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SXSW 2014 Reviews: Julian Casablancas, Foxboro Hot Tubs, Angel Olsen, EMA

on March 15, 2014, 5:17pm

With the festival taking place in a major US city, there’s occasionally some bleed-through between SXSW festivities and the nightlife of Austin proper. On Friday, the two worlds met, and with that mighty clash came a sense that, while most attendees have been partying since stepping off the plane, now was the time to kick things into high-gear. As such, there was an intangible vibe in the air, one of mischief and of carnal delight, where getting drunk at a rock concert until 2 a.m. finally felt like the socially responsible decision.

Sure, that kind of vibe inevitably leads to some inebriation, but it’s also the perfect chemical reaction to create a dynamite festival experience. So, whether you were checking out some buzz band in a seedy bar, or rocking out to Julian Casablancas, your evening was no doubt fraught with killer tunes, copious libations, and some slightly fuzzy memories. Yeah, the hangover is a real killer, but that’s what street tacos and electrolytes are for, ladies and gentlemen.

Mark McGuire – Panache Booking Showcase at Hotel Vegas – 12:05 p.m.

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Photo by Adam Kivel

We at CoS took the end of Cleveland electronic trio Emeralds pretty hard, but there was some solace in the fact that each of three members had already started to prove themselves as solo artists. Of the three, the music of Mark McGuire may be the most approachable, his dot-dash looped guitars transformed into a stunning map of the night sky, the rich rhythmic beds forming and informing the movements of the people on earth looking up at those celestial twinkles. McGuire’s late night set at Hotel Vegas was no different, these thanks to interlocking samples of audio seemingly ripped from some Cosmos-adjacent audiobook, or perhaps something more introspective, expanding into the mind as much as out to the stars. When he introduced “For the Friendships (Along the Way)” by dedicating it to everyone was having fun, McGuire couldn’t have been anything but sincere, and that connection was made throughout the room. –Adam Kivel

Hozier — Crack in the Road/Disco Naivete at Hype Hotel — 12:30 p.m.

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Photo by Michelle Geslani

Tall and lanky Irish troubadour Hozier didn’t travel to Austin empty-handed. In addition to a slew of different guitars, also brought along two female backup singers. The support wasn’t in vein, either, as both women helped Hozier achieve a much more full-bodied, bluesy sound. Though he does often explore both folk and country in his material — I found myself frequently forgetting he was actually from Ireland and not some place known for their Delta Blues – it’s obvious he draws much inspiration from gospel music. The words “Lord”, “Amen”, and “worship”, pop up often in a number of his songs, and, while not exactly religiously-motivated, they hint at an influential spiritual upbringing. Live, his vocals, too, carry extra depth; rich, soulful, and accompanied by a slight rasp. Much of the viral buzz surrounding Hozier stems from a powerful music video for his single “Take Me To Church”, which depicted the violence against Russia’s LGBT community, but his Hype Hotel set proved there’s more to him than just a viral headline. –Michelle Geslani

Holychild — Crack in the Road/Disco Naivete at Hype Hotel — 1:15 p.m. 

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Photo by Michelle Geslani

The synth-pop genre isn’t exactly at a loss for fresh acts, but that hasn’t stopped Los Angeles up-and-comers Holychild from trying their hand at sugary, blip-happy jams. Given their recent signing to Glassnote Records, home of other like-minded acts such as CHVRCHES and Phoenix, the duo don’t seem to be doing such a shabby job. Their set, peppered with peppy cuts like “Best Friends”, “Free”, and “Playboy girl” was heavy on the happy, and even heavier on the energy. Lead singer Liz Nistico didn’t wait long before getting up and close and personal with the crowd’s front row, singing to fans and lunging over the stage to spread her cheer and pizazz like seasoned pop stars do. Not all of their songs hit the mark, unfortunately, sometimes too busy for their own good. But there’s no denying that they have the writing chops to some day pull off an Icona Pop-like anthem. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Nistico’s stage presence is totally electric and would be an instant draw for any synth-pop fan, big or small. –Michelle Geslani

GEMS – Crack in the Road/Disco Naivete at Hype Hotel — 2:00 p.m.

