After pulling 14-hour shifts for the first three consecutive days of SXSW music, Friday called for a slightly slower pace and fewer shows. It was time to adopt the notion of “quality over quantity, “ or otherwise face insurmountable fatigue.
After a relaxed day, a lively rooftop party for Guitar Center Sessions – a double bill of the Wild Feathers and Soundgarden atop the four-story Starr Building on Colorado Street – was far more attractive.
Though most in attendance were there to catch the headliner, who thundered through its 1994 album Superunknown the night before at the iTunes Festival, the Nashville-based opening act left a lasting impression. With a setup that used four alternating lead singers – Ricky Young, Joel King, Taylor Burns and Preston Wimberly – the group ran through shades of blues, country, alt-rock and folk, successfully serving up a little something for everyone.
And while the bulk of Soundgarden’s set was a repeat from Thursday – 10 of 16 Superunknown songs to celebrate the record’s 20th anniversary – the seminal Seattle group threw in some lesser played, heavy-hitting throwbacks like “Hunted Down,” “Burned My Hand” and the show-closing “Rusty Cage.”
This show lacked the impressively built-up visuals of ACL Live – insanely intricate and vivid wraparound LED panels – but it doesn’t get much better than hearing something like the apocalyptically potent “Limo Wreck” with open skies above and a brightly lit skyline beyond.
Toward the end of that set, the clock struck midnight, but the night was far from over. Just a few blocks down, New York outfit Sleigh Bells commanded a spirited and sweaty dance party at the Belmont with its rowdy, metal and hip-hop-infused pop. There is truly no match among frontwomen for Alexis Krauss, who – with her wildly whipping hair, erratic yet fluid moves and formidable bod – held this crowd securely in the palm of her hand.
The same couldn’t be said for this night’s final performers, the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas and his new band, the Voidz, over at Cedar Street Courtyard. Yet ultimately, it was difficult to determine what led to the show’s lackluster impact.
Casablancas was his normal, reserved self, but his showmanship was fine: he was all smiles and continually leaning into the faces of screaming front row fans as the band ran through five new tunes, the Strokes’ “Ize of the World” and a couple of cuts from 2009 solo album, Phrazes for the Young. Perhaps it was the scant, eight-song set list and the fact that the sound was muddy from any vantage point in the weirdly narrow venue. Judgment on the new music’s quality remains reserved for now.
The next day (Saturday), events returned to their maddening pace. In the interest of avoiding an irksome ramble, here are the highlights from the fest’s final full day of music:
Rachel Ray’s annual Feedback party at Stubb’s is always attractive just for its (free) specialized BBQ and comfort food recipes, but inevitably, the celebrity chef always manages to nab some mightily impressive acts. This year was no exception.
Early on at the afternoon bash, Washington state-based soul and R&B singer Allen Stone was the first to really help the audience find their happy feet. With his nerdish, Kurt Cobain look, he’s somewhat unsuspecting, but his music sounds like Stevie Wonder and he can move and wail like James Brown – not to be missed if you spot his name on a fest bill.
Later, after another crackerjack set from pseudo-supergroup Spanish Gold – who already rocked the Billy Reid Shindig Thursday – fans were treated to a particularly special set from Foxboro Hot Tubs, Green Day’s punk rock side-project. Say what you will about Green Day’s pop-influenced sound, but Foxboro is in its own category.
In this six-piece group, Billie Joe Armstrong was entirely free of guitar duties, allowing him to run around like the fiendish imp he is blasting confetti guns, spraying silly string and pouring beers directly into front row fans’ mouths. And of course, they threw in a couple of Green Day tunes – “Fuck Time” and “Makeout Party” – plus an impressive cover of the Who’s “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” to close.
For the night’s grand finale, it felt fitting to take in some Texas music, so after a brief respite, it was back to Stubb’s for the Toadies’ first ever full-album performance of their 1994 album, Rubberneck.
The 11-track, post-grunge collection is largely overrated, but its relevance to that era’s sound – the experimental guitar tones akin to Pixies on “Mexican Hairless” and “Tyler,” frontman Todd Lewis’ Eddie Vedder-esque vocals on “Away,” and the cathartic aggression of the percussive closer, “I Bleed” – resonated as freshly as any contemporary rock record.
Call it a rehash, but that Toadies album is timeless, and based on the crowd’s exuberant singing and cheers throughout, it was unanimously accepted as an appropriately powerhouse punch to end another grueling SXSW with a resounding bang.