SXSW Music Day One: Michael Cera's band, Duran Duran (and Jon Hamm)
Parts & Labor, Sharon Van Etten, Okkervil River, Mister Heavenly, more from Austin
AUSTIN -- If my math is right, this marks my fourth visit to Austin for South By Southwest, but pacing will always remain a problem. With day parties kicking off at noon, I felt already behind by time I was off a plane and unloaded into a room by 3 p.m.
First stop included the eMusic party, with a straightfoward set from Ty Segall and then the Obits, whose volume and whiff of nostalgic rock singed the eyebrows off the first row. It was about this time that the Lone Star began to flow.
This is the part where I'd joke that if Michael Cera's band sounded anything like Michael Cera's acting, they'd only play one note. But Mister Heavenly was actually pretty decent. Nick Diamonds, fronter for Islands and formerly the Unicorns, sings just as loud and as well as Kings of Leon bro Caleb Followill. The Sub Pop-signed band is rounded out by Modest Mouse drummer Joe Plummer and Honus Honus from Man Man, who I love like no other.
Cera's on the docket on bass -- a hexagonal one at that, which has the sound to fill an arena. But the group, alas, was only at Emo's and had to gently tolerate screams from young girls whenever the flannel-shirted "Scott Pilgrim" actor showed anything other than a motionless bass-face.
Sam Amidon is a treasure.
Duran Duran are were hokey as hell, but they certainly are "Wild Boys." Opening with "View to a Kill," they really stepped up on "The Chaffeur," "Notorious" and, of course, "Hungry Like the Wolf." ""There's nothing you can say about the next song, is there?" Simon Le Bon smiled as he introduced the latter.
The line in was egregious and crowd skewed older, unsurprisingly, though at least one particular attendee brought some more esteem. Mad Man Jon Hamm was in queue in front of me after I dipped out of Stubb's, and he and girlfriend Jennifer Westfeldt headed next door to Red Eyed Fly (for Pulled Apart By Horses or Pete and the Pirates?). The Bangles were in the house as well.
Meanwhile, I caught about an inch of Sharon Van Etten, who in the latter part of her set said, "I'd like to thank you all for not seeing Duran Duran tonight" Tough, Sharon, tough. Her album 2010 "Epic" has held up pretty well from last year, and in person, she doesn't try to overpower the room -- she becomes part of it. Her voice is easy going, slipping into high registers and floating like someone who's lived a charmed life. Check out "For You" and keep your eye out for her next effort, which is being produced by The National's Aaron Dessner.
My current favorite indie label trifecta (trio? triumvirate? trilogy?) of Secretly Canadian, Dead Oceans and Jagjaguwar hosted their showcase at the two stages at Red 7 and really highlighted their somewhat diverse roster. I was able to catch a hot minute of 2010 album faves Small Black, who were far more dance-heavy of a live act than I thought they'd be.
Okkervil River has been carefully poised to get to that Next Level, with their last album "The Stand Ins" the most commercially successful so far. And if the numbers of fans pressing together in the concrete yard is any indication, there are plenty of fans willing to help get them there. Will Sheff's mouthfuls of lyrics were suddenly singalongs, the first ten rows gently bobbing and mouthing in tandem.
The frontman always looks like a Muppet to me as he sings, his big ol' mouth and mop of hair swinging easily and cartoonishly around the mic. I've liked what I've heard to the new one "I Am Very Far."
The same could be said for Parts & Labor's "Constant Future," out earlier this month. This loud band took the banner home for tonight's Best in Show, in my opinion, as they've honed their noisey nature down into a tight set that punctuates the hooks at times more than the recordings do. BJ Warshaw can really play the hell out of his instrument.
Last call is at 2 a.m. on a school night here. The gently sleeping couple of drunks that were posed outside the door when I went in had cloned, and now a couple dozen gutter punks and bleary-eyed teens had set up sleeping bags on the sidewalk, munching on pizzas and rubbing their feet. I asked what they were all congregating there for. They said they were waiting for a show. What show? "I dunno, like, 17 really good bands." Perhaps nobody had told them that the whole rest of Austin was flooded with 1,700 good bands elsewhere.
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