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Photo by Michelle Geslani

With a dim backdrop behind them, Washington, D.C. duo GEMS captivated the afternoon crowd without making much of a fuss. Their brand of dream-pop is more wily seductress than woolly reverb. Like Beach House’s much revered releases, GEMS’ music is lulling but never too comfortable, gentle yet still mysterious. Songs like “Sinking Stone” and “Ephemera”, both off last fall’s well-received Medusa EP, are as enchanting as they come, flushed with pulsing synths and gossamer guitars. With dark blue and purple hues strobing across the stage, the moody setting fit GEMS’ vision to a T. During the soft-spoken verses, both Lindsay Pitt and Clifford John Usher hid behind shadows, with sometimes only a brush of light illuminating their face. Even so, their music worked like an undeniable airborne elixir of sorts, permeating throughout the entire venue and coaxing audience members to give in. And give in they did. –Michelle Geslani

Mutual Benefit – After the Gold Rush II at Red Eyed Fly – 4:30 p.m.

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Photo by Adam Kivel

The tunes of Mutual Benefit were made for a nice afternoon on a porch, making Jordan Lee and his band’s appearance on the back patio of the Red Eyed Fly an appropriate delight. “My amp is at 11,” Lee smiled, early in the set. “We’ve never done that before. It’s cool!” If this was 11 on his amp, he’s clearly found the folk amp section of the gear catalog. His airy guitar fluttered on the cool breeze passing through the patio, violins, keys, and spare bass chasing along the way. “Oh to stare into the void/ And see a friendly face,” Lee cooed on set highlight “Advanced Falconry”, and certainly the space was full of smiling faces, soothed on the busy Friday afternoon by the orchestral seven-piece clumped together on the small stage. While the evening shows can be ragers, Mutual Benefit provided a wonderful afternoon alternative, a welcoming, warm, and beautiful respite. –Adam Kivel

EMA – Pitchfork Showcase at Central Presbyterian Church – 7:20 p.m.

ema5 SXSW 2014 Reviews: Julian Casablancas, Foxboro Hot Tubs, Angel Olsen, EMA

Photo by Sasha Geffen

Afflicted with both a muggy sound system and a cold, EMA still managed to sway over the audience at Central Presbyterian’s sanctuary with her formidable presence. Tall, with her signature shock of bleach-blonde hair, the songwriter prolonged our anticipation for new songs off her forthcoming record The Future’s Void. Instead of jumping right into fresh material, she cracked into Pitchfork’s official showcase with “Marked”, a haunting cut from her 2011 debut Past Life Martyred Saints. Following it with new single “So Blonde”, EMA showed in sharp contrast that this new effort will bare sharper teeth than her first.

We didn’t get to hear “Satellites”, the apocalyptic first single from Void, but we were treated to a series of songs that still haven’t seen release. “Neuromancer” and “Cthulu” both knit tension into the otherwise serene environment, letting EMA flex her growl. She dropped the guitar and wound the microphone cord around her neck for “California”, gesturing as if to pantomime both an air traffic controller and a cult leader at the same time. The set ended on a softer note.

ema3 SXSW 2014 Reviews: Julian Casablancas, Foxboro Hot Tubs, Angel Olsen, EMA

Photo by Sasha Geffen

“This one’s a hymn. We have to do it,” EMA said as her keyboardist started to play an organ line. “Dead Celebrity” rang sweetly in the chapel, a subtle song about the uncanny, detached feeling of mourning a famous person who passed before their time. It felt like a funeral, if only for an idea, or a part of ourselves we didn’t know we’d already lost. –Sasha Geffen

Zig Zags – Panache Booking Showcase at Hotel Vegas – 7:30 p.m.

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Is it possible to create music that is goofy and yet absolutely terrifying? If you’re Los Angeles’ Zig Zags, the answer’s a big, fat resounding yes. Here, the power trio takes lyrics about John Carpenter’s The Fog and zombie warriors and drops them gingerly into a whirling maelstrom of speed metal riffs, skate punk basslines, and shouting, three-man harmonies. The result is something that’s tantamount to taking a t-shirt cannon full of Nerds right to the face, almost too sweet and calorie-less if it didn’t pack such a massive sonic punch to the ol’ dome-piece.

Still, what’s most interesting about the trio is that with their skill sets and precision, both individually and as a unit, they could easily handle more intricate genres, which makes their chosen sound seem all that more significant. At their core, though, Zig Zags (who apparently have spent the last few months as the Jizz Gags) approach every song with a clearly punk attitude, utilzing their blend of the lame and jokey with the menacing and thunderous to both provoke and keep the audience in a perpetual state of uncertainty. You’ll laugh, you’ll cower in terror, and you’ll head-bang till your neck snaps. –Chris Coplan

Weyes Blood – Mexican Summer Showcase at Swan Dive – 8:10 p.m.

