If you’re familiar with chaos theory, which in its basic form is the attempt to find patterns in this planet’s many happenings, then you may understand the difficulty that comes with describing a full day at the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. To break down the chaos, a few of Village Voice Media’s music editors have selected their favorite moments from SXSW’s second day. Find ’em below.
Lil Wayne – Austin Music Hall
After being shut out of the T.I./B.o.B show at La Zona Rosa (thanks, fire marshal), I headed to see Lil Wayne at the Austin Music Hall. This was the first stop on the #DEWeezy campaign, a new partnership between the New Orleans rapper and soft drink company Mountain Dew. Tunechi rolled to the stage on his skateboard, bright neon green soda in hand. He offered up “I’m Going In” and “A Milli” before he apologized to the fans for his tardiness; he compared life to skateboarding, saying that even after falling multiple times, you just have to get up and try again until you succeed. Rumor had it that both Drake and Nicki Minaj were going to appear. Sadly, neither showed, but YMCMB products Gudda Gudda, Shanell, and Birdman did. Wayne ended his impressive, high-energy (drink-fueled) show with “6 Foot 7 Foot” and “The Motto (Y.O.L.O.).” Greatest rapper alive? Not quite, but definitely one of the game’s better showmen.
Audible Treats Showcase – Kiss & Fly
Dallas’s A.Dd+ had the entire crowd screaming their name by set’s end, although Paris Pershun and Slim Gravy facilitated that reaction somewhat by ending the set in the crowd, rapping to each other. They’ve got the perfect complementary flow, and when they trade verses, they actually look at each other with an intensity rarely seen in rap duos nowadays, gauging where the other might be going. They just got off tour with Detroit’s Black Milk, so they’ve no doubt gotten a chance to refine their delivery. The energy of the set made me stick around for Brooklyn trio Flatbush Zombies, who endured some technical difficulties, but thankfully got to perform their hit “Thug Waffle.” Bay Area rapper Moe Green followed suit, but the surprise of the night was Georgia Anne Muldrow, an L.A. MC who’s just as comfortable with rap as jazz and soul, a beat poet who eschews formal verse/chorus/verse in favor of mantra and message. Her voice is an instrument in itself. Madlib produced her upcoming album, Seeds, and I can’t wait to hear the fruits of that interstellar collaboration.
Bless the angel-voiced, ginger-haired Ed Sheeran. “Give Me Love” in its recorded form is a semi-cloying ballad that’ll still stick in your head strictly on the strength of his insistence on repeating the phrase “my my.” But on Thursday afternoon, the 21-year-old toast of the UK showed his improvisational acumen at MTV’s Woodie Awards stage by turning the song into a playful game of follow-the-hook. He sang passionately by himself, accompanied only by some looping pedals and a bit of strumming on an acoustic guitar that looked like it was something he got for his 12th birthday. The tongue-twisting of his speedy verses in the middle of the set indicated why Yelawolf teamed up with him for the Slumdon Bridge EP. Unfortunately, SXSW would’ve been one of their best chances to collaborate, but any hope of that was dashed by the Alabama rapper’s recently ruptured spleen. (Feel better, Yela.) An insertion of some scat-sang “In Da Club” midway through “Grade 8” was one of Sheeran’s several opportunities to show that he’s got growth potential in our crowded hip-hop market.
Gary Clark Jr. – Four Seasons
Lots of people at SXSW trot out that old “I saw ’em way back when” saw, but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying when you watch the “’em” in question legitimately become a star. People have talked about Austin native Gary Clark Jr.’s guitar skills since he had to wake up from his weeknight Continental Club residency to go to high school. Already regarded by the likes of Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton as the best blues guitarist of his generation, Clark’s Levert-like crooning on ballads like “Things are Changing” is really turning people’s heads. At dusk on the Four Seasons patio during the Grammys’ private schmooze-and-booze, Clark burned Hendrix’s “Midnight Lamp,” making a serene and psychedelic moment among the pecan trees and glowing white orbs. Then he kept the train right on a-rollin’ with some John Lee Hooker-grade boogie.
Of course the first thing I would immediately walk to after a stellar and draining Bruce Springsteen show would be a set by the Bizarro-World Cobain known as Skrillex. I was in the badge line for only 30 seconds before a greasy-haired dub moppet begged me to get her into the show, thinking I had an extra badge somehow. Inside, the crowd was bathing in their own juices as Skrillex held court onstage with a good two dozen friends surrounding him. The audience screamed for the drop like it was lifeblood, and I sat in the corner taking it all in. There was no moving, only slow sweating and tiptoeing around girls in sports bras and shirtless men writing on top of each other. A lot of my peers laugh Skrillex off as a dance fad king, but he has something going on that classical rock writing can’t put a word to. For now, let’s just wait… for… the… DROP… and enjoy the ride.
Youth Lagoon – Club De Ville
It felt like the reward for a long day of marching through trash-strewn Austin streets, hunting for exciting new things and finding relatively few of them: Long after their scheduled 1 a.m. start time, the two members of Youth Lagoon situated themselves atop the wooden stage of Club DeVille and let off a gorgeous set of melancholy bedroom pop, underpinned by ribbons of throbbing bass. The combination of warm, sad keyboard melodies, electric guitar adornments, and the low-end rumble of electronic beats made for a music you could think, feel, and move to. From the first drop, the drunker members of the audience started slowly gyrating, while a larger portion simply stood, nodding and swaying, watching principal member Trevor Powers pour his plaintive stories into the microphone. Thin, vulnerable, and a little raspy, it was striking how similar Powers’s unadorned live voice sounded to the processed version heard on the band’s 2011 breakout debut, The Year of Hibernation. With its laconic beats and lonely vocals, Youth Lagoon seems to have either picked up where the xx’s debut left off or made a more satisfying version of what James Blake is doing, albeit with fewer overt dubstep nods. Either way, their set was late-night music at its best.
—Ian S. Port