SXSW 2012: Fiona Apple, Bruce Springsteen shine on Day 1 and 2

Fiona Apple can still captivate a crowd from behind a piano.

Jimmy Cliff
One of reggae’s founding fathers seemed to be challenging himself to tone down his set on Wednesday night. Accompanied by only an acoustic guitarist and a drummer, the singer wore a simple red shirt and backwards baseball cap, and for much of the set, strummed a right-handed acoustic guitar that looked enormous on him in the left-handed position. Though the arrangement was basic, Cliff’s performance was anything but. The 63-year-old Jamaican’s high, elastic voice still sounds so sweet and strong. His set was filled with songs that spanned his career and almost served as a testament that his catalog should be required listening for any self-respecting songwriter. When he belted out “Many Rivers to Cross,” it was a true moment of transcendence; when he updated his anti-war song, “Vietnam,” by changing the chorus to “Afghanistan,” it was a poignant reminder that although the place where we’re fighting is different, the situation remains the same. The only complaint with this set was that he finished on a song called “One More,” where he engaged the audience in a frenzied call-and-response that continued after he left the stage. With a title like “One More” and that kind of reaction from the crowd, one would think it was an obvious reason to come back for an encore. But no such luck.
 
Cotton Jones
Mostly centered around the warm voice of singer Michael Nau, Cotton Jones is a six-piece from Maryland. From the stage of a bar called Swan Dive, Nau announced at one point that the band had a few more songs left. But after turning in a performance of “Somehow to Keep It Going” from the band’s 2010 album, “Tall Hours in the Glowstream,” he must have realized that it wouldn’t be possible to top it, so he said, “I guess that was our last song.” Instead of feeling like a bow of defeat or an excuse of time constraints, it felt like an acknowledgment that magic had happened in the way the sing-along chorus of “Come on, baby let the river roll” resounded. 

Fiona Apple

Kicking off NPR’s showcase, Fiona Apple made it easy to forget this was the same musician who had an infamous onstage meltdown in 2005. Vacillating  between a low croon and a hoarse primal scream, she spent most of the set hunched forward with her arms at her side, as if she were possessed by her songs. Her band expertly executed the loud-to-soft and soft-to-loud dynamic shifts that Apple’s songs demand. There were even a few times when the band wandered into jam-band territory. But where that can sometimes feel frivolous, when anchor­ed by a truly commanding singer like Apple, it works. She ended the set with a seething rendition of her 1996 breakout hit, “Criminal.” If Apple truly did “need to be redeemed,” she certainly was on this night.

Boss by Southwest
In a disarmingly funny and candid keynote address on Thursday, Bruce Springsteen talked about the state of modern music and shared a heartfelt history of his own journey. For more than an hour, he detailed personal politics, imparted words of wisdom on young musicians, discussed a host of artists across all genres that he felt indebted to (from the Elvis to Public Enemy) and even revealed that he still plays guitar in the mirror. “Don’t you?” he asked the amused crowd of 3,000. “C’mon! You’ve gotta check out your moves!” At one point he picked up a guitar and demonstrated how with The Animals’ song “We’ve Gotta Get Outta This Place” he built his entire career. “That’s every song I’ve ever written,” he said. Later that night the Boss and the E Street Band tore through more than two hours of tunes, including “We’ve Gotta Get Outta This Place.” Animals singer (and Austin resident) Eric Burden, through the magic of Twitter had gotten wind out Springsteen’s flattering words, and joined the band onstage. Burden wasn’t the only special guest. Jimmy Cliff came out to perform three songs, strangely though, “Trapped,” the Cliff song that Springsteen has been known to cover, was not one of those songs. Openers Alejandro Escovedo and the Low Anthem joined the band onstage for a rousing rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” Also onstage for this performance were Joe Ely and The Arcade Fire. Though the set was very similar to last week’s Apollo show (see review here) there was an energetic sense of possibility that anything could happen (which it did!). I usually construct my SXSW experience with seeking out new music at the beginning of the week and falling back upon one “treat” towards the end of the week. The treat of course is a band that I already know and love. But in this instance, I didn’t feel bad spending valuable SXSW time watching Springsteen, as at 62 the guy really is still able to prove it all night.

Bands with buzz
The long lines for shows at SXSW can be a good resource for what to see next. And with many bands performing multiple times, you can always find out what’s worth the wait. Here are the ones who have been earning enough rave reviews that I’m going to try to check them out this weekend: Santigold, Alabama Shakes, I Am Oak, Henry Clay People, John Fullbright, Capsula, The Ettes, Dent May and JD McPherson.

SXSW at home

You don’t have to fly all the way to Texas to get in on the SXSW magic. Several websites are streaming live from the Lone Star State. Check out sites www.npr.org and www.kut.org and, of course, www.sxsw.com.


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Reddit boosts news capabilities in social media turf…

By Jennifer SabaNEW YORK (Reuters) - Reddit, a website with a retro-'90s look and space-alien mascot that tracks everything from online news to celebrity Q&As,…

Local

New York joins accord to strengthen popular vote…

New York State joined a nationwide effort that would gives the state's 29 electoral votes for president to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.

National

Missouri man charged with sexually torturing five women

A Missouri man has been charged with raping and torturing five women in a St. Louis-area apartment over several years, law enforcement officials said on Tuesday.

Local

Report: NYPD disbands controversial Muslim surveillance program

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that the police unit behind NYPD's Muslim surveillance program was disbanded.

Television

'Orphan Black's' Jordan Gavaris talks Felix's Season 2…

Jordan Gavaris plays heroically helpful foster sibling Felix to main clone Sarah on "Orphan Black." We talked to him about what’s ahead for him in…

Going Out

Accomplice Tour: New York (Spoiler Alert)

When I signed up for the Accomplice show tour, I had no idea what I was in for. But every grimy job comes with a great reward.

Television

TV watch list, Tuesday, April 15: 'New Girl,'…

'New Girl' Nick and Jess are hiding their breakup from the other loft residents. And Winston passes the police academy exam! That guy needed some…

Television

'Orphan Black' is back with 'crazy clone shenanigans'

“Orphan Black” is the little show that could. It had a few things working against it: a sci-fi premise, attracting an audience who had never…

NBA

Nets miss chance to clinch No. 5 seed…

Nets head coach Jason Kidd expressed little concern after a 109-98 loss to the Knicks, but others seemed to disagree.

NFL

Jets confident despite Chris Johnson leaving with no…

Jets fans clamored for a playmaker on offense all offseason. It looked like they were going to land that player on Tuesday when Chris Johnson…

NBA

Knicks, Nets rivalry never materialized despite national attention

When the NBA schedule was released, the league anticipated an intense rivalry between the Nets and Knicks with all four games slated for national TV.

NBA

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could…

NBA Power Rankings: Are the Spurs frauds? Could the Mavericks surprise?

Home

Steal home decorating tips from Nattystyle blogger Natalie…

Despite the towering ceilings and enviable exposed brick, it’s easy to see how Natalie Decleve’s apartment could be considered a challenge. Perched above the streets…

Home

How to plant a garden in the city

Small on space but big on gardening? You can still have that welcoming oasis of fresh air with an urban garden. Peter Smith, owner of…

Style

Personalize your massage at a private practice

CityTouch customizes spa treatments to meet client's needs.

Style

Victoria's Secret Fashion Show moving to England

It will still broadcast on CBS this fall.