SXSW 2013 Wednesday: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Waxahatchee, White Lung, & Lots Of Metal

Stereogum’s recaps and photos from SXSW continue…

Encrust @ Mohawk Outdoor (PITCHFORK/SHOW NO MERCY), 12:30PM

The Show No Mercy showcase at House Of Vans (aka Mohawk) started early. Like, actually early — it was scheduled to kick off at noon, but for some reason, the doors didn’t open till like 12:30, meaning the day’s first act, NYC sludge-industrialists Battilus, played to a literally empty room. (Or did they?It’s like a metal Zen koan.) Even disregarding that snafu, 12:30 is pretty early for metal! Especially considering half the bill was situated on Mohawk’s outdoor stage, beneath the toasty Texas sun. The first of those acts was Chicago’s Encrust (formerly known as Hunters, although that name now apparently belongs to an NYC punk band who are also at SXSW 2013), who had just arrived in Austin after an 18-hour drive from Chi-town. (Actual Facebook status update from the band at what I calculate to be about Hour Three of this drive: “White out conditions at 75mph? Fuck it. Lets party.”) I have undying respect for bands who display that level of commitment: load up the van, drive halfway across the continent, load in, play a 30-minute noontime set for two dozen people, and then … I dunno, head home, I guess? Doesn’t look like Encrust is doing any other SXSW shows, as far as I can tell. They must have been half-dead by the time they took that stage, but man it didn’t show — or if it did show they used it to their advantage: Encrust delivered a furious set of coarse, riffy death-n-sludge with huge grooves and filthy guitars. Not sure how any band measures the value of a sparsely attended SXSW set against the cost of a few tanks of gas, but by the end Encrust’s set, the place was starting to fill; they must have won over a few new fans, at least. They got one for sure right here. — Michael

Inter Arma @ Mohawk Indoor (PITCHFORK/SHOW NO MERCY), 1:00PM

Lots of non-metal fans will tell you all “extreme” metal vocalists are interchangeable, and those people are not necessarily wrong: If you don’t play an instrument and you’re not John Tardy or Tompa Lindberg, you’re probably not your band’s Most Valuable Player. Rarer still, though, are legit frontmen. Most metal screamers think showmanship ends at a little corpsepaint, but go see a band like Goatwhore — whose Ben Falgoust owns the stage like a black-metal James Brown — and you get an idea just how damn much a real frontman can raise a performance. Inter Arma’s Mike Paparo (also of the amazing Bastard Sapling, who I wrote about last year) isn’t quite on Falgoust’s level, but he’s close: He uses his whole body to deliver his vocals, throwing himself forward, downward, his eyes wide like a cornered cat, giving his serrated roar an incredible urgency. Of course, he’s not alone up there: Inter Arma are responsible for one of the year’s best metal releases, Sky Burial, a sludge metal album with huge doomy hooks and psychedelic explorations that actually reach destinations worth visiting. We had its outstanding track “The Survival Fires” at No. 8 in last month’s installment of the Black Market. Now having experienced the band live, I’d be inclined to bump it quite a bit closer to the top of the list. — Michael

Mutilation Rites @ Mohawk Outdoor (PITCHFORK/SHOW NO MERCY), 1:15PM

Mutilation Rites were sort of like Brooklyn’s house band for the last couple years (frontman George Paul works at Greenpoint metal market St. Vitus when he’s not playing the place), but they’ve been touring pretty endlessly since the release of their terrific 2012 LP, Empyrean (which came in at No. 21 on our list of last year’s best metal albums). They arrive at SXSW as part of a jaunt with Inter Arma, apparently without bassist Ryan Jones, who’s on loan to Today Is The Day at the moment. (Oddly, and seemingly coincidentally, Today Is The Day are also in town for SXSW.) Will Lindsay (formerly of Nachtmystium) is filling in, and while that can’t be an easy assignment, it seems to me like he’s got it down — Mutilation Rites sounded as good if not better than they have at any of the numerous Brooklyn gigs at which I’ve seen them in the past. Was this in spite of the fact that they were so plainly out of their element, playing not in a dark Brooklyn bar well after nightfall, but outdoors at 1 p.m. on a beautiful 75-degree day? Or (in part) because of it? — Michael

