SXSW Thursday, 3/14/13 [Mikal Cronin, Haim, Pusha T, Nashville Day Party, More]

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Thursday is, traditionally, when SXSW kicks in full force, swarms of industry types and bands and fans and street performers and random lushes floating together down the boozy river of humanity know as Sixth Street. And so we dove in, starting our day with the eerily familiar-feeling Nashville Day Party at Austin Ale House and ending it ... well, I'll get to that. While the talk this week is all "Macklemore and Ryan Lewis" and "Macklemore's haircut" and "Which one is Ryan Lewis?," my Thursday highlights included Haim and Mikal Cronin, plus the most nightmarish soundcheck I've ever witnessed thanks to Red 7 and Phosphorescent.

By early afternoon, the crowd at the Austin Ale House for the Cream-co-sponsored Nashville Day Party was peppered with familiar faces, leading more than one of us to quip, "We traveled all this way to see a show and a bunch of people we could probably catch at Mercy Lounge!" Maybe so, but the showcase also featured just about the most concentrated collection of fine-looking and practiced-sounding talent you're likely to come across, Austin or anywhere.

Caitlin Rose played cuts from her exceptional new record and was in fine form, using the same backing band of top-tier sidemen (Joey Andrews, Reno Bo, Spencer Cullum Jr., Jeremy Fetzer and Matt Rowland) she was propped by at her release show last week at Mercy Lounge. Andrews pulled double duty, also drumming for Tyler James and Jessica Maros' alt-country outfit Escondido, his thunderous grooves bouncing off the brick walls of the Ale House. Guitarist Stanton Edward's handy lead parts lent Escondido's Sweetheart of the Rodeo-informed desert country an interesting dimension — he's a fine Music City sideman with several gigs, and he's worth keeping an eye on.

Though the Ale House continued to bustle with sets — excellent and expertly played ones, I'm told — from fine folk folks Rayland Baxter and Odessa Rose, I headed southeast for mtvU's Woodie Awards, where I found a rather epic line awaiting me. The free popsicles alone made it worthwhile, and I entered to the sounds of party-hyping bro-hop outfit Timeflies. They played a re-worked mini-rendition of fun.'s "We Are Young" as well as a SXSW-referencing tune that sampled Ke$ha's "Die Young." In a word, Timeflies is ... broad. They were followed by rapper Pusha T, who some may know as one-half of fraternal hip-hop duo Clipse. Pusha's set featured a whole lot of lazy, half-time flows, air horn samples and the sort of material that never seems to translate too well live, even if Pusha T seems a rather charismatic individual.

Then came an act with that rare combination of hype and genuine talent: Haim (apparently pronounced to rhyme with "rhyme," rather than "game," as I'd previously thought). Haim is a trio of Los Angeles-based sisters (surname Haim) who make an occasionally disjointed but tuneful sort of pop adorned with synth pads, well-executed three-part harmonies and bursts of auxiliary percussion. Like Fleetwood Mac crossed with a touch of modern R&B and Dirty Projectors' style of smartly arranged indie rock, the sisters' tunes are full of staccato vocal melodies and truly serious chops. There was even a Thin Lizzy/Blue Oyster Cult-recalling riff jam mid-set, not to mention a percussion blowout at set's end, during which all three Haim sisters beat on various drums with both skill and flair — histrionic as some of the faces they pulled may have been.

It was time to mosey toward the Merge Records showcase at The Parish before we managed to catch sets from Tegan and Sara and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis — not to mention, you know, the awards themselves. The winners (which you can see at this link) aren't especially surprising, but Belmont University's own Lonely Biscuits won the Chevrolet Sonic College Artist Woodie, so good on them.

We just missed a set from local boy William Tyler — whose Merge debut Impossible Truth is due out next week — at The Parish. A true shame, but by all accounts, he played a characteristically transfixing set, even if the crowd noise was reportedly frustratingly loud throughout some of his performance. But Mikal Cronin shut folks up with his shimmering, jangly, punk- and grunge-accented pop. With his ragged coed six-piece, Cronin played excellent old faves like "You Gotta Have Someone" and "Apathy" as well as cuts from his forthcoming Merge debut — "Shout It Out" being the finest among them. Cronin delivers absolutely choice pop melodies couched in a flurry of scuzzy noise — there's lots of talent amid the scene he's a part of, but Cronin is the only one who displays such a hefty portion of West Coast-pop influence. Fantastic stuff, and a kick to see him fall to the floor and shred from his knees by set's end.

North Carolina's Mount Moriah was up next, and while there was true song craft going on at the center of their folk-imbued indie rock, one of their sleepier numbers threatened to lull my pal, my photographer and me into a coma, so we ventured off toward Red 7, hoping to stay awake long enough for Unknown Mortal Orchestra. We crossed the club's front room, where The Besnard Lakes were making their expansive and dreamy, shoegaze-y sort of indie rock to a modest crowd. Outside — where alt-folk dude Matthew Houck and his Phosphorescent were slated to play for about an hour before UMO — the packed crowd seemed somewhat frustrated. Soundcheck for the seven-piece band literally took 40 full minutes, and one audience member was heard saying that Red 7 had been experiencing sound problems all day. "Let's have a hand for the sound guys," Houck said at one point, killing time. "I don't know what they're doing, but it seems important." For a moment, freelance photog Angelina Castillo and I wondered if we were in some sort of LOST-like purgatory. Had Red 7 burned to the ground with all of us inside, and was this how we were doomed to spend eternity?

Phospho finally cut loose with their heartfelt, experimental country rock somewhere just shy of 1 a.m. A new song was expressive and full and visceral, but we knew there was no way we'd make it through all the way to Unknown Mortal Orchestra. So I headed back, stopping somewhere along the way to join a crowd of folks on Red River Street who were watching LL Cool J's performance at the Doritos Mega-Monstrosity Jumbo Flavor Stage or Whatever. It isn't every day you get to see "Doin' It" performed on a stage that looks like a giant bag of chips, so enjoyed that for about five minutes, before nearly being crushed by the mass exodus from Snoop Dogg Lion's set near the convention center.

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