SXSW: Haley Heynderickx is trying to break your heart

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“Sometimes it’s hard to believe in yourself when there are so many people looking at you,” a young woman with a black bob says softly as she tunes her electric guitar. In the glow of aged Christmas lights, in the hot, humid air under a ceiling so low it feels inches away from crushing me, Haley Heynderickx finishes tuning her guitar and plays the most minor of minor chords.

Haley Heynderickx. Photo credit: Eric Pulsifer

I don’t know who Haley Heynderickx is. It’s Tuesday afternoon, and I’m at Sahara Lounge for the She Shreds SXSW 2018 show, which has quickly relocated after a permitting issue. I’ve shown up seeking some loud rock music courtesy of Shopping and French Vanilla—and I’ll get just that. But, at the moment, I’m enchanted and stilled by this quiet three-piece on stage. There’s a vulnerability in this music and in the singer-guitarist’s between-song banter that creates an intense sense of intimacy across the tightly packed crowd.

More SXSW: We’ve got details on 392 parties from March 8-19. What are you waiting for?

The quiver in her voice and the shimmer of her fingerpicked Telecaster strings is chilling. The guitar’s electric hum and her warbly, emotive vibrato strike a nerve in me like no other show I’ll see over the week ahead. It all seems simple enough, but the result feels somewhere between Patsy Cline and Sufjan Stevens.

She plays a song called “No Face” and explains it’s so named after the lonesome black-and-white spirit from Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film Spirited Away, a creature who wants to love but doesn’t understand how… so he eats people. It sounds silly on paper, but, like everything I’ll see Heynderickx play, it’s delivered via a medium that feels so genuine as to transplant emotions or experiences you’ve never had—instilling in the listener a ghost of a sad or lovely memory that’s not your own but somehow speaks a truth that is yours.

It’s near what I can only imagine it would have been like to unknowingly see Jeff Buckley or Elliott Smith live—or maybe a living artist. Then again, maybe not. Heynderickx’s haunting voice at times feels like it comes from another world and time.

Read more: Keith Urban seems like a nice guy. But his SXSW panel was kind of boring.

After the experience, I need more, so I squeeze into The Sidewinder Thursday night for her evening showcase as it’s underway, following a bit of one-in-one-out watching from the sidewalk. Inside is noisy with the clamor of friendly conversation and drink orders and the general persistent din of SXSW—sirens and soundchecks and bass—from all directions. On stage, Heynderickx’s band is now complete. Back again are drummer Phillip Rogers and vocalist/keyboardist Lily Breshears, but this show they’re joined by Denzel Mendoza on trombone. The three musicians’ additions to the music are subtle but perfect: there in all the right places and at a light touch or pulled back to let Heynderickx’s words land alone when needed.

The highlight of both sets proves to be “Worth It,” an 8-minute multi-part epic of yes-and-no uncertainties that twists and tangles, oscillating between peaks and valleys, whispers and near screams, slow twang and almost punk-like cathartic crescendos. “I guess you should know that I don’t need you there… but I need you sometimes. But not all the time. I need you there,” Heynderickx sings as the song takes its first turn. She ends on its closing stretch singing with a growing intensity, “Maybe I’ve been selfish… maybe I’ve been selfless…. maybe I’ve been worthless… maybe I’ve been worth it.”

Even describing the show again now feels like recalling a particularly potent scene from a movie, one hard to describe without feeling a lump form in your throat. Whatever magic Heynderickx and her fellow music-makers have tapped into is real. Or at least it was to me.

It’s over. At The Sidewinder, those to my left and right seem unfazed, but I feel cut in half. I wander out into the night and on to some other thing, but I feel at least temporarily changed—softer and maybe more empathetic, having the residue of callused, indifferent unfeeling washed away by the lovely sound of Haley Heynderickx and her guitar.

Haley Heynderickx plays again tonight at the Toms Austin store on South Congress at 8 p.m. and at 1 p.m. Saturday at Cheer Up Charlie’s indoor stage for Brooklyn Vegan and Margin Walker’s Lost Weekend 2.

Keith Urban seems like a nice guy. But his SXSW panel was kind of boring.

