SXSW 2018: Albert Hammond Jr. proves he’s a rockstar at any level at Lambert’s day party

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White Reaper keyboardist Ryan Hater began the band’s Wednesday afternoon set at Lambert’s the same way so many SXSW patrons begin their adventures: thirsty.

“I’m gonna need two things. The first one is a shot of tequila,” he told the audience. “And I’m gonna need everybody to come in and have more fun, because it feels like I’m at a college graduation party.”

Albert Hammond Jr. headlines a SXSW 2018 day party at Lambert’s on Wednesday, March 14. (Photo by Bryan Rolli)

Eventually, Hater got both his wishes, which should come as no surprise, given White Reaper’s rapid ascendancy over the past year. The Louisville, Kentucky garage-punk quintet blends snotty, adenoidal vocals and twin-guitar harmonies à la Thin Lizzy to irresistible effect, and many months on the road have brought them dangerously close to fulfilling the superlative of their latest album, 2017’s “The World’s Best American Band.”

RELATED: Your guide to the best unofficial parties at SXSW

Rousing a daytime audience from its midweek slump is no easy feat, but White Reaper proved up to the task, as did hard-rocking Seattle quartet Thunderpussy. Yes, all of the band members are women, and no, they were not particularly interested with talking about the dynamics of being the “girl in a band” at Lambert’s. They were too preoccupied with shredding furious, wah-drenched guitar solos and breakneck drum-and-bass grooves, as lead singer Molly Sides howled into her vintage microphone and writhed onstage, the light catching on her sequined dress. If White Reaper is “The World’s Best American Band,” then Thunderpussy is undoubtedly the coolest.

Thunderpussy plays a SXSW 2018 day party at Lambert’s on Wednesday, March 14. (Photo by Bryan Rolli)

After those exhilarating sets, one could almost forget that Albert Hammond Jr. was headlining the daytime showcase — almost. The guitarist took the stage to waves of applause and cordially greeted the audience, “Hey everyone, welcome to the Hotel California.” And suddenly it was obvious whom everybody had come to see.

Despite playing arenas and headlining festivals around the world with the Strokes, Hammond showed no traces of customary rock star pretension onstage. He jumped to whack the ceiling and danced earnestly with his bandmates, often defaulting to playing rhythm as his other two guitarists traded solos. Hammond’s new solo album, “Francis Trouble,” features the same dicey riffs and anthemic choruses that made early Strokes hits so sublime, and the guitarist reveled in his bandleader status, a refreshing foil to Julian Casablancas’ brooding insularity.

Hammond has several more SXSW shows on the docket this week, including Stubb’s outdoor stage and the enormous SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake. Those stages might offer more room to flaunt, but on a Wednesday afternoon at Lambert’s, Hammond proved he’s a rockstar at any level.

See all of our SXSW 2018 coverage

Vance Joy: On top of the world and in touch with his roots at ACL Fest

Is it any wonder Vance Joy made it this far?

The curly-haired acoustic troubadour radiated charm and gratitude as he took to the Miller Lite Stage at 7:15 p.m. on the final night of ACL Fest’s first weekend, nearly 9,000 miles from his home in Melbourne, Australia — and a lifetime away from his humble singer-songwriter origins.

The 29-year-old heartthrob proved himself worthy of his headliner status with an arsenal of hits both instantly catchy and disarmingly vulnerable, including the runaway indie-folk smash “Riptide” off his 2013 debut EP “God Loves You When You’re Dancing.” (It later reappeared on his 2014 debut full-length “Dream Your Life Away.”) The heartsick fireside anthem has accumulated more than 500 million Spotify streams, topped the Billboard Alternative Songs chart and earned Joy support slots for Taylor Swift — and on Sunday, it won him the screaming adulation of a near-impenetrable throng of fans at Austin’s own Zilker Park.

But Joy still remembers his roots enough to reflect on his first time in this city: South by Southwest 2013, which saw him playing a flurry of tiny showcases for mostly industry folk, including a noon opening set at BD Riley’s Irish Pub.

“That was kind of a big deal, I guess. To actually get over to South by Southwest and be booked is awesome,” Joy recalls backstage on Sunday afternoon. Artists often feign this sort of humility as a publicity tactic, but when Joy talks somewhat sheepishly about his pre-fame days, I haven’t the slightest urge to question his sincerity. “We had to carry our keyboard case down the streets, this big, hunky, stupid keyboard case!”

