Cut Copy can’t catch a break in Austin it seems. In October, the Australian dance act was playing a late afternoon set at ACL Fest when their sound was cut off mid-way through their set-closing biggest hit, “Lights and Music,” as part of a festival-wide Tom Petty tribute. At Lustre Pearl Saturday night, at their only honest-to-goodness SXSW show (two members played a DJ set earlier in the evening), the four-piece wrestled with persistent sound issues.
Frontman Dan Whitford was visibly upset, wincing at the piercing shrieks of feedback and knocking down his keyboard during crowd-pleaser “Hearts on Fire.” Having a seemingly amateur sound issue like egregious feedback tarnish the polish of their slick, carefully crafted electronic sound was no doubt frustrating for the guys of Cut Copy, but they played on and made the best of it, with Whitford rebounding from the apparently unfixable annoyance by focusing on pushing the crowd harder to sing and get moving.
“It’s the last night. If you’re not going to dance now, when?” Whitford asked.
Adding to the mix of sound pains was music pouring over from a neighboring Rainey Street bar. But, as with the feedback, the crowd seemed eager to forgive and focus on dancing. “SXSW is a bit of a battle of the bands sometimes. But as long as you’re on our side,” Whitford said with a smile.
Through it all, Cut Copy kept the packed crowd at Lustre Pearl moving, with hands waving in the air and voices raised shouting along the words from a short run through hits from albums In Ghost Colours, Zonoscope, and their latest, Haiku From Zero.
Maybe next time the band can undo their current streak. Fortunately, fans won’t have to wait long: Cut Copy gets a redo in Austin next Friday, March 30, at Stubb’s. Let’s hope they can find and replace the sound guy before then. (I’ll see myself out…)
Call it hubris, call it wishful thinking, call it desperation, but make sure you call Saturday night’s SXSW Slugfest what it really was: empty.
Bringing the first-ever professional boxing event to the weeklong festival seemed like a novel concept on paper, but Underwood Promotions bit off way more than they could chew by renting out ACL Live, one of the biggest venues available during SXSW, on a Saturday night. This is the kind of room best reserved for rap superstars like Rae Sremmurd, Wu-Tang Clan or J. Cole. The biggest artist on Saturday’s lineup was OG Maco — yeah, the “U Guessed It” guy — who wound up missing the event because of travel delays and being replaced by Houston MC Doughbeezy. And even though “I’m from Texas” might be one of the most brazenly catchy local pride anthems to come out of the Lone Star State in the past decade, it wasn’t enough to get 2,500 people through the doors when T.I. was playing just a few blocks away.
That’s a shame, too, because the people who did show up got to enjoy a fairly exciting night of boxing, including a visceral bout between Kazakhstan’s Iskander Kharsan and La Feria, Texas, slugger Richard Munoz. (Kharsan won by TKO in the third round.) The audience cheered dutifully during each fight, especially when Austinites like Prisco Marquez and Carlos Trevino entered the ring, but there was something jarring about watching the action from the eerily quiet, mostly barren balcony. It probably doesn’t bode well that Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” earned one of the most spirited reactions of the night when it played over the PA system between fights.
Slugfest made a valiant attempt to subvert expectations on the final night of SXSW, and it’s hard to fault them for taking a swing and missing (sorry). That being said, if boxing is going to have a future at this festival, it needs to happen in a way smaller venue or bring some A-list artists along for the ride next time. Slugfest felt like a wasted opportunity.
Contrary to whatever cliché you may have heard, 13 was not a particularly lucky number for Hinds during their Barracuda set on Friday afternoon. First, there was the incessant feedback that’s plagued the Spanish garage pop quartet for years at SXSW. Then, of course, there was the inevitable physical deterioration that comes with playing 13 shows in a week. So, just to be safe, singer/guitarist Carlotta Cosials issued a warning at the beginning of their set.
“Before It gets awkward, just to let you know, we have some issues with the voices,” she said. Fellow singer/guitarist Ana García Perrote chimed in, “Use your imagination with sweet angels’ voices, because that is what we have.”
To which the audience collectively responded with: Girl, please. Hinds could’ve made whale noises and told knock-knock jokes onstage and the audience would’ve eaten it up. These ladies are one of the brightest buzz bands at this year’s festival, and their delightfully rough-around-the-edges set felt like a hard-earned victory lap. What’s a little hoarseness when the band members were shouting triumphantly between songs and hopping around the stage like prizefighters?
It’s easy to see why Hinds dominated SXSW this year. Cosials and Perrote flex their pop smarts with dual lead vocals that recall veteran girl groups of the late ‘90s, while their crunchy guitar leads satisfy the DIY kids who cuff their jeans two inches above their Vans SK8-Hi’s and smoke American Spirits by the pack. Cosials, Perrote and bassist Ade Martín cut rock goddess power stances and aimed their guitars into the crowd, emboldened by the throng of women jumping against the stage and singing their infectious choruses back at them.
