SXSW 2013 Reviews: Green Day, Depeche Mode, The Flaming Lips, Usher


    While Friday night everywhere is about going to parties and getting too inebriated to accurately recall the course of the evening, that sense of hedonism always gets heightened when you’re at South by Southwest. But while a huge chunk of ATX was chugging $11 beers and hitting that most wacky of tobaccy, Consequence of Sound was indulging in its own solitary drug of choice: music. Based on some of our choices, from a mid-’90s Southern rapper sensation to a riotous English psych-punk band, you might think we were the one’s on drugs. But really, we just happened to find perhaps the most diverse group of shows during our entire five-year run at SXSW. Check out full coverage, and be sure to tune in tomorrow for one last massive aural hit.

    Friday, March 15th


    Inside the Artist’s Studio Panel: Merge, Glasssnote – Austin Convention Center – 2:00 p.m.

    Karen Glauber – President, Hits Magazine
    Mac McCaughan – Superchunk / Portastic / Co-Founder, Merge Records
    Daniel Glass – President/CEO, Glassnote Entertainment
    Matthew Caws – Nada Surf
    Britt Daniel – Spoon / Divine Fits
    Coyle Girelli – The Chevin
    Chris Stamey (special guest) – The dB’s


    Sometimes, the most unique moments of SXSW take place within the confines of the Austin Convention Center. That certainly felt like the case on Friday afternoon, where a tiny but enthusiastic crowd was treated to an intimate look at the songwriting process with some industry pros. Karen Glauber led the panel in a playful direction, imploring Matthew Caws to write and perform a tune on the fly (mundane song topic: fonts) and asking Coyle Girelli to spin musical gold out of her most-despised lyrical cliché (“touch the sky”). The artists recounted stories of the catalysts for songwriting inspiration, from perfect New York City weather that “changes your brain” (Caws) to a tour manager’s sexual exploits (Britt Daniel) to the rhythm of a porch swing (Chris Stamey).


    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Unlike most SXSW events, there were no complimentary tacos, no open bar. But for those who forewent freebies in favor of stories, the panel offered an insider perspective to the creative spirit that allows SXSW – and the music community as a whole – to grow and thrive. -Heather Kaplan


    Photo by Dan Pfleegor

    Wild Belle – Cedar Street Courtyard – 3:20 p.m.

    Elliot and Natalie Bergman, brother and sister of Chicago’s Wild Belle, set up shop with backup singers and a full band to bring a cool Caribbean breeze to a sweltering hot Austin afternoon on Friday. “Keep You” and “It’s Too Late”, both off debut album Isles, garnered attention from dance hall enthusiasts and casual reggae fans alike. Wild Belle’s appreciation for the pop-rasta vibe and dedication to keeping their songs’ subject matters pertinent to an island lifestyle went over well on a day when most attendees cooled their warm brows with cold beers and sunglasses. Whether Natalie was confessing that her man “could use some cheating” while multi-instrumentalist Elliot pounded the organ, wailed on a tenor sax, and struck the kalimba with a mallet, or everybody in fancy clothes swaying their hips to future single “Happy Home”, it was a fine show that demonstrated a talented group who are getting more comfortable on stage just in time for the summer. -Dan Pfleegor


    Photo by Heather Kaplan


    Solange – Stubb’s – 3:50 p.m.

    Her older sister headlined this year’s Super Bowl halftime show and her world tour’s one of the hottest tickets in 2013. So, ugh, that’s a pretty fucking epic shadow to follow. That’s why it’s smart that Solange doesn’t. Sure, she sounds a bit like Bey, and yeah, she’s even got the moves, but her more low-key attention to style and sound is so organic that the comparisons are moot. At Stubb’s on Friday afternoon, wearing her Miami Vice-best, the former star of Bring It On: All or Nothing shimmied through her recent True EP and proved to a few thousand industry types and freeloaders of her true brand. Think of that throwback schtick Janelle Monáe champions, only flick on the Miami Sound Machine. With a hefty push from her backing band, Solange turned “Losing You” and “Bad Girls (Verdine Version)” into aural lifts that will soundtrack plenty of afternoons for many more months to come. -Michael Roffman


    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Kendrick Lamar – Stubb’s – 4:50 p.m.

