Muse, Courtney Love, Smokey Robinson Fire Up SXSW Friday
The South by Southwest Music festival and conference reached a fever pitch on Friday, with some of the highest profile bands of the week performing day and night along side the hundreds of aspiring musicians angling for attention at bars, clubs and just about any open space in the Texas capital.
British art rockers Muse showed they could strip down and still be masterful with its performance Friday night at Stubb's. The size of the venue meant Muse would perform the late-announced show, which Billboard.com tipped last week, without the eye-popping, effects-laden stage set it's been carting to arenas around the world since October to support its latest album, "The Resistance." The group did bring lasers, which penetrated the crowd on the Stubb's field and colored the trees at the back of the venue to dazzling effect, but for the most part Muse was left to its own musical devices and demonstrated it had both the songs and the chops to deliver a a winning peformance for the capacity house.
Cutting seven songs from its usual concert repertoire, Muse compensated for the comparatively spartan trappings at its first-ever SXSW stop by playing with ferocity, from the big-beat opening of "Uprising" and the industrial grind of the "Twilight" soundtrack entry "Supermassive Blackhole" to the twisting dynamics of the lone encore, "Knights of Cydonia." The group was also able to be a bit looser than it is in the arenas, appending "The Star Spangled Banner" onto "Resistance" and a bit of Led Zeppelin's "Good Times, Bad times" riff to "Hysteria." The gentle "United States of Eurasia," with frontman Matthew Bellamy on piano, was the show's sole change of pace, nestled amidst the frenetic fury of "Stockholm Sindrome" and "Nishe" and the '80s goth flavors of "Undisclosed Desires" and "Starlight."
"It's great to be here at South By Southwest," Bellamy told the crowd. "You can feel the good vibes." The feeling was mutual.
Equal parts rocker and raconteur, Courtney Love brought her new edition of Hole to South By Southwest on Friday, previewing material from the upcoming "Nobody's Daughter" album and giving fans an eyeful and earful of the group's new lineup and her latest comportment.
"Hi kids, we're Hole," Love, dressed in a sheer top and short skirt, greeted the crowd at the Spin magazine day party at Stubb's after an opening blast that included a sly cover of the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy For the Devil," the new single "Skinny Little Bitch," the older favorite "Miss World" and the title track to "Nobody's Daughter." But Love was clearly aware that some are questioning whether this version of the band, of which Love is the only original member, really is Hole. "We are Hole, whether you like it or not you little fuck-pigs," Love said while introducing the band members. "This is the way it's gonna be for a very fucking long time. Get used to it."
The group, which includes top-hatted guitarist Micko Larkin from Larrikin Love, certainly sounded tight and energetic and, just as importantly, able to roll with Love's random and entertaining outbursts -- including a discourse on "hate sex" and disses of Perez Hilton (whose party Hole is playing on Saturday evening), Bret Michaels (drawling a bit of "Every Rose Has Its Thorn") and Trent Reznor -- without derailing its performance. And Hole gave the afternoon party crowd a generous sample of the new, including "Nobody's Daughter" songs such as "Letter to God," "Pacific Coast Highway," "How Dirty Girls Get Clean," "Honey" and the profanity-laded "Samantha" while dropping in occasional older favorites like "Violet" and "Reasons to be Beautiful" but purposefully staying away from the hits that defined Hole before it disbanded in 2002.
"Nobody's Daughter" is due out April 27, with "Skinny Little Bitch" just released as a digital single. A tour is expected to be announced in the near future.
He may be considerably younger than others who played on Friday's soul-flavored South By Southwest bill at the Austin Music Hall -- particularly Smokey Robinson, Sharon Jones and Raphael Saadiq -- but Mayer Hawthorne put on an old school exposition with a modern touch that spanned all ages at the show.
Riding high off the critical response to his 2009 debut "A Strange Arrangement," the 31-year-old singer came on stage rocking a red Izod cardigan with a white shirt and black tie, while his four-piece band the County was also snappily attired. Following a James Brown opening tape, Hawthorne (real name Andrew Mayer Cohen) kicked things off with the light-hearted, melodic beat of "Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin' " and spent 35 minutes showcasing the album -- including the hit single "Just Ain't Gonna Work Out" and the falsetto-flaunting "Make Her Mine."
Hawthorne teased at one point that he "never heard of (Robinson) until tonight," then had the band play a snippet of "Don't Mess With Bill" before it jammed into his own "One Track Mind." Hawthorne also spiced the set with covers of Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr. Blue Sky" and N.E.R.D.'s "Fly or Die" before closing with a particularly joyous treatment of "The Ills."
Also on the bill, following Hawthorne, was a local artist who is due for some national recognition: Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. Lewis led his tight 7-piece band through an hourlong set of supercharged Texas soul blues that was equal parts Otis Redding and Stevie Ray Vaugahn.
MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer and some of his musical friends -- including Tom Morello, Billy Bragg, R.E.M.'s Mike Mills and Foo Fighters' Chris Shiflett -- kicked out the jams on South By Southwest's third day to launch the new charity initiative Jail Guitar Doors USA. The collective performed for inmates at the Travis County Jail on Friday, then in the wee hours of Saturday held a racous "after party" all-star jam at The Ghost Room.
Also taking part in the 70-minute round-robin were: Morello's Street Sweeper Social Club, which served as a house band during the night; the BellRays' Lisa Kekaula, who sang lead on a renditon of the MC5's "Lookin' Back;" Anti-Flag's Justin Sane; OuterNational; and members of Cobra Verde. Highlights included: Kramer's acoustic version of the MC5's "High School," explaining that "really, we were senstive guys;" Billy Bragg's souful "I Keep Faith;" Mills' disarmingly charged delivery of Crosby, Still, Nash & Young's "Ohio;" Street Sweeper Social Club's take on LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out;" and gang versions of the Clash's "Jail Guitar Doors" and the MC5 anthem "Kick Out the Jams," which closed the show.
Jail Guitar Doors USA was inspired by a charity Bragg began in the U.K. to bring guitars and music to prisons as a form of rehabilitation. "When people think you care about them, and want them to get better, they respond," hte once-incarcerated Kramer told Billboard.com. "These guitars aren't a gift -- they're a challenge."
Friday's showcase at the Billboard.com Bungalow brought out the electro-pop, a nicely timed jolt of energy after three days of non-stop SXSW activity. Leading off was Copenhagen's the Asteroids Galaxy Tour, who drew an enthusiastic early crowd for horn-blasting alt-pop featuring the big voice of tiny frontwoman Mette Lindberg. Next was Brahms, a brand new Brooklyn trio who turned up the dance vibe with sharp, pulsy synth rock.
The Bungalow tent filled to its edges for Yacht, an electro-punk duo signed to James Murphy's DFA Records that added drums and bass for their ultra-stylish and electrifying live show. Rocking a goth-prom aesthetic complete with tuxedos, lace and lycra, Jona Bechtolt and vocalist Claire Evans tore through their own ear candy, as well as covers by punk band X and cult film teenage girl band the Fabulous Stains.
The Death Set, originally from Australia, dove right into their high-octane set by throwing beer cans into the audience, none of whom seemed to mind in the least. Experimental Brooklyn group These Are Powers set an intense vibe with buzzy, rhythmic noise rock, before technical wizard BT entranced a swelling crowd to close out the tent.
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(Additional reporting by David J. Prince, Cortney Harding and Evie Nagy.)