While I did take in a little bit of Dave Grohl's Sound City Players all-star show at Stubb's to see what it was all about -- the transition from Fear's Lee Ving to Rick Springfield as guest singers certainly proved interesting -- we made a point of bouncing around more during Thursday's South by Southwest showcases. Here are the stops that stood out the most:
HAIM (mtvU Woodies Fest, downtown parking lot): With a sprawling hi-fi staging area spread across dueling glitzy stages, the Woodies Fest recalled those cheesy spring-break broadcasts that MTV used to do from Daytona. The music lineup was quite serious, though, with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis headlining their umpteenth gig this week and fellow sister act Tegan and Sara going on after the three Haim sisters. Man, are they cute -- not in a hot-girlfriend kind of way but a sassy sisterly way. They’re pretty solid musicians, too, with Estes Haim proving especially pivitol in driving the band out of fluff-pop territory with her hard-driving bass parts. Estes also had the cutest of the many onstage quips: “I’m trying to bring back halter-tops and be more like Selena,” she cracked as she took off the blouse over in the late-afternoon heat. Their infectious single “Don’t Save Me” got the crowd dancing along, and their surprisingly taut cover of the early Fleetwood Mac blues-rock classic “Oh Well” impressed those of us non-mtvU viewers who never would’ve danced anyway.
JASON ISBELL (American Songwriter day party): We randomly stumbled onto the former Drive-by Trucker’s happy hour gig in east Austin and felt as lucky the property owners in the neighborhood must feel getting to rent out their humble places for big shindigs this time every year. Looking and sounding healthier than compared to a couple of his Turf Club gigs a year or two back, Isbell opened with a couple of vivid and dramatic songs off his upcoming album. He was accompanied by his new wife Amanda Shires – a reputable singer/violinist on her own – and they made for harmonious musical partners in “Outfit” and other older tunes.
LIANNE LA HAVAS (Empire Automotive): No wonder Prince is so into this 23-year-old London singer/songwriter. She certainly has got the look, recalling many of his past protégés visually. But more important she has a subtly seductive voice and versatile songs, one of which (“Lost & Found”) was covered by the Minneapolgenius during his three-night stand at the Dakota. La Havas’s showcase in the auto-shop-turned-nightclub was a low-revving affair, reminiscent of when Norah Jones had her big coming-out a decade earlier at SXSW with her lightly jazzy instrumentation, soft, elegant voice and lovelorn tunes. But La Havas's tunes also have a wry and sometimes even wicked undertone that adds to her charm. “If you have my record,” she said at one point, “you know I like to write songs about my ex-boyfriend.” That was an intro for “Forget,” so obviously we’re not talking happy pop songs. In “Age,” which she played sans her band and with cool thumb-picking guitar work, she sang, “He’s not the one for me because I fancy younger men.” Don’t miss La Havas’ Minneapolis debut at the Varsity Theater on March 31.
SNOOP LION (Viceland): I hesitate to review the once and future Snoop Lion’s coming-out as a reggae act because the warehouse-turned-venue where he played was so overpacked and disheveled, it was hard to hear and see him in action. Never mind the additional haze that come up once Snoop took the stage. What songs could be heard, though, sounded surprisingly tight and effective, sort of a halfway point between Bob Marley and his gifted rapper son Damien “Jr. Gong” Marley. The set included a reggae-fied slow-jam version of the Doggy classic “Gin & Juice,” but mostly he stuck to tunes from the upcoming album “Reincarnated.” One other reason to not go too into detail on the new Snoop: Word is he will be back to his old Dogg tricks when he plays in Minnesota over Memorial Day weekend at the Soundset festival (officially billed as Snoop Dogg).
FIDLAR, CHEATAHS, BLACK LIPS (various venues): These three other highlights from Thursday are heaped together because they all just plain rocked in classic garage-punk ways. Los Angeles’s Fidlar blasted through their seedy, rowdy songs with refreshing abandon, with Greg Ginn/Black Flag-style guitar bursts and such glib introductions as, “This one is about rehab; which sucks.” U.K. quartet Cheatahs boasted powerful, fuzztoned, whirring guitar work, poppy hooks but punky, hard-driving beats, sort of coming off as a shoegazer-rock version of Hüsker Dü. As for Atlanta favorites the Black Lips, they made for a wild end to the night with their psychedelic howl-along songs such as “O, Katrina,” which produced the first burst of crowd-surfing I’ve seen at SXSW this year.
See our full coverage from the fest at www.startribune.com/sxsw.