Welcome to Artcetera. Arts-and-entertainment writers and critics post movie news, concert updates, people items, video, photos and more. Share your views. Check it daily. Remain in the know. Contributors: Mary Abbe, Jon Bream, Tim Campbell, Colin Covert, Laurie Hertzel, Tom Horgen, Neal Justin, Claude Peck, Rohan Preston, Chris Riemenschneider, Graydon Royce, Randy Salas and Kristin Tillotson.
“This is a dark song.” Hearing those words from Nick Cave is like having a dentist with a rusty, old drill tell you, “This is gonna hurt.” The dark lord of Australian music gave that warning before “Jubilee Street,” the last of three new songs that opened Wednesday night’s NPR Music showcase just as the sun set over the Stubb’s outdoor stage in Austin. It was also Cave’s kick-off show on a U.S. tour with a slightly made-over lineup of his powerhouse band the Bad Seeds.
Longtime Bad Seeds guitarist Mick Harvey’s absence was felt in the hour-long performance, as it is on the more spacious new album “Push the Sky Away.” However, Ed Kuepper of legendary Aussie punk band the Saints filled in with gusto, while violinist/guitarist Warren Ellis (Dirty Three) played a subtly pivotal role. The show opened with the “Higgs Boson Blues,” a creepy, freaky highlight of the new record, followed by the slower and dimly elegant “Wide Lovely Eyes.” Cave wasn’t kidding about “Jubilee Street,” either, which ended in a chaotic fury.
Spending most of the set with microphone in hand instead of at the piano, the 55-year-old heavy howler acted a bit put off by the usual SXSW surroundings. He snidely motioned for photographers crammed in front of the stage to leave after the first song , and he sang out to the picture-taking crowd about putting away “your crappy phone.”
However, Cave still displayed his uncanny showmanship throughout the performance, animatedly raising “Red Right Hand” and dramatically during “Mercy Seat,” which was reeimagined into more of an acoustic dirge. He also sternly emphasized the montage of lewd lyrics in “Stagger Lee” – probably not one the NPR folks will broadcast on the radio, but you can bet the folks lucky enough to have gotten into the show will be telling folks back home about it.
NPR did webcast Cave's set and the bands that followed (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Alt-J, Cafe Tacuba and Youth Lagoon). Look for it archived online in the coming days at www.npr.org/sxsw. See the rest of our own SXSW coverage at www.startribune.com/sxsw.
What an ironic and all-out disingenuous lyric to hear on opening night of the 27th annual South by Southwest Music Conference: “Wish that I was in Minneapolis.” So sang Britt Daniel, frontman of the Austin’s own SXSW mainstay band Spoon. In this case, though, Daniel was pining for the great city on the other end of I-35 with his new side band, Divine Fits.
At least on Tuesday, when Austin was spring-fresh and clean and not bursting at the seams with hipsters, you’d have to be crazy to not want to be down in Texas for SXSW vs. the city where the ice on the sidewalk is as voluminous as vomit will be on Sixth Street come Saturday night. Opening night harked back to the SXSW's of lore, when a few big names – but only a few – rounded out the showcase lineups amid a sea of Austin bands and lesser-knowns from as far away as Chile and Ireland. Lines to get into the venues weren’t bad, either, except for the Jim James/Japandroids pairing (duh) and young sister act Haim’s first of several shows in a woefully undersized venue. Here’s what we saw outside the lines.
BEST NON-SURPRISE OF THE NIGHT: Divine Fits had one of the more infectious rock albums of last year, with repetitious grooves and melodic hooks that sink in deeply. The band’s New Wavey bop-rock proved to be even more intoxicating live at the new “Austin City Limits” TV studio (the Moody Theater). Co-led by Spoon’s singer and Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner, the quartet swapped instruments regularly but maintained the same tight, danceable tempo. “Would That Not Be Nice,” the single with the nod to Minneapolis, came only two songs into the set, but no worries of things peaking too early. Boeckner made for a convincing Bryan Ferry-ish romantic stud in “Baby Got Worse,” and Daniel closed off the set with the slower grooving but highly powered gem “Shivers.” Let’s hope we’re not still shivering when the band makes it up to the city it loves on April 4 for a sold-out Varsity Theater gig.
BEST SURPRISE OF THE NIGHT: It would’ve seemed like any other hip-hop show by a tattooed, semi-machismo, Scarface-loving Southern rapper. There was even a noticeable amount of weed smoke in the air. In Lecrae’s case, though, the songs all serve one purpose: Spreading God’s good word and will. The new star from nearby Houston is a Christian artist, and he became the first rapper to win a Grammy for best gospel album last month. His showcase Tuesday at Club 119 demonstrated why. He raps as hard as any rapper who has done hard time, except in songs like “Church Clothes” and “Violence” the edge of the music is pointed in another direction. Before the latter song, he ranted about Chicago’s murderous streak, and in numerous songs he repeated a call for peace on the streets. Which all seemingly would’ve come off as very vanilla, but it never did.
REST OF THE FEST: Irish band Little Green Cars -- whose single “The John Wayne,” has been in steady rotation at 89.3 the Current – indeed came off a little green as a live act, with some off-pitch vocals. However, the startlingly young-looking quintet’s songs sounded golden during their showcase at the tacky promotional venue Hype Hotel, with Arcade Fire-ish drama blended with Of Monsters and Men’s folky charm. We took our chances on a couple lesser-known acts, including a Chilean dance-pop-hip-hop singer and a moody soul-rock band from Chicago, but the music was less impressive than just the sheer randomness SXSW offers when you’re not tied up in the bigger names. And speaking of…
BITTEREST-SWEETEST NEWS OF THE DAY: Prince has officially confirmed to perform a SXSW closing-night party on Saturday at La Zona Rosa. However, the shindig is a promo event for Samsung, which must really want to move up in the mobile-phone market to pay the price tag no doubt required in this case (whereas many other SXSW acts work on the cheap). Even the music critic from Prince’s hometown is sweating his chances of getting what is widely being called the hottest ticket of this year’s fest, and maybe of all the fests that have come before, too.