    “Y’all ready to continue this party, right?” With only DJ Ali for the assist, Kendrick Lamar brought everyone to Compton at Stubb’s on Friday afternoon. It was 80-something degrees outside, but the critically-acclaimed and soon-to-be Platinum-selling rapper appeared comfortable and assured in his thick, beige hoodie, smiling at the ultra-packed crowd that flooded the scene gate to gate. Select cuts off 2011’s Section .80 and last year’s good kidm.A.A.d city thrived, despite the lack of any live instrumentation, and it’s obvious that Lamar’s tightened his set — probably a good thing, considering he’s booked at just about every festival this summer.


    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    Without missing a step, Lamar spit out all his tales over the record-ripped samples, peaking on set highlights “Poetic Justice”, “P&P”, “Money Trees”, and “Backseat Freestyle”. Few tracks in his canon rival the latter club banger on-stage; it’s everything but shrink-wrapped for the crowd: fierce, playful, and honest. Yet that’s something he’s always been about, even despite the record sales and rising fame of today. As he put it: “Thank you for letting me be myself on my first fucking album.” Yeah, he’s a good kid. -Michael Roffman


    Photo by Heather Kaplan


    Jim James – Auditorium Shores – 7:00 p.m.

    Jim James has built himself a splendid solo career. This past winter’s Regions of Light and Sound of God, an album which finds James masterminding all elements of instrumentation and production, has given the Kentucky-based My Morning Jacket leader even more proud material to add to a resume already as long as his chest-length beard. The album’s focus on the spiritual side of things and catchy melodies made “State of the Art (A-E-I-O-U)” and “Know Til Now” a groovy opening duo for the large Auditorium Shores Stage, which housed several thousand attendees across multiple acres.

    The jumbo screen projected James crooning “There’s much more stardust, when you’re near” as he built up the crowd’s energy and do-wopped his way through “A New Life”. Despite being a decked out across an enormous festival stage, the set remained concise, spanning only eight to nine songs, no doubt in part because of the extra effort required of the roadies and effects techs to prepare things on time for the Flaming Lips’ spectacle that immediately followed. -Dan Pfleegor

    The Afghan Whigs feat. Usher – Fader Fort – 8:00 p.m.

    Sorry everyone, this is never going to happen again. No “Afghan Whigs featuring Usher” topping a festival near you. Sure, the internet quips about the demise of SXSW because of giant artists such as Usher/Timberlake/Prince becoming people’s number one priority to see, but last night’s unexpected collaboration could make even the biggest SXSW nostalgic admit this performance was special.


    As people pushed their way into the Fader Fort to catch the “secret show”, the crowd appeared visibly stressed when Afghan Whigs took the stage instead of Usher. (Later on, even Usher called them “Indie-Rock Royalty,” but most of the crowd wouldn’t care if Greg Dulli was the president; he still wasn’t Usher.) Then, halfway through the set the band ripped through a raspy, stadium anthem version of “Climax”, ditching the Diplo beats for a reworked early 90’s rock powerhouse. And that’s when it happened: Usher arrived to finish the song with them, clad in a bucket hat and all. Following this, The Whigs and Usher reworked “Oh My God” and “Something Hot”, even inviting Ahmed from Sinkane out to perform their song “Runnin'”.

    It wasn’t a shoehorned collaboration, not a sponsor-driven “Come on guys, just do this,” and not a disingenuous performance from the groups. They were fully into it, well aware of how special the occasion was, and the crowd started to realize it, too. Sure, the Usher fans won’t go out and buy Afghan Whigs records, but I’m sure any anti-mainstream, die-hard Afghan Whigs fan might be jamming to “Climax” or “Oh My God” on their plane ride back from SXSW. -Michael Zonenashvili


    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    The Flaming Lips – Auditorium Shores – 8:00 p.m.

    After years of catching them at festivals, this was my first experience watching The Flaming Lips perform a stripped down set. Granted, the Martian stage decor, rainbow lighting, and tricked out LED backdrop were all present, but this time around there was no glitter, confetti, or dancing Easter Bunnies on the sidestage. The songs themselves weren’t too recognizable, either. Instead, the band treated the audience to an hour off their forthcoming album The Terror, set to stalk fans in April. This change in style posed a bit of a conundrum, because, while it’s rewarding to catch artists try something new, many fans, like brats spoiled by too many birthday presents in the past, come to expect a certain je ne sais quoi from the Oklahoma space cowboys.


