Friday is when SXSW starts to find its rhythm, the streets flooding with the largest crowds they're going to see, lines stretching for a block apiece and audiences reaching fever pitch at show after show. It could be that the biggest news item of SXSW Friday was that perpetual troublemaker Tyler, the Creator nearly incited a full-on riot.
But for your old pals at the Cream — who caught Against Me!, Reigning Sound, Fucked Up, Obnox and Protomartyr, among others — the best trend was that everywhere we turned, we saw a little bit of Nashville.
It took a wee bit of finagling, but photog Angelina Castillo and I eventually found our way into Friday's daytime Spin showcase at Stubb's in time for Cleveland trio Cloud Nothings. Playing a nervy, frills-free amalgam of power-pop and noise rock, the Nothings seem to land in the territory between Buzzcocks and The Thermals — sincere and tight and catchy, but not overly earnest or saccharine.
Just two minutes later, Against Me! appeared on Stubb's second stage, with frontwoman and transgender icon Laura Jane Grace calmly and coolly offering, "Let's fuck shit up." Much like AM!'s recent performance at Mercy Lounge, the set leaned heavily on material from January's acclaimed Transgender Dysphoria Blues — it's those songs that showcase the band's knack for life-affirming shout-along power-punk anthems perhaps best of all. Grace grinned and grimaced as she guided her band through the tunes, but it was ubiquitous-in-the-punk-world drummer Atom Willard who turned in perhaps the most impressive, high-energy performance of them all.
Both shutterbug Angelina and I are admittedly underexposed to the work of Spin party headliner Future, but much of the crowd seemed pretty hyped for the Atlanta native's dirty South party-hop. Hip-hop doesn't always translate well in a live setting, but to their credit, Future and his DJ delivered their set with plenty of gusto and crowd interaction, plugging his forthcoming album — which (as he pointed out several times) will be released on April 22 — and debuting a new song (called "Lookie Here," if I heard him correctly) for what he called a "rock star crowd." But it was Lil Wayne's hit "Love Me," which Future guested on, to which the crowd got fully turnt up, as they say.
It was right around this time that fellow Creamster Adam Gold caught Canadian party animals Fucked Up at Empire Control Room. Take it away, Gold.
Not to be "that guy," but I couldn't resist the urge to get, well, fucked up to see Fucked Up, who I caught close out some day or another at Empire Control Room. Having not seen the band in over two years, and having loved them for even longer, I was pretty well tanked on Shiners and Jameson shots by the time the band took the stage to deliver their triple-guitar happy-hardcore assault. Unfortunately, I wasn't nearly as fucked up as the sound mix in the venue.
Fucked Up's smart, hook-heavy, positive take on aggressive punk relies on a balance of brutal attack, a muscular wall of sound and nuanced dueling riffs, walking bass lines, furious drumming and, last but not least, consummately ebullient frontman Damian Abraham screaming atop the anthemic cacophony while going into the crowd to writhe on the floor and dole out bro hugs. But at yesterday's show, the mix was so muddy that all you could really make out was the attack, and none of the nuance. All that came across were bar chords, crash cymbals and snare drum along with Abraham's scream-singing. This was especially unfortunate, as the band stuck almost exclusively to previewing new songs from their forthcoming full-length Glass Boys, and I'd tell you just what those tunes sound like, if only I knew what they sounded like. At first I wondered if the band was getting back to its lo-fi roots, writing a sludgier record than 2011's game-changing David Comes to Life. But when they played that album's "Queen of Hearts" and it sounded like indiscernible sludge, it was clear we were getting only a one-ear-bud-in representation of the new material. That said, it at least seemed like the new songs rocked … a lot.
As for Abraham, dude's lost 120 pounds, so those hugs aren't quite as sweaty as they once were. He told the Cream all it took was smoking more weed and laying off the anxiety meds. Hats off!
