Friday I decided to cross I-35, the interstate that divides the east side of Austin from the “shit show” part of Sixth Street, to see what all the fuss is about. If my experience Thursday at SXSW was, say, a gentle ocean breeze, then Friday was a typhoon—the ’roided out kind that obliterates entire island nations. This is what all the haters were talking about: the crowds, the spring breakin’ frat boys on ecstasy, the technical issues, the plethora of sketchy “barbecue” stands lining gas station parking lots and back alleys. After stopping by St. Jermaine’s Laneway Festival at Red 7 for the set by XXYYXX, a.k.a. electronic artist Marcel Everett, it became immediately evident that any attempt to follow a schedule would be futile. And after waiting an hour in line to catch Phosphorescent at the Red Eyed Fly, sweating in the sweltering sun, I decided upon a different approach: Walk around and go to anything without a line.
Earlier this week we dropped a few clues as to who could be at this summer's Lollapalooza, and the announcement that Depeche Mode is bringing its Delta Machine World Tour to the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre August 24 in effect eliminated the U.K. heavyweight from consideration. Also not appearing at Lolla is EDM titan David Guetta, whose addition to the inaugural Electric Daisy Carnival Chicago lineup was also revealed this week. And you can cross fun. off the list as well, since the recent Grammy-winners are now set to headline the first day of this summer's Taste of Chicago festival. All speculation aside, here's what we do know: OutKast rapper Big Boi hits the Vic on May Day on a solo tour that brings along fellow Atlanta wordsmith Killer Mike, fellow MC and Pitchfork Fest vet Danny Brown arrives at the Bottom Lounge a week ahead of that and hip-hop futurist Flying Lotus heads to the Metro May 18. Find these and many other new concert announcements below or visit timeoutchicago.com/bookingahead for a more extensive list of upcoming shows.
"It's a shit show." This is the response I received more often than not when relaying my plans to travel to Texas for the music arm of South by Southwest, which spans a multitude of venues—both proper concert rooms and DIY ones—across Austin's east side and downtown areas. I haven't attended since 1999, so I prepared myself to encounter the worst—frat boys in Native American headdresses, the HGTV/Taco Bell alt-rock showcase sponsored by Mountain Dew…the horrid parts of Lollapalooza in the South.
By the time I secured a free place to crash, I had missed the deadline for press credentials. The SXSW PR department’s offer to purchase a badge for upwards of $600 was, well, not at all appealing (or realistic). So I decided to go rogue on the advice of locals who for years have cruised around the behemoth fest's free day shows with ease. And I guess for some folks, it is a shit show. But day one of my SXSW experience was nothing but a sunny, breezy delight. There were minimal crowds, minimal lines and perfect weather, topping out in the low 80s. It's unexpectedly easy to hop from one venue to the next on foot, and lining the walk is a slew of carts offering locally roasted, cold-brewed iced coffee; barbecue brisket; and Topo Chico, plus taco trunks. Food and drink are the only expenses during the day, as everything is free.
By sticking to east side venues along 5th and 6th Streets, and avoiding the massive showcases presented by Pitchfork (all the acts will play the Chicago fest this summer) and Fader (insane line, not happening), I was able to catch a solid roster of bands whom I've wanted to see at home but have missed for one reason or another. Sets run about 30 minutes and, bonus, local beers and mixed drinks run a bit cheaper in Tejas. Here's a snapshot of day one:
While many of us have stowed away a dusty place in our musical catalogs for folk artists from the '60s and '70s, every once in a while we’ll come across one who has been lucky enough to experience real career longevity. These rare performers often owe their success to having changed with the times, recording regularly and/or touring without fail. All but Leonard Cohen: a historically reclusive, stubbornly original poet and singer who continues to make some of his best music today, despite being born before Elvis Presley.
Here's a list of concerts this weekend featuring Irish music just in time for St. Patrick's Day.
Abbey Pub, 6pm and 10pm, $15–$20
For a while there the Drovers simmered on the brink of a national breakthrough, but then…the band broke up. Now the reconfigured group, which at its best transformed traditional Irish music into something loosely psychedelia, is back, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day.