It goes without saying Joy didn’t have to move any gear tonight; his only duty was to dazzle his thousands-strong audience. The singer’s still easing into his Lay It On Me World Tour, which kicked off at the end of September and will visit clubs and theaters across North America this month, most of which are already sold out. But a festival performance is guaranteed to attract a number of listeners who are only familiar with “Riptide” and fellow chart-topper “Fire and the Flood.” Thankfully, Joy already has hits to spare, and he’s ready to convert these fringe fans into lifers.

“You want to start with a song people might recognize and end with another one that they might recognize, and speckle a couple more upbeat songs throughout it,” he says. “People are filthy and sweaty, and they’ve been drinking all day. They’re a little bit delirious. So I think that can be a really fun environment to play to.”

Joy called it right. Fans lustily sang along to the Aussie dreamboat’s opening one-two punch of “Fire and the Flood” and “From Afar,” the torturous afternoon heat already a distant memory. They relished the opportunity to hear new material, including recent single “Lay It on Me,” which has already pierced the Top 10 of the Billboard Alternative Songs chart. It’s Joy’s first new music since “Dream Your Life Away,” and with a sophomore LP in the works, he hopes to continue growing his audience while making music that’s true to him.

“You write songs that you feel good about and make sense to you and you’re proud of, and then you hope that you build enough of a connection with your fans that they’re on the same page,” he says two hours before hitting the Miller Lite Stage. “I think if you can just keep feeding their fire, that’s the aim. And I feel good about these new songs.”

As the sun set behind the Zilker Park tree line and bathed the sky in mesmerizing shades of purple and orange, the fire Joy stoked several years ago burst into an unquenchable flame.

Deap Vally riles Killers fans with raucous, sex-positive ACL Fest set

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And the humblebrag of the weekend goes to: Deap Vally.

“I see that Garbage t-shirt out there,” singer/guitarist Lindsey Troy told an audience member during the band’s Sunday afternoon ACL set, her lips curling upward salaciously as the words left her mouth. “I bought the same shirt. We toured with them this summer. Sex is not the enemy!”

She and drummer Julie Edwards then blasted into “Walk of Shame,” the snarky, sex-positive garage rocker off the Los Angeles duo’s brilliantly titled debut album, “Sistrionix.” Troy attacked her battered Fender Mustang as she shouted the song’s brash, narrative-rewriting chorus: “’Cause I got places to go / But I’ve got no change of clothes / Baby I don’t feel no blame / I’m gonna take this walk of shame.”

To compare Deap Vally to the groundbreaking all-female punk bands of yesteryear based purely on gender would be horribly reductive, though Troy’s carnal howl does at times recall the Runaways’ Cherie Currie and L7’s Donita Sparks. But the frontwoman’s blunt-force riffs also nod to the libidinous, bluesy thunder of Eagles of Death Metal, while her interplay with Edwards’ explosive, unhinged drum breakdowns channels another garage rock duo you may have heard of — the White Stripes.

Lindsey Troy of Deap Vally performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Sunday October 8, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

As the first band to grace the American Express Stage on Sunday at 12:30 p.m., Deap Vally had the unenviable task of winning over diehard Killers fans who hugged the barricade and prayed for a respite from the sun’s unforgiving rays. Troy fully rose the occasion, bellowing with every iota of strength, “AUSTIN CITY LIMITS! WHAT THE F*** IS UP!” She unleashed primal shrieks both sultry and savage on “Heart Is an Animal,” her guitar work simultaneously cacophonous and controlled.

The set highlight came during the defiant, empowering “Smile More,” off last year’s raucous “Femejism.” Troy playfully but firmly rejected the male gaze as she hollered: “”Stranger in the bar tells me to smile more / I look at him and I ask, ‘What for?’ / I am happily unhappy, man / And no, I don’t wanna shake your hand.”

At the time of this writing, Troy and Edwards will probably be holding a meet-and-greet at the Waterloo Records tent, where, unlike the subject of “Smile More,” they promised to shake the hands and sign the cleavage of their fans. It’s unlikely many audience members will ditch their front-row Killers spot to go hang out with them. But I kind of hope they do.

Ice Cube ensures ‘It was a good day’ at exhilarating ACL Fest set

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Don’t try to clown on Ice Cube. He’ll beat you to the punchline.

“A lot of y’all thinking, ‘That’s Ice Cube up there!'” the rapper born O’Shea Jackson said from American Express Stage during his Saturday night set at ACL. “That motherf***** do movies. Ain’t that Ice Cube that do them crazy-ass Coors Light commercials and s***?”