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Introducing South by Southwest’s “Conversation with Keith Urban” at the Austin Convention Center on Friday, Grammy Museum executive director Scott Goldman rattled off Urban’s impressive list of chart-topping hits, awards and other career accomplishments. The New Zealand-raised country star’s credentials certainly are beyond reproach. But such success doesn’t necessarily guarantee an illuminating dialogue.

Country music star Keith Urban speaks during SXSW on Friday, March 16, 2018. JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The hourlong panel was pleasant enough, touching on how Urban got started in the business, his ascent to Nashville stardom, his songwriting process and more. Ultimately, though, there’s just not much more to Urban than a guy who’s good at making pop-oriented country music.

Yes, he’s married to Nicole Kidman, but he rightfully downplays this. (When Goldman asked about the personal/celebrity balance in their lives, he answered wisely that their credo is, “Nothing to hide and everything to protect.”) And he did have a couple of great anecdotes, like the time his upstart band got booked to play at a baggage claim carousel in an Australia airport. It went surprisingly well until the arriving-baggage alarm blared out mid-song. “I just got on the thing and went for a ride, playing guitar,” he cracked.

But Urban’s music generally doesn’t dig deeply enough to make for a really memorable panel discussion. The midsize room was a little more than half full, perhaps partly an indicator of interest-level, and/or investment of the artist in the event. Urban is performing at 11 p.m. Friday at Stubb’s, but when Garth Brooks did a big show and press conference last year, he also snuck in a much-buzzed-about Broken Spoke secret show the night before. No such Urban sightings around town last night.

Keith Urban talks with Grammy Museum executive director Scott Goldman during SXSW on Friday, March 16, 2018. JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

There were insightful moments, like when Urban talked about how he approaches collaborative songwriting: “I know what I do, and I know what you do, but I want to know what WE can do.” And his story about how his family’s New Zealand community rallied to assist them after their house burned down when Urban was 10 was touching. Then there were the embarrassing remarks, like his comparison of songwriting to childbirth: “As a man who can’t bring a child into the world, I can bring a song into the world.”

The closing Q&A segment produced a similar mixed-bag of whimsy and vacuity. Early on, a woman informed Urban that her son-in-law, guitarist Matt Gregg of the Austin band Western Youth, was Urban’s third cousin. She detailed the family-tree branches that connected them, prompting Goldman to ad-lib, “This part of the panel brought to you by ancestry.com.” Urban seemed to genuinely appreciate it, giving the band an acknowledgment that may well spark up their social media.

And then the final question brought things back down again. It was a worthy inquiry about whether the current polarizing political climate has any effect on Urban’s songwriting. The answer was a definite no, primarily because, as Urban put it, this is “a very dangerous time when the mob is just running rampant.”

That was a vague dodge, punctuated by his addition that he and Kidman strive to “live away from all that.” Such is the privilege of those who have the means to avoid politics. He’s free to steer clear, providing music that he himself described as “audible incense.” Smells like Urban spirit.

RELATED: A recap of Thursday’s Luck Reunion on the outskirts of SXSW

 

SXSW 2018: SOB x RBE engage a lethargic Fader Fort with a little help from ‘Black Panther’

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Shame on you, Fader Fort! Some of the latest and greatest names in hip-hop are performing right before your very eyes, and you’re too busy chatting with your neighbors, blowing strawberry daiquiri vape rings and trying in vain to refresh Twitter to even notice! (Wait, that last one was me. Sorry.)

Luckily, SOB x RBE proved undaunted by the lethargy and even wrung some signs of life from the Fort’s Thursday night crowd — all it took was a little help from the biggest superhero of all time.

Photo courtesy Ryan Muir / The FADER

“How many of y’all seen ‘Black Panther’?” they asked to mild applause. “How many of y’all bought that ‘Black Panther’ album?” Slightly more applause. The Vallejo, California foursome promptly tore into “Paramedic!”, the blustery banger off the Kendrick Lamar-curated soundtrack to the highest-grossing solo superhero film of all time. Finally, the most applause.