In the end, rapturous applause overruled the sound tech’s call to end the set, and Hinds eked our one more song. All they could do was smile in exhausted, ecstatic disbelief as they garnered the loudest reaction I’ve personally witnessed all week. The members of Hinds have earned themselves a solid week of rest — and a bigger venue next time they come to town.
I’ve seen Paul McCartney in concert five times, and never have I sweat, ached and cursed as much as I did trying to see a Beatles cover band this afternoon.
I shouldn’t be surprised. As arguably the biggest public show every year at SXSW, Rachael Ray’s Feedback party hits capacity early in the day, and the line quickly snakes around Stubb’s and down toward I-35. This lowly freelancer spent a long time in the throng, hoping to catch a glimpse of this year’s headliner, Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club Band, the Beatles tribute supergroup featuring Muse’s Matt Bellamy, Chris Cester of Jet, Miles Kane of the Last Shadow Puppets and Nine Inch Nails guitarist Ilan Rubin, among others.
Thankfully, a wave of attendees left Stubb’s minutes before the Jaded Hearts Club Band took the stage. (Apparently, the Venn diagram of people who like Kurt Vile and Beatles tribute bands is nearly two separate circles.) A new wave of fans shuffled through the gates and darted for the few precious shady nooks inside Stubb’s as the leather-clad rockers took the stage.
And after all that, Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club band sounded… fine.
Don’t get me wrong, the septet (three guitars, two lead singers, a drummer and a bassist) certainly had the chops to approximate the indelible vocal harmonies on early Fab Four nuggets like “I Feel Fine” and “Help,” as well as the scorching guitar solos on raucous latter-day cuts like “Taxman” and “Hey Bulldog.” But the band rarely seemed to have any, you know, fun,as they tore through the timeless catalog. Their best attempt at stage banter came between “Money” and “Taxman,” when Cester told the audience, “If you want a lot of money, you gotta get ready for the (expletive) taxman.”
I’d like to believe Cester was sipping a lot more than Dr. Pepper backstage, because he missed several vocal cues and flubbed lyrics, frequently glancing down and to his right at what could have been a prompter or lyrics sheet. Between the leather jacket, black shades and affected cockney accent, Cester’s performance occasionally sounded like “Glee Goes British Invasion” (which, to my knowledge, does not yet exist, and I pray it stays that way).
Yet there were other times, like on the rip-roaring closer “Helter Skelter,” when Cester’s raspy howl perfectly complemented the thunderous cymbal crashes and triple-guitar assault (even if he still came in late on the second verse). Bellamy, who sticks to bass in this group, unleashed his ungodly high scream during the verse harmonies, and the audience roared and pumped their fists in approval. Suddenly, Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club Band sounded like the best party band in the world, good enough for me to scold myself for being so picky. Sorry guys, I know I can be a tough critic sometimes. But y’all were still fab every now and then.
There were two things happening at the eastern fringe of SXSW on Friday afternoon.
In the sun-splashed dirt courtyard of the Scoot Inn beer garden, the Brooklyn Bowl Family Reunion was in the final stretch of a three-day run — Erika Wennerstrom’s enormous voice on “Extraordinary Love” was swamping the place like a tsunami, drowning out pockets of disinterest.
But inside Scoot Inn proper — what was on this afternoon the “Roadie Lounge” — the star of the afternoon was a legend on a different level. Ben Dorcy, who maintained his title of “oldest living roadie” by working until the week he died at the age of 92 last September, was being celebrated with sneak peeks at a documentary 13 years in the making.
Every now and then Amy Nelson, daughter of Ben’s longtime employer Willie, would try to bring the two events together, speaking to the outside crowd of the virtues of “Lovey” — as Dorcy was known to those close to him. But still, a separation remained: The show and … backstage.
For an event honoring the original roadie, it was only natural.
It was fitting that the Scoot Inn would host — it is one of the few Austin bars old enough to encompass the legacy of Dorcy, who was born in 1925, two years before the first jukebox. After serving as gardener and valet to John Wayne, Dorcy would hit the road for 65 years with the giants of country music.
Inside the dark and cool interior of the historic bar, the first 15 minutes of the documentary: “Lovey: King of the Roadies” began with Dorcy aboard Willie’s bus, sharing a joint with his old boss and recounting stories of misbehavior and wild times. It is a professional and polished film of music legends sharing what is legendary to them. Among the many icons on screen, we don’t lose sight of who the star of this show is. There’s Dorcy, shuffling along on his cane, his countenance weathered to sharp angles. In portraits, his eyes are inscrutable. In snapshots with friends, they are alive with joy.