    Photo by Heather Kaplan


    One particularly interesting moment of intrigue came as Sarah Barthel of Phantogram (and contributor to The Terror), came on stage with an odd request: she would only sing along if Coyne agreed to pull and tug her hair while she did so. Happy to oblige this bit of masochism, the singer allowed her to kneel beside him and grabbed a handful of dark locks. It was an interesting display of pain and submission. As with all art, the viewer or listener must reach his or her own conclusions on the work’s meaning and theme. I’ll leave the hair tugging at that but do wish to note it was at least cool to see the Flaming Lips toy with such risque material in front of an industry and free-to-the-public audience not always ready to consume unpasteurized art.


    Photo by Heather Kaplan

    The Lips rewarded those who stuck through it all though, ending the set with choice cuts from 2002 fan-favorite Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (“Fight Test”, “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots Pt. 1”, and “Do You Realize??” included, as per usual). Before the set closed though, Coyne hinted that Justin Timberlake was backstage. But alas, this turned out to be untrue. The audience seemed to lose some gusto after the masked male collaborator led out on stage ended up being none other than Jim James, who did a fine job opening for the Lips. It was great to have them all on stage together, but come on, Wayne! How cruel. A sadist afterall! -Dan Pfleegor


    Photo by errantglitter

    Green Day – ACL Moody Theater – 9:00 p.m.

    It’s been an eventful past few months for Green Day: the release of their album trilogy, the much-publicized rehab stint involving frontman Billie Joe Armstrong, and the subsequent postponement of the world tour. Yet, with the exception of a few new songs added to the setlist, the band’s live show remains unchanged from what it’s been for the last few years. The medley of covers, ranging from “Twist and Shout” to “Sweet Child o’ Mine”, the water gun and toilet paper being shot into the crowd, the flashlight bit during “Holiday”, the kid coming on stage to sing “Longview”, all these predictable antics popped up amidst the band’s intimate SXSW showcase at Moody Theatre on Friday night. They didn’t even buy new costumes to wear during “King for a Day”.


    Also consistent: Billie Joe Armstrong. Just weeks removed from rehab and amid a new-found life of sobriety, Armstrong hasn’t lost a step. He still drives the show 120 mph, leading the crowd in chants when not jumping higher than his actual body length or cracking jokes about South by Southwest being a festival full of “weenies.” Like him or hate him, Armstrong remains the epitome of a great frontman, a true rock and roll super star. And in a night where the industry was briefly distracted by the near overdose of a fellow music legend, it was especially heartening to see Armstrong so potent — a perfect PSA if you ask me. -Alex Young


    Photo by Michael Roffman

    Depeche Mode – Brazos Hall – 10:00 p.m.

    Funny story: At 2009’s incarnation of Lollapalooza, this big, muscular bald dude that shared a slight resemblance to Stone Cold Steve Austin passed out on me during “Enjoy the Silence”. At the time, I was pissed and confused: How could anyone get that shitfaced at Depeche Mode, and why did it have to happen during what’s arguably the band’s strongest track (and one of the most endearing songs of the last three decades)?

    Depeche Mode didn’t come all the way to South by Southwest to rectify that, but they did anyway. With help from Yahoo!, the intimate Brazos Hall — which looked like a club Tony Wilson would have dreamed up — hosted the English New Wave veterans as they support their forthcoming 13th studio album, Delta Machine. Why was this a big deal? For starters, it was one of their first stateside gigs since 2009’s “Sounds of the Universe Tour”, and they probably haven’t played a venue of this size prior to the Berlin Wall being dismantled.


    Photo by Michael Roffman


    It was rather short, though. Ten songs, one hour, and half of that was devoted to Delta. That wasn’t a surprise, considering we’re a good two weeks away from its release. And unlike their 2009 album, there’s a rogue, industrial grittiness that pervades cuts like “Angel”, “Should Be Higher”, and “Soothe My Soul”. Besides, they appeased fans and casuals with a surprise cut of Songs of Faith and Devotion‘s “Walking in My Shoes”, a countrified prologue to “Personal Jesus”, and Martin Gore’s performance of “Only When I Lose Myself”.

