DISPATCH: South by Southwest. Austin, TX. Friday, March 15. My brain, it’s fried. My innards, they’re ruined. My blood, it’s officially more pork than plasma. But my heart, and the heart of pop, it still beats.
Everything is beginning to blur together into one giant melange of sounds and beers. The venue floors — all of them — are now stickier than they were on Wednesday. Even the sidewalks themselves are covered in a layer of grime most likely consisting of booze, vomit, meat drippings and a touch of blood. The food trucks. Oh, the food trucks. They’re everywhere and nowhere.
Did I see Paramore the first day, or was that like three weeks ago? Did I dream up that Zebra Katz experience? This was my loopy mental state yesterday at SXSW (today is Saturday, right?). And there are generally two types of reactions to these circumstances. Type 1: You become easily amused, like a kid staying up late with a dose of the sleepy-hahas, and any performance displaying a modicum of skill will get you hyped up. Bands love playing to a crowd full of these types. Type 2: You become desensitized to the shows, a music addict demanding ever more extreme displays to get a rise. It’s harder for an act to impress you after 48 hours of other acts trying to impress you, and it all becomes a glorious slog for that next music fix.
I experienced both moods on Friday, making it probably my favorite day of SXSW. Solange and Kendrick Lamar snapped me out of my Type 2 fatigue in the afternoon, then Foxes and St. Lucia fed into my Type 1 nighttime giddiness.
It started off with the lovely, effortlessly cool Solange at the SPIN Party at Stubb’s BBQ. Her True material was the perfectly languid soundtrack to the cloudless, 80-degree afternoon. As with just about every act at SXSW, she was dealing with a few sound issues early on, but it’s not like she ever looked like she was sweating it.
As a real treat, Solange dug back a couple years for her breezy, Soul Mann & The Brothers-sampling cover of The Dirty Projectors‘ “Stillness is the Move.” It was so wonderful! I can’t do it justice trying to describe it with anything other than just saying “wonderful.” The cover was followed shortly after by “Losing You,” which caused the packed crowd to lose their shit (as much as a crowd can lose their shit to a chilled-out R&B tune). That one-two punch was one of the strongest moments of SXSW for me.
Solange then took to the side of the stage to watch Kendrick Lamar’s set. A wise decision! K-Dot, however, made the unwise decision of wearing a hoodie in the heat. He boldly opened with a handful of older songs, as well as his verse from A$AP Rocky‘s “Fuckin’ Problems,” before giving the crowd a live taste of good kid, m.A.A.d city. Once he got to “Money Trees,” the venue was crackling with energy and now everyone, not just the Section.80 diehards, was rapping along with him.
A couple things about Kendrick. First, he has a great give-and-take with the audience. He’ll get the hands going and butter up specific sections. He had a command over us, as it would naturally go quiet when the beat dropped out at the end of a song and we’d watch him work his lyrical magic in near silence.
The other thing: his major label debut was remarkable, but doesn’t it seem like a slam dunk that this guy still has his best work ahead of him? Scary to think about that.
Friday was already a success from those two (as well as Chvrches, who played before Solange at SPIN), but later that night I was off to see Foxes and St. Lucia at the Neon Gold Showcase at Empire Automotive. Foxes was flanked by a standing drummer and a keyboard player, and ran through a quick set of knowns like “Echoes” and a few new cuts which I’m assuming we’ll hear on her debut. The new stuff had a more pulsating pop feel, less of that Florence Welch theater-pop that she also channels. And seeing her live made me realize that her songs are damn hard to sing. Girl’s got some pipes.
Just as quickly as she ran on stage to start the set, she thanked the crowd and darted off as her bandmates finished playing the final song. As our own Emily Tan pointed out me, “Foxes actually scurried off like a fox.”
And then. The waiting. One can only check Twitter and Instagram so many times between sets. I’m not sure if the gap between Foxes set and St. Lucia was particularly lengthy, but for some reason it felt long — maybe because St. Lucia emerged when it turned out they would still be fiddling with the sound for another 15 or 20 minutes. It was excruciating, but I’m being dramatic. But also it was terrible. However! It was totally worth the wait.
As their name implies, St. Lucia’s music has this soothing melodicism to it. The band creates sprightly electro-pop for beach parties, like a more earnest Cut Copy. At least, that’s how it felt live. Lead singer Jean-Philip Grobler was drenched by the third song, It was a slick, entertaining set, and then they capped it off in grand fashion. Grobler invited “all our friends” on stage, including the following pop luminaries: Charli XCX, MS MR‘s Lizzy Plapinger (she’s also Neon Gold’s co-founder), HAERTS and Xaphoon Jones of Chiddy Bang. The whole gang busted out the kinetic “September” and it became one giant dance party up on stage and down in the crowd. In fact, our pal Charli Vined the madness:
On stage with st lucia ahhhhhh vine.co/v/bdEFiuq3nVF
— CHARLI XCX (@charli_xcx) March 16, 2013
And that, dear readers, is why I’ve spent most of today resting up. Oh, and also because I scored a ticket to Justin Timberlake‘s Myspace Secret Show tonight! Expect a full debrief tomorrow.