White Lung @ The Parish (Consequence Of Sound), 1:30PM

The signal to noise ratio is hopelessly out of whack here in Austin to the point that something legitimately cutting through, rather than feeling like due diligence or some brand-foisted “experience,” can feel positively spiritual. It used to happen a lot. You’re lucky if to feel the effect even once on these streets these days, so let this be a clarion call: If you are in Austin and leave without seeing White Lung, you blew it. The Vancouver quartet released their sophomore LP Sorry last year, though SXSW as an institution will prove its continuing worth if this week puts them on many more radars. This is a band who liked something about Hole — in particular their front woman’s tone and absorbing presence — but wished Hole was built from post-hardcore stock. The guitars are frenetic and slicingly post-punk; the tempos are breakneck; the drumsticks break. Maybe the last part isn’t intentional, though Way used that moment to engage the Parish’s downstairs bar, saying something to the effect of “If your’e not breaking it, you’re not doing it right.” Which is also to say, this week White Lung will be doing it right. — Amrit

Vattnet Viskar @ Mohawk Indoor (PITCHFORK/SHOW NO MERCY), 2:00PM

I petitioned (successfully) to get Vattnet Viskar onto our list of 2012’s best new bands on the strength of their excellent three-song EP, but even more so, on the strength of their intense live show, which they bring to NYC with unusual regularity, considering they live in New Hampshire. And it wasn’t just their live show by which I was inspired to vouch for them, but specifically their live performance of the EP’s closing number, “Barren Earth” (which also frequently closes their show): a clear and visceral climax that merits comparisons ranging from Godspeed to Neurosis to Swans to Agalloch. It’s a stunningly masterful piece of music from a band so young, and live, they deliver it with warrior conviction. Their set at SXSW was hands down the best I’ve seen from them (and the best of the day, IMO); now, somehow, all their songs bring the colossal power once reserved for “Barren Earth.” And “Barren Earth,” which they closed with again, is on a whole ‘nother level entirely. — Michael

Royal Thunder @ Mohawk Outdoor (PITCHFORK/SHOW NO MERCY), 2:15PM

After two sets from bands who had little business playing in daylight, Royal Thunder took to the Texas afternoon like they’d never done anything else a day in their lives. Royal Thunder are an Atlanta band that plays classic blues-based metal derived from Zeppelin or Deep Purple, although vocalist Miny Parsonz reminds me more of Grace Slick than Robert Plant. Whatever the reference, she’s got some insane pipes: gut-delivered, on-pitch, and powerful. (She also plays bass, which contributes substantially to the band’s heavy grooves.) I’d heard from numerous friends in various cities that Royal Thunder were the highlight of the recent North American tour on which they opened for Pallbearer and Enslaved. That’s high praise — Pallbearer (discussed below) made the best metal album of 2012, and Enslaved are a True Norwegian Black Metal act that have evolved into something else entirely — but based on this set, I believe it. — Michael

Pinkish Black @ Mohawk Indoor (PITCHFORK/SHOW NO MERCY), 3:00PM

I’m a huge fan of Pinkish Black’s self-titled 2012 debut album, which landed at 17 on our list of 2012’s best metal albums and was striking enough to convince Century Media to give them a deal (this is notable, as CM is not always known for signing avant-garde artists), so they were high on my list of must-see acts at SXSW. Their sound is noisy, gothy, no-wave-y … is it even metal? These definitions are so flexible, but I can’t fit the band comfortably into any one of of the 50 billion subgenres with which I’m familiar. It’s such a haunting, uncomfortable, weird album, and I don’t know what configuration or degree of theatrics would have been necessary for me to experience those feelings in a live setting, but for whatever reason, the band on stage — keyboardist/vocalist Daron Beck and drummer Jon Teague — sort of fell short. It’s not that they weren’t loud or heavy enough; if anything, I was shocked by the tones and depths Beck wrung from his synth rack. It just seemed odd to watch two humans make music that felt so alien otherwise. I think the two heshers standing next to me, passing a joint back and forth with only the barest pretense of concealing it, had the right idea: This is not music for the unaltered consciousness. After the band’s set, I ran into a friend who more or less agreed: “They should be playing in a cave,” she said. I don’t mean to suggest that metal should rely on presentation to achieve veracity (or, more importantly, that it needs a gimmick), but Pinkish Black make genuinely fucked-up music, so I kinda think it’s crucial that either artist or audience finds a way to make the live show equally fucked-up. — Michael

