Do you ever have an experience where you’re truly at a loss for words? Where the accumulation of events leaves you a little shy of utterly speechless? This can happen at South by Southwest. In fact, annually, it pretty much does happen. Today, day 3 of the festival was more or less ridiculous. An off-the-charts amalgamation of top-notch talent from every corner of the music map. From the highest profile mega stars, to forward-thinking next generation innovators, this is why the eyes of the world are literally on Austin and this festival every year.
Starting the day off again at the Under the Radar party, newcomers Woman’s Hour had the early slot on the bill. Somehow a solid placement at the early afternoon of several concurrent super late nights, the band’s sound was a plaintive and soothing dream pop. They ended on a quiet cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” Gruff Rhys followed and did a stupendous job. Joined by The Flaming Lips’ Kliph Scurlock on drums, Rhys was a charming, enigmatic and enrapturing performer. He played a right-handed acoustic, left-handed (so upside down), and did so expertly. He also drew on an array of hand-made placards, sporting various slogans or statements (i.e. “Thank you,” “Louder” and “The end). Only problem was that the set was necessarily short.
Charli XCX took the stage here as an early headliner, and much like her set on Wednesday, did an impressive job, giving the set her all with stellar energy. A ways down the road, Kylesa rocked in front of a decently stoic crowd. The band alternates between harder-edged metal and psychedelic interludes.
And speaking of quasi-metal musical output, Canadian five-piece Yamantaka // Sonic Titan did a truly unique and spellbinding set. Each member has a distinct outfit and largely white in color face paint make-up job. The band was fronted by two lead singers (one holding a tiny bell) accompanied by thrash metal guitars, intricate keyboards and pounding drums.
One of the day’s single greatest surprises–two of them in fact–came at Damon Albarn’s set closing out the Fader Fort. His set in general leaned heavily on new songs from his yet-to-be-released album, Everyday Robots. Sprinkled in between those songs were fun and peppy covers from Gorillaz (“On Melancholy Hill,” “Tomorrow Comes Today”) and The Good, The Bad & The Queen (“Kingdom of Doom”). In the middle of the set, all three members of De La Soul joined him for brilliant, “Feel Good Inc.” Later in the set, Albarn brought out an even bigger surprise. For the first time ever, him, Dan the Automator and Del the Funky Homosapien performed their landmark hit “Clint Eastwood.” Furthermore, for the final verse, Snoop Dogg appeared and did his special verse before the crowd-pleasing chorus.
Soundgarden played their second of two shows this week on a picturesque rooftop, taped for the show Guitar Center Sessions. While this week’s iTunes Festival performance was centered on a complete track-by-track run through of their massively successful Superunkown album, this show also featured some other rarities in addition to the Superunkown material. Chris Cornell’s voice is predictably immaculate, but something just didn’t click. Technically they were rock solid, but even hits like “My Wave” and “Black Hole Sun” felt a bit flat.
The strongest act on the day–without question–was Sleigh Bells over at night 3 of Red Bull Sound Select. Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller–now accompanied by a backing guitarist and drummer–were essentially white hot fire on this stage. “Bitter Rivals” and “Infinity Guitars” had the crowd dancing and shaking with manic joy. Krauss jumped and fist-pounded through each number, progressively getting the crowd more-and-more engaged. The set ended with the furious energy of “A / B Machines,” with its unforgettable line, “Got my A machines on the table / Got my B machines in the drawer.” Without going into excessive detail, this is what a set should be. Krauss and Miller in terms of their performance, leave everything on the table. They are wholly invested in their performance and the enjoyment of every audience member. They’re simultaneously rocking, dance-y and cathartic.
Lastly, over at the Cedar Street Courtyard Julian Casablancas debuted his new band Julian Casablancas + The Voids. There’s no two ways around this, this new project is going to confuse most hardcore fans of The Strokes. It’s hard to say what Casablancas is going for here. The band has two keyboard players, seem to veer more towards vintage sounds and is practically thrash metal. Not sure whether it’s good or bad, but it’s definitely curious, to say the least.