“He took care of all these stars with this star power,” Amy Nelson said. “And he had that same kind of star power. He could have been an actor, too. He was hanging around all these amazing people and he chose to serve them.”
Amy Nelson — there on Friday alongside her co-producers of the film, David Anderson and Lana Nelson — co-directed the film with her cousin Trevor Doyle Nelson. Her love for the man who was part of the Willie Nelson Family band, and by extension, her own family, was apparent in her conversation … and also in the years she has spent on the film.
All along, she pictured Dorcy at events like these and on the red carpet at the premiere. “It was hard to keep working on (the documentary) after he was gone,” she said. But Austin’s High Brew Coffee stepped in at that moment to help push the project forward.
Now Amy Nelson says the film is nearly complete and she hopes to have details like publishing and licensing complete in time for the fall film festival season.
Inside the Scoot Inn, Dorcy’s fellow roadies are lined up for free custom earplugs being given out this afternoon by MusiCares. Those not on barstools having their ears peered into are watching the screen as Jamey Johnson sings a cover of “Night Life.” Toward the end of the clip, Dorcy is shown in the plaza of Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, when a fellow in a Batman costume sidles up to him. “Where are the drugs going?” he asks. Is it a real moment or a setup? Either way, Dorcy’s reaction is authentic: “Get away from me!” he snarls.
The room erupts in laughter. These pros know, the meek don’t survive 65 years on the road.
Dorcy was connected to Willie for many of those years, but he also worked with Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Ray Price, George Jones and Waylon Jennings, among others.
In his later years, Dorcy was connected to a similar run of “Texas music” artists: Robert Earl Keen, Pat Green, Cory Morrow, Kevin Fowler, Josh Abbott, Cody Canada and, particularly, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen.
As it turns out, it’s no accident that Dorcy stayed on the road with the younger generation — those artists and their roadies worked together to take care of the man who had no living relatives.
“All of these fellow roadies were becoming like his sons,” Amy Nelson said. “They would network and figure out where Ben was going and where he going to work and where he was going to spend the holidays and how they were going to pay his rent.”
“It was amazing to see this brotherhood and how they came together to take care of their fellow roadie.”
It was in this spirit that Joel Schoepf (former roadie who now works for John T. Floore Country Store) and John Selman (Willie Nelson stage manager) created the Live Like Lovey foundation, to help benefit other roadies who need financial assistance.
A silent auction at the Scoot Inn on Friday, featuring items ranging from Willie-signed bandanas to original Jerry Garcia art, helped raise funds for the roundation. Looming over the auction was a huge framed movie poster for the “Lovey: KIng of the Roadies” documentary.
Before he died in September, Dorcy did see a cut of the hour and 40 minute film about his life. His judgment?
“He loved it,” Amy Nelson said. “After 20 minutes, he was like ‘I like it.’ And when it was over he said, ‘I love it.’”
How far back? Alllll the way back, to the dawn of time — actually, just back to the dawn of partying, to prove to the party gods that he and everybody else in Container Bar on Friday afternoon were fit to throw a South by Southwest rager that could be heard from Valhalla. Or at least from Trinity Street.
In many ways, Andrew W.K. is the perfect ambassador for SXSW. The long-haired, muscle-bound singer has refused to change his sound one iota since releasing his debut album “I Get Wet” — the glam-punk tour de force featuring punch-drunk power pop anthems such as “Ready to Die” and “Party Hard” — 17 years ago. He preaches, in elementary terms, the necessities of living life to the fullest and partying, hard, at any cost, all to the tune of gonzo drums and steel-slab guitar riffs. Basically, he’s the aural equivalent of the man who pushed through the mosh pit carrying a two-pound tub of whey protein and holding a protein bar between his clenched teeth.
Why this man deemed a Friday afternoon at a packed Rainey Street bar to be his ideal anabolic window is beyond me. Then again, Andrew W.K.’s set posed far more questions than it answered, including but not limited to:
Why does Andrew W.K. look like Glenn Danzig but sing like Don Dokken?
Why does Andrew W.K. have three guitarists who all play identical power chords?
Why did Andrew W.K. decide to count down from 93 before playing his final song, “Party Hard”?
Does Andrew W.K. buy intentionally dusty-looking white jeans and t-shirts, or did he just sweat through his clothes and not change them all week?
Is the second verse of “She Is Beautiful” — “You’re giving me moves that hit from all sides / And when you’re hitting like that you melt my eyes” — the most romantic couplet of all time?
The answers to these great mysteries still eluded me as I exited Container Bar after Andrew W.K.’s set, and I don’t suspect I’ll crack the code on them anytime soon. But I believed the singer wholeheartedly when he told the audience, “This is our fifth party at this year’s festival, and you’ve already outdone all of the other parties combined.”