Oh hey, it's me DPR again. In the late afternoon, I drifted over to Third Man Records' SXSW pop-up shop/venue at the Museum of Human Achievement in far east Austin. The TMR zone was something of an oasis in a desert of semi-suburban establishments — elementary schools and parks and a police station — and as is custom for everything Jack White's boutique label touches, the shop was aesthetically immaculate. Taxidermy, sleek black-and-yellow decor, the whole nine. Truth be told, the distance of Third Man's digs from the city center probably hurt attendance a little — a modest crowd buzzed around all afternoon, but the place was far from packed.
Noise duo Obnox was ferociously fuzzy, playing what frontman/Cleveland punk luminary Bim Thomas called "real American rock 'n' roll." Thomas hollered over blown-out guitar noise while his drummer gave the songs structure. He encouraged the crowd to support real rock 'n' roll, and not purchase "some bullshit like you're at a carnival." Detroit's Protomartyr came next, delivering extremely Fall-esque post-punk that vacillated between heavy and tuneful.
And then, six-piece noise outfit Destruction Unit lived up to their name. The chaotic, punishingly loud group features three guitarists, a bassist, a drummer and a guy playing what appeared to be a sequencer of some sort ... but there wasn't enough time to investigate the gear further. Midway through their second song — a pummeling, menacing wall of heavy sound — the power gave out. After some trouble-shooting, the TMR staff brought the sound back, and the Unit launched right back into their wall-shaking rumble. For about a minute, anyway. The power died again, seemingly just straight-up overwhelmed by the amount of juice necessary to keep these guys going. Bummer.
I'd heard about an unofficial show a little less deep on the east side — at the Yellow Jacket Social Club — that was to feature Reigning Sound and Natural Child, among others. So obviously, I headed there. After a set from the well-bearded Drowning Men, who marry carnival whimsy, Americana and folk-punk (a mostly negligible set aside from the fact that their frontman is better at theremin than perhaps anyone else I've ever seen), and a tight set from groovy garage trio Tijuana Panthers, "Starbuxxx" took the stage. That is to say, pride-of-Nashville rock 'n' rollers Natural Child took the stage, but due to some finger-wagging from the festival, the band would be playing the unofficial showcase under the name "Starbuxxx." Starbuxxx or not, it was as Natural Childish a set as any I've ever seen, full of cuts from their latest slab of riff-riddled Southern groovin', Dancin' With Wolves, and topped with the sweet, sultry strains of steel man Luke Schneider.
Here's a feather in Natural Child's cap: A couple songs into Reigning Sound's set, frontman and absolute garage-rock legend Greg Cartwright (who also fronts The Parting Gifts and Oblivans) called the Nashvillians' set "pretty great." Of course, he referred to them as "Starbuxxx," but let's still count it. With a big ol' white B3 organ in tow (because, as Natty Child's Luke Schneider put it, "Reigning Sound does not fuck around"), the real-deal, soul-injected rock 'n' rollers played a brand-new tune by the name of "North Cackalacky Girl," a characteristically bopping barnburner. The set was littered with classic Sound cuts like "Reptile Style," "Stormy Weather," "You're So Strange" and "Stop and Think It Over," the latter inspiring a bouncing sing-along. They wrapped with a top-speed rendition of the untoppable "I'll Cry" — their best song, for my money — leaving the set at a lean, mean 45 minutes. I was praying to hear "Time Bomb High School," but any day you get to see Cartwright sling those southpaw solos of his between spot-on, howling, paroxysmic vocals is a damn good day.
Gold, both of our photogs and I closed out our night with a showcase at the Parish Underground put on by the fine folks of Nashville's own Exit/In. With a capacity crowd (with no re-entry ... sorry, smokers) and esteemed rock critic Jim DeRogatis in the house, Music City denizens including RICHIE, Bully, PUJOL (no free burgers this time) and Diarrhea Planet (no Melissa Etheridge this time) gave Austin a little taste of the New Nashville: big-hearted, punk-rooted rock 'n' roll from all over the spectrum.
Additional reporting for this article by Adam Gold.