RELATED: Check out the 2018 SXSW unofficial party guide

Photo courtesy Ryan Muir / The FADER

The members of SOB x RBE — short for Strictly Only Brothers, Real Boi Entertainment — are all between the ages of 19 and 21, and they just released their debut studio album, “Gangin,” last month, but they already boast a boisterous, fully realized sound and infectious stage presence that suggest years of studying their craft. (Yhung T.O. and DaBoii used to rap into their phones and put them over beats through a PlayStation.) Their production quirks are brash and unpredictable, occasionally hearkening back to ‘90s West Coast rap stalwarts Mac Dre and E-40. They spit schoolyard taunts and outsize boasts with gleeful tenacity, bars tumbling over each other and threatening to derail the songs at any moment — but never quite doing so.

RELATED: So many bands! Our music team makes some SXSW recommendations

Photo courtesy Ryan Muir / The FADER

At this stage in their early careers, SOB x RBE’s calculated recklessness would probably serve them better in a more confined space, where they could rage with their audience unimpeded by a barricade or elevated stage. But it’s a testament to their rapidly rising profile that they managed to headline Fader Fort and engage an audience that drowned out Raekwon’s brief surprise set just minutes earlier with its chatter. The kids are alright — and they’ll keep getting better.

With a little Luck Reunion, the SXSW week takes on a sun-tangled glow

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The sun was shining brightly when Kevn Kinney took the stage in the Revival Tent at the Luck Reunion a little before noon on Wednesday and sang a tune that could’ve been the theme song of this entire event on the western outskirts of Austin. “Welcome to the Sun Tangled Angel Revival,” goes the song, which Kinney wrote years ago for a record with his band Drivin’ N’ Cryin’. “You can go everywhere, you can see everything, in the world.”

The possibilities indeed seem endless when you arrive in Luck, Willie Nelson’s fictional western town in the hills around Spicewood. These all-day bashes, coinciding with all of the South by Southwest action every mid-March, consistently present quality music in an atmosphere that combines quintessential Hill Country scenery with the cultural sensory overload of SXSW week.

Micah Nelson leads Particle Kid at the Luck Reunion on March 15, 2018. Peter Blackstock/American-Statesman

The Luck Reunion isn’t an official SXSW event; it’s more like a big party for Spicewood locals, visiting artists, and various VIPS making a one-day escape from the downtown madness. But it does in some ways feel like the early days of SXSW, when it was still small enough to run in to everyone you wanted to see and have great conversations all day long. In that respect, it’s a social event as much as a musical one.

But the music punctuates everything from 11 a.m. till well past sundown. A fourth stage (dubbed “Music From the Source”) was added this year, similar in size to the Revival Tent which has room for 200-300 people. The World Headquarters stage is the primary gathering spot (capacity in the 500-1,000 range), but perhaps the coolest spot is the tiny, old-west-picture-perfect chapel, which holds less than 100 people yet featured some of the best performers at the reunion.

Highlights for me on this day were plentiful. Kinney and Courtney Marie Andrews stood out in a pre-noon song-swap on the Revival Stage. Poking my head through the window of the chapel, I heard just enough of Lilly Hiatt to be quite impressed. Austin singer-songwriter David Ramirez drew an overflow crowd to the Source stage a little later and might have been the day’s big winner at Luck, likely winning over a lot of fans who’d not previously heard him. Aaron Lee Tasjan played tuneful rockers on the main stage, and brought the day full-circle when he brought his former bandmate Kinney onstage for a set-closing jam.

Willie’s sons Micah, with Particle Kid, and Lukas, with Promise of the Real, played as daylight faded over now-cloudy skies, with their dad’s closing set still to come after dark (along with a last unbilled special guest in the chapel who was rumored to have been Margo Price). We had obligations back in town and thus didn’t stay till the end, but we’d already had an ultimate Willie experience: a special invite to board one of his historic buses for a sneak-preview of “Last Man Standing,” his new record due out next month on Sony Legacy.

RELATED: Willie Nelson rolls on with another new album

And yes, the boarding time was 4:20. Willie’s also launching a new “Last Man Standing” line of his Willie’s Reserve marijuana brand in California to coincide with the album’s release. Your humble Statesman scribe was on the job and thus refrained from any free samples that may or may not have been passed around. Let’s just say that when an assistant opened the bus door to come aboard at one point, I’m pretty sure the view from outside of billowing smoke pouring from the bus approximated that classic Jeff Spicoli VW van scene from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

Welcome to the Luck Reunion, aka the Sun Tangled Angel Revival. You can go everywhere, you can do everything, in the world.