As he left the stage, Andrew W.K. told his fans, “Thank you, stay strong, and never stop partying.” On behalf of everybody at Container Bar on Friday afternoon, I’d like to respond: “You’re very welcome, we most certainly will, and we most certainly won’t.”
Rae Sremmurd operates on only two modes: lit and extremely lit. Usually, they stick closer to the second. Closing out the SXSW Eardrummers Takeover at ACL Live on Friday night, which also featured their producer Mike Will Made It showcasing acts from his Eardrummers label, Rae Sremmurd proved they’re pop phenoms in their own right, even if they left the crowd wanting a lot more.
A year and a half on, “Black Beatles” is still their crowning achievement, restructuring rock swagger into trap bravado. It easily got the best response from the crowd, which jumped and moshed like rap and rock were never separate to begin with. They even encouraged mosh pits at one point, further dissolving the divide. “T’d Up” proved that “Beatles’” success wasn’t a fluke, that they’ve got bangers for ages. It may not have been quite the revelation “Beatles” was, yet there’s hardly anything else on the radio as catchy.
Their next record, which is scheduled to release next month, will be a triple album, two-thirds of which will effectively be solo albums, ala Outkast’s “Speakerboxxx/The Love Below.” Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee did mini solo sets, with the former coming out swinging with the bumping “Brxnks Truck” and the latter displaying a slower, more future R&B sound with “Hurt to Look.” Swae Lee had the slight advantage, if only because “Unforgettable” was one of last year’s biggest hits. (He also had the upper hand on style, with a full orange camo ensemble.) They work so well as a duo because of their differences, with Slim Jxmmi working within the hard trap archetype, albeit a lot flashier, and Swae Lee the more pop-minded of the two.
Rae Sremmurd’s set was the juiciest morsel that took a bit too long to get to and wasn’t entirely filling, not even making it a half hour. Mike Will Made It struck gold by signing them, and his production set the template for Modern Atlanta, yet the rest of the Eardrummers lineup, featuring Andrea, B.A., and Eearz, didn’t really bring their own styles to the table. Granted, it’s hard to be even half as charismatic as Rae Sremmurd — why not hurry up and give the people what they waited for?
“No Type” didn’t feel like a closer, as it was followed by more Eardrummers and most everyone left rather abruptly. No “No Flex Zone,” the song that set them on their path, and no “Perplexing Pegasus,” the real “Beatles” successor, was disappointing, despite a strong performance otherwise. Mike Will Made It does know how to entertain, though: next to Rae Sremmurd’s set, the crowd ate up him playing Houston rap classics like Lil Troy’s “Wanna Be A Baller” (a cheat code to get any Texas crowd dancing) and Mike Jones’ “Flossin’.” And any night with those and “Black Beatles” is guaranteed to be, at the very least, a night to remember.
“You know we’re making this up as we go along, right?” Billy Gibbons told the Friday afternoon crowd at Antone’s after an off-the-cuff romp through ZZ Top’s immortal ‘80s anthem, “Sharp Dressed Man.” Joining the Houston-born axman were Alabama-based guitarist Austin Hanks, who opened for ZZ Top on tour last year, and Kings of Chaos drummer Matt Sorum, formerly of Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver and the Cult fame.
Sorum’s in town to promote Artbit, his new cryptocurrency-based app and online platform designed to help up-and-coming musicians build a community, engage their fans and promote and monetize their music while eliminating industry middlemen. Artbit team members earned hearty applause by speaking passionately about revolutionizing the way artists release music and earn a living. But let’s be real, the audience really just wanted to hear that jam session.
The makeshift trio was happy to oblige. Gibbons led the band through a handful of ZZ Top classics and blues/rock staples, including snarling renditions of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady” and Freddie King’s “Goin’ Down.” (His rationale: “If Keith Richards can do it, so can we, right?”) With his signature cowboy hat, sunglasses and beard that reached his chest, Gibbons embodied cool, and he effortlessly fired off the buttery, red-hot blues leads that turned him into Texas royalty nearly half a century ago.
“Something tells me y’all know what that song’s about,” Gibbons teased before ripping into the barroom blues boogie of “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers.” The convergence of rock buffs and techies inside Antone’s was a pretty tame bunch, so no hell was raised — but plenty of beer bottles were lifted and Pura Vida Tequila shots downed.
The trio capped their brisk jam session with “La Grange,” Gibbons’ stuttering riffs and molten solos dueling with Sorum’s faithful approximations of Frank Beard’s drum fills. “Is everybody having a good time tonight?” the guitarist asked once more, either oblivious or indifferent to the fact that he was playing at 4 p.m. on a Friday. The answer was loud and clear all the same: Hell yeah.
“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.
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.
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 creaturewho 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.