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Photo by Adam Kivel

At this point, noting that an artist involved in experimental folk is a former member of Jackie-O Motherfucker seems almost too obvious. But then it’s true of Weyes Blood, and it makes the way in which Natalie Mering has developed her own take on that genre that much more interesting. While JOMF often dip into noise and drone, her style lingers closer to that of Grouper or Inca Ore, pre-recorded tape collages drifting in and out of powerful, haunting vocal melodies and occasional guitar. Mering would swap between cassettes of layered piano or twisty synth squiggles, all the while uniting these elements with her resonant voice and pained lyrics. The waves of piano arpeggios were matched visually as well, by a perfect accompaniment of watery light effects, the composite effect like drifting through an ocean of Mering’s dreamy, ethereal making. A cover of “Everybody’s Talkin'”, much slower and organ-laden than Harry Nilsson’s iconic version, proved a showstopper, a uniquely down-turned, aching revision powered by that rich, evocative vocal. –Adam Kivel

Angel Olsen – Pitchfork Showcase at Central Presbyterian Church – 8:10 p.m.

ao1 SXSW 2014 Reviews: Julian Casablancas, Foxboro Hot Tubs, Angel Olsen, EMA

Photo by Sasha Geffen

The strangest thing about Angel Olsen is just how still she keeps as she performs. Guitar in hand, she doesn’t rock or sway to her own music. She sings in place with excellent posture, the only movement coming from the spark in her eyes. Inside the chapel of Central Presbyterian Church, she stood close to the microphone flanked by her band, all of whom were lit by two enormous stained-glass windows that filtered electric light. While she may have looked unassuming, Olsen still delivered the powerful, golden tone that fills her beautiful new album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness.

From downers to stompers, the gamut of Witness found its bones with Olsen’s live band. Bigger, catchier singles like “Unfucktheworld” and “Forgiven/Forgotten” spiked to meet the church’s high ceilings, but the gorgeous, delicate “Window” sounded even better as it lifted up from the stage. “What’s so wrong with the light?” Olsen asked as light poured in around her on all sides. Her eyes gleaming, she seemed to be answering her own question: nothing is wrong with the light; nothing at all. –Sasha Geffen

Big Ups – Panache Booking Showcase at Hotel Vegas – 8:25 p.m.

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Over the course of SXSW, I’ve seen plenty of punk and hardcore acts. There’s been jokey bands, there’s been angry bands, and bands who think there was no more rock music recorded after 1983. Still, I don’t know if I’ve encountered anything like Brooklyn’s Big Ups. In a world where seemingly every punk band wants to be like The Ramones, Black Flag, or some kind of combination, Big Ups make punk feel weird again. If the band were a Venn Diagram, they’d occupy the minuscule and utterly lonesome spot between Talking Heads, Television, and the Pixies, creating a blend of rock that’s as confrontational and snarky as it is almost nerdy and overly technical in its approach.

That profoundly strange mixture manifests into a bevvy of songs that hearken back to the old days of punk, where bands tackled bizarre subjects (like the anti-technology manifesto “TMI” and an anthem against our “use-now-worry-later” culture entitled “Disposer”) that assault the lazy, easily-manipulated “sheeple” of the world. The songs are tough pills to swallow, but the whole process is made easier by the fact that the band come across as your strange little brother, singing and twirling and talking to a stuffed tapir’s head, which doesn’t hurt their message but does help contextualize and soften the blow a little bit. Without falling prey to rampant nostalgia, Big Ups are a clear line back to a day when punk hit you in the head just as much as it did in the gut. –Chris Coplan

OBN IIIs – Panache Booking Showcase at Hotel Vegas – 8:45 p.m.

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When I moved from Arizona to Austin a few months back, I left behind some great local bands. While the first couple months here have been about finding my way around and discovering any decent restaurants, I’ve found a new local band to help me cement my roots: the OBN IIIs. Named after frontman Orville Bateman Neeley III (how is that not just the band name?!), the quintet play a brand of straight up punk ala the Stooges (though, and I stand by this statement, I swear Neeley sounds just like a frat boy version of Glenn Danzig). Not only is he the namesake, but Neeley is the heart and soul of the band, not to mention the old juevos rancheros, too.

