All photos by Callie Richmond for Bro Jackson.
AUSTIN—Prince performed a nearly three-hour set with six encores Saturday night in Austin’s 1,000-seat La Zona Rosa venue. A Tribe Called Quest opened the show. A few blocks downtown, Justin Timberlake rocked a minimalist, open-bar-fueled pop-up MySpace party. This occurred as Billy Corgan’s latest version of Smashing Pumpkins jammed out during some Red Bull-sponsored malarkey about three hours after Diddy performed “It’s All About the Benjamins” word-for-word across the highway at Fader Fort alongside French Montana and, to my general disdain, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.[ref]They did the “Thrift Shop” song that Blake loves so much and then abruptly peaced out, thankfully.[/ref] Pop overlord Usher collaborated with the Afghan Whigs. Fall Out Boy fished for comeback pulses. Third Eye Blind’s gig was shut down by Austin Police.
South By Southwest—the 25-year strong industry conference-turned-unofficial festival notorious for free day parties with free drinks where you catch this year’s buzz—has expanded into a ten-day triumvirate of music, film, and the decidedly more geeky and tech-oriented “interactive.” Twitter[ref]The medium, not a story that broke on Twitter[/ref] blew up down here during the interactive portion of SXSW in 2007, and that street cred has boosted the front end of this whole thing. As early as Friday the 8th, Vice Magazine parties with Texas rappers opened for business.[ref]Bun B was steadfast and smooth as always, Just Blaze proved to be an excellent DJ.[/ref] On Sunday the 9th, Cloud Nothing’s quarter-life crisis middle finger punk rippled across The Mohawk while I became a GIF at The Daily Dot and Tumblr’s interactive party.[ref]Disclosure, I’ve written for the Dot.[/ref]
Divine Fits—the cathartic side project from Spoon’s Britt Daniel and the dude from Wolf Parade—wins for best management because the nascent band spent the week stockpiling one high profile gig after another (headlining a separate Mohawk interactive party, a Tuesday night party that was sponsored by Jansport Backpacks for some reason, an Austin City Limits studio taping, and a free-to-the-public outdoor festival). I ducked out minutes before their Monday night performance,[ref]Jesus H. Cruz, this was a week ago. Everything is a free candy blender of swag.[/ref] and missed every other Fits performance. I’m legitimately sad about that because 2012’s A Thing Called Divine Fits is one of those perfect albums you write off because of its immediate, immaculate polish and return to months later when you realize it’s an aching but subtle breakup record.
Tuesday was a toe dip in the pool—SXSW’s music portion officially kicked off a day early this year—wherein I took time to see friends perform.[ref]Not trying to convey that knowing musicians makes me cool like Shane is known to do. In Austin, 100 percent of the populous has an alt country side project—it’s kinda like Nashville, with a tan.[/ref] The first official band I caught was Austin’s buzzy good Eastern Sea.
They make post-Arcade Fire baroque pop and it’d be tweefully insufferable except that the passionate songwriting gets first priority. Then Spain’s beach dance rave maestros, Delorean, turned out a Dell party that I inadvertently crashed because I answered “yes” at the door to the question, “Are you a Dell employee?” Then I walked to Viceland for Japandroids and Wavves[ref]Guess who was on the bill but I missed? Divine Fits.[/ref] Then some solid Maryland reggae bands. Then the Polyphonic Spree crammed 15 freelance members onto a tiny stage that mostly hosts punk, and an hour later 23-year-old electronic music prodigy Nicolas Jaar pressed buttons on his laptop at North Door. In between, the people behind Mophie sponsored an endearing, hardworking set by rapper Jef Jon Sin that occurred on top of a black van. An intern asked me for my email address, so I provided her iPad with the requisite data, and then I found out that Jef Jon Sin has promotional, post-Livestrong bracelets. To show support for everyone battling low levels of swerve no doubt.
It’s wise to start strong on South By Wednesdays. To knock out the trendy stuff early, file with editors, and then enjoy the nights. At Paste’s showcase, Foxygen’s 20-something members failed to capture the glorious maturity of the hyped-to-death, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic.[ref]We’re talking wasted youth, and they’d go on to cancel their final three performances citing vocal soreness.[/ref] Rural Canada’s Mac DeMarco, another buzz bro, chugged beers and dispensed crunchy village rock. His stoner poetry on cuts like the sweetly simple “Annie” makes me want to chop firewood.
