It's Sunday in Austin, I'm on South Congress at Jo's Coffee Shop, trying to write as the 5000th (at least) performance of the week takes place on yet another parking lot made into a venue. There's much to say about my final three days at SXSW 2014 (read about the first two days here), and only so many brain cells left to say it before my night flight back to St. Louis. So here we go. See you back in Texas in 360 days.
European disunion and other discontents. You probably didn't know there was a Norwegian Grammys and you probably didn't know that a schizophrenically attired (tie-dye to vintage cute to skater kid) band named Team Me was victorious in 2011 for "Best Pop Group of the Year." The lesson in this case is that had St. Louis' Gentleman Auction Band survived and moved to Norway, they would have been accepted as indie-pop gods. Much better was preceding band on Thursday night at the Berlin Music Week showcase, Simian Ghost, a trio replete with cool, subway-found sound samples and a blurry daze-pop delivery.
Nightmare on dulcimer street. At the Anti- Records showcase at Bungalow in the hip (if you're a bro) Rainey Street district, Saintseneca, a neo-folk pop band from Columbus, Ohio, stomped on personalized wood platforms and swapped instruments, giving every other member a chance to torture the sound man with a backpack dulcimer. With the fine album Dark Arc due out in April, Saintseneca plunged handlebar-mustache-first into one of the worst sounding and tentatively delivered sets of my SXSW 2014. It would have been unlistenable if it had actually been hearable over a wholly disinterested patio crowd.
Yahoo isn't dead yet. It isn't even drunk yet. The ample space of Brazos Hall was decked out with Flickr and Smithsonian Channel propaganda and a dozen bartenders serving complimentary wine and beer as Gary Numan channeled the black soul of Trent Reznor because Numan's own robot soul wasn't responding to pings. Not a bad trade, as Numan embraced industrialism like a lover's corpse and even made "Cars" sound more delicously depressing than in 1979. Who would want to follow such angsty noise? Probably not Blondie, but follow it it did, with an impressive if shrilly mixed set of marginal new material and unassailable hits, notably "Call Me," "Hanging on the Telephone" and "Rapture," which went straight into a cover of "Fight For Your Right to Party." Vintage Vinyl's Jim Utz might have predicted that (he was all smiles in the front row); I did not. A well-wigged Ms. Harry has no use for Spanx nor for Auto-Tune, and she can still hit the high notes on "Rapture" and still stalk a stage like a rock icon. And the band -- including Chris Stein and Clem Burke -- played with cool zest and punchy power. A clear highlight of night three.
Elton John may be on to something. Hold not the Strypes affiliation with Sir Elton against them, nor hold it in their favor. This teenage quartet, wholly infatuated with the British Invasion, can fucking play. As tight as any rock band I saw in Austin this week, the Irish kids ravaged the outdoor tent at Palm Door on Sixth, covering both "Concrete Jungle" and "Heart of the City" like they were born to, rather than born decades after the fact. Biggest discovery of the week.
Little Dragon, big voice. Yukimi Nagano may be the most charismatic front person and purest singer you've never experienced live (please comment if she's performed in St. Louis and I will be grateful for the self-loathing that missing her inspires). Though she's backed by an adventurous electronic outfit -- but with a dynamic live drummer -- Nagano is soul singer by nature, even when her vocals are looped into the electro-ether. The final song of Little Dragon's set, "Klapp Klapp," moved in so many directions at once, and yet Nagano's voice healed all the parts: "Falling apart, falling apart...."
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