Looking like he played high school football, he stalks the stage, screaming and shouting and huffing and puffing, alternating between triumphant battle poses, diving into the crowd (if only to get folks off cell phones), and, um, shoving the mic and/or cord down his pants. The band backs up their charismatic lead by delivering deafening riffs and angsty spurts of feedback, doing their best to match his intensity and outright bombast. It’s not a matter of one component outshining the other, but of a band and its singer working to play off each other to make for the most effective sound and stage show possible.

On the surface, it all seems like a very macho, almost overly confrontational experience, but amid the sea of testosterone there’s a great band with equally impressive chops and a real sense of star power. It sure is good to be home. –Chris Coplan

Pins – Yahoo’s Brazos Hall – 9:00 p.m.

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Anyone out of Manchester shouldn’t really sound like they come out of Manchester anymore. The whole gloom and doom of Joy Division and that sweeping melancholia of The Smiths have been beaten to death like a horse carcass in the streets of Somalia. So, why does Pins work? As a guy, it’s hard to ignore their dangerous looks and obvious sex appeal; as a critic, they also write insanely catchy pop that’s just too easy to chew on.

Wedged between blonde pop punkers Emily’s Army and manic party planners Foxboro Hot Tubs, Faith Holgate, Anna Donigan, Lois Macdonald, and Sophie Galpin all came out looking like the cast of The Craft, wearing facial expressions that said, “Go fuck yourself.” For a little under an hour, they conjured up their debut album, last year’s Girls Like Us, drawing us in a spell with the hypnotic “Lost Lost Lost” and the cruisin’ “Get with Me”.

It was The Runaways, it was Warsaw, it was mildly exhilarating. And I want more, more, more. –Michael Roffman

Photo by Heather Kaplan

Calvin Love – Panache Booking Showcase at Hotel Vegas – 9:05 p.m.

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Unless you’re familiar with the Edmonton rock scene, you might not know too much about Calvin Love. The lanky rocker came up around the same time as fellow countrymen Mac DeMarco, and while the happy, goofy DeMarco is really hitting a stride, Love is still plugging away, trying to get his piece of the pie. I won’t be one to pick who is the best, but if the world loves DeMarco’s blend of dick jokes and soft rock reimaginings, then it seems only fair to me that they’d be just as kooky for Love. Not only is he the better dressed of the two, rocking a suit like the younger, ganglier brother of Nick Cave, but Love seems to have a much more danceable, somewhat accessible sound.

Rather than aping Bachman Turner Overdrive or assorted bits and pieces of The Beatles, Love is grooving to the sounds of minimalist synth-rock and lounge music ala a more punk Burt Bacharach. His whole approach just exudes a sense of legitimate romanticism; that’s not to say DeMarco’s not legit, but Love’s whole formula is sans jokes and gimmicks, which makes the slightly shoddy aesthetic of the music and uneven dance grooves feel all that more appealing. Love is less approachable in that initial “ha, he’s a funny dude and I want to chill” kind of way, but his sensual vibes, sincerity, and passion (he started to sweat before note one), offer something for the long-term. If James Brown were a skinny white guy singing slow jams to ladies with a broken guitar, he might be Calvin Love. And, yes, it’s natural that you’d want to see that posthaste. –Chris Coplan

Mas Ysa – Pitchfork Showcase at Central Presbyterian Church – 9:50 p.m.

my SXSW 2014 Reviews: Julian Casablancas, Foxboro Hot Tubs, Angel Olsen, EMA

Photo by Sasha Geffen

Mas Ysa looked like an outsider right away. His was the only name on Pitchfork’s lineup that I’d never heard before; he was also the only artist to perform entirely solo at the showcase. Born Thomas Arsenault, the 30-year-old Canadian songwriter nested in a wreath of synthesizers on Central Presbyterian’s temporary stage. He eased into his set with a sequence of instrumentals; a beat-heavy track caved into an arrangement of sampled choir voices. Tonally, Mas Ysa echoed Oneohtrix Point Never’s most recent experiments.

Once he picked up the microphone, Mas Ysa edged into ghoulish art-pop in line with Xiu Xiu or the bristlier edges of Elite Gymnastics. His vocals, though distorted, echoed powerfully through the sanctuary over electronics that writhed and clumped into eerie refrains. Between songs, the artist seem to be fighting off some nerves, mumbling through his comments and saying outright that he preferred not to speak to the audience through the microphone. But he had no reservations about howling into the mic as he brewed up squall after squall inside his machines. He may have started as a relative unknown, but Mas Ysa’s intense and dreamlike set won him his share of favor from the audience. –Sasha Geffen

Foxboro Hot Tubs – Yahoo’s Brazos Hall – 10:00 p.m.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

