SXSW 2013: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Phosphorescent, Natalie Maines, Richard Thompson, China Rats and More: Review and Photos
|China Rats at SXSW|
Punk pop > pop punk. At the consistently entertaining British Music Embassy evening parties one always finds at least a few baby bands to remember. Witness China Rats, a punkish quartet from Leeds, UK with pop hooks that beat just about anything fellow SXSWers Green Day have recorded in a decade. The Rats' politics lit up through the blaze of guitars -- "At least those kids are getting fed!" yelped lead singer Graeme Thomson in his best Lydonese -- as did its charisma.
Charlie Mars, in his own words. "I wrote this song while eating banana popsicles, getting high and listening to 'Dark Side of the Moon.'" Need I say anything more about this faux-reggae, faux-sensitive, surfer-rock dude? Need I explain why I sat in a church and listened to his showcase? Fine: Natalie Maines followed.
|Natalie Maines and Ben Harper at SXSW|
Going to church with Natalie, Lloyd and Ben. At Central Presbyterian Church -- simply the best place to listen to a SXSW set -- Natalie Maines showcased new songs, co-written with producer and, on this evening, mean steel guitarist Ben Harper. The new material sounded strong but only vaguely country; covers of Pink Floyd's "Mother" and Jeff Buckley's "Last Goodbye" stunned; and a final guitar duel between Harper and Maines' dad Lloyd reverberated everywhere. Maines' voice has never sounded more free.
This is your brain on drugs. This is your brain on Gang of Four. A nerdy post-punk band named Parquet Courts never caught fire but they burned away the memory of a dozen disappointments -- no Prince, Justin Timberlake or Dave Grohl's Sound City Players tickets, no memorable tunes from Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires or Dead Leaf Echo, no entrance to the Rhye showcase etc. -- with brittle rhythms and gangly howls. It wasn't a Macklemore-sized happening, but it happened just when I needed a shock to the cerebral cortex.
|Macklemore at Perez Hilton party at SXSW|
Perez Hilton throws a pretty good party. It's not like I paid to get in but Mr. Lavandeira raised a serious chunk of change ($53K if the press release is to be believed) for VH1 Save the Music and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, both worthy causes. Paloma Faith sounded excellent on an INXS cover, and I would have traded a few more songs from the UK-pop diva for the hackneyed DJ set that filled the gap before the well-meaning but hyper-hyped Macklemore & Ryan Lewis took the stage (the 40-minute delay meant the band was three hours ahead of hip-hop schedule). It's not hard to see the charm or the skills; I agree with nearly every sentiment, even the most cheesy and breezy, but Mr. Haggerty was plainly rapping to the choir on the treacly liberalisms of "Same Love." The packed Austin Music Hall loved every minute; I preferred the lark of "Thrift Shop," with Wanz roaming the stage like a cool hamster in a maze.
Support the home team but cut your losses. It's not every SXSW that I encounter a showcase by a band from my hometown of Elmhurst, Illinois (population 44,000). The Orwells sounded fine on MP3 so I gave them a chance on a final night of SXSW: I wasn't sporting a purple wristband for Prince; there wasn't much to lose. But dudes: The tie-dyed Captain-America getup you bought for the lead singer at a truck stop in Waco, Texas is not working, nor are his Cobain-affectations, and, finally, guitar tuners are your friends.
The punk-rock poetry of Sixth Street. "I want to be dead! You don't know what it's like to be dead!" Overheard as a young man tried to calm a woman who, clearly, had consumed one-too-many Sixth Street slices.
The punk-rock poetry of pedicabs. This SXSW marks a record for pedicab services purchased; in hindsight nary a tip is regretted. Some of these drivers duel like Ben-Hur powered by muffins and pizza slices, some ride topless. If you see the latter, tip her extra, or prepare to be mocked.
Networking dos and don'ts. On the veranda of the opulent Driskill Hotel, I'd hope to enjoy a cocktail in peace before returning to the fray. "Excuse me, but what do you do?" asked a couple of young men passing by. They were polite enough, and as I explained my august occupation, they shared their story: "We're in a band from Detroit called Royal Oaks. We're just here doing the networking thing. We've sold 7,300 copies of our album, on our own and at full price, so we're just looking at the next level."
At this point the level-uppers should have been asking for the writer's email, or maybe giving the writer a download card, a CD or an origami envelope with some cocaine inside. But no, the dudes moved on, unsure of how to take the news that at SXSW 2013 "Royal" -- like "Ghost," "Wave," "Beach" and "Lion" -- is to bands what "Alden," "Sophia," "Emma" and "Ethan" are to babies. The word has become a band-name meme. As the two walked away, a small part of their soul had died, never to be reborn.