Welcome to our report on South by Southwest from Austin, TX, where sleep is nominal and foot pain is exponential. We’re giving you the run on bands we really enjoyed every day this week, so check out our blurbs and pictures below for coverage of Thursday at SXSW, including pictures from Bruce Springsteen’s keynote speech and his special performance at ACL’s The Moody Theater.
Bruce Springsteen – 12:00 p.m. @ Austin Convention Center
Bruce Springsteen’s keynote speech at South by Southwest was more of a commencent address for the 2,000 or so bands filling the venues and pizza joints in Austin this week. Unfortunately, by Bruce’s own declaration, “every decent musician in this town is asleep – or they will be by the time I finish this thing.”
Hopefully ”some band slugging outside may find a small piece of it valuable,” Springsteen proclaimed as he began the 50-minute speech. One-part history lesson in music, the other an educational seminar on what defines a great band, Springsteen encouraged up-and-comers to do their homework and perform live early and often. “I had nights and nights of bar bands playing behind me to bring my songs home…Those skills gave me a huge ace up my sleeve, and when we finally went on the road we scorched the earth because that’s what I was taught to do by Sam Moore and James Brown.”
Springsteen also fought Lester Bangs’ infamous prophecy that “Elvis was probably the last thing we were all going to agree on… We would never see eye to eye again.” Despite music’s gentrification, “the one thing that has remained consistent,” Springsteen explained,” is the “genesis and power of creativity.” Regardless of the genre, “it’s all about how you’re putting what you’re making together…purity of human expression and experience is not confined to guitars, there is no right way, no pure way of doing it. There’s just doing it.” He continued: ”We live in a post-authentic world, today authenticity is house of mirrors, it’s what you’re bringing when the lights go down. It’s the power and purpose of your music what matters.” -Alex Young
Chairlift – 1:00 p.m. @ 1100 Warehouse (MWTX Party)
For a band playing at least four times in two or three days of South by Southwest (and, let’s be honest, likely hungover around 1 p.m.), you have to wonder how Chairlift lead singer Caroline Polachek is so energetic. Polachek literally twirled herself around on stage, dancing to her band’s bass-heavy, new-wave jams in the sweaty, un-air conditioned warehouse at 1100 East Fifth Street, a grimy retreat from the hustle and bustle of most of SXSW’s action. “Give us your hangovers,” Polachek, who had only a banana and whiskey for breakfast that morning/afternoon, said to the cheering crowd at one point in the show. And while the muted crowd may have been gingerly nursing a few, it was responsive to Chairlift’s joyous synth-pop, particularly lead-off Something single “Amanaemonesia”. -Paul de Revere
Best Coast – 1:50 p.m. @ Google Play Stage
Photo by Heather Kaplan
Tough start for the Google Play Stage, which sported nothing but open concrete, grey skies, and blank stares from the 60 or 70 patrons in attendance. ”You guys are too rambunctious, I can’t take it,” Bethany Cosentino joked. For a gal who shoots the shit on a daily basis via Twitter, she kept the banter to a discomforting minimal, and instead laid on the sarcasm thick. Still, with the band now a quartet, Bobb Bruno and Cosentino have never sounded tighter, and together they previewed a number of tracks off their forthcoming sophomore LP, The Only Place. One of the more smarter, meditative tracks of the bunch was the debut of “Last Year”, a Shellac burner that immediately turns the dial back to the ’50s, specifically to the likes of The Diamonds. She also wrote a song based on Tina Fey’s Mean Girls, but she could have just made that up. Then again, she doesn’t hold back on her pop-cultural tendencies, so let’s roll with that. -Michael Roffman
Youth Lagoon – 3:00 p.m. @ Hype Hotel (Aquarium Drunkard)
Trevor Powers’ voice has this great mix of Alec Ounsworth from CYHSY and something else that is really stirring and emotional. I kept underlining “Blog Soul” in my notebook because, well, I thought it was pretty accurate, but also Youth Lagoon have yet to really take explore other avenues of sound. Their organ-sound was warm, yet it was still kind of cheap bedroom-pop style, and most of their songs fall short of a sunny dance party or a group cry-along and land comfortably somewhere in between, which was a confidence that was very nice to hear. When they went through “17” and “July”, it felt like comfort food for the forlorn Tumblr users, GIF addicts, and Twitter fiends. So, yeah, I loved it. –Jeremy D. Larson
The Beatles Completion Project feat. Roger Greenawalt @ Hickory Street Grill
Photo by Heather Kaplan
Brooklyn producer Roger Greenawalt plans on re-recording all 185 songs by The Beatles on ukulele, alongside 185 different singers. At Hickory Street Grill, Irish DJ, author, and photographer BP Fallon stopped by to lend a hand. For more information about the project visit BeatlesCompleteOnUkulele.com.