“This is Dull, TX,” Billie Joe Armstrong observed over a sweaty, meat-packed crowd. “I want to see everyone in this fucking room bounce.” He was right; the fans that slowly swarmed Yahoo’s Brazos Hall were disappointing. At first. Then came the four-layered slam of “Stop, Drop and Roll”, “Mother Mary”, “Alligator”, and Ruby Room”, which torched every nearby soul to treat the night like they were at a late night Bar Mitzvah and someone spiked the punch bowl with mescaline. At this point, the Green Day mastermind couldn’t stop grinning as he tossed Foxboro Hot Tubs-stamped balloons into the air, crushed cans of PBR over sweltering fans, or shot long lines of silly string through his truck stop gator head. My how he loved that gator head of his.

Friday - Kaplan - Foxboro Hot Tubs - 39And while the whole “rock ‘n’ roll party” seems kitschy and overplayed, Armstrong really is the best contender for the genre’s Jay Gatsby. The ease in his delivery and the jazz in his swagger amidst Foxboro’s vintage rock is palpable, and although he’s supported by keys, saxophone, and a handful of guitars — they never once hint that they’d like this to be in anything more than a warehouse. It’s just a different state of mine: whereas Green Day’s sets have evolved into a predictable Yo Gabba Gabba-like stage show, Foxboro’s the late-night lounge, where all the daddys and mommys go to purge their suburban angst.

Why Armstrong, Mike Dirnt, and Tré Cool keep the Green Day banner alive anymore is beyond me. (Well, aside from the obvious paychecks.) Had they retired the name after American Idiot and continued on as Foxboro Hot Tubs, I doubt many would complain. After all, they run through Green Day (“Fuck Time”, “Makeout Party”), Network (“Supermodel Robots”), and even dabble in covers (The Who’s “A Quick One (While He’s Away”), making Foxboro an all-out affair for diehards and dreamers. In hindsight, it’s actually a better deal.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

What last night proved is that Armstrong & Co. still know how to do reckless debauchery better than anyone else. Size does matter: The accessibility of stadium shows worked back in 2004, but fans new and old want a new experience. With Foxboro Hot Tubs, they offer that, scaling things back and reminding everyone that rock ‘n’ roll can be loud, endless, and fun. My only complaint? What happened to the other hour? Damn you, Yahoo. –Michael Roffman

foxboro SXSW 2014 Reviews: Julian Casablancas, Foxboro Hot Tubs, Angel Olsen, EMA

Outer Minds – Panache Booking Showcase at Hotel Vegas – 10:05 p.m.

I hate to sound like the old man of South by Southwest, but it’s super hard not to when my feet hurt all the time and I’m always in need of a nap. Still, I have some validity on some complaints: so much of the festival comes down to presenting a certain aesthetic, a look that is either marketable or memorable in some way. Chicago’s Outer Minds do not have such a feature, instead looking like someone took five random members from five other bands, slapped instruments in their hands, and told them to create music. The result of that experiment is just as multi-faceted, a mushroom cloud of vintage psych rock ala Jefferson Airplane, multi-tier harmonies inspired by the Mamas and the Papas, and a dash or two here and there of bubblegum pop, metal, and Deep Purple hard rock.

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As their name might hint at, the sound is defintley a straight-shot to the ol’ cerebral cortex, equally parts crushing and pounding and pulsating as the band builds and builds into deep and lengthy grooves that’ll make you feel like you spent the last three days on an acid bender. I’d like to say the whole thing is in some way a counter to an aesthetic-drive culture, but I don’t think the folks of Outer Minds are even tuned to that wavelength. Instead, they’re five random people who came together, found a sense of joy and wonder in melting faces and exploring the void, and are more than happy to just leave it at that. All that works together to make for one less grumpy music journalist. –Chris Coplan

Mark Kozelek – Pitchfork Showcase at Central Presbyterian Church – 11:45 p.m.

On record, Mark Kozelek doesn’t always sound like much of a singer. His output as Sun Kil Moon focuses more on lyrics than how they’re sung. Kozelek’s a storyteller more than anything else—it’s just that music gives his stories the right texture. He surprised me at Pitchfork’s showcase, though, with just how pretty his voice sounded. Rich and warm, it’s a voice made to billow into chapels late at night.

