It’s impossible to combat that bleary eyed entry into the second day of any music festival, but SXSW has its own charming way of kicking your ass and turning your legs to Jello without you realizing it.
That being said the ship sails endlessly forward as the day started with a walk down the madness contained within 6th Street to Brooklyn Vegan’s afternoon showcase at The Main. First up was the New York outfit Caveman who brought a groove-pop atmosphere to the sun-soaked, Miller drinking masses. Then came the ferocious storm expelled from post-punkers Savages who managed to impress despite the bass cutting in and out periodically. Singer Jehny Beth established her domineering stage presence holding steady near her mic stand allowing her expressions and haunting voice to hold sway.
Later in the evening came the Doritos/Taco Bell sponsored Hype Hotel showcase with more free tacos contained wherein than should be legally permissible outside of SXSW. Bloomberg would’ve been appalled. The show was set to kick off with Chicago pop-punkers Twin Peaks at 8pm, but for some never explained reason the show was pushed back to 8:45 which set off a chain reaction of frustration and hard feelings.
Twin Peaks burned through a short 20 minute set bolstered by an expensive lighting rig in place for the video recordings that hopefully see the light of day. Then it was Calvin Pace who seemed to have the least amount of difficulty in executing his ideal show as he stood center-stage backed by a live drummer and a litany of bass and synth loops.
Turning in the most inspired performance of the night was The Orwells who immediately turned heads with the slow-fast-slow power-punk of “In My Bed”. The band seemed genuinely elated to be there and deflated when given notice that they had only one more song despite having only just warmed up. As the band went to end their final tune on a swirling high, lead singer Mario Cuomo began to whip his microphone Roger Daltrey style until it inevitably flew out into the crowd. This led to organizers walking on and attempting to take Cuomo off stage which very nearly ended in an all out brawl as the singer threw a shove or two and escaped through the crowd.
Forced to follow that example of pure Rock and Roll fun was Phosphorescent who struggled with their own sound issues and set time disputes.
“Here’s a song off our new record which comes out next week,” said bandleader Matthew Houck. “And apparently it’s our last.”
The singer-songwriter performed admirably as his soulful croon soared in brief moments, but the set ultimately ended with Houck dropping his microphone and shrugging his shoulders.
The greatest misfortune I’ve personally seen befall a band yet at SXSW came when break-out psych-poppers Foxygen took the stage with Jonathan Rado’s microphone taking at least half an hour more than it should have to get working. The free boozed/taco revelers had had enough after largely cheering The Orwells’ attitude and began openly booing and chanting as the members of Foxygen did their best to keep sane in the darkness of the stage. Finally, Rado’s microphone came to life, but still cut out in spurts as it seemed too late to gain back the goodwill their recordings had imbued in the audience. That being said, Foxygen did manage to flourish when properly aligned and assembled as tracks like “San Francisco” and “No Destruction” came through clearly.
Then came the major push as the clock raced toward the early hours. Taking a brief respite from his normal gig with My Morning Jacket, singer Jim James slowly took the stage amid a wash of rose-tinted light. With a languid smile on his face, James purposefully and intimately handed flowers to some lucky people up front, and then turned his back while standing on a partition that would serve as his pulpit for the sermon set to be delivered. James worked masterfully across the stage capturing and arresting the exhausted crowd with well worked movements, and a segues that saw him pick up a saxophone, acoustic, and flying V guitars. Backed by a top notch band, James made the pastoral, off-beat walk in the woods and think about God material off of Regions of Light and Sound and God really shine. The closing jam of “God’s Love To Deliver” represented the set’s standout moment as James looped the ghostly vocal against fiercely worked jazz instrumentation, culminating in a powerful fit of guitar blasts that sent everyone headed towards the exits home happy.
With a belly full of tacos, and a night left still relatively young at 2:30am, the adventure continued…to a Jack In The Box for a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger because at that point I needed something to bring me back down to Earth.