Ty Segall, Parquet Courts play it loud and loose as Levitation opens

Over the past 12 months while outdoor clubs along Red River Street have enjoyed a trial period of later weekend noise curfews as a tactic to increase bar business, Austin city staff closely monitored noise levels in surrounding neighborhoods and kept a close eye on any increase in complaints of loud music.

With no statistically significant uptick in noise disturbances to report and economic data showing modest increases in ticket sales and bar tabs – both a plus for Austin musicians – on Thursday the City Council voted to make the later weekend concerts permanent.

In this file photo, Parquet Courts performs at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2013. The band played Thursday as part of Levitation Fest’s opening night. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

In a fun bit of circumstance Thursday also happened to be the day that indie guitar hero Ty Segall wound up on the calendar at Stubb’s and delivered a majestically ear-shredding set so intense and just plain loud it’d be hard to imagine the folks up in Hyde Park didn’t get at least a little rumble and opportunity to head bang, if they were so moved. No word on whether the city’s 311 call center saw a spike on Thursday, but let’s all be grateful the later noise curfews are here to stay.

Wonkiness and wisecracks aside, the Segall/Parquet Courts double bill that was one of the opening volleys of Levitation Fest 2018 was as dynamic and energizing a touring show as you’re likely to have seen in Austin this year.

BACKGROUND: How Levitation organizers — and the fest — came back after 2016’s cancellation

After a raucous opening set from local punks A Giant Dog – themselves afforded a spot in front of a sold-out crowd because of the later noise curfew providing an hour more of show time – New York quartet Parquet Courts spent an hour displaying the many hues of post-punk they’ve become adept in since their formation in 2010.

A key to their success is an absolutely enormous bass and bottom end sound in nearly all of their material, making it danceable and somehow more personal than most of the spiky and jagged sounds favored by bands who trace their influences back to Pavement, Modern Lovers and Gang Of Four.

The more aggressive, almost hardcore leanings of the band’s newer material has clearly bled into some of their back catalog as well, with an early, extended run through “Ducking & Dodging” turned up in volume and vocal intensity as a pit of roughly 50 crowd members churned and jostled in front of singer Andrew Savage as he barked out a small epic poem’s worth of lyrics.

With stylistic turns aplenty – a two-song suite featuring an Omnichord synthesizer turned things slow and trancelike near the end – the set was an example of the variety crowds can enjoy with Levitation Fest expanding its scope from its beginnings as Austin Psych Fest.

At various points throughout his 90-minute set, Segall hued a bit closer to straight psychedelic rock, but any languid and trippy moments were soon to be swallowed up by a tornado of violent and noisy guitar. Acclaimed as one of the most talented and adventurous songwriters of recent indie rock vintage, it was at times hard to fathom how Segall makes a coherent, unified sound in songs where layered melodies and Brian Wilson-esque pop hooks lead into a vortex of guitar distortion and feedback.

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That contrast was on constant display Thursday but hearing the pristine beauty of “My Lady’s On Fire” braced against the noise-rock alto sax squawks and guitar shredding of “Can’t Talk To You” a few minutes later was a lesson in how performers can enrapture an audience by being willing to try anything creatively.

By the time Segall and his bandmates edged up to their close at 11 p.m. there wasn’t much sonic territory from the rock music canon that hadn’t been explored. As an indicator of what might be in store for the rest of the festival weekend, the show set an extremely high bar for the rest of the Levitation roster to try to reach.

Rachael Ray remains the queen of SXSW free fun for the masses

While most of Austin was still sleeping, long lines and cold weather were stirring outside Stubb’s. Fans began lining up near dawn for Rachael Ray’s 9th annual Feedback party at SXSW 2016.

Austinite Max McDonald and his friends joined the queue at 8 a.m. only to discover hundreds ahead of him — and more piling in as people holding a spot for others waved them in. “We had to tell a few people there was no cutting, but everyone was really friendly. Someone even gave us a box if Voodoo Doughnuts.” Now that he has made it in he has no plans on leaving. “They’re going to have to drag me out,” he joked.

The real headliner for many is the Rachael Ray-concocted food, and this year’s menu includes fried chicken drumettes, jalapeño popper grits, pulled pork sliders with pineapple pico de gallo, upside down Frito pie, and grilled corn with pimiento cheese. There are also, of course, free beverages of the alcoholic and fresh juice variety — good news for livers and stomachs battered by a week of less than healthy decisions. But this is SXSW 2016 after all and no free drink would feel complete without a live music chaser. On the musical menu this year are big-name entrees Naughty By Nature, Jenny Lewis, and George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, plus SXSW buzz acts Anderson Paak and Declan McKenna.

Joseph Rivas from El Paso is a SXSW vet, and said that while he loves the music — the Deftones were his standout this week — the freebies are what makes SXSW special. “It’s the most magical time if the year. I don’t even know what Christmas is any more.”

Rivas convinced his brother and sister-in-law to come in from San Antonio to see the fest firsthand. “When I tell people about it, I say, ‘I’m going to tell you what [SXSW] is like and you’re not going to believe me. You have to see it yourself.’”

Austinite Parker Wright said the free food and drinks are fine, but he’s here for the music, particularly Jenny Lewis. Wright recently moved to Austin from New Orleans, and, though it’s only his first year at SXSW, Wright isn’t feeling overwhelmed by the behemoth city-consuming event.

“I’m used to big events like Mardi Gras. Where I’ve been going, it’s been easy enough to get around,” Wright said. “We were going to rent out our place and go out of town for the week, but I’m glad we didn’t… Sure, it’s very corporate, but how can you complain when you get something like this?”

Tei Shi seduces and shines at Stubb’s

Following The Zombies with a Stubb’s-sized crowd isn’t an enviable gig, but someone’s got to do it. The masses parted, and then there was Tei Shi, a slender Brooklyn-based songstress with a knot of turquoise-tinted hair and a lace tank and red plaid skirt: the kind of get-up that screams, “I’m in a band” even in a week that sees a spike in… interesting fashion statements. But like all proper rockstars, even those still on the lesser known side of the star spectrum, she pulls it off and looks (and sounds) cool as hell.

Think half Feist, half FKA twigs. Tei Shi’s music is often slow — seductive lullabies with breathy vocal loops, assorted laptop-fueled synth wizardry, and occasional sparkles of live guitar and drum. (She played with two other musicians live.) But the slower jams never felt dull and the crowd swayed in the gravel under the big Texas sky at Stubb’s. Tei Shi noted this is the biggest crowd they’ve played to yet. (Bonus tidbit: It was also one that included Bill Murray.)

Tei Shi closed with “Bassically,” [sic] a song that builds from a quiet simmer with a robotic heartbeat drum patter and starts piling it on with a heavier second chorus. Before you know it, it’s tossed out any ballad business and you’ve stumbled into a surprisingly all-in R&B banger. It’s a stellar track and got heads nodding and some genuine applause and woo-ing from a crowd that was probably mostly leftover from The Zombies or waiting around for Max Frost or MS MR.