Suzanne Cordeiro/ For American-Statesman Ice Cube performs on Day 2 of the 2017 ACL Music Festival held at Zilker Park in Austin.

That was, in fact, the same Ice Cube of “Friday” and “Are We There Yet?” infamy. But lest the rabid throng forget the red-blooded MC’s original day job, he raced through a flurry of classics from his solo career and N.W.A tenure with jaw-dropping precision. Atop a collection of instantly recognizable, pulverizing beats, the rapper spat bars that were wickedly funny, aggressively masculine and unfailingly profane.

“For all the people in here who didn’t think Ice Cube could get onstage and still rock the mic, I got one thing to say to yo’ ass,” Cube smugly told the audience. “You better check yo’ self before you wreck yo’ self!”

There was, of course, a palpable irony to watching the 48-year-old gazillionaire MC deliver the vitriolic one-two punch of N.W.A’s “Straight Outta Compton” and “Gangsta Gangsta” before a crowd of mostly white, twenty-something college students—not to mention the father who swayed to the anti-authoritarian tirades with his toddler perched upon his shoulders. But Cube’s been in this business long enough to sell his past as present, even if his only connection to his gang-banging days now is 2015’s blockbuster biopic, “Straight Outta Compton.” Besides, this crowd was in no mood to fact-check; they simply wanted to rage.

The rapper gave them plenty of opportunities to do that, from the furious N.W.A diss track “No Vaseline” to the shockingly anti-PC boasts of “Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It.” Like all seasoned performers, Cube divided the crowd and forced them to out-scream each other. Unlike most of these performers, he threw several crisp hundred dollar bills onto the stage and bet against his hype man WC (pronounced “Dub-C”) to see whose side would prevail.

Thankfully for Dub, the consensus seemed to be a draw.

“Y’all can’t do too much sinning tonight,” Cube joked to the audience before shutting his set down with the woozy feel-good funk of “It Was a Good Day.” “I’m gonna see y’all at church in the morning.”

Little did he know, they were already there.

LĪVE sells the drama in epic, hit-filled ACL Fest set

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Credit to LĪVE’s consummate showmanship and seemingly endless collection of hits that their Saturday afternoon set at ACL managed to be muscularly epic, subtly spiritual and completely out-of-place all at once.

The York, Pennsylvania outfit’s brand of melodramatic stadium rock goes tragically underrepresented at this festival, whose patrons would much rather turn up to Chance the Rapper or ugly-cry to Angel Olsen than pump their fists to post-grunge anthems that topped the charts when they were still in diapers. Still, the mid-sized audience inevitably succumbed to the treasure trove of hits from the band’s 1994 breakout album, “Throwing Copper,” which sold a staggering eight million copies in the United States alone and spawned chest-pumping anthems “All Over You,” “I Alone” and “Lightning Crashes.” Frankly, they don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Chad Taylor, left, and Ed Kowalczyk of Live perform at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Saturday October 7, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

LĪVE understood their place among the lineup, and they dutifully served these hits in succession, rewarding the diehard fans in the middle of the crowd and winning over the skeptics on the outskirts. Guitarist Chad Taylor wrung robust power chords from his Les Paul as singer Ed Kowalczyk prowled the stage and ascended the drum riser, reprising his role as a shaved-head, alpha-male Bono. The 46-year-old singer had good reason to wear sunglasses at a daytime festival, but you know damn well he still would’ve kept them on if they were headlining an arena at sundown.

Kowalczyk eyed the audience hungrily as an orchestral backing track swelled to introduce the band’s 1999 hit “The Dolphin’s Cry” (the title of which tells you everything you need to know about mainstream rock radio at the turn of the century). He spread his arms wide and dropped to his knees to drive home the transcendent chorus: “See the road rise up to meet us / It’s in the air we breathe tonight / Love will lead us, she will lead us!”

Indeed, something was in the air during the band’s masterful performance—and no, I don’t mean drugs. That something was gratitude, as Kowalczyk split acrimoniously from his bandmates in 2009 and only rejoined them last year. But the frontman had no interest in airing their dirty laundry onstage.

“We took a little break from LĪVE, but oh, you know, whatever,” Kowalczyk said jokingly. “I don’t even give a shit what the story is anymore. We’re back!”

Back indeed, and with a vengeance, as they tore through their hit-filled discography with the same vigor as in their heyday. Kowalczyk’s full-throated roar and tender vibrato took front-and-center on originals and covers alike, including a powerful take on Johnny Cash’s “I Walk the Line” and a tender rendition of Chris Cornell’s “I Am the Highway.”