Kozelek only pulled a few tracks from his extensive back catalog, choosing to highlight his new album Benji, which has been enjoying critical acclaim. He thanked Pitchfork for the 9.2 score they awarded it, joking that it was long overdue and asking why they couldn’t have just given it a 10 instead of an arbitrary decimal. He smiled at his own words. “My publicist is going to email me in the morning and tell me I’m off the Pitchfork festival,” he quipped.

mk1 SXSW 2014 Reviews: Julian Casablancas, Foxboro Hot Tubs, Angel Olsen, EMA

Photo by Sasha Geffen

Accompanied by a drummer who also supplied vocal harmonies, Kozelek rendered alternately warm and brooding renditions of songs from Benji. The tender “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” arced and swooped through its melodies without pause, a full, seamless song. “Carissa” took on a little gruffness and speed as Kozelek emphasized his frustration at the death of a family member who burned for no good reason. The raunchy “Dogs” was propulsive and sensual and leering. Kozelek sat still on a stool while he picked at a classical guitar, but the simple, natural movements of his face felt as expressive and important as anything a full-body rock band could do.

Like his records always do, Kozelek’s dry banter gave way to introspective musing. He told the audience about his friend that picked up from the Austin airport. She’d commented that he looked tired even though he had slept fine the night before, which perplexed him. “I’m 47. I guess I just look tired all the time now,” he joked. Then, something less of a joke: “I guess life has just done that to me.” --Sasha Geffen

Julian Casablancas + The Voidz – The Chevrolet Courtyard at Cedar Street – 12:45 a.m.

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Photo by David Hall

Here’s why I love Julian Casablancas: After a torturous soundcheck, the Strokes frontman and his new outfit, The Voidz, delivered an erratic 30-minute set loaded with challenging new material, a Strokes song that hasn’t been performed live since 2006 (“Ize of the World”), and only a single offering from 2009’s Phrazes for the Young (“River of Brake Lights”). Soft spoken and eerily silent, even by his standards, Casablancas retained the mystery by shuffling around, ruffling up his greasy hair, and clenching his old school Houston basketball jersey as he checked in with each member of his band, mostly staring into an array of vintage Apple monitors that whizzed and whirred to the bass. When the fans later demanded an encore after his somewhat premature departure? He stumbled back out five minutes later and delivered… “Glass”.

Not that “Glass” is a bad song. It isn’t. It’s just not exactly the sort of heroic crash one expects from an intimate showcase such as this. Here were hundreds of fans packed into the alleyway-turned-venue that is Cedar Street Courtyard and not only does Casablancas weird them out, but he brings the mood down, too. It’s a meditative ballad that’s reserved for opiates and late-night slumbers. Why didn’t he play “Instant Crush”, as the setlist indicated? Or maybe even “11th Dimension”? Or, hell, “Left & Right in the Dark”? Truth: It’s just not his style. Double truth: That’s why he’s always worth seeing.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Decoding Casablancas is about the dumbest thing anyone can do. He’s an enigma, a mystery, a stalwart in the guise of a slacker crooner. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a magical door in the East Village that he walks into every night, taking him back to the late ’70s. He’s the closest thing rock ‘n’ roll has to Kanye West — a misunderstood auteur that will take style and substance and time. His latest venture, however, is quite intriguing.

Songs with titles ranging from “Echo” to “221” to “Dr. Acula” are his biggest departures yet, basking in post-punk, tribal tropical rhythms, and an array of time signatures that would stump Stewart Copeland. “The Phantom of Liberty (Arabic Jam)” seemed stitched together from various parts and ideas, while “Biz Dog” felt like a lo-fi thrasher Ty Segall might knock off quickly. Blame it on the outdoor acoustics, but it was impossible to hear what any of them are about. It was also difficult to pull any melodies, which has always been Casablancas’ strong suit — that’s where he punches the heart repeatedly, never pulling back. Not having those admittedly was jarring, but again, his mic was all over the place.

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Photo by Heather Kaplan

Apathy is something that’s always followed the singer. From his stoic debut on “Last Nite” to his more recent gig as a mannequin on “Instant Crush”, Casablancas exudes enough chill vibes that some might write him off as bored, or distracted, or worse, an asshole. But if you watch carefully, the way he high fives fans, smiles at the edge of every lyric, or seethes at the teeth during the choruses… you’ll notice he’s incredibly invested. Last night wasn’t a rock ‘n’ roll show — it was an exhibition. We definitely got Julian. And if you dig the guy, you walked out feeling curious, which is exactly what that show was supposed to do. This year should prove interesting for him. –Michael Roffman

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Ron
March 15, 2014 at 7:37 pm

Julian Casablancas

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