SXSW 2011 Friday
words by Elliot Cole
Antone's (The Billions Corporation)
Will Sheff – clad in suit with a scraggly, red beard - did his best to ignore the screaming patrons while soundchecking for the band’s first official SXSW set. “Play the hits!” shouted a fan. Sheff and company told the aforementioned fan that they weren’t sure which ones were the hits, to which the fan replied, “They’re all hits.” On this night, at least, he was right.
“For Real”, “Unless It’s the Kicks”, and “Lost Coastlines” appeased the diehards, and the local group found a perfect harmony of older and newer material. Sheff shed his jacket for an intimate acoustic number, in which his vocal melodies were particularly on the mark. The backing band, growing to as many as six other members, wailed on brass, slide guitars, keys and drums in support.
The new tracks, including a choppy, guitar-drive opener, are aggressive, but completely within the vein of Okkervil’s discography. The hyper-literate Sheff tongue twisted through verses with an occasionally visceral tone, but warmly addressed the crowd, proclaiming Austin as the best city in the world (and offending a few overly sensitive non-Austinites).
The group’s last true album, The Stage Names, didn’t do much to separate itself from its predecessor. The new tracks, however, seemed to maintain a personality of their own, a good sign for the band’s impending release. Still, Sheff – always the thinker – had an easy decision on his hands when it came to “Our Life is Not A Movie Or Maybe”, which was played with all the energy as when it was released. It was, like the set itself, a hit.
Matt & Kim
Fader Fort by Fiat
Matt & Kim is a party, not a show. The Fader Fort, itself, is a scene as much as it is a venue. Put the two together, and you get a messy good time (once you get past the excessively long, multi-hour wait to get into the Fader Fort).
The endearingly high-energy couple took the stage after Odd Future, in what may be one of the strangest contrasts SXSW would have to offer. It didn’t stop Matt from playfully taking a page from Odd Future’s book, inciting the crowd with a “Wolf!” and getting a rousing “Gang!” in reply. Other samples came much more naturally to Matt & Kim: “I’ve Got A Feeling” and “Apache Dance” were just a few of the silly gems that hipsters devour when played on Matt’s synth.
Those weren’t the only tricks up the duo’s sleeves: Kim booty danced on the crowd before losing her footing, balloons with Kim’s smiling face were dispersed into the crowd, and Erykah Badu allegedly made an appearance onstage (though with the chaos of the show, I didn’t even notice her).
Shedding their innocent image for a moment, the group encouraged the crowd to get laid during SXSW, informing them to start looking around during the show. After all, it is a party.
French Legation Museum (Other Music & Dig For Fire Lawn Party)
With apologies to Kanye and Dave Grohl, James Blake was one of the bigger acts at SXSW, with a consistent “have you seen him yet?” buzz creeping into conversations. To some degree, people were chattering about whether the hyperbole surrounding Blake’s debut album was justified, if it carried live or was just a byproduct of computer touches and heavy effects. Simply put, how did the somewhat austere, digital sound of Blake translate to an organic, natural live environment?
In a word: perfectly.
My first attempt at catching the 20-year-old Brit – a 1 AM showcase in the acoustic-friendly Central Presbyterian Church – had an extensive line more than an hour before the set. As 1 AM neared, it became clear that badgeholders wouldn’t even get access to the pearly gates of the church. Instead, I caught Blake outside of his natural environment: a mid-afternoon day stage under the Austin sun.
Blake, performing with two other musicians, has a density to his music that doesn’t come through on record. It’s somehow heavier than expected, with the bass resonating deeply under the current of the vocal melodies. Blake’s vocals carried gently, but with an ensnaring quality that held most of the audience in silence. Even a few artist wristbands could be seen in the crowd marveling at Blake’s traversing through soundscapes. While not overly engaged with the crowd, Blake still had almost every ear captive.