It’s only fitting that I make a marked return to The Last Drop for South by Southwest Coverage. After all, last year, I was running at a stellar clip, blogging each night to capture my first impressions of this noise explosion that overuns Austin. No live blogging this year. However, I attempt to actually further everyone’s knowledge by sharing a piece of each band that I saw. Overall, I think I upped the number of bands I had never heard and reduced the pursuit of super hyped shows (read: I stole back the 6 hours of my life spent chasing Kanye /Jay-Z/Vevo from last year) which is more of a feat than you would imagine as there was a terrible glut in mainstays making an appearance at the festival. Alright, talk is cheap, and type is even cheaper. Let’s get it on.
Alice Smith – first show of the day after a long travel cycle to get to Austin thanks to SFO and United (without you two, who knows how many more places I would go on time…). Fader seems content to give you a glimpse at the very near future and rarely a hard look at the truly new world prospects. Alice was no different than this formula – all the gusto and wail of a ’60’s R&B/blues singer that you would expect. Raw and uncontrolled which most readily translates into loud. And which seems to move the masses these days. But not me. Variety is the spice of life, no? Alice could definitely use some. The basic chops are there, but the memorableness (yes, this is a word. Peep that Oxford.) remains to be seen. Not to say it can’t happen. It just hasn’t.
Gary Clark Jr. – ah, an Austin native! Insert self satisfied pat on the back for “keeping it local”. I think I first heard him on an episode of Friday Night Lights unsurprisingly. It’s nice to see that a heavy blues influenced rock band is getting a lot of buzz nowadays to help shake up a somewhat stale genre. Yes, I am making a strong assertion that rock is stale in spite of indie rock’s recent heaving period of growth as witnessed by Arcade Fire and Bon Iver stealing the Grammy buzz. As long as Foo Fighters can continue to write the same album and win listeners (and a Grammy), you haven’t changed much in the past decade (no disrespect to Dave Grohl though, I still have love…). Even if award shows are not the best indicator of all consumer interest, you will be hard pressed to convince me that this genre has sustained a fraction of progression that has been seen in hip hop or country or many other genres. Alright, soapbox safely packed away for the day. Mr. Clark was fun, solid and tight, but again nothing too unique. Nevertheless, I think there will always be a place for a bluesy guitar driven roots rock band. Just not in my daily rotation.
Don’t Owe You a Thang
Central Presbytarian Church
Fiona Apple – this was the only bonafide star I chased on Thursday. With very little effort. I’ve seen Ms. Apple before so this was more of a check-in than reliving the past. And, honestly, I had to see if she could simply do it – a bit of car crash rubber necking was at play and I am not ashamed. It’s been 7 years since her last album that had a title that wasn’t (there’s a pawn and it broke and then there was 5 more sentences, right?) and her innate abilitly to craft some stellar songs is only matched by her notorious breakdowns and ficklness in live performance. So. We meet again. In a church. Intimate and stifled by expectation. Literally, a crowd of breathe pregnant by baiting. Would she make it? I think she did. Nothing mind blowing, but a solid return. If not entertaining, it was technically proficient. A peace offering of sorts – all the hits were on display with no short shrift , some less popular back catalog made its way in to satisfy the fanatics, and two new songs to tease us all for the upcoming release. The formula for a strong comeback was on display at this showcase and I’m hopeful for the end result. She proved that there is still a void in well crafted, lyrics first female songwriting which she alone fulfills. BTW – if you haven’t listened to Sleep to Dream in a while, do. I forgot how intensely satisfying it is.
ThEESatisfaction – Well, there is just so much I could say for these girls. First act on my list of “must sees” that was crossed off. But more importantly, we connected. A lot. Like an unbelieveable amount. And by connection, I take the literal definition. I met them earlier in the day at the Fader Fort (to a bit of shock at the ease of interaction. I still get star struck easily) where they kindly shared their performance times for later in the night. Later in the night came and I caught their performance. Better than anticipated, thanks to the help of synchronized dancing (more to come on this tactic later in the festival) and a truly unique music style that they conveyed easily. I think it’s pretty hard to come up with a female duo of indie R&B/ hip hop that doesn’t rapidly move into either esoteric imagery and sound or stereotypical lyrical content (here’s to you, Floetry). They took it all in stride, one foot proudly in artistic expression, the other in tounge & cheek pop topics (kudos for making a R&B anthem for being bisexual that does NOT include any R. Kelly imagery). In short, it all seemed to work. After the performance, we caught up again, hopeful to catch some of the same acts at some point during the fest. Little did I know that I would end up seeing them everywhere. No, for real. Everywhere. At the Convention Center to catch a film, there they are. At a random showcase that was half full, there they are. It got bad enough that someone at the Fader Fort thought I was IN the group (hmmm, if only I had the time to interject another rant on being black in America. Next time….). In spite of the seemingly creepy “random” meetings, I still think these two are a force to watch this year. They worked well as hook hawkers on Shabazz Palaces’ latest and are even better on their own. They’re odd, but listenable, inviting and dare I say fun. Let’s hope the rest of the world catches on too.
Kendrick Lamar – Act two on my list of “must sees”. But wait, I had already seen him last year (and liked what I saw), why the second effort? Well, now that he’s made a name for himself as well as his entire crew, this was a celebratory lap of sorts. And I think Kendrick was in it for the same reasons. Last year, he played the early sets at the broad based hip hop day showcases. This year, he closed out a night showcase dedicated to only his labelmates and had prime billing at Fader. His stature has grown mightily over the last year. And, personally, I’m claiming a bit part of acknowledging this success. Why not celebrate? Lots of stereotypical hip hop show maneuvers (queue air horn, “throw your hands in the sky”, look at all of these people with chronic medical conditions that only marijuana can help with…) but all in the spirit of fun. I’ve never seen a Cheshire grin suit a man so well. And it’s nice to know that success isn’t always a headache (Drake, you hear that???). This is the kind of repeat performance that you live to see – your musical “child” growing up right before your eyes.