[Photo Credit: Ty Hardin]
Day three is the moment where you forget which direction is up and you start to seriously doubt the healthiness of living off expensive pizza slices. Here’s what I found most notable.
It seems almost redundant, but man. Girls are a popular rock band right now. Sauntering into the 1100 Warehouse as a 3 p.m. headliner, the lethargic, half-empty Mess With Texas day party suddenly ballooned to stadium-rock status. Perhaps everyone was here because free big-ticket items often draw in the proletariats, but there must be more to it than that. The San Francisco garage-rock icons didn’t necessarily sound good; guitar jargon and backup-singer chant bounced through the wide walls and needled our synapses – certainly a problem they never had to deal with when they were playing house shows. And hey, when cataclysm is as beautiful as “Vomit” it’s easy to give them a pass.
It feels like K.R.I.T. has spent the last year or so ‘arriving.’ The tenuous nature of switching orientation from underground mixtape guy to widely-lauded mixtape guy is never an obvious thing – a dude like K.R.I.T. who seemed marked for stardom is still without a debut album, still without a hit single, and still without crossover support. When you snagged Ludacris for a feature it used to mean you were at the height of the industry, now it’s just a curious aesthetic. He rocked a mid-afternoon Fader Fort set to a field full of rap heads – still cramming in tornado energy and this-is-a-big-deal gravitas. In a set dominated by his newest and arguably most accomplished tape 4EvaNaDay, it’s clear his hustle has never left him. “This is my third time in a row down here!” he mentioned towards the end of his stage-time, unlike plenty of other acts he seemed wonderfully proud of that fact.
I am not going to sit here and blow smoke up your ass. I do not have a long, personal history with Fiona Apple’s music, I’ve never used it as personal therapy, or a mixtape dagger – in fact the closest I’ve come to her repertoire is through a number of homosexual male friends who find incredible warmth in her poetry. I was here mainly because I was covering Charli XCX who was on next, and the line around the Central Presbyterian Church looked disconcerting.
I couldn’t tell you what songs were new and what songs were old, but I could tell you she looked strung-out, emotionally compromised, back in the heat of things. You would think the massive amount of time she’s put between releases would help aid these feelings, but perhaps someone opened old wounds all over again. She struck a powerful presence. And the contorted “Valentine,” which I’m told is a new song, was one of the most wrenching things I’ve heard this whole week. Even for me, someone without a deep personal understanding, her plight felt very, very necessary. I'm glad to have her back, even though I didn't realize she was gone.
We will always go see a Dan Deacon live show, even if it’s gotten hilariously predictable at this point. When does a flashing neon-green skull become cliché? On your fourth or fifth Deacon set. The Baltimore schizo-pop godhead did his thing. Make a big circle for a dance contest! Count down using only the odd numbers! Shout out to the sound guy! Luckily we had happy Dan instead of ornery Dan, which meant no extended stoppage time for miniscule sound issues. He just powered through it. You’ve got to give him credit, there aren’t many electronic musicians that bring an instant-crowd wherever they go, even in the midst of SXSW’s stiff competition. The most novel thing? Deacon was joined by two live drummers on stage which gave the songs a fresh percussive streak.
I’m pretty sure everyone who happened to be in the church when Nic Jaar was playing filled him in as their personal highlight of the week – I mean, there was actually something boring to how good he was. At the front of the Central Presbyterian Church with all the lights turned off, steadily grooving to a concoction of dulled bass tones and twilight luminescence, the only image we have of Jaar is his face bathed in the glow of the laptop screen. A dedicated sax player offers rain-slicked accompaniment to the dulcet tones. Jaar barely says a word the whole show. It was a full-turn past “DJ set” and a quarter-turn past “show” – there’s something weirdly poetic about sitting in a darkened church, pulsing downtempo reverberating off the pillars, barely able to make out the source of the magic. With such a simple aesthetic, Jaar burned himself into SXSW’s collective memory.
The-Dream was very, very late. Seriously it felt like his band was tinkering with their set-up for a solid hour before anything happened. The crowd mood was optimistic, then it became antsy, then depressed, and then fuck-all indifferent. There’s comedy to watching a man test the same synth line over and over and over again. It was five minutes after someone placed a golden mic stand in the front of the church did the man born Terius Nash arrived – immediately leading his gathered disciples on an eight song megalift into utter euphoria. The entire building absolutely lost their shit. It’s not often a strict, sexed-up R&B guru gets the kids going, but it honestly felt like he was the biggest name in the world. By the time he closed with “Rockin’ That Shit” there wasn’t an unswollen heart in the building. He’s just such a unique character; his tiny speaking voice, his beguiling humbleness, the fact that he calls all his songs “records.” The world is a better place when The-Dream is in front of people.