Look for our full South by Southwest coverage all week at www.startribune.com/sxsw.
The rumor mill is still grinding away on the big names – Prince and Justin Timberlake, in particular, are still not confirmed – but the lesser-knowns have been lined up for weeks and (in some cases) building momentum toward the South by Southwest Music Conference, which officially kicks off with showcases tonight. I’m headed down there this afternoon, and here are five new acts on my list that I don't want to miss.
*HAIM: Sort of the Los Angeles hipster version of Hanson, these three sisters just came off tours with Mumford & Sons and Florence & the Machine and have charted in the U.K. with their Polydor-issued EP, featuring harmonious, Feist-like mmm-bop. So pretty much a shoo-in for SXSW attention this year.
*COMO MAMAS: And here’s one the unlikeliest of buzz acts this year. These three upper-middle-age women (two are also sisters) came straight out of singing in the church to recording for the Daptones label (of Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings fame).
*SAMANTHA CRAIN: SXSW used to be dominated by Americana/alt-country acts way back in the days before music blogs and Doritos sponsorship. This young Oklahoma songstress is coming in with that kind of old-school buzz for her new album, “Kid Face,” a dusty and dramatic collection of songs wrapped relatively raw in fiddle and banjo.
*BAJOFONDO: This eclectic tango-electronic-orchestral-rock ensemble, made up of musicians from Argentina and Uruguay, have already won a Latin Grammy and loads of respect throughout South and Central America, and they’re making an aggressive U.S. push this year (including an upcoming gig at the Cedar Cultural Center).
*DIARRHEA PLANET: You pretty much know you’re not getting another Radiohead copycat band from the get-go here with this scruffy, young Nashville quartet, and their rowdy, Japandroids-meets-Andrew W.K. noise-rock should do the trick getting the many day parties started.
Read daily reports from South by Southwest all this week at www.startribune.com/sxsw.
The typically heavy Minnesota presence at the South by Southwest Music Conference looked to be lighter than normal this year. Now this.
The big buzz going around the Austin, Texas, rumor mill today – even bigger than ongoing Justin Timberlake murmuring -- is that Prince is going to perform there this week for the music industry’s biggest annual buzz fest. Some ever-Princely “unnamed sources” are reporting that the Purple Yoda will use the SXSW forces to line up a showcase Saturday night at La Zona Rosa, a 1,300-capacity venue with one of the city’s best light and sound systems (unlike the myriad bars that try to pass for music venues during SXSW).
Spin magazine cites one source that says he will have a 22-piece band with him, which would suggest an amalgamation of the different lineups he performed with over three nights at the Dakota in January. At the least, SXSW goers could expect to see him with his new all-female backing trio, 3rd Eye Girl, with whom he played Jimmy Fallon’s show two weeks ago. Another, less feasible rumor also has him scheduled to show up at the Austin Music Awards, where his longtime Latin rock cohorts Grupo Fantasma are already on the bill. And then there’s always the chance he just shows up in a limo but never once takes the stage, as happened at First Avenue this past weekend.
However, given all his other hints at a comeback so far this year, a SXSW performance actually does make sense even for our own Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, assuming he will soon have a record or two to promote. He doesn’t need help selling concert tickets, but his albums could use more respect and interest for radio professionals and music critics, who will be in abundance in Austin this week.
The members all hail from various points around the country -- New York to Seattle -- but Carroll’s appearance Friday night at Mill City Nights officially answered the question: Yes, they are local. “Minneapolis is really incredible,” singer/keyboardist/guitarist Brian Hurlow gushed, talking about the warm reception for his synth-enshrouded ambient pop-rock quartet in its first year together. Things really heated up this weekend when Carroll beat out the already-popping hip-hop crew Audio Perm and fellow Macalester classmates Bad Bad Hats in Vita.mn’s fourth annual “Are You Local?” contest.
By a good coincidence or wise guessing, the folks behind “The Local Show” at 89.3 the Current also welcomed the band onto Sunday night’s show -- predetermined well before the AYL? contest took place. In fact, Carroll had about 15 minutes between being voted winners by the AYL? judging crew and having to take the big stage upstairs at Mill City Nights for its victory-lap performance.
All three of the contestants competed downstairs in MCN’s Nether Bar, which has a narrower stage and more challenging acoustics than a lot of basement rehearsal spaces I’ve visited. The cramped stage certainly did Audio Perm no favors. Their otherwise booming bass parts sounded like they were coming out of a small boom box, and the crew’s seven rappers looked like a bunch of koi fish crammed into a tiny garden pool clamoring to get to the water’s edge to be fed. AP’s rowdy charm wasn’t lost on the crowd, though, which got into them more than the other acts.
In the end, though, Carroll impressed with plain old razor-tightness. Hurlow’s lackadaisically dramatic vocals shone through even in the dingy downstairs space, and his and guitarist Max Kulicke’s ethereal parts shimmered on both the big and puny stage. Click here for Leslie Plesser's photo gallery from AYL? 2013.
Along with its appearance upstairs -- opening for Sims and Solid Gold -- Carroll won a little money to head to next week’s South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, where they will perform at the Vita.mn/McNally Smith College of Music-sponsored MN Nice day party on Friday, March 15, with Haley Bonar, BNLX, the Chalice and Wiping Out Thousands, which also played Friday night, delivering a hard blast of grinding guitar bursts and roaring electro-noise. The best part of Carroll's win might simply be the excuse to escape the weather in this city the guys now think is so awesome.