Clock Opera – 5:30 p.m. @ Latitude 30 (Ben Sherman/CLASH Showcase)
My favorite SXSW pastime is to enter bars or clubs on a whim, perhaps based on vague knowledge of the band or sheer proximity. Sometimes you unearth a musical dud, and other times you find UK’s Clock Opera. This foursome creates baselines of random, almost junky noise, from scratchy samples to the clatter of tin cans. From there, they layer on warm, gushy synths, dance-rock guitars, and Peter Gabriel-inspired lyrical content about anthemic notions of love and meaningful interpersonal connections. Live, they occupy very little space, acting as tight and succinct a unit as possible; their music, though, swells forward, escaping their collective mass with a force that belies the low-key attire and working class demeanor of the group. Lead singer Guy Connelly, who rocks a fierce beard, is an especially gripping site to behold, shaking in spiritual ecstasy as he releases a throaty howl with each lyric. With each cog of this band so shiny and efficient, it won’t be long before it’s their time to shine. -Chris Coplan
Polica – 7:00 p.m. @ Vice Bar (IFC Crossroads)
Flip on a copy of Polica’s debut LP, Give You The Ghost, and the romance and sex appeal will literally pour out of the speakers and into your heart (and accompanying naughty parts). Yet for whatever reason, that same lusty energy was almost nowhere to be found at their showcase for IFC Crossroads. While lead singer Channy Casselle’s vocals were as technically spot-on as they are on record, there was none of that intangible sparkle or warm flood of emotions that really makes their sounds something more than good music to mack to. Maybe it was the choice of venue (Vice Bar is a bit awkward in terms of space and generating a flow for audience), because nerves and overall confidence couldn’t have been a deciding factor. Chalk it up to just a bad night, like when you blew it with that cute girl at spring formal your junior year. -Chris Coplan
Fiona Apple – 8:00 p.m. @ Central Presbyterian Church (Pitchfork Showcase)
Ms. Apple is angry again. She’s not the same “Criminal” or “Shadowboxer” she once was as a teenager, lithe and explicit, cooing velvet out of her mouth. But inside her frail body still courses the same need to squeeze out every last ounce of emotion through her lyrics. With the first slams of opener “Fast as You Can”, Apple tossed and turned standing at the mic, flailing her arms and her scarf around her like a kid throwing a tantrum. Every part of her diminutive physical presence engages in her song from her toes to her hair. She’s fully engaged.
Her new songs were on fire — simple power-dirges alight with self-doubt and loathing. On “Paper Bag” she sang over she’s “too much to love”, which by watching her histrionics on stage I wouldn’t be able to argue with. Her backing band provided sounded less like intricate chamber-pop and more Fiona Apple & Crazy Horse at points. The guitarist would kick into a warm solo, and Apple would bounce behind the grand piano and continue her performance by trying to push her weight against it. She was like an actress on stage, suiting the action to the lyrics and the lyrics to the action, and never breaking her focus on the new pain of her new songs.
The old pain is still there, and Apple looked less comfortable trying to reopen old wounds than she did showing off her new ones. The ostentatious falsetto part in “Extraordinary Machine” was traversed with extra care so as not to miss a single note (she didn’t), and “Criminal” sounded like less like a sultry snake charmer and more like a quavering mess of a person, trying to figure out what pain means when your older, and why the same things keep happening and you don’t know how to get out of the cycles of hurting and getting hurt. She’s older, wiser, sadder, angrier, and more beautiful than ever before. –Jeremy D. Larson
Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – 9:30 p.m. @ ACL’s Moody Theater
What started with a Woody Guthrie cover (“I Ain’t Got No Home”) ended in a Woody Guthrie cover (“This Land Is Your Land”). Clearly, Bruce Springsteen – who only hours beforehand had delivered the festival’s keynote speech – had an agenda here. But, if there’s anything to take away from The Boss (and there is), it’s that he and his E Street Band are highly unpredictable. Their selective ticketing event at ACL’s Moody Theater proved that, as the New Jersey collective not only performed a number of tracks from their exhaustive back catalogue, or off Springsteen’s latest LP, Wrecking Ball, but also worked through a handful of covers and brought out a roster of guests.
“If you’re here and we’re here then they’re here,” Springsteen waxed philosophically, though the “we” certainly has changed. With the loss of Clarence Clemons, the E Street Band has been retooled some, adding in a horn section, which features the Clemmons’ nephew, Jake. The young saxophonist turned heads during “Badlands” and eventually claimed the spotlight for himself during “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day”, and later on “10th Avenue Freeze Out”, the set’s true highlight, which is saying a lot. No one can replace an iconic member like Clarence Clemmons; however, Jake does add some weight to the saxophone solos that were admittedly lacking in Clarence’s later years.