As they geared up for their logical set-closer “Lightning Crashes,” Kowalczyk left the audience with words of encouragement. “I’m gonna put this song out as a prayer, that this world realizes that we are one,” he said to yelps of recognition and approval. “We are brothers and sisters in that oneness. I love you guys so much. Thanks again.”

LĪVE sold the drama in their Saturday performance, and the audience lapped it up. But they also sold something bigger: a call for unity, a balm for a troubled spirit, and a promise of life after death.

Car Seat Headrest earn their 2 p.m. set time with sleepy ACL Fest performance

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Will Toledo is Car Seat Headrest. Will Toledo is a staggeringly prolific songwriter, a brutally confessional lyricist, an exemplary champion of DIY ethics even as his humble indie rock project has signed with Matador Records and achieved previously unfathomable levels of success.

But Will Toledo is not a rockstar.

AUSTIN, TX – OCTOBER 7, 2017 – Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival.(Erich Schlegel/Special Contributor)

Reality smacked hard during the Seattle-by-way-of-Virginia quartet’s 2 p.m. set at the Honda Stage on Saturday, where they played to a noticeably smaller and more listless crowd than the one Mutemath dominated at the same time and place on Friday. There’s no questioning Toledo’s songwriting chops — dude’s released 10 studio albums and a handful of EPs since 2010 — but the 25-year-old frontman could not be bothered to show any vital signs onstage beyond pushing his blocky shades up his nose after every song.

The singer and guitarist pays obvious deference in both his languid posturing and slurred vocals to reigning garage rock revivalists the Strokes, but as the New York indie rockers proved themselves at this festival two years ago, even Julian Casablancas struggles to do a convincing Julian Casablancas onstage — and that was with the momentum of a headlining set on their side. Toledo’s heart was in the right place, but he hasn’t earned the right to slack off before a sleepy afternoon crowd yet.

Thankfully, his bandmates knelt before a different altar, one of good-natured crowd banter and rock star histrionics. Lead guitarist Ethan Ives slashed through the muddy tumult with tuneful, trebly licks, looking more Woodstock than ACL with his voluminous curls, tucked-in brown t-shirt and prominent smiley face belt buckle. Ives took lead vocals for a powerful cover of Neil Young’s “Powderfinger,” his guitar work oozing subtle sensuality and his vocals hinting at a deep well of longing bubbling beneath the surface.

AUSTIN, TX – OCTOBER 7, 2017 – Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival.(Erich Schlegel/Special Contributor)

Toledo, meanwhile, added airy falsetto backing vocals, proving his strongest suit was playing second fiddle to his bandmates.

Still, there’s no denying the great strides Car Seat Headrest have made in the past year, and any sort of inclusion on Austin’s biggest conventional music festival is a huge win for them. Drummer Andrew Katz acknowledged as much: “The last time we played Austin was South by Southwest, I think 2015,” he said. “The crowds were much smaller.”

“2016,” Toledo deadpanned (and he was right — they played the 450-capacity Central Presbyterian Church), before launching into the remarkably on-the-nose “”Drugs with Friends.” The audience grabbed hold of the opening lyric, “I get to know myself every weekend and I’m weak,” and by the time Toledo reached the chorus, he had achieved his own makeshift anthem as fans chanted in unison: “Drugs are better than friends are better than drugs are better than friends!”

Will Toledo is not a rockstar. But he knows how to read a crowd.

Skepta spits dizzying bars and summons joyous mosh pits at ACL Fest

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Twenty minutes into his Friday afternoon set on the Homeaway Stage at Austin City Limits, Skepta made a deal with his audience.

“Can I spit some lyrics, please?” he asked the crowd before barreling into “Skepta Interlude,” which first appeared on Drake’s album-playlist hybrid “More Life” back in March. “Let’s get f—king lyrical.”

Skepta performs during the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Austin, Texas, on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

It was a strange request, as the rapper had been getting lyrical all along. The 35-year-old British MC — real name Joseph Junior Adenuga — couched his dense statements inside pummeling grime bangers that kept droves of fans moving for the entirety of his hourlong performance. Skepta knew his late-afternoon set was not the time for introspection. This audience wanted bars.

So that’s what he delivered. The MC emanated braggadocio as he bounded across the stage and spat dizzying boasts off “Hypocrisy”: “I’ve got fifteen different iPhones / But I am so not phony / They try to disrespect me / when they’re online especially / But everything cool when they check me.”

