler the Creator was read his rights at the Austin airport Saturday. The hubbub on SXSW's final day was Tyler's arrest for inciting a riot at his showcase a night earlier. Online video shows the ringleader of the juvenile rap crew Odd Future telling fans outside the packed show to break down barricades and rush in, which they did. By coincidence, Tyler was the performer about to go on at Mohawk nightclub on Thursday morning when the fatal car rampage happened outside the venue. He had a pretty easy opportunity to make a positive return after the tragedy, but instead he stupidly put more people in danger -- in a year when the atmosphere at SXSW had already grown so volatile with the overcrowding on the streets. Too bad he'll wind up being the rapper most talked about after the fest, not Nas, Schoolboy Q or Chance the Rapper.
See all our SXSW coverage and Tony Nelson's photo galleries at startribune.com/sxsw.
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