SXSW Night Two: Class vs. crass in Austin, Texas
Whether planned, secret or last minute, there are hundreds of daytime shows that go on throughout the week at SXSW providing you with a chance to catch those acts that you might otherwise miss — not to mention that these gigs were often accompanied by free food and drink.
Waking early, I headed straight to Club de Ville, one of my favorite old haunts from SXSWs of years past, as the Austin band Feathers took stage. A five-piece comprised of four women and a male drummer manning an electronic drum kit, Feathers wore tall heels, looked like the Runaways years later and sounded like a gothic Pat Benatar.
Each day, the Convention Center hosts panel discussions as part of SXSW. I ducked into an program intriguingly titled “Drunk Comedy at SXSW.” The internet sensation known as Drunk History that became popular on Funny or Die, is coming to Comedy Central and Kyle Kinane and Derek Waters were there to discuss their plans. Playing the part with tallboys in cozies, they talked about the concept, confessing that it was only sup-posed to be one video short until Jack Black asked if he could be Ben Franklin. The rest is history … drunk history.
From there it was up a few floors to see Devendra Banhart. Pretty and polished he sat and played a handful of songs with his signature falsetto warble and intriguingly absurd banter like wishing everyone a Happy Halloween.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds were slated to perform at Stubbs Amphitheater on Wednesday night while the sun was still up in the Austin, Texas, sky — a strange and rare choice for his dark tunes. Cave, as I expected, stalled until the darkness fell, and with the smell of barbecue in the air, opened with a few tracks from his latest album, “Push the Sky Away.” Almost possessed, he brought life to the quiet songs and followed them up by an epic run through some of his best work. “From Her to Eternity” was followed by “Red Right Hand,” “Jack the Ripper and “Deanna.” While much of the band is new, the Bad Seeds complemented Cave’s commanding stage presence with tense reserve, all except violinist Warren Ellis, who has in time become Cave’s maniacal right-hand man.
Next up was the Love Inks, an Austin band whose single, “Blackeye” has been in constant rotation in my headphones for the past year. A modern day girl-group with fuzzy reverb, the band backed up the sound on their record with remarkable poise.
For the remainder of the night I decided to set up camp at one venue, rather than wait in any more lines. I then headed to Hype Hotel for what should have been an excellent lineup, but ended up serving as a stark contrast to the veteran Cave’s class and showmanship. The Orwells kicked things off and after noticing the X’s on their hands I learned that they are teenagers. They don’t look it, and they don’t sound like it. Sure, the lead singer has a bit of Jim Morrison snotty angst, but the band played well … until they were told it was their last song. Thinking their set was being cut short, the guitarist told the sound guy that he had been lied to, provoking the lead singer to swing his microphone around and smash it into the cymbals before sending it into the crowd. After a physical altercation with the soundman, they left the stage for good. It was a rock ‘n’ roll moment that you don’t see very often anymore … for better or worse.
Whether or not it was the Orwells’ fault, the sound only went southward: Cords were busted and sets were delayed. The anticipated Phosphorescent shone despite the ordeal. Seven members deep and with two keyboardists, their sound was fleshed out roots rock with an expressive backwoods voice. Making it through most of the set without complaints, they also threw their mic after their last song. Are rockers now borrowing from rappers?
Things would only get worse as Foxygen, who sound sexy and polished on record and have a big buzz from many major press outlets, ended up sounding like an out of tune and out of work showtune band.
The sound and showmanship only returned as Jim James closed out the night with a short set.
But maybe there’s hope for these young bands. Once upon a time there was young punk named Nick Cave who might have behaved the same way.