RELATED: Photos from Willie Nelson at private Farm Aid event the night before Luck Reunion

 

 

 

 

 

you can go everywhere,

you can see everything,

in the world

Drab Majesty’s alien post-punk make them SXSW’s must-see act

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Los Angeles’ Drab Majesty are a post-punk duo who dress themselves in white leather jackets and futuristic shades like intergalactic bikers, have a slew of songs about the UFO cult Heaven’s Gate, and kicked off their set by eating white roses. That may not be what you would expect for one of the most memorable performances of the fest, but their show at local electronic label Holodeck’s (founded by S U R V I V E member Adam Jones) showcase last night at Hotel Vegas proved that their unconventional approach to a well-worn genre is what makes them a must-see act.

Drab Majesty (photo by Andy O’Connor for the American-Statesman)

Led by vocalist and guitarist Deb DeMure, the alter ego of Andrew Clinco, and augmented by keyboardist and backing vocalist Mona D, aka Alex Nicolaou, Drab Majesty sounds simply heavenly, with bright guitars and warm synths out lushing the lushet dream-pop group. What separates them from most post-punk bands, and why they have nowhere to go but up towards celestial heights, is that even with their left-field presentation, they know how to rock. Deb knows a hot lick at first sight, even when it’s dripping in reverb and shimmer. He would occasionally get close to the crowd and point his guitar triumphantly, bringing a whiff of 80s guitar god into their voyage. They’ve always been a mesmerizing presence just from their appearance, and this is another step towards expanding their live presence. For just coming off a massive European tour, they had energy to spare. Their set emphasized their more propulsive tracks, like “39 By Design” and “Kissing the Ground,” the latter of which has lines that would be nervous if not for all the gorgeous effects. “Cold Souls” is an anthem for life beyond death, and its driving melody making gutsy rock into something beautiful and cosmic.

RELATED: So many bands! Our music team makes some SXSW recommendations

A Drab Majesty set is a study in contrasts: it’s aggressive and will have you feeling light-footed, there are 80s sounds abound and yet they sound like they come from a world where time is void, it’s inspired by space and makes you feel closer to the Earth. Even if you killed all your idols, Deb is beyond charismatic. Hotel Vegas became not a teeming pool of garage rock and quarter-baked psych like it usually is, but a space where new possibilities flourish. It’s stupid to predict the future in music, and I’ll say it anyway: Drab Majesty have what it takes to become a much bigger act than they are now.

Drab Majesty just released “Cannibal” through Holodeck’s compilation Holodeck Vision One, which also features tracks from S U R V I V E’s Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, as well as local experimentalists like Troller, Michael C. Sharp, and Bill Converse. Austin isn’t just a hotbed for off-kilter electronic and rock, it knows how to cull from the best.

Thrasher brings metal back to SXSW

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Thrasher Death March’s absence the past two SXSWs has been the biggest loss for fans of metal and hardcore, as there wasn’t a better day party for them. This was the day party on the pulse, bringing the hottest new talent and the most righteous veterans together, and just far enough from the downtown chaos to make it worthwhile. Its return — at Weather Up, a cocktail bar that doesn’t seem like an obvious choice — heavily makes up for the anemic presence of the official lineup by bringing heat from Texas and all over the nation.

Spirit Adrift (photo by Andy O’Connor for American-Statesman)

Arizona’s Spirit Adrift made their Texas debut as people were starting to trickle in, and though the crowd was a little sparse at this point, they brought an arena gusto nonetheless. Lead vocalist and guitarist Nate Garrett was sounding fresh with his high vocals — the wear of the fest hasn’t gotten to him yet. Spirit Adrift were especially founding with the Trouble-Metallica fusion of “Curse of Conception,” Garrett’s catchy metal synthesis will get them better fest slots in the future. He was also pulling double duty playing guitar for death metal band Gatecreeper, where his bandmate Chase Mason takes over on vocals. A much larger crowd had came in by then, and when Mason ordered a circle pit for “Desperation,” a track that’s Swedish death metal gone hardcore, he got one. Despite having come through quite a few times in the past couple years, enthusiasm from them or Austin hasn’t waned. (Both groups will also play an unofficial show at Lost Well on Saturday.)