Over at Club Deville, San Antonio Spur Matt Bonner[ref]And grassroots 3-point contestant. #letbonnersxsw[/ref] curated his Sneakers & Speakers charity event. Spurs teammate Stephen Jackson appeared as rapper Stak5, but Reverend Payton’s Big Damn Band—a combative and technical steel guitar and washboard trio—rocked the loudest. Later, the solo famous Black Hippy members had a reunion of sorts at Fader Fort as all four elite rappers–Ab Soul, Schoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Kendrick Lamar–killed a 90-minute block of heavy and perfect hip-hop. Food truck chef turned New York City classicist Action Bronson bombed the stage but the house DJ was underhanded so Q coaxed a phone from a fan so they could perform their duet, “Demolition Man.”
While in a line, a generally affable marketing rep confirmed that Lil Wayne had been booked for her firm’s after party. This had been a big rumor so it was welcome news, but she said that he’d also been booked to curate their New Year’s Eve event in New York City, and Weezy arrived just after 3:00 a.m. Coincidentally, this secret, rumor-mill gig was supposed to start at 3:00 a.m. so things seemed promising. Weezy never showed, we now know why—just hope dude can make art from the arresting developments.
I had lots of editing and writing and interviewing to conduct on Thursday, but I did walk back into the Fader Fort for Solange Knowles’ beautiful late afternoon performance. She steered with the grace of Erykah Badu, was a towering diva presence with fashion for days, and her hipster bait New York City singles showed up with teeth. Trinidad James proved himself fool’s gold as a solo performer, yet we’ll remember “All Gold Everything” long after he’s gone. In fact James’ jewelry anthem trumped “Thrift Shop” and “Harlem Shake” in SXSW week omnipresence.[ref]A good way to get people going before unrelated sets last week was to randomly yell, “Pop a Molly . . . I’m sweatin’!”[/ref]
When the Texas sun gave respite, I walked into Stubb’s for the Dave Grohl-curated BFF jam, Sound City. All five active Foo Fighters backed rock legends that ranged from household staples (Stevie Nicks, Krist Novoselic, John Fogerty, the guy from Cheap Trick with the hat) to behind-the-boards legends like producer Chris Goss. Grohl took extra pleasure in giving these hard rock framers—specifically Fear frontman Lee Ving—glowing and self-serious stage banter. Rage Against the Machine’s Brad Wilk was a superfluous drummer and spent most of the four-hour jam nodding along just offstage, but the weirdest gate crasher was Rick Springfield. He showed up in rocker regalia complete with a black vest, untuned guitar, and a winking sense of humor: yeah dude, he performed “Jessie’s Girl.” Best moment of the night: Taylor Hawkins and Slipknot’s Corey Taylor[ref]Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda was apparently unavailable[/ref] singing “I Want You to Want Me” with Novoselic on bass, Grohl on drums, Cheap Trick bro on lead guitar. Fogerty slayed and closed; his voice even more gutturally soulful since he first recorded “Born on the Bayou.”
He unsheathed all of the Credence songs you know[ref]”Bad Moon Rising,” “Proud Mary,” “Fortunate Song”[/ref] and credited Grohl with making them fun again.
After, I made failed bids to catch LL Cool J at a giant Doritos vending machine/Cool Ranch Taco launch party, and then T.I. at the BET Showcase. Golden era throwback phenom Joey Bada$$ rocked the North Door. Trendy punks Parquet Courts did the Lamar Pedestrian Bridge mosh pit thing at just after 2:00 a.m. The merits of Kerbey Lane Cafe’s iconic queso as it relates to its penchant for being served too cold because there’s a sub-layer of guacamole were debated shortly thereafter.
