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SXSW 2013 Reviews: Justin Timberlake, Vampire Weekend

on March 17, 2013, 1:25pm

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I shouldn’t have worn my Chucks, I keep telling myself. This is something I’ve said every March since 2009, when I first left Austin’s South by Southwest in pain, misery, and sadness. Still, with so much behind us these past few days, the worth of such wear and tear is priceless — but that’s my opinion. You’ll have to ask the three to four other writers who fell ill and see what they think. In the meantime, catch what we hobbled to on the last day below, and let us know your finds in the comments shortly after.

Saturday, March 16th

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

A Place to Bury Strangers – Jr.’s – 1:30 p.m.

Save for maybe My Bloody Valentine, A Place to Bury Strangers are known for the loudest shows around. Oliver Ackerman and Dion Lunadon are less interested in subtlety and more interested in what new kinds of noise a guitar and a bass can make, respectively. A couple of songs from Awake mixed with no-synth noise jams put them firmly into a grey area between and rock-life dudes and noise-life weirdos. It may confuse purists, but you could just as easily raise your fist as you could zone out to APTBS — and the destruction of their guitars at the very end is still and forevermore jaw-dropping — and decidedly rock ‘n’ roll. -Jeremy D. Larson

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Majical Cloudz – The Mohawk – 9:30 p.m. 

Devon Welsh’s stony face speaks volumes for his music. While he sings his earnest baritone digi-pop ballads, he scans the room looking for empathy? Understanding? A smile and a nod? It reminded me of the way Future Islands singer Sam Herring works the stage only if he were on some codeine. Welsh dryly greeted the crowd with, “Hello. SXSW killed us. We are ghosts.”  The mummers of the crowd may have seemed like they were invisible at first, but by the third song, most were as rapt as Welsh’s gaze: a SWM looking for love in all the wrong places. His droll baritone mixed with a foggy glam beat found it in me, though. -Jeremy D. Larson

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Photo by justjared

 Justin Timberlake – MySpace Secret Show – 12:00 a.m.

Few artists can hold their own against Prince, especially when he’s just nine blocks down the road. Yet leaving the Myspace building near the corner of E 5th Street and Trinity St., FKA as the Hype Hotel, I wasn’t too bothered by tweets filling my Twitter timeline about how Prince was on his third, fourth, fifth sixth encore. It’s not everyday that music’s biggest male pop star performs in a venue that’s about the same size as Austin’s famed Iron Works BBQ joint, showcasing his excellent new album accompanied by a 15-piece band, complete with horns, male and female backing singers, and some prolific guitar licks.

Justin Timberlake only returned to music three months ago, but his live show already feels like a well-oiled, road-tested machine. Saturday night’s setlist spanned just an hour, but Timberlake covered all the bases: greatest hits (“Cry Me a River”, “Señorita”, “Future Sex Love Sounds”), new classics (“Pusher Love Girl”, “That Girl”), and even a cover of INXS’ “Need You Tonight”. Each performance was memorable for its own reasons, whether for including an impromptu reworking of “Niggas in Paris” (“Cry Me a River”) or shining light on one of his immensely talented band members (the end of “Señorita” exploded into a Latin jazz fusion jammer). Perhaps the only thing lacking was the presence of a certain rapper on “Suit & Tie”, but maybe he just has stock in Facebook.

Of course, Timberlake has always been more than just a guy with a great voice. On stage, he cracked jokes about ice cream and took a mug shot of himself with a fan’s phone. Whereas his contemporaries globetrot around the world in kilts and gold chains, Timberlake’s outfit of choice last night was a spoof tuxedo t-shirt. As a musician whose career now spans two decades and record sales amounting to millions worldwide, you’d expect a bit of detachment and jadedness. Yet, Timberlake seemed to soak up every second of his time on stage, as if he was just another aspiring musician singing his/her heart out for anyone at SXSW to hear.

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Photo by justjared

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen many of my colleagues label Timberlake as this generation’s Frank Sinatra or Michael Jackson. Sure he possesses qualities of both legends, but I can’t envision Sinatra wearing a tuxedo t-shirt or MJ covering something so random as INXS. Instead, Timberlake is building his own legend — a pop star whose attributes are equal parts talent and showmanship, who could moonlight as a standup comedian following his day job as a Broadway actor. In an industry where few others possess even one of those traits, let’s just say it’s nice to have him back. -Alex Young

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Vampire Weekend – Stubb’s - 12:20 a.m.

Jeremy Larson: So just as Vampire Weekend debuted their new song “Diane Young” — I threw up. In the dirt. This was the final remnants of me being sick with food poisoning at SXSW due to a particularly unwelcome pork taco purchased from a food truck which will remain nameless. I like this song, I thought, wiping some vomit off my lips, it’s not as afro-poppy as their other stuff. Some other notes I was thinking in my head as I was getting really dizzy: Ezra Koenig’s smile is too perfect, like, I think he’s a serial killer;  bassist Chris Baio’s smile is actually perfect; the opening riff to “Cousins” is still great; and the crowd is drowning out the whole band on “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”. Anyway, it was about then that I had to get out of the place because I, you know, hurled. But Michael Zonenashvili was a champ and reported on the show…

Michael Zonenashvili: It’s pretty rare I go into a gig thinking, Hope I hear some songs I don’t know today! When I hear a band say, “We’re going to try out a new song,” there’s a 50% chance I’ll be uninterested. In this rare instance, however, I wanted nothing more than for Vampire Weekend to play as many new songs as possible. We’ve already gotten a taste of “Unbelievers” for the past eight months, a peppy straightforward piece, albeit a very catchy one, but I wanted more. Thankfully, they added two debuts to the set, Springsteen-y “Diane Young” and the all-over the place “Ya Hey”.

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Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

“Diane Young” is going to be polarizing. It’s a bit heavier than past VW Material, with no noticeable bright guitar parts or boppy basslines. Hopefully it’s viewed as a progression and not denounced for not sounding enough like Vampire Weekend, but it’s a darker, heavy jam that they’ve been hinting toward. However, when I thought the combo of “Unbelievers” and “Diane Young” and their driving rhythms would lead to a cohesive new feel for the new record, “Ya Hey” kinda slapped that notion in the face. The tune had Police-esque vocal doubling, extremely baroque piano parts behind the chorus, and lyrics like “Through the fire, through the flames” accompanied with little vocal yelps. The five minute-plus song was a hard number to digest on the spot.

But, what I did learn is that even in the live music capital of the world, there are still droves of people exhilarated for their first Vampire Weekend show, and VW deserves those sentiments. Hell, the first time I saw them was at my first festival, and they were my most anticipated band. Even with new songs that might be a little less immediate than the old tracks, Vampire Weekend takes the “entry level alt/indie rock” band connotation and actually makes it a positive one. -Michael Zonenashvili

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