SXSW 2013: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Spain, Ivan & Alyosha and More: Review and Photos
|Nick Cave at SXSW|
He relished the word because he's as aware of his shtick as anyone. It's that awareness that finally affords an opening to the other side, a space he creates in his performance that is more than purely theatrical. Dancing, sashaying, seething, gesturing, Cave stalked the front of the stage and tested his howls. Through that long opening song he seemed a little hurried, and the band was just settling into the mood and groove, but it was still clear that he would not be phoning this one in. He sent the photographers off with a kick at the pit and threw everything he had at "Jubilee Street," as the band ground everything it had into dust and dirt. The violinist went mad for a moment, Cave shouted out that he was transforming, and he made it seem as if that really were the case, that he could transform a concert at SXSW, ground zero for the denial of mortality, into an affirmation of the power in remembering that we are all going to fucking die, and all this, the bullshit and the beauty, will be gone.
He refined the unrefined point by mocking some poor fool in the front row for texting and gave the wonderful soul-seeking "Diana" a rockabilly swing and swagger. He reclaimed "The Mercy Seat" from the other Man in Black and, in the form of his "Stagger Lee," reminded everyone that the greatest evil is also the funniest evil. How else should we take the way he throws himself into images of fucking Satan in the ass? How else, but with deep inner laughter, should we hear and witness this extraordinary spectacle?
|Lilly Hiatt and the Dropped Ponies at SXSW.|
It would have made for a smoother transition to hear the desert-doom of Big Harp right after Cave, but the schedule led me instead to Lilly Hiatt and the Dropped Ponies' showcase at the unfortunately named Velveeta Room. Ms. Hiatt, the daughter of John, one of our finest living songwriters, is just lighting out as a performer and band leader, playing rocked up Americana and fronting a group of Nashville aces, notably Beth Finney on seriously gritty electric guitar. Hiatt sounds confident playing her first show in her new home of Austin; her proud dad was in attendance and grooved to her twang with the rest of the crowd. Her high, sweet voice sounds best on the heartbreakers, but she clearly has the most fun with the romps -- and she's pretty hard to resist all in all.
|Big Harp at SXSW.|
On to Big Harp, who played a short, potent, rightly ragged and surprisingly mope-free set at Parish Underground, and then on to the Rainey Street Historic District for Michael Kiwanuka, backed only by a bassist, and deserving better than the meh sound and a crowd there for Cold War Kids (who was set to follow him). He only occasionally shut them up. Kiwanuka is a natural open-tuned, blues-soul folkie, and his cover of Hendrix's "Waterfall" should forever be his closing number.
|Michael Kiwanuka at SXSW|
After a quick pedicab ride (I have a 28-year-old's liver but a 48-year-old's feet) I wound down at the Brass House near the convention center. It was the right place to end the second night of SXSW: the chairs were comfy, the crowd light and mostly attentive, the pours fair and rapid. The sound was another story, and despite protestations from a manager, the travesty could not be blamed on the bands or the event organizers. Look no further than a sound man paying no attention to the feedback or the fact that the resplendent Marianne Dissard's vocal mic was inaudible. More than a little tipsy, the chanteuse, to use the word precisely, savored her showcase, even more theatrical than Mr. Cave and just as soulful. Her flair for drama, her tragic sense of the beauty of living, from her tight sequined gown to her bare feet, comes from her blood and her talent, both deeply French. Backed by prerecorded rhythm parts, she led a guitarist and violinist through love-scorched boulevard songs and pirate sing-alongs. Dissard deserved more than the handful in attendance.
|Spain at SXSW|
Spain, a band that isn't exactly known as a touring machine, closed out the night at 1 a.m. The sound disintegrated further but the songs -- drawn from across the whole of the band's rich, underrated catalog -- still had a lightness of jangle and an air of melancholy that seemed to matter in ways that just another showcase shouldn't. After all these years, SXSW can still be more than one might imagine.