I meet my buddy at the Wendy’s on I-35 and 7th after a cab drops him off straight from the airport around my usual SXSW start time of 11 a.m. His dufflebag goes into my trunk and we descend. Because he is an undocumented party crasher, we prioritize open bars over music until a larger group forges and I can dip out into Spin’s elite gala. The flagship music rag’s acts include jammy space cowboys Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Solange again, and a proper solo set from Kendrick Lamar. Their open bar included Miller Lite, hard cider, and three types of vodka cocktails. Vodka is tasteless and soft and exists stateside so people that do not like alcohol can get drunk by masking this carbon monoxide of spirits with citrus. But it was free and it did the trick because the next thing you know I’m two miles away from Spin’s party at Auditorium Shores.
Once again, I miss Divine Fits at this free-to-the-public Shores mini-fest. Jim James of My Morning Jacket’s solo set is slow burning and moving.
The Flaming Lips debut their new album and its accompanying, manic stage show—lots of lights and people in bubbles and Wayne Coyne held a baby the whole time. The music is ambient and not tailored for a mass audience but I really enjoyed the thing because I was watching with another tight bro who happens to be a trusted horticulturalist. I leave before James and Coyne duet the immortal “Do You Realize?” and sneak into Green Day across the river at the new Austin City Limits studio by back-dooring it through a freight elevator and trickling down into the private mezzanine from the upstairs offices. It was Billie Joe Armstrong’s first show since his stint in rehab and for a band that has sucked since 2004’s irredeemable American Idiot, generally slayed because the two hour set beget classics like “She” and “Welcome to Paradise.” Then I got into the MySpace show that featured Sleigh Bells and Flying Lotus. It was alright
Saturday is the last legitimate South By rager,[ref]People mad dash to the airport on Sunday, so it’s a short stick for acts that have to close out the register on the last day[/ref] and it began with ‘60s LSD survivors The Zombies going H.A.M. at Mellow Johnny’s Bike Shop. The day show from Seattle’s vital KEXP is a recurring staple,[ref]Charles Bradley tore this spot a new one two years ago.[/ref] but it’s far enough west from the downtown clusterfuck that lines are not an issue. This is a band we all unknowingly love because Wes Anderson dropped “The Way I Feel Inside” into the most heartbreaking scene from “The Life Aquatic.” The seasoned vets played tight, loud versions of psychedelic classics like “Time of the Season,” and “She’s Not There.” In a shop where you can purchase bicycles.
After, Brooklyn Vegan’s day party at The Main was a trendy meltdown of legit indie folk. “The Main” used to be Emo’s and Emo’s is my favorite venue of all-time because it’s one of those all ages punk clubs that booked random and increasingly trendy rock until it got so cool that bigger media stepped in and promptly moved the party to cheaper real estate. It closed in the fall of 2011 but the space has yet to be gutted and made into a high rise condo so it was kind of like seeing an ex that had gotten really into meth. I didn’t’ stick around for White Lung[ref]Badass female punk rock.[/ref] but I looked them up on Spotify and immediately regretted the pre-mature exodus. The find of the music conference proved to be Autre Ne Veut, a Brooklyn-based r&b three-piece. Wait, please keep reading. I also thought it’d be some bullshit: a drum kit and a laptop and a white guy in knock off Versace shades. But the production was stellar, the vocals were aggressive croons. It felt like The Weeknd on cheaper narcotics and with better lyrics. It was heart on the sleeve soul for people that think about the universe when they’re drunk.
Earl Sweatshirt was born in 1994 and he’s already a great one. His charisma carried a brief Fader Fort set of snarky skater raps. French Montana was boring. He closed with “Stay Schemin’” and “Pop That,” two massive singles that feature Drake. Here’s what I know: the Fader photogs were told that Usher was going to stop by on Friday, and ditto that Diddy would be in the building on Saturday. But they were told that other guests would be dropping in. Presumably, this is because the other guests were bigger names than Diddy and Usher. I’d bet cash money that Drake makes an appearance if he’s not in the hospital visiting Lil Wayne.
But whatever, I got to hear Diddy perform “It’s All About the Benjamins.” The Prince and Timberlake pipe dreams felt too fringe to bother chasing. A Billboard colleague had met Timberlake’s publicist and he wasn’t on the press list. I wanted to see Mystikal or maybe Iron & Wine. But sometimes you need to know when everything’s real in the field—what you can’t have now leave in your will.