RELATED: Check out the 2018 SXSW unofficial party guide

When New Orleans sludge metal pioneers Eyehategod last came through in May, it was a bit of a disaster — vocalist Mike Williams left the stage after three songs because of exhaustion, and fans got up and sang the rest of the set. This time, he looked much healthier and got through a 30-minute set with nary an issue. He authoritatively announced they were playing a four-piece, minus guitarist Brian Patton, and jokingly called themselves “Black Flag,” a quartet that is one of their biggest influences. Not having Patton on board was no problem for guitarist and original member Jimmy Bower, who handled all the sludgy grooves himself with ease. Even with Williams in better standing, it was grim to hear him say “We’re on tour forever, and ever, and ever.” Staying on the road can take its toll, and for a guy like Williams, who’s lived Eyehategod’s lyrical themes of addiction and living on the margins, it can be especially painful.

Texas had an especially strong presence at Thrasher. In between sets on the West Stage, chopped and screwed music played over the PA. Punks and metalheads sure do love their DJ Screw, a contrast to the familiar fast and loud. Army are a new hardcore band from Austin, abundant with youthful energy and rage. It’s a simple name you’ll see on a lot after this week is over. Total Abuse blasted through a set of noisy hardcore, and the claustrophobia they bring surprisingly worked well outdoors. Dallas’ Mothership were a total 180 from both, opting for boogie-heavy stoner metal that careened towards Motorhead speed and scuzz. Thrasher knows how to bring variety in addition to quality, and that’s why its return bodes well for the state of heavy music at SXSW. It may be still close to the edge, but it hasn’t fallen off.

SXSW 2018: Speedy Ortiz shows who’s boss at Clive Bar

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Sadie Dupuis is tired.

Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. The self-proclaimed “frontdemon” of Massachusetts indie rock band Speedy Ortiz is tired of “people who say they’re allies, but you end up having to do a lot of emotional labor for them”; tired of people “not respecting other people’s space or agency”; and extremely tired of people who have not seen Frankie Shaw’s Golden Globe-nominated comedy “SMILF,” but still have the audacity to attend its SXSW showcase.

Andy Molholt and Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz also performed at The Fader Fort during SXSW on Wednesday March 14, 2018. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Dupuis aired her grievances between songs at Speezy Ortiz’s Clive Bar set on Thursday night. It made for some heady stage banter, but the singer, guitarist and former University of Massachusetts writing teacher isn’t one for small talk. She mixes her ruminations on sexism, addiction and music industry sleaze in a cocktail of buzzsaw guitar riffs and cymbal crashes, which she chases with snide, singsong vocal hooks. Oh, and the band brought a saxophonist on the road this time, because why not?

The audience at Clive Bar eagerly lapped up Speedy Ortiz’s grunge-pop concoction, watching and listening intently so as to not miss any of Dupuis’ knotty lamentations or threats, both figurative and literal. That proved a challenge on the bar’s humble outdoor stage, which was ill equipped for such a visceral performance and suffered from painfully loud feedback in spots. Noticeably frustrated, the band soldiered through the set, refusing to let sound problems halt their momentum.

RELATED: Check out the 2018 SXSW unofficial party guide

Did Speedy Ortiz deliver a joyful set? Maybe not in the conventional sense. But they delivered an empowering set, establishing their mission statement with their opening song, “Raising the Skate.” “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss / Shooter, not the shot / On the tip an fit to execute / I’m chief, not the overthrown / Captain, not a crony,” Dupuis sang in the anthemic chorus, a concise tell-off to people who try to dismiss or oppress powerful women because they’re intimidated by their talent.

Nobody challenged Dupuis’ proclamation on Thursday night. Nobody dared to even try.

SXSW 2018: In Khalid’s utopia, all are welcome

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You can see the world in Khalid’s smile.

At least, you can see the world he wants to create. When Khalid flashes those huge, glistening, spotless teeth, it’s obvious he’s envisioning a world where everybody lives in harmony and accomplishes their wildest dreams, uninhibited by age, race, gender or wealth. And why shouldn’t he? The 20-year-old R&B crooner became one of the biggest, most wholesome success stories of 2017 with his masterful debut, “American Teen,” which articulates the emotional complexities of adolescence and the anxious excitement of entering adulthood. It is neither contrite nor self-serious, jaded nor maudlin. It sounds, quite simply, like utopia.