    Then came “Enjoy the Silence”, the realization that one of the world’s largest electronic bands was performing in a venue that couldn’t properly accomodate a full wedding, and a head that spun from pure ecstasy. Metaphorically, though. -Michael Roffman


    Photo by Dan Pfleegor

    Mystikal – The Main – 11:50 p.m.

    Full disclosure: I headed to The Main around midnight because I thought that’s when Chicago rapper Chief Keef was throwing down. But because of a scheduling error on someone’s part (likely my own after four days of sponsored beer, sun worshipping, and a smorgasbord of BBQ sandwiches), I instead found New Orleans rapper and No Limit soldier Mystikal tossing out a sick set that included a whole host of his radio singles, as well as a few deep cuts from early demo cds. Producer KLC was in attendance and spent his time shuffling through a catalogue of late 90’s and early 00’s billboard beats from behind the turntables.


    Mystikal, like Keef, returns to the spotlight after a host of legal issues. But the man’s good spirit and joy over being in front of the Southwestern crowd again helped him spout out verses from “Shake Ya Ass”, “Move Bitch”, and even Master P’s earworm “Make ‘Em Say Uhh!”. Full confession, I hated to overhear that song from Walkman headphones on the school bus 16 years ago, but somehow it now sounded choice, if only for the surreal nature of the strange way the night turned out.

    Mystikal took time to host a makeshift bootie contest, picking from fans who rushed the stage, but the rapper showed a new, self-reflective sort of maturity: “Making ‘em say uhh too much is why my child support is so high.” Hopefully young Keef will learn to do the same. -Dan Pfleegor


    Photo by Michael Roffman

    Midnight Spin - Shakespeare’s Pub – 12:00 a.m.

    Nowadays, thanks to the rampant use of cell phones, it’s almost impossible to tell how some audience members feel about a band’s gig. But at a Midnight Spin show, those devoted fix their gaze upward, unfold their arms, and proceed to violently skank and hop about between bouts of fervid admiration bordering on a religious experience. And the Brooklyn rockers more than deserve that kind of frightening praise, forging an impassioned blend of punk and metal that reaches mainstream levels of polish and craftsmanship without ever forgoing any sense of personal dedication, intensity, or even any sort of ulterior motive to transcend their indie rankings. Even those of the crowd that weren’t inclined to spin and shake, this writer included, couldn’t help but notice the intangible flow of energy and develop an almost jealous sensibility about the sheer and primal connection between the band and their super fans. Although if the guy in the cargo shorts had hit me, I totes would’ve shown him what was up. -Chris Coplan


    Photo by Michael Roffman


    Palma Violets – Club de Ville – 1:00 a.m.

    Rough Trade’s most promising young export is also their clumsiest: Palma Violets. The Lambeth quartet arrived at Club de Ville late, late Friday night from another dimension, an alternate one where the UK still leases out garages to clever rockers that aren’t named Pete fucking Doherty. Vocalists Chilli Jesson and Sam Fryer lead the pack, which also includes keyboardist Jeff Mayhew and drummer Will Doyle. Everyone’s great, but Jesson and Fryer go beyond that. Instead, they chuck out the raw, unadulterated passion that’s usually only found with prospective teenaged musicians.

    “I know I’m taking this way too far, but I’m having too much fun,” Jesson warned minutes before the set ended. By that point, he’d already barked at nearby fans, blown out his bass amp, pogoed amidst the mosh pits, and screamed the guttural death calls best reserved for 17th century demons. Fryer didn’t exactly hold down the fort, either, as he made a mess out of his guitar cables and bounced off Jesson. But there’s no blaming them. Stream “Best of Friends” right now, the lead single off their forthcoming debut album 180, and just try and say you wouldn’t end your night by diving into a drumset and a four-friend pile up.


    Photo by Michael Roffman

    If that’s not enough, here’s this: The UK just found its Replacements. -Michael Roffman



    Photographers: Heather Kaplan, Michael Roffman

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