Though I wasn’t official WUOG press for SXSW, I figured I’d weigh in anyways. I was there and I have access to the blog so you can’t stop me. Here are highlights from each of my six nights in Austin:
Thee Oh Sees
McGarrah Jessee Rooftop Party
About an hour after a delicious Koriente dinner, I ascended through the multi-level parking garage to advertising agency McGarrah Jessee’s rooftop for free Shiner and brisket, but mostly San Franciscan garage-psych royalty, Thee Oh Sees. This show taught me my first harsh lesson on SXSW, and that is the frequency of hidden costs. I’d show up to, or hear about several “free” shows only to discover a hidden cost. This particular party had a peculiar non-monetary cost though – watching Kings of Leon worshipping opener, The Riverboat Gamblers on whom I will waste no more time.
After paying my cover, Thee Oh Sees took the stage against the Austin skyline, opening with frequently played meanderer, “The Dream.” Even lofted five stories above ground the prolific punks thrashed to their own erratic tunes, as did the crowd. I distinctly remember the feeling of “arrival” as I slammed against other ecstatic fans, under the Texas moon especially to personal favorite, “Meat Step Lively.” Other highlights included a particularly inspired “Contraption/Soul Desert,” “Tidal Wave” and live standard “Block of Ice.” If you’ve been to an Oh Sees show you know roughly how this went, and if you haven’t I’d highly recommend it.
Flying Lotus: Layer 3 Show
Easily worth the 2 hour wait, Flying Lotus’s Layer 3 show, developed specifically for the Until The Quiet Comes tour, was among the most memorable concerts I’ve ever attended. Situated between two screens, front and back, Steve Ellison performed seemingly inside of constantly morphing animations. YouTube it.
Following a killer set by Tokimonsta and some screen setup, the Flying Lotus logo flashed and slowly morphed on the front screen. Ellison began his deafeningly loud set, dropping Hudson Mohawke’s “Furnace Loop” early on, which transformed into Until The Quiet Comes standout “Sultan’s Request.” As Ellison danced inside of tentacular spindles of light, flew through hexagonal tunnels and ushered lightning from his DJ rig he spun originals “Nose Art,” “Dance of the Pseudo Nymph” and “Getting There,” as well as Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle” and a barely recognizable rendering of A$AP Rocky’s Skrillex-produced “Wild for the Night.”
A personal highlight was clapping along as Ellison transitioned into 2012 single, “Putty Boy Strut” set against the memorable “Kill Your Coworkers” video, before finally segueing into the TNGHT crowd-pleaser, “Higher Ground.” As the music faded out his logo formed on the front screen again, the show seemingly coming to a close. Then, the signature, deep laughter of Captain Murphy. Ellison came into the crowd, rapping along to Murphy’s debut single, “Between Friends” before continuing the show by segueing between Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” and “Do The Astral Plane.” After Radiohead’s classic “Idioteque,” The Gaslamp Killer joined him to close with another Captain Murphy tune, whose name escaped me. Sorry, it was probably “Shake Weight.” Either way FlyLo’s Layer 3 show pushed the boundaries of a live performance, and I’m glad I caught it.
The dream of the 90’s was alive Wednesday night at Holy Mountain. Though I saw wonderful performances by UK duo Disclosure and the always stunning Cloud Nothings on Wednesday I had to feature Waxahatchee. Following a particularly rowdy Antwon set (in which his own belligerent fans destroyed his DJ’s turntable and sent flecks of ceiling debris hurtling into my unsuspecting right eye via skateboard) Katie Crutchfield’s introspective crooning was more than welcome.
Holy Mountain’s cozy size perfectly captured the intimacy of Crutchfield’s most recent LP, Cerulean Salt, an album that sounds like a well-recorded house show circa ’93. As for her even quainter American Weekend material, a live drummer and bassist beefed up favorites like “Grass Stain” and the set closing title track.
“Is it time, should we just do it?” Crutchfield asked nonchalantly after the soundcheck. Her phrasing summarizes the entire set in my opinion. Waxahatchee just did it, in the best (least Nike slogan) way possible. They sounded so natural, their music so effortless even when covering Paul Simon’s “The Boy in the Bubble,” a choice a lesser band could easily render hokey.
Crutchfield didn’t smile, she only smirked. She dedicated “Be Good” to some girls in the bathroom who yelled at her “for calling them out on calling someone a faggot.” Yet, she remained believable when she admitted she was “not well” on Cerulean Salt cut, “Brother Bryan.” We were watching a personality, but an effortless one.