Pallbearer @ Mohawk Outdoor (PITCHFORK/SHOW NO MERCY), 3:15PM

We had Pallbearer’s 2012 debut, Sorrow And Extinction, at No. 1 on our list of 2012’s best metal albums, and three moths after compiling that list, I’m struck by how obvious that choice was, in retrospect: Sorrow And Extinction wasn’t just the best metal album of 2012; it was the best metal album of 2012 by an order of magnitude. Nothing else even came close. As far as I’m concerned, Pallbearer are the most vital, important act in metal today, and I’m more excited for their sophomore LP than I am for any other metal release due in the next two years. The last time I saw them, though — last year in Brooklyn with labelmates Loss — I was kind of let down; some of the band’s majesty seemed absent from the performance. Loss (who rule anyway) were clearly the better band that night. I’ve been eager to see them again, though: because I’ve heard so many positive reports from people I trust, because I love Sorrow And Extinction more now than I did then. Unfortunately, Pallbearer’s SXSW show had many of the same problems I experienced during their Brooklyn set: Frontman Brett Campbell seems to always be straining, and slightly off pitch — as if his songs are written in a register above his own. NB: This is not a problem on Sorrow And Extinction, on which his vocals are as rich and clear as a young Ozzy’s, and it may not be a problem at Pallbearer shows other than the ones I’ve attended — as I said, people I trust have passed along word of being floored by Pallbear’s live set. To be clear, the band’s instrumental prowess is fluid and flawless, and their songwriting — including Campbell’s towering melodies — is truly remarkable. But of the large crowd that gathered for Pallbearer, about half seemed to be nodding along in hypnotized rhythm, the other half seemed kind of bored — talking to one another, looking around, checking out their phones. I was alternately in both camps, still waiting to be blown away for real. I’m confident it’ll happen: The band closed with a yet-unnamed new song, which didn’t do anything to make me less excited about their future. — Michael


If there’s one thing you can say about The FADER, they more or less have pretty impeccable taste and their SXSW spot is usually stuff of legends: Diddy, Rick Ross, Erykah Badu, Kanye West, I could go on. But when you’re shelling out for that kind of stage swag, it looks like it means you have to stack the deck with some off-brand acts (see: We Were Promised Jet Packs in 2010 or Oberhofer in 2012). Just because you don’t necessarily fit in FADER’s eclectic taste palette, though, doesn’t mean you’re not good or refreshing to see. Not so in the case of Gotye-labelmates and Dave Grohl buddy RDGLDGRN. I don’t know how they define themselves, although I would imagine that they fancy themselves a world music version of the Roots. I’m all for a live band with rappers. Everyone from DMX to Kendrick Lamar has sounded extra fresh when accompanied by one on an SNL performance and I’ve seen Snoop Dogg both with a DJ and a backing band and I’ll take the latter any day. With RDGLDGRN, though, the only Snoop Dogg performance it felt akin to was his cameo in Will Ferrell vehicle Old School. The band has truly finessed frat party BBQ washout music, which is essentially unmemorable. But hey, there was free cotton candy! — Claire

