The day started off with a late lunch at the legendary Hut's Hambugers, a joint that features burgers named after folks like The Big Bopper, Alan Freed, Fats Domino and Ritchie Valens (got me a Hut's Favorite with mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, bacon and American cheese and an amazing chocolate milkshake. Lush).
After the protein-heavy nutrition, it was over to Red Eye Fly to check out Chairlift (pictured above), whose coos and twinkly keyboards have been gracing the latest iPod Nano commercial. The Brooklyn three-piece did a good bit of instrument switching, though the most impressive combination was Caroline Polachek on keys and lead vocals, Patrick Wimberly on drums with one hand and bass synthesizer with the other, and Aaron Pfenning on accompanying vocals and guitar. Though many know the bands tunes as twee, indie pop, much of the set consisted of ethereal vocals and the more avaunt-side of Tears For Fears. Towards the end of the performance though, the trio upped the twee and merry Casio beats with their song "Bruises," the iPod-featured tune. Unfortunately, the line-up was running late, and Chairlift's set was cut short, with some noting that the group's set up took longer than the set.
After the great discovery of Chairlift and the two sides of their intriguing sound, it could have been inevitable that Ed Harcourt wouldn't live up to expectations. Previous shows of Harcourt's were impassioned, moody (from upbeat to stormy) piano-thrashing experience that might see him ending a set lying on the ground, his keyboard across his chest. But this performance was a slight disappointment, with the venue of the Austin Convention Center's The Lone Star Lounge hardly adding to the authenticity of the show.
Backed by a huge band, with trumpet, violin, percussion, guitar, drums and more, Harcourt's previous stirring, swirling, great big sing-along piano-driven sound, familiar to that of Rufus Wainright, seems to have been long-since abandoned for a more country-tinged barn dance style. Maybe it had been a long SXSW for Harcourt, but his voice seems to strain to reach even the easiest of notes that he usually belts out. The highlight was surely the Burt Bacharach-esque "The Girl With The One Track Mind," with its smoky backroom piano and soft trumpet backed by gently thudding drums. With a tender emotion echoing Bacharach's "This Man's In Love With You," the song is proof of Harcourt's continuing songwriting talent, as well as hopes for more great performances and albums to come.
Later that night, the outside stage at Stubbs was packed for Razorlight. Lead singer Johnny Borrell didn't disappoint with his voice translating in a surprisingly powerful way. Jumping around on stage and dripping with sweat, Borrell was gyrating like the new Mick Jagger, and the rest of the band lead the way to rock 'n' roll legends by not skimping on the arena-ready ballsy playing.
Next it was a trek over to Antones, where an over-excited audience was witnessing the manic stage dynamic of Cage The Elephant, who could possibly be the new Stone Roses, but with a singer that, well, can actually sing (sorry Ian Brown, we still love you, but carrying a note is not your strong suit). On the contrary, Matt Schultz's vocals lie somewhere between bluesy Delta rock, American grunge and early Britpop, incredibly compelling and grabbing the attention of every audience member. Of course, his lurching and shaking all over the stage helped, dancing like Beck mixed with Jim Morrison on speed. The energy climbs, seeing Schultz climbing the walls, quite literally, as he reaches the overlooking soundbooth in the balcony (pictured below). The Kentucky band's music flew all over the spectrum, from The Stooges to Kula Shaker to The Faces to Nivarna to The Who, packing energy and exhileration all the way. With a buzz already carrying them to many festivals in England, Cage The Elephant's stellar performances in Austin – a highlight of the festival – will surely see America soon catching up.
Then it was a swift walk over to Ale House to catch Elizabeth & the Catapult. Led by Elizabeth Ziman on vocals and keyboards, the chipper indie pop sound of the band is augmented brilliantly by Ziman's sweet yet slightly smoky sultry tones. A highlight of the set had to be the title track from the band's upcoming record Taller Children, which bounces around with a swinging '60s beat that speeds up to a Monkeys-plus-Peter-Bjorn-&-John dance craze for the chorus. The sweet pop melodies of the band are sure to make them a favorite for the year.
One look at the line for Ebony Bones at Red 7's patio makes me quickly turn around and exit back down the alley, stopping at the neighboring tent to see who was playing the delightfully sharp '60s garage rock in Beauty Bar's Backyard Stage. Turns out it's a quartet of lads called The Strange Boys (pictured above and below), who are mostly still in the their teen years (or just leaving them), and were playing early Beatles style tunes with a hefty amount of Nuggets-influenced style with scary-good capacity that is not only spot on with technical playing but also thrillingly lose and comfortable in a completely rock 'n' roll way.
And so I end SXSW 2009, safe in the knowledge that the future of music is in good hands, if these boys are any indication.
Category: Live Reviews