Khalid performs at Trinity Warehouse at SXSW on Thursday March 15, 2018. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

And in Khalid’s utopia, all are welcome.

The honorary El Paso native emerged from the side of the Trinity Warehouse stage shortly after midnight, a Texas flag proudly projecting on the stage behind him. Dancers holding American flag pom-poms worked through ebullient cheer routines as Khalid flexed his velvety pipes, flashing a knowing grin at a fan the same way one would greet a friend at a high school football game.

“Thank you because you come to every (expletive) thing, whether it’s in Texas, whether it’s in Florida, whether it’s in L.A.,” he said. “I love you.”

MORE PHOTOS: Khalid at SXSW 2018

Khalid doesn’t need to push his range to make a point. Instead, his strength lies in making his fluid vocal runs seem effortless, and then turning those effortless vocal runs into magnificent acts of catharsis. When he sings, “But I’ll keep your number saved, ‘cause I hope one day you’ll get the sense to call me” in “Saved,” he’s surely addressing one person, but he’s also speaking on behalf of any person who has ever known heartbreak. That is to say, the whole world.

Although he just exited his teens last month, Khalid has already conquered the music industry, going quadruple platinum with his debut single “Location” and racking up five Grammy nominations for “American Teen.” It would have been unsurprising, if disheartening, to see him treat his SXSW like a chore, especially when he’s due to embark on a North American arena and amphitheater tour in less than two months. But Khalid’s also smart — and grateful — enough to recognize his incredible fortune, and he shared his fans’ rapture on Thursday night. His radiance wasn’t limited to the venue, either: The woman on the receiving end of a FaceTime call beamed as she watched the singer from many miles away.

RELATED: So many bands! Our music team makes some SXSW recommendations

“I’m not gonna act like I haven’t sung this song 10,000 (expletive) times, but this is a special occasion for you,” Khalid joked before playing a stripped-down version of “The Ways,” his Swae Lee collaboration off the “Black Panther” soundtrack. His virtuosic backing band lent the song a newfound sensuality in its slowed-down, more organic incarnation, while they punched up other tracks with red-hot drum fills and keyboard leads. His EDM-flavored Marshmello collaboration “Silence” turned into a muscular R&B freakout, as the singer sauntered across the stage during the transcendent beat drop.

Khalid ended his set, predictably, with the anthemic “Young, Dumb & Broke,” effectively closing the book on the first chapter of his career and preparing to embrace his imminent superstardom. Fans at the Trinity Warehouse witnessed a rare snapshot of an artist at the top of his game, with nowhere to go but up, yet still in a refreshingly human capacity.

When Khalid graces the H-E-B Center in Cedar Park in two months, he’ll still be singing the same utopian daydreams. And all people — young and old, dumb and smart, broke and rich — will still be welcome.

Genre-jumping cult rock icon Todd Rundgren works his magic at SXSW

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Though his résumé includes work with Hall and Oates, Trent Reznor, Meatloaf, Robyn, Patti Smith, and Pee Wee Herman, songwriter-producer and self-proclaimed wizard Todd Rundgren isn’t exactly a household name. But the cult prog-rock hero has a fervent following and drew a big, generation-spanning crowd to Elysium Thursday night for his one SXSW 2018 performance.

Todd Rundgren performs at Elysium at SXSW on Thursday March 15, 2018. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

With his iconic Snape hair and black glasses, the theatrical frontman waved and stretched out his arms as he worked his way through a nearly hour-long set packed with the genre-jumping gymnastics to be expected from a creative chameleon who so firmly refuses to be boxed in.

MORE PHOTOS: Todd Rundgren at SXSW 2018

Several of Rundgren’s tunes were plucked from his star-studded 2017 album White Knight, but a light sampling of tunes across his career were also present. Highlights included the danceable, falsetto-spotted ’70s rock of “Secret Society,” the Talking Heads-light jam of “Buy My T,” and the crowd-moving cymbal-riding disco beat and rave keys of “Party Liquor.”