Trash Talk @ Mohawk Outdoor (PITCHFORK/SHOW NO MERCY), 4:15PM

I made my way to the front of the crowd in advance of Trash Talk’s set, and once there, I tried to formulate an exit strategy for when things got ugly. It was my first time seeing the band, but I had sent a writer to check them out last year, and he came back with reports of Battle Royale-esque chaos. All throughout the SXSW showcase I had noticed that the all-ages show was crowded with teenage dirtbags with X’s on their hands, and I especially noticed those kids gathering toward the front of the stage — around me — before Trash Talk’s set. My plan was to hang in the pit long enough to get ONE clear pic to post on Instagram, then scram before the shit went Thunderdome. My plan was flawed. On the first drum hit, before frontman Lee Spielman even took the stage, the pit exploded into outright violence. FULL bottles and cans were whizzing — rocketed, not lobbed — across my periphery. I was pushed against the stage, where I was more or less stuck, defending myself from all sides. It wasn’t where I wanted to be, but it was a blast: How many bands today have fans willing — eager, even — to sacrifice their bodies at the altar of worship? Sure there are terrifying hardcore pits every weekend in clubs in and around Boston, but how many are packed with kids who look like Degrassi extras? It was all balled fists and hard elbows; I stayed alive simply by being bigger than the wet rats around me. I finally got off a couple cool shots — including one of Spielman climbing up to and walking along a thirty-foot-high ledge, his leg already in a cast — but as I was choosing a filter for the stupid thing (or maybe it was when I was adding the hashtags?) — I got clocked in the head by the knee and/or boot of a dude who’d flown down from … somewhere. Behind me, above me, in front of me, I’m not even sure. I didn’t hit the ground; the fellow in front of me was not so lucky; he walked away dazed, rubbing his neck, with a spooked look in his eye. I did lose my sunglasses in the scrum. At that point I put the phone away, and put up my dukes. — Michael

Power Trip @ Mohawk (Show No Mercy), 4:45PM

The former Stereogummer Brandon Stosuy, who set up Pitchfork’s Show No Mercy party and who knows about these things, described the Dallas band Power Trip to me as something like Texas’s version of Trash Talk. And it’s true, on some level: Power Trip are a band who whip kids into a frenzy. They played the Mohawk’s tiny indoor space right after Trash Talk got done tearing the outdoor one apart, and the second their first drum-crack sounded, the floor erupted into all-out war, which didn’t really let up until they got done playing. And their music is as fast, chaotic, and generally brutal as Trash Talk’s. But Power Trip also inject heavy doses of ’80s speed metal — tangible riffs played and breakneck speed, flying Vs playing cat-in-a-blender solos, a singer with a classic dirt-stache. I still haven’t seen another circa-now band who can match Trash Talk for violent bedlam, but Power Trip come damn close, and that’s a good thing. — Tom

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds @ Stubb’s (NPR Music), 7:30PM

Nick Cave’s leathery hellspawn lounge-lizard act still has plenty of juice left in it; that much became apparent as soon as he slithered in front of the Stubb’s stage’s all-silver backdrop. He can dance and wear the hell out of a tight black suit, and even if he doesn’t sing so much as declaim, his voice remains in fine form. But for the first half of the Bad Seeds’ set, the songs from their exceptional new album Push The Sky Away weren’t enough to overwhelm the conversational din in the large outdoor venue. The band throbbed and vamped like old pros, but it wasn’t enough to seize the attention of a crowd assembling early to catch the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But then, halfway through, the show turned into a greatest-blasts-of-evil set, as the band abandoned the relative expansiveness of the new album for the punishing clangor of classics like “From Her To Eternity,” “Red Right Hand,” and an endless and slow-building “Stagger Lee.” The band turned hard and bloodthirsty, Cave himself sitting to bang on a piano during the stormiest climaxes. And “The Mercy Seat” was as dark and tingly as I possibly could’ve hoped. Maybe Cave’s newer songs couldn’t quite hold up to those old and powerful things, but then, just about nobody else’s newer songs could, either. — Tom

Waxahatchee @ Stubb’s (NPR), 9:20PM
Katie Crutchfield writes lyrics to sing along to. You know this if you’ve spent time with her debut as Waxahatchee, last year’s spare and penetrating solo song-cycle American Weekend, or this year’s full-band expansion Cerulean Salt. But if you were one of the adorable old ladies at this NPR show who kept tapping me on the shoulder to get the name and pronunciation of her project right, you learned this right out the gate, when Crutchfield took the stage herself to do three songs alone — “Hollow Bedroom,” “Noccalula,” and “Tangled Envisioning,” if you’re keeping score — with her band crouching off to the side, mouthing every word like besdsit-hypemen. Alabama’s home, but she’s based out of Philly now, and the straddle between two locales felt right: that wide-eyed introspection and those incisive turns of phrase married to a more urban worldlines in guitar and lyrical tone, a more Northern Liberties state of dress. After that opening triptych, her bassist and guitarist jumped on stage and gave the patient and attentive indoor Stubb’s crowd a more thorough Cerulean Salt bath, where her enveloping songs with raggedy rhythmic rock underpinnings held court and shined up the place. An NPR rep said to me she told Katie “Nick Cave just opened for you!” (he had just finished up on Stubb’s much larger outdoor stage), and that her face went wide-eyed and white at the insinuation, even in its half-truth. She should get used to the idea of heroes opening up for her for real, though. It’s not that far away. — Amrit

