The ’Gum crew got into Austin last night and made the most of SXSW Music’s slow ramp-up into full on noise-overwhelming-the-signal mode. The options were limited, but with deep lineups: Viceland and Pitchfork’s show at the Mohawk were the primary dueling points. We caught some stuff at each, and had photographers there and also at the FADER Fort for Delorean and Baauer, and a one-off with FlyLo, and Warner Sound’s show with Action Bronson and yr boy Macklemore. Photos of all of that above, words on words on words on words below:
IO Echo @ Mohawk Outdoor (Pitchfork), 9:15PM
I thought I’d start off my SXSW experience this year by going to see Charli XCX, the British dance-pop phenom whose singles I love, at Warner Music’s showcase. This turned out to be a bad mistake. This was a showcase, after all, headlined by motherfucking Macklemore, I don’t even know what to say about the crowd that a Macklemore-headlined major-label SXSW showcase draws. And even when your showcase is hosted by newly-minted Stereogum contributor Gorburger, wearing a disturbingly elaborate rubberized costume, things at shows like this can get weird. So when the show started, here were my thoughts: “Wow, Charli’s hair looks weird. She’s doing like a swept-up pompadour thing now? OK. But why is she rapping? And why does her accent suddenly not sound so thick? Wait a second…” It took way too long for this to dawn on me, but I was not, in fact, watching Charli XCX. I was, instead, watching a dubstepping Kreayshawnaby named Sirah, the showcase’s schedule had jerked itself all around for no reason, and everything was the worst.
Meanwhile, over at the Mohawk’s Pitchfork showcase, I did my best to catch the Nashville singer-songwriter Torres, but that was not to be. The crowd had filled up the Mohawk’s indoor room completely, forcing gawkers like me to crane necks and cherish stray glimpses of stage-lights glinting off drums. Torres sounded pretty good, but I didn’t even catch the briefest glance of her face. Instead, I watched the TV mounted next to the adjacent bar, which happened to be showing the 2009 straight-to-video Scott Adkins action vehicle Ninja, which actually matched up surprisingly well with Torres’s music. Still, I clearly was not doing SXSW right. Fortunately, things righted themselves a bit as the night wore on.
With Torres basically invisible, my best course of action was to go catch a band I hadn’t been planning to see: L.A. shoegazers IO Echo, who strike me as the sort of band who should be playing arenas, but only because they’re opening for more-popular bands. (That’s not a dis; I thought the same thing about Secret Machines, and I really liked Secret Machines.) IO Echo have a huge sound, driven by guitar surges that remind me more of the Edge than Kevin Shields. They’ve also got good stage attire and lighting cues, with strobe-lights dramatically blinking away behind Japanese screens. What they don’t have — yet, anyway — is a stage presence that’s caught up with the enormity of their sound. Their set sounded pretty great while it was happening, but even a few hours later, it didn’t leave much of a lasting impression. — Tom
Marnie Stern @ Mohawk Outdoor (Pitchfork), 10:15PM
For those of us in the indie-rock press, Marnie Stern is something of a beloved figure, a top-notch shredder with a potty mouth, a wicked sense of humor, and a gift for writing arty and oblique pop songs. We all wish we were her friends. So it was a bit of a shock to hear scattered boos and general crowd indifference every time she’s finish one of her pyrotechnic sideways-pop wig-outs. I can understand some of that indifference; she seemed more comfortable, after all, talking about her vagina in between songs than attempting to sing while executing mind-melting finger-tap solos during those songs. Stern is a technician, after all, and what she does is hard enough work that it’s hard to give much to the audience beyond its simple execution. Still, she, and her band’s accomplished clatter, deserved a whole lot better than the weird stony-faced silence that this crowd, for whatever reason, gave her. — Tom
Japandroids @ Viceland (Vice), 11:40PM
One song into Japandroids’ set at the outdoor Viceland venue, frontman Brian King tore into the security staff, claiming they were sucking the life out of the show, and demanding they leave — which they did, reluctantly. Maybe they were unsure about taking orders from a band when they’d been hired by the venue. Or maybe they realized the lethargy had nothing to do with their presence, but was instead the byproduct of an anaemic sound that evaporated into wan white noise several feet away from the PA. That’s not a knock on Japandroids in general — I’ve seen ’em numerous times, and been consistently blown away — but at the chain-link fenced-in Viceland, not only was the sound bad enough to render the songs unintelligible and indistinguishable, I actually heard indoor-voice-volume conversations clearly above the music, to the extent that those conversations eventually drowned out the music completely. And I was 30 feet from the stage, if that. The band’s frustration begat anger begat a manic, compressed energy; some game drunks up front followed suit, crowd-surfing and swaying atop the shoulders of boyfriends. Where amplification let them down, the band tried pure, natural screaming — if King has any voice left for the remainder of Japandroids’ SXSW sets, I’ll be pretty surprised — but it too was lost in the cool Austin air. — Michael
Divine Fits @ Viceland (Vice), 1:00AM
Much of the throng who filled up Viceland for Japandroids had dissipated by the time of Divine Fits’ delayed start, which is a testament to how underappreciated this particular supergroup really is. But Spoon frontman Britt Daniel is still enough of a local Austin hero that he still got a whoop from the remaining crowd just for showing his face, and he apparently commands enough respect from Austin soundmen that the Viceland volume, appallingly low for Japandroids and Wavves, got jacked up to a half-respectable volume when he touched the stage. Daniel is one of indie rock’s most engaging frontmen, but in Divine Fits, he seems to relish sharing bandleader duties with Dan Boeckner. And the Boeckner/Daniel dynamic is a fascinating one, with Daniel all suave assurance and Boeckner a way more volatile presence, with his jailhouse-looking tattoos and his ropy sinew. Boeckner and Daniel regularly switched off instruments, but the set’s best moments came when Daniel busied himself holding down the rhythm section on bass and Boeckner let loose with his guitar, letting it rip and stab, never playing anything as drab as a hook.
Divine Fits haven’t been around for long, but live, they already give the impression of being a road-hardened, fiercely tight live band, one capable of knocking out tense rhythmic throbs with aplomb, at any time. When the band covered Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky,” they did it with enough simmering tension that it sounded like one of their songs. The one new song they played (watch below) was just as terse and spiky as the already-released material, and it gave a welcome indication that this band is going to continue for a while. And when Daniel took over on the great single “Would That Not Be Nice?,” he gave an absolute master-class in wound-tight rock showmanship, selling the song’s paranoid groove completely. Honestly, I can’t think of any reason why this band isn’t dominating the summer festival circuit. They’re a revelation live, and you’re fucking up if you don’t go see them when they pass through. — Tom