RELATED: Check out the 2018 SXSW unofficial party guide

For an encore, Rundgren launched into The Cars’ “Good Times Roll” solo with his swimming-pool green electric guitar before being joined by the band. “Where the [expletive] are these guys?” Rundgren jokingly asked. “You’re all fired.”

An ignorant city kid’s take on Old Crow Medicine Show at SXSW

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This is not my scene, I tell myself as I enter Fair Market prior to Old Crow Medicine Show’s SXSW 2018 set. But I’m a firm believer in getting outside one’s comfort zone (when it comes to music, not shoes; get some more comfortable shoes for tomorrow, I think) and I feel that swearing off an entire genre of music should be something we feel ashamed to do for its closed-mindedness. If nothing else, it’s antithetical to discovery, which is one of the greatest joys of music. So, here I am.

The band Old Crow Medicine Show performs at the Budweiser Country Club at Fair Market during the 2018 SXSW Music festival March 15. 03/15/18 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

I arrive early for this SXSW show, partly assuming Old Crow Medicine Show is some sort of barefoot Appalachian-style bluegrass act that the kids love based off the single song I know going in, “Wagon Wheel.” People do love them, I see—sprawling lines snake slowly into Fair Market—but I will soon learn my uninformed labeling of them is off base.

As I take my place under the metal semi-cylinder of the hangar, an energetic cap-wearing young man named Kane Brown is on stage. The crowd goes wild, but, if I’m being honest, I don’t care much for him or his medley of pop tune covers, including songs by Khalid (who I think to myself is playing across town not long from now as I flinch through this), Outkast, and The Fray.

PHOTOS: Old Crown Medicine Show at SXSW 2018

I swallow my distaste with a swig of beer from an aluminum bottle from the big brewery sponsoring this shindig. Brown leaves the stage, and a DJ fires up a crowd-pleasing selection of between-set tunes ranging from “Jessie’s Girl” to “Cupid Shuffle,” the later of which the masses totally take the bait for and begin dancing along to. As wedding DJ-ish as this move is, I support anything that gets people participating. And besides, I’ve decided to leave my judgment hat on the rack this evening.

Finally, Old Crow Medicine Show comes out to a rumble of applause. The frontman, a well-moustached man the internet will later inform me is named Ketch Secor (side note: which is an incredible name that rings with such an air of Star Wars bounty hunter rad-ness that I almost can’t believe it’s real) is a madman on stage, kicking about and singing at the top of his lungs like some sort of countryfied Cage the Elephant, another massively popular act I incorrectly assumed would be a snooze. These are the cases I love being proven wrong.

RELATED: Check out the 2018 SXSW unofficial party guide

The band is sharply dressed in denim, vests, boots, cowboy hats, and the like—far from the faux shabby mountaineer look I was expecting. A better surprise yet, rather than sleepy, soft and slow-paced folk, they’re firing on all cylinders, opening with a trio of stomping tunes featuring a storm of fiddle, the deep gut-punching grove of stand-up bass, and barrel-chested harmonies belted in unison, all performed at a runaway train tempo.

And of course, there’s some banjo—the cilantro of the string family: a complex and savory treat to some but a soapy-metallic meal-ruiner to others. Here it fits well alongside harmonica and the sweet sing of pedal steel guitar. This is the sound of a 20-year-old act that has honed their craft to a degree few ever get to. This is good.

The band Old Crow Medicine Show performs at the Budweiser Country Club at Fair Market during the 2018 SXSW Music festival March 15. 03/15/18 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The set continues this way, with the band swapping instruments and Americana sub-genres nearly every song, bringing out an accordion for some mid-set dabbling in Zydeco and Tejano music, cueing denim-ed couples across the space to spin their partners around the dancefloor.

The band jokes about playing until sunrise and the show continues without a slow point or misstep, building steam until closer “Wagon Wheel,” which, played here, is much more lively than I could have anticipated compared to the inescapable version I’ve heard on the radio.

“It all sounds a little sweeter in the Lone Star State, don’t it boys?” says Secor as the band winds down. I have to agree. The band exits the stage before one of the most genuinely demanded encores I’ve ever seen a crowd call for.

Old Crow Medicine Show’s new record, Volunteer, is due out April 20.