Controversial Odd Future ringleader Tyler the Creator dropped by the Metro last night, teasing cuts from Wolf, the forthcoming follow-up to his 2011 debut, Goblin. The late-breaking gig sold out in a heartbeat, but we were there to capture the mayhem in pictures.
Animal Collective, the former Mos Def, Nanci Griffith, the Chi-Town Blues Festival and more arrive this weekend to brighten your March.
Yasiin Bey (Mos Def)
The Shrine. 9pm; $40.
The artist formerly known as Mos Def—and before that, Dante Terrell Smith—Yasiin Bey plays a follow-up to his 2012 appearance at the Shrine. His most recent solo record, 2009’s The Ecstatic, was a major hip-hop groundswell, buzzing with choice samples, heady lyrics and classic production. Since then, the artist has won a clutch of Grammys, worked with Kanye and starred in Dexter. He’s due to release Yasiin Bey Presents any time now, but expect to hear from albums across the board tonight.
One band does not a movement make, but the bulk of the glory that was 2 Tone rests on the shoulders of the Specials, a touchstone whose influence has stretched exponentially farther than the band’s relatively brief original tenure and limited recorded output. For the Specials, Jamaican music was the medium and punk the method, but the message—a pointed and sometimes poignant mix of independence, resilience and, above all else, racial unity—was paramount. When Ted Leo wondered “Where Did All the Rude Boys Go?” he was pining as much for that lost era of political activism as he was for the personalities involved.
“They found our city under the water / Had to get our hands on something new”
—opening line from Comedown Machine
The Strokes are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
Stick to the script of Is This It, that is. Rehash their past glories and critics will say they are not evolving; evolve and critics will bash them for not repeating the highs of their early material. This is often the case with bands whose debuts light a fuse on an entire movement. As torchbearers, they progress and alienate disciples. But if they stubbornly plug away at the same sound, especially after a decade has passed, they are doomed to drive off the cliff of irrelevance as their sound inevitably loses flavor. Just about every dude with a guitar (well, every dude with a guitar in England) attempted to rip the Strokes’ sound. Therefore the Strokes abandoned it.
Yet the Strokes hedged their bets when promoting their fifth album, Comedown Machine, offering a bit of old and new. First, there was “One Way Trigger,” a weird propulsive number that raced along like caffeine-jitters calypso, with Julian Casablancas singing in an messy falsetto over a plucky keyboard riff. The official first single, “All the Time,” thundered away in an expensive garage with standard rock instrumentation and arena-sized aplomb. On paper, “Trigger” was the kooky new direction, while “Time” satisfied the purists. But frankly, the former was truer to the group’s original spirit of hyper-composed emotive speedsters with unconventional mixes. “All the Time” could pass for Pearl Jam. Neither is indicative of how the rest of the album sounds. At all.
In a way, the Strokes have pulled an inverse Blur. Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon grew sick of glossy arch Britpop and embraced messy American underground rock styles on 1997’s eponymous Blur LP. The Strokes drop their New Yorkisms for a slick continental approach. If there’s any trace of the Big Apple left, it’s the large shadow of Blondie, which pulled similar tricks late in its career. The party line says the quintet has delved deep into the ’80s. I think a better reference point is turn-of-the-millennium Paris—records like Phoenix’s United and Air’s 10,000 Hz Legend.
With that in mind, we begin:
Today marks the beginning of the music leg of the South by Southwest festival. Hundreds of bands will descend on Austin's bars, clubs, hotels and even rooftops to bring disparate strands of rock, pop, hip-hop, metal and more from across the globe. Chicago is well represented at this year's event, with more than 50 acts appearing over the next few days. Here's a guide to local artists playing official showcases, with the caveat that SXSW is notorious for running behind schedule.
Blah Blah Blah, BD Riley's, 1–1:50am
Mikkey Halsted, 404 Austin, 12–12:15am
L.E.P Bogus Boys, 404 Austin, 11:40–11:55pm
Mpulse, 404 Austin, 9:30–9:45pm
Rockie Fresh, The Belmont, 10:35–11:15pm
Recently signed to Rick Ross's Maybach Music, MC Rockie Fresh brings his story to life with every rhyme. The 21-year-old's smooth delivery and clever wordplay set him a bar above other rising rappers. His latest mix-tape, Electric Highway, shows he can hold his own against his new boss.