Though thoroughly impressed with Rhye’s musicianship, I had to pick Rustie for Thursday’s highlight, even if I had to pay $15 to see him. Remember those hidden costs? Dressed head-to-toe in black, the lauded Scottish producer silently emerged, starting his set with grandiose Glass Swords cut, “Globes.” Soon after he spun Darq E. Freaker’s “Blueberry (Pills & Cocaine),” segueing that into his own like-minded “City Star.” When he dropped TNGHT’s “Goooo,” the energy in the crowd increased dramatically. Unfazed, Rustie shifted back and forth, fueling the crowd’s ecstatic dancing until bringing his set to a close with 10-day old single, “Slasherr.” Though he’s since released the song’s companion, “Triadzz” I’m hoping we see more than a double A-side this year. Short set – short review, but awesome nonetheless.
The Flaming Lips
March 15th marked a new chapter in Lips history as the 30-year-old band debuted upcoming album The Terror live in full as well as a new, accompanying live show to replace their famous onstage celebration. In true Lips fashion, it took the band a while to set up, especially frontman Wayne Coyne who had to finish shifting around the tentacles sprouting from the baby doll he held. Connected to mirrors on the floor and the amphitheater, little bursts of light traveled from the baby to the mirrors where they were reflected. Behind the band amorphous blobs would shift shapes symmetrically, making the whole performance look like a dark ‘60s music video.
Wayne warned the audience they may mess up or have to restart, seeing as this was the album’s live debut. Having already seen the Lips perform The Soft Bulletin front-to-back I thought the show ran pretty smoothly. The band never restarted and breaks between songs were minimal. It seemed well-rehearsed and even though album opener “Look…The Sun Is Rising” lost its tension in such a wide open space, it still sounded like a road-tested favorite.
The first song to really thrive in the open air environment was the explosively melancholic “Try to Explain.” As the song reached its chorus, the signature lights that once adorned the Lips onstage gong descended from the light fixtures behind Wayne, lighting up in a much more sinister way. I was uneasy at first with the band’s decision to change their beloved live show, but set against their bleak new material, I grew much more comfortable.
I wasn’t comfortable for long. Sarah Barthel of Phantogram joined the band to perform “You Lust,” sitting cross-legged on stage. Wayne explained that she agreed to sing on the condition that he pull her hair throughout the entire song. It was not pleasant. Given her position on the floor and the intensity of the song, the stunt looked unintentionally misogynistic.
The remainder of the concert was easier to watch. Notable highlights include the band’s use of a loudspeaker behind the soundboard to add another sonic dimension, (mostly through disorienting feedback) and multi-instrumentalist/Lips backbone Steven Drozd singing lead vocals on “Turning Violent.” The band closed with “Always There…In Our Hearts,” a track that sounded stunningly final. Though I highly enjoyed the show, I’m withholding judgement on The Terror until I can give the studio version a proper listen.
As the crowd erupted, Wayne announced a short break after which the band would perform as much of Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots as possible. What followed was an encore of the first three songs off the incredible 2002 follow up to The Soft Bulletin. I grinned uncontrollably as I watched the Lips perform “Fight Test,” the triumphant, existential album opener usually demoted to a piano sing-a-long during live shows. Unfortunately, the Lips weren’t given enough time to finish get past “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pt. 1.” Wayne explained that they would still play “Do You Realize??,” joined by a special guest. Claiming Justin Timberlake was coming, he got the crowd to chant “JT” for a little too long before a suited, masked Jim James emerged to contribute his pure falsetto to an acoustic version of the song. The sun had set and the crowd sang along towards Austin’s glowing cityscape.
Earl Sweatshirt & Captain Murphy
Earl, perhaps Odd Future’s strongest rapper, has been largely responsible for fueling the collective’s continued hype since his return. His most recent single, “Whoa,” released while I was watching Thee Oh Sees play the McGarrah Jessee rooftop, sounds like a return-to-form for the whole crew. Not counting Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange singles, it’s the strongest release from the OF camp since “Yonkers.”
Earl performed like he was fully aware of this fact, at least by Earl standards. Usually shy on stage, the now 19-year-old rapper moved freely about, his confidence no doubt bolstered by his trophy DJ, Flying Lotus (as Captain Murphy). If FlyLo’s backing you, you’re doing something right.
OF shows are normally characterized by rowdy audiences, but the Fader Fort focused in on Earl. Opening with “Burgundy” he commanded attention immediately even if he wasn’t a seasoned performer. As he ran through unheard tracks from upcoming LP Doris, the crowd saved their outbursts for breaks (and chanting “G.O.L.F. W.A.N.G.”).
During the roughly twenty minute span of strong, new material he brought out Domo Genesis and Vince Staples, adding to the set’s star-power and diversity. After reinvigorating the crowd with a one-two punch of “Chum” and “Whoa,” Murphy and Earl closed the show with a personal SXSW highlight: a full performance of their collaborative single, “Between Friends.” It was the perfect send-off to my week in Austin.
By JJ Posway
(Flying Lotus photo credit: JJ Posway)