California X @ Holy Mountain (Enabler PR), 10:20PM

California X seem lab-engineered to draw as many comparisons as possible to Dinosaur Jr.; everything from their Amherst, Massachusetts hometown to their curtains of hair to, sadly, their complete lack of interest in developing any sort of stage presence demands it. Like Dino Jr., they play impressively ragged, thoughtfully mood hessian rock that’s been cleverly disguised as something resembling punk. But at their best, they sound more like a severely depressed Japandroids, rocking hard and righteous but with complete knowledge that everything is turning to shit anyway, man. Their live show and songwriting and general sense of malaise could all use some tightening, but they’ve got definite talent, and their self-titled debut album should provoke Pavlovian grins in anyone with a lingering affection for a certain era of American underground rock. — Tom

Yeah Yeah Yeahs @ Stubb’s (NPR) 11:30PM

“This bitch… I cannot even. She is too good. I am going to cry!” Our neighbor for Yeah Yeah Yeahs set at Stubb’s outdoor stage was not wrong (and did well up!), putting into terms something we’ve all said a lot: Karen O is one of the last rock stars, a magnetic whirlwind of style, heart, fury, and pathos in combination we just don’t see that often anymore. All of this was on display last night in Austin, as was her new look — lots of yellow (in her glittery suit, and in her hair) — and four new songs from YYYs forthcoming Mosquito: 1) the title track and its congas, which opened the show; 2) “Under The Earth,” the song we heard in Pomona for which the lights go low and Karen wears a Geologist headlight; 3) an entirely new one apparently titled “Subway,” ethereal and balladic with cooing Karen vocals, Zinner guitars that trade atmospheric tones for high-neck counterpoint to O’s melody, and a thrumming bed of bass from honorary fourth Yeah Dave Pajo, who spends the entire song about three inches from Karen’s face; and “Sacrilege,” for which, sadly, a gospel choir did not come onstage, despite the pre-recorded sound of one. Karen told us it was the first time they’d played that song live, and it gelled well enough; also, future YYYs goers, keep an eye out for her new “Sacrilege” signature move — holy-roller jazz hands. (These details are relevant because as wild as the Yeahs can feel, every stage movement is a choreographed affair that will be repeated at every show on this tour. Don’t forget, this is the same band that was sitting outside of Brownie’s in Kill Your Idols saying they wanted to be the biggest band in the world; they were pros from the start.) As for the other Yeahs, a rundown: Brian Chase is still The Best Drummer, and has let his facial and head hair take on a mountain man flow; Nick Zinner and Dave Pajo are still all-black-button-down-everything, as it was written and as it shall be. The setlist was a crowd-pleaser — staple older material like their debut EP’s “Art Star,” Fever To Tell’s “Cold Light”, Show Your Bones’s “Gold Lion” and “Cheated Hearts,” It’s Blitz’s “Zero” and “Heads With Roll,” — from a band that has crowd-pleasing down pat. And speaking of, there was “Maps” dedicated to the people it’s always dedicated to — the crowd, “MY LOVE,” etc. — though as Karen almost slipped off the stage and giggled to ask earnestly, “Who’s gonna catch me if I fall?”, she seized the accidental poetry LIKE A PRO and folded it into the show, preening and screeching repeatedly “WHO’S GONNA CATCH ME IF I FALL?” Of course a hundred hands went into the air, though I’m not sure how many were equipped to save her; they were pretty occupied holding iPhones to catch her for themselves. — Amrit

