Wednesday commenced with the soothing sounds of two new-school British folkies, and concluded with the smash-it-up snottiness of old-school British punks. Here's what we got up to on day two of Austin, Texas's annual South By Southwest musicfest.
James Bay Was Bae, Laura Marling Was Darling
The KCRW-sponsored Radio Day Stage over at the Austin Convention Center was the perfect place for easing into SXSW's Hump Day, and not just because the spacious venue offered comfortable seating and air-conditioning (both all too hard to come by at SXSW). Bay, this year's Critics' Choice Award-winner at the BRITs, rendered the crowd reverent and pindrop-silent (another rarity at SXSW) during his first-ever South By Southwest show, while former MySpace star/Mumford & Sons associate Marling brought the quiet fire during her slightly edgier, janglier seven-song set. Both artists' gentle Britfolk provided a more effective post-kickoff-night hangover cure than even the best Bloody Mary in town.
Carl Barat Gave Us Libertines and Gave Us "Death"
Barat doesn't get nearly as much attention as his messier half in the infamous, often-on-hiatus Libertines, Pete Doherty — mainly because he's never dated Kate Moss and he doesn't make frequent visits to rehab/jail. But let's not forget that this likely lad is real Camden rock royalty, and his new side band the Jackals reigned at Wednesday afternoon's Lyve/FLOODfest party, with Sir Carl's cocksure Cockney swagger on full, glorious display. While the band's setlist mainly comprised tracks from their debut album, Let It Reign, Barat tossed in the Libs classics "Death On the Stairs" and "I Get Along" — perhaps as teasers of the currently re-re-reunited Libertines' just-announced headlining shows at Britain's massive Reading and Leeds festivals.
Frank Turner Was the People's Champ
Also playing FLOODfest was this British punk/folk champion, a man who once played the London Olympics' opening ceremony and, if there were any justice, would be as big here in the States as the similarly everymannish but somewhat cuddlier Ed Sheeran. The refreshingly far-from-jaded crowd at Cedar Street Courtyard (which included Saturday Day Live's Vanessa Bayer) cheered wildly for Turner's pub singalongs and clever lyrics (L.A. natives seemed to particularly connect with his line "We're always on the guestlist, but we're always stuck in traffic"). But the most entertaining moment of his set came when he shared an anecdote about how his long-anticipated zoo encounter with a koala, during an Australian tour, was ruined when the marsupial's scent reminded him of his ex-girlfriend's eucalyptus-scented shampoo. And yes, Turner played a song about the koala. Now that's cuddly!
Twin Shadow Had a Total 'Eclipse' of the Art
One-man funky band Twin Shadow, aka George Lewis Jr., is set make about a dozen appearances at this year's SXSW. But his show in a pop-up art gallery, at Ironwood Hall for Tumblr's "IRL" showcase, allowed for the perfect presentation of his just-released esoteric Warner Bros. debut, Eclipse. As he grooved inside an illuminated cube draped with what looked like sparkly mosquito netting, fans of course snapped and uploaded Tumblr-worthy pics throughout his set.
Shamir and Courtney Barnett Kept Austin Weird
Exactly a year ago, a little rising artist you may have heard of, named Lady Gaga, performed on the Stubb's stage, which was classily sponsored by Doritos for the occasion. This spectacle left a gross taste in punters' mouths, no pun intended. It was Gaga's overhyped revue, along with other recent SXSW shows by established A-listers like Prince, Coldplay, Kanye West, Jay Z, and Justin Timberlake, that had SXSW purists complaining that the festival had strayed from its original purpose of promoting new and rising talent.
How refreshing, then, that the buzz acts at Wednesday's NPR-sponsored Stubb's show were absolutely fabulous MC/cowbell enthusiast/hipster misfit Shamir (seen boogie-ing above) and probably the most gabbed-about must-see artist of SXSW 2015, Woman Crush Wednesday contender/modern-day riot grrrl Courtney Barnett. "No one told me there was going to be so many people here. There's a f---load of you!" gasped Barnett, seemingly shocked by her ability to draw a capacity crowd to one of Austin's largest venues. If she keeps this up, she'll be too big for South By Southwest next year.
Win Butler Partied Like It Was 1998
The Arcade Fire frontman — whose brother Will Butler is in Austin this year to promote a new solo album — turned up at Lyve/FLOODfest's late-night showcase to warm up the audience waiting for local heroes Spoon, spinning a wonderfully bizarre mix of classic funk, soul, and obscure rock 'n' roll under the name DJ Windows 98. Taking the stage with his face half-hidden behind a bandanna, his arrival signaled by a squeal of '90s-era modem feedback, he played everything from Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" to the Staple Singers' cover of Talking Heads' "Slippery People." Here comes the nighttime, indeed.
Austin Was the Village of the Damned
"Hello, we are the Damned. We're officially the oldest band here at South By Southwest," joked the underrated U.K. punk legends (in Austin to promote their new rockumentary The Damned: Don't You Wish That We Were Dead) as they hit the House of Vans stage. But this was a hot ticket for conventioneers of all ages, since it was the Damned's only SXSW show — which meant the club hit capacity early in the night, leaving many people, even the most V.I. of the V.I.P.s, out in the street. Suddenly the band's classic single "I Just Can't Be Happy Today" seemed especially fitting. But happily, the outdoor venue featured a Let It Be-style rooftop stage, so undeterred fans just gathered on the street to watch the show from afar. And that was pretty punk-rock.
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(All photos Getty Images, except Win Butler courtesy of @nadiachaudhury’s Instagram.)