SXSW Music Day Two: The Strokes stumble, Justin Timberlake's a Yelawolf fan
Day two at the South By Southwest Music Conference has finished and I am convinced that, were the truism "you are what you eat" a reality, I'd be a street meat edible of some sort, either a taco or a hot dog.
If I were in a band based on the mish-mash of music I consumed today (March 17), it'd be a mutt of dance-pop, hip-hop and droning guitar rock. Actually, I would have liked to feel more rocked, period, which was a job for The Strokes, who disappointed in many regards.
Free and open to the publc, the show was held away from the strip, and was instead at Auditorium Shore at Austin's Lady Bird Lake and it required a shuttle to get there. Many more than 20,000 people actually made the trek, but the capacity was apparently around that number and many were turned away. The result was hoards of people jumping and crashing the fence, climbing on top of port-o-potties to scale to the other side.
And their wiles were to a mixed end. I'm all for a dry, too-cool detachment from frontman Julian Casablancas, but there are times when that snotty attitude feels like a gift. He clearly was in no mood to be giving anyone anything at all on this warm Thursday night, nor was the rest of the band. Albert Hammond, Jr., would stalk about but only what looked like out of boredom. No thank you, no hey Austin, no funny asides about the sound troubles from the wind.
The setlist still borrowed heavily from The Strokes' first "Is This It," despite that their new album "Angles" is out in Tuesday. They played five of those tracks, including the deceivingly old-school "Under Cover of Darkness" and "You're So Right." And frankly, it's fine that it was that way: those first two records are hard to equal, and to be a fuddy-duddy in advance, I'm non-plussed by "Angles," which is streaming now in full on the band's website. Tracks like that first single were the rock act's winning formula, but those new wave and electro influences that plagued Casablancas' tiresome solo debut last year have segued into this fresh set, and the result is a multiple personality disorder.
Now, this was a first for me, to see more than even 10,000 revelers at a SXSW show, and the Strokes will be playing to arenas and festivals of more than that all summer. Songs like "Take It or Leave It," "Last Nite" and "You Only Live Once" still blaze, but this overall anti-climactic combination of an uneven recorded effort and wet blanketed showmanship aren't good early omens.
I'll be pulling out my thoughts on the Village Voice showcase featuring Wu-Tang, Fishbone and Yelawolf separately, but I do want to point out that the schedule for this one ran behind -- which surprises me none, though the former headliner went up close to 1 a.m., an hour later than their slotted time. I felt primed and happy, though, even with the wait, due to the high-energy of Yelawolf, who has more than a few famous friends (um, Eminem anyone). One of these includes Justin Timberlake, who could be seen on the wings of Austin Music Hall's stage expanse.
The "Social Network" actor and musician has apparently been bumming around Austin even with the film conference over; he attended to help promote one of his new films, "Bad Teacher."
Another stand-out (and standalone) act of the day was The Antlers, performing their second show of the fest, but playing their forthcoming new album "Burst Apart," out in May. I'll be going more in depth on this one, too, but I will say off the tip that this performance beyond impressed me and has me looking forward to the recorded version. The Parish was cool and dark during this NPR day party, and many patrons exited looking sated -- perhaps the free PBR helped. Or they were still crushing on The Joy Formidable, who played before The Antlers. While these London-by-way-of-Wales pop-rockers don't make the kind of music that makes my usual rotation, they did manage to have a full room of hangover recoverers smiling and moving, and perhaps composing love letters to platinum siren Ritzy Bryan in their head. Great stage chemistry.
My day bowed with Alex Winston, whose "Sister Wife" I'd heard a few times last year and concluded that this New York-based singer can be rather cloying. Her eight-piece band battled the metal showcase next door, though, and her pure, showy voice pierced that conception, and even with her Stevie Nicksian ensemble, I felt endeared to her music much more than I did when I heard her mp3s. Color me impressed.
I had skip Hunx and his Punx because after about four minutes of that flailing and vamping I was feeling stabby.
Class Actress, who I've already highlighted, did their electronic best against the mid-day heat and the dust bowl conditions of Moby's Vegan BBQ at Cheer Up Charlies. They were followed by someone named Jeffrey Jerusalem, who played on a number of electric toys and threw down some slick, crisp and sensual original beats mixed with samples. For as tiny as the crowd was, he worked his ass off, bounded around with joy, and would have put those Strokes guys to shame.