Antwon @ Holy Mountain (Enabler PR), 11:20PM

The San Jose rapper Antwon has a strange presence that doesn’t really recall anyone I can think of. He’s an enormous guy in jeans so tight that they’re practically jeggings, and the first song he performed tonight was about going to a party and hating everyone there. So: He’s a massive human being with fashionable inclinations and antisocial tendencies, and that’s a pretty unique combination for a rapper. And his queasily funky bedroom beats sounded great loud, even on a sound system that seemed to be held together with Band-Aids and twine. But Antwon, who presumably hasn’t played many shows yet, made a couple of classic live-rap mistakes: Rapping over his own recorded vocals and getting all pissy when the soundman was fucking up and the equipment wasn’t working right. With those rookie errors, the show kept tripping over itself before it could get going. But he did have a small but dedicated mob of skater buddies treating him like a hero, and a fired-up crowd like that can turn a mediocre show into something pretty awesome. If and when Antwon tours, he should bring all those guys with him. — Tom

The Coathangers @ Holy Mountain Backyard (Enabler PR), 12:00AM

The four women of the scratchy Atlanta punk band the Coathangers are just a blast to witness live. They gleefully switch instruments, they pull off varieties of John Waters-esque garage-junk fashion that you or I would never dare to attempt, and they bang out simple, nagging, grunty melodies like they just learned how. The band has no leader, and sometimes its members seem to be working harder to crack each other up than to engage the dorks watching them. But through sheer catchiness and force of personality, they still put on a deeply entertaining show. — Tom

Waxahatchee @ Holy Mountain (Enabler PR), 12:20AM

I was hopelessly in the tank for the Alabama-raised and Philly-based singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield, who records as Waxahatchee; her new sophomore joint Cerulean Salt is easily my favorite album of 2013 thus far. So when Crutchfield started off her set by projecting basically nothing, staring off into the middle distance and knocking out a sloppy guitar figure, my heart sank a bit; I just wanted her to succeed so badly. Pretty quickly, though, it became apparent that this is just Crutchfield’s own peculiar stage presence, and it becomes enormously likable when you let it marinate. In the end, I liked everything about this show. I liked how her bassist was an eager goof who couldn’t wait to make terrible between-songs goofs. I liked how Crutchfield stuck to the bouncier, punkier stuff from her albums, clearly realizing that scraped-raw confessionals wouldn’t go over in a room like that. And I loved how she gave Paul Simon’s “The Boy In The Bubble” the most fuzzed-out, nonchalant cover you could ever imagine; I was grinning like an idiot all through that one. So yeah: Still in the tank. — Tom

Nü Sensae @ Holy Mountain Backyard (Enabler PR), 1:00AM

The Vancouver trio Nü Sensae sound something like early Sonic Youth might’ve if Kim had been as into hardcore as Thurston was. They play blistering, barreling, linear noise-punk that never lets up or loses focus. Guitarist Brody McKnight, who looks like a depressed fisherman, slashes and needles and sometimes does a variation on the black-metal horde-of-buzzing-hornets noise. Drummer Daniel Pitout, who looks like a cast member from the teenagers-gone-crazy exploitation opus Class Of 1984, keeps his rhythms simple but pounds away at them with dizzy speed and intensity. And bandleader Andrea Lukic, in ice-blonde hair and oversize black Neil Young shirt, has a great feral hellscream and an even better stoned mutter, which is also how she talks between songs: “We’re called Nü Sensae because [slight pause] I don’t know.” I loved them. — Tom

White Lung @ Holy Mountain (Enabler PR), 1:20AM

I loved Nü Sensae’s fellow Vancouver DIY punk band White Lung even more. Here’s the thing: Noisy, chaotic basement bands aren’t supposed to project a sense of power and control. But all four members of White Lung, especially singer Mish Way, carry themselves like the coolest motherfuckers in the room. Their music is straight-ahead blitzkrieg post-hardcore, with razor-attack guitars and a rhythm section set on permanent gallop. But they’ve got hooks and melodies amid all that assault, and Way has figured out a way to throw way more personality than anyone could’ve thought possible. She’s funny: “Do you like the band Merchandise? I love the band Merchandise! This is my impression of them: [Flutters hands] Whoooaaa!” She’s also tough, making fun of the apparently godawful sound guy when all the other bands had publicly harrumphed about him. She’s also, when the moment calls for it, intense and ferocious and vengeful. I’m terrible at making calls like this, and I don’t want to jinx anything, but White Lung, who I obviously slept on for far too long, feel important, like harbingers of something changing for the better. They’re the sort of band I want to take my daughter to see. — Tom