Everything is definitely cool with Skepta after last year’s “Konnichiwa” landed him on several year-end lists, and nobody was trying to check him during this set. The rapper’s motor-mouthed delivery and thick accent prevented most of the audience from rapping along with his furious tongue-twisters, but boy, did they dance. Shirtless bros and and hipster girls two-stepped ebulliently, their life forces replenished by rumbling bass drops as the sun tucked mercifully behind the stage.

“The energy is correct for the titles you’re screaming right now,” he told the audience before playing breakout single “Shutdown,” which currently has more than 44 million Spotify streams. “Front to the back, left to the right: pits,” he demanded.

As with many things in his triumphant past year, Skepta got exactly what he wanted.

Jay-Z fans make fast friends as they stake out a front-row spot at ACL Fest

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Promise filled the air on the opening afternoon of the 16th annual Austin City Limits Festival, as fans steeled themselves against the punishing heat and posted up at the American Express Stage in anticipation of Jay-Z’s headlining set, still eight hours away.

They had a few things on their side. Methyl Ethel quelled the heat with their breezy indie rock, and crafty folks strung a blanket across the barricade as a makeshift tarp.

Jay-Z fans wait Friday afternoon or his set to start Friday night. From left to right: Stephanie Cisneros, Brianna Spiller, Annie Harris ans Abinav Kumar. (Tess Cagle/American Statesman)

Under such conditions, festival-goers make fast friends. University of Texas students Annie Harris and Abinav Kumar and recent graduate Brianna Spiller braved the sun’s unforgiving rays together, stocking up on GoodPops and kettle corn to last them through the long haul.

Spiller and Harris were no strangers to camping out for a festival headliner; they did the same thing for the Foo Fighters at ACL 2015. Spiller had simple but essential advice: “Stay out of the sun. Drink lots of water. Don’t move. And make friends!”

They practiced what they preached, befriending fellow long-hauler Stephanie Cisneros, who’s been a Jay fan since his first album, “Reasonable Doubt,” which dropped when she was in high school. Cisneros had seen the rapper twice before, but never in this capacity. As she put it: “You’re not gonna be front row unless you pay.”

By 2 p.m., the crowd had swelled again to a couple hundred, with fans eager for Andrew McMahon’s early set. They were the privileged ones, able to find sanctuary in Zilker Park’s precious few shaded groves at the end of his hourlong performance. But as the crowd ebbed and flowed all day, the HOV stans remained, determined to see the iconic headliner front-and-center.

These folks had 99 problems—impending sunburn, hunger pangs, aching feet—but a lack of willpower wasn’t one.

Mutemath singer shreds a mean keytar and crowd-surfs on a mattress at ACL Fest

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Mutemath lead singer Paul Meany might have taken the lyrics to recent single “War” a bit too literally, as he immediately did battle with a faulty microphone at the beginning of their Friday afternoon set at Austin City Limits.

“Let it go, I could but I won’t, I gotta fight it,” the spirited frontman sang as his mic crackled in and out throughout the band’s electrifying opening number. Sound problems right out of the gate can frazzle the most seasoned performer, but credit to a visibly frustrated Meany for laughing off the technical snag and leaning on his bandmates to power through the otherwise triumphant show-starter.

Paul Meany of Mutemath sings with his 6-year-old daughter, Amelia Meany, at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in Zilker Park on Friday October 6, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The New Orleans quartet might have taken the Honda Stage at 2:15 p.m., but spiritually, they blasted through a dusky co-headlining set, sparing no rockstar indulgence over the course of their invigorating hourlong performance. Meany shredded a mean (ha-ha) keytar solo from atop the piano on which he later did a nimble handstand; rode a blinking mattress across the audience during the obligatory crowd-surfing portion of the set; and led the throng in a rousing singalong to anthemic set-closer “Typical.” But the frontman owed the best-received moment of the performance to his daughter Amelia, who strutted the stage with pink noise-cancelling headphones clamped on her ears and duetted with her father on “Pixie Oaks,” earning roars of applause from the already-huge crowd.

These flourishes allowed Mutemath’s set to stand out, but their sheer virtuosity made the songs soar. Guitarist Todd Gummerman filled the space with massive, textural chords and catchy leads, while touring drummer Dave Hutchinson deftly blended slippery fills and pummeling beats, giving the band’s spacey prog-pop a far more muscular bent than on record. These technical elements all locked beautifully into place on the amplified baptismal funk of “Achilles Heel,” as Meany sang, “You gotta hold ground, but you can’t stick around forever.”

Maybe so, but they at least stuck around long enough to enliven the sun-drenched festival-goers as they began their exhausting weekend. Neither artist nor audience could ask for more.