Outside of showcasing new material and the revamped hits, the E Street Band also brought some familiar faces to the frontline. Tom Morello shuffled out for a few newer tracks, though he shined bright with his trademark solo for “The Ghost of Tom Joad”. Later on, Jimmy Cliff fronted the band for a few tracks (“The Harder They Come”, “Time Will Tell”, “Many Rivers to Cross”), while Eric Burdon of The Animals (an act Springsteen admitted during his speech that he cribbed from religiously) lead a rousing cover of his ’60s anti-war anthem, “We’ve Gotta Get Out of This Place”. Because that wasn’t enough, Springsteen also brought out Arcade Fire’s Régine Chassagne, Win and Will Butler, Alejandro Escovedo, Tom Morello, Garland Jeffreys, and members of The Low Anthem for a bright, big ol’ sing-a-long of Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”.
Oddly enough, they didn’t play “Born to Run”, and it was the only time nobody cared.
Purity Ring – 10:00 p.m. @ Central Presbyterian Church (Pitchfork)
Photo by Harley Brown
Part of me felt guilty about attending Fiona Apple’s Pitchfork showcase just to see the acts going on after her. Having seen Purity Ring upstage Neon Indian last year, I expected they would humble even the staunchest Fiona fans, especially in the venerated Central Presbyterian Church. Things got a little tense when the sound engineer didn’t indulge Megan James in her soft-spoken yet urgent request to kill the lights, but all was forgotten once Purity Ring lit up its signature light bulb keyboards (not altogether unlike Apple’s pianotop candles). Even though songs like “Belispeak” and “Lofticries” adhere to the same general structure, the duo’s viscous dub and womb-like stage setup continually entranced the audience. -Harley Brown
Grimes – 10:45 p.m. @ Central Presbyterian Church (Pitchfork)
Photo by Harley Brown
After Purity Ring’s elaborate setup, Toronto techno-brat Grimes looked almost like a science experiment onstage, surrounded by plastic tables overflowing with wires. Once she launched into the tensile synth hits of “Genesis”, however, I allowed myself to abandon my critical perch and get lost in her ethereal vocal delicacy. (If I could say it was a religious experience and still take myself seriously, I would.) Once she got to “Be a Body”, however, Grimes got visibly flustered on stage, growling with frustration when her vocal loops didn’t sync up with the backbeats. She managed to recover control over the galloping drum machine and improvise, but by that point it was too late: the house lights rose over her, abruptly ending the performance. -Harley Brown
Miike Snow – 12 a.m. @ Lustre Pearl (Dickies/FILTER Party)
Swedish electronica trio Miike Snow hasn’t performed live much recently, and certainly not much in the States. So if it’s delayed 45 minutes, you’ve waited this long, right? What’s another 45 minutes? But at South by Southwest, 45 minutes of waiting can seem like an eternity. Crowds get restless, which they did for Miike Snow on Thursday night. You can’t sleight them, seeing as the band was over an hour late for its set at the Hype Hotel the night before. Part of the blame for the delay may be attributed to the trio’s serious analog gear (its centerpiece bank of synthesizers looked like a doomsday device from Plan 9 from Outer Space); however, the band saved plenty of face when they started. New material off their latest LP Happy to You sounded superb (“Paddling Out”, “Devil’s Work”) and the live arrangements for songs off its self-titled 2009 record were dramatic and almost seamless (“Silvia”, “Animal”). And all that the time setting up was worth it in that the band sounded both tight and succinct. Though there was little to no acknowledgement of the delay from singer Andrew Wyatt, and not much warmth at all, the band won over an impatient crowd. -Paul de Revere
The Jesus & Mary Chain – 12 a.m. @ The Belmont (Paste)
Photo by Chris Coplan
The Jesus & Mary Chain is one of those bands whose work has permeated the very essence of music; as such, they’ve been a part of many people’s musical upbringing and development for years. It’s so ingrained that it’s almost to the point of mythology, like they’re Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster and not a real band you can wait in line and see. Yet after their 2007 reunion, the legend became a reality for many, and now I can include myself in that lucky bunch thanks to last night’s gig.
From the chunky waves of distortion throughout set opener “Snakedriver”, to the frazzled basslines of “Teenage Lust”, and of course those melancholic heartstrings that tug within “Just Like Honey”, the UK collective melted The Belmont with their timeless shoegaze dream pop. No one does micro-bursts of feedback and distortion as well, literally filling each cycle with intricate layers of emotion and tension, the genesis of the whole noisy aesthetic in action. But that aspect of the circus de JAMC is just a small part of the wonder. What is so devastating about this band isn’t the nostalgia or the harsh sounds; it’s that they don’t need or want either.
Photo by Chris Coplan
Even after all these years of existence, they exude the hunger of a young band willing to fight and scratch for the adulation of the crowd. Their setlist reflects a band not trying to harvest the last bits of gold from old hits, but one rich with sonic variety and varying forms of intent. Tiny moments, like William Reid not being able to turn off a pedal that’s ruining frontman Jim Reid’s speech, show a real band that is continually working on itself. They kicked the set off by proclaiming they were here to ruin our night, but really, they just made so many people’s weekends – especially the guy who jumped on-stage and stripped down. Definitely him. -Chris Coplan