It’s hard to compete with a Dorito’s-backed Snoop Dogg party or a Shady record-label showcase with 50 Cent and surprise guest Eminem for star value — although, truth be told, neither generated all that much attention — but the shindig that still defines the party scene at the South by Southwest Music Conference the most is the Spin magazine party in the backyard amphitheater at Stubb’s BBQ. And the performer that seemed to sum up that party and maybe SXSW on the whole on Friday was Bethany Cosentino of Los Angeles fuzz-pop band Best Coast, whose singer told off one audience member for repeatedly requesting an older song.
“It’s South by Southwest,” she grunted. “I can play whatever the hell I want to.”
Electronic hip-hop songstress Santigold carried that spirit over into her headlining set at the Spin party. The Philadelphia-reared debuted a batch of new songs with a hybrid of urban and world-music styles, from an album due in May, and her Egyptian-looking headdress and gold-adorned jumpsuit reflected a similar anything-goes attitude.
Alas, one of the last major showcases as the 26th annual music fest spun into its last day Saturday was not as welcoming: Former White Stripes leader Jack White’s coming-out as a solo act in a relatively small Sixth Street club was harder to get into than Jay-Z’s gig on the eve of the fest Monday. Word was White played a lot of his older tunes, including the Strpies' "Ball & a Biscuit" and "Door Bell" and even the Dead Weather's "Cut Like a Buffalo." He split up the showcase between his all-male and all-female bands just like on "Saturday Night Live."
With White out of my reach, here's some of what I grabbed onto Friday:
OLDIES BUT GOODIES: Turns out, I was being ageist at this year’s South by Southwest. Except for a certain Rock and Roll Hall Famer, there weren’t any performers in my itinerary prior to Friday night old enough to remember the Reagan administration. Bob Mould certainly does, though. The ex-Minneapolitan headlined the showcase for his new label Merge Records on Friday at a cool new weiner eatery called Frank, a gig he picked up very last minute. "We only just signed the deal last Friday," he told the crowd, which included old cronie Mike Mills of R.E.M.
Mould was ready to go. I've seen the guy perform 30-40 times going back to his first solo outing after Hüsker Dü, and Friday's set would be in the top two or three. His current band, with longtime bassist Jason Narducci and Superchunk drummer John Wurster, is certainly his tightest and most explosive backing unit in that time. They played the first half of his classic Sugar album, "Copper Blue" -- they'll be doing the full thing Saturday and on tour this year -- not stopping once and showing a fierceness the whole time that was more Hüskers than Sugar. That led to the "Copper"-era B-side "Needle Hits E," three heavy and fast new songs (from a record due in September) and a booming version of Cheap Trick'smoodiest masterpiece "Downed." Out of my head, indeed.
Before Mould, the veteran ex-punks in Imperial Teen reiterated their boy/girl hook-swapping charm and groove, putting a lot of similar-sounding buzz bands half their age to shame. Their set ended with the Current-spun single "Runaway," an infectious gem that left the crowd giddy.
HYPE CENTRAL: One of the most poorly run venues (doors opened late) and most grotesquely coporatized official showcasing venues at SXSW is the approriately titled Hype Hotel. Taco Bell was pushing its Dorito-shell tacos inside; and free Tito's Vodka was being served. The schilling seemed to be more important than the music, as the doors opened late, and opening band Guards had to start when the room while most folks in line were still waiting to get in. Then the scheduled band, Caveman, didn't even show. Things were running more smoothly over at the NME/British Music Embassy, where Howler drew a sizable crowd despite the fact that its young members had never been to England before last fall. An actual British band, Big Deal, performed before them as a duo with more sweet boy/girl vocal swapping and a sexiness that sort of suggested the XX without the electronics.
FROM MN WITH SWEAT: Minneapolis rapper Brother Ali drew his own bulging crowd at the First Avenue/City Pages day party, where he debuted a new band with three horn players that was as sweltering as the humidity inside the poorly ventilated Swan Dive bar. “This is some hot weather for us” Minnesotans, Ali gasped on stage. Night Moves performed right before Ali, and while it only had half the crowd, the space-twangy rock quartet sounded tight as ever and played to a lot of impressed industry reps. Singer John Pelant also made a comment about the temperature, but rightly guessed, "It's probably just Minnesotans who notice it."
See the rest of our coverage from Austin at www.startribune.com/sxsw