SXSW: The First Two Days

The news of Alex Chilton’s death obviously changed the nature of my first night’s coverage, so here’s an abbreviated round-up of the first two nights:

Coolest moment: DJ Pasta was spinning R&B singles at the Park the Van showcase. While he was playing a cover of “Mother-in-Law” by a Canadian soul group, Les Hulots, the Pharmacy – the next act – got onstage and one by one started playing along. Their efforts were a little imprecise, but the spirit was willing.

Idea I’d Love to See Someone in New Orleans Steal: Monterrey, Mexico’s Sonidero Nacional had two DJs, three percussionists, a singer/rapper and a hype man, and they remixed cumbia songs live. Some remixes were more radical than others, but it was one of the best DJ-plus-live instruments acts I’ve seen, and the idea of doing the same thing with funk sounds like a way to start a party that would level buildings.

Not There Yet: Rapper K. Gates made a big splash with “Black and Gold Super Bowl,” but his short set at the Louisiana Party laid an egg. Admittedly, he followed the master party starter, DJ Jubilee, who eventually had SXSWers twerking it, but his downtempo grooves and delivery made him seem really conventional.

Finding Your Niche: Big Rock Candy Mountain’s set at the Louisiana Party spoke to you or didn’t depending on your interest in prog indie. At the end of the show, they came back to the stage to back Partners N Crime and Jubilee on “Hot Boys” and supplied a more-than-credible groove.

Most Awkward Moment: Watching Sweden’s jj, who sat alone onstage before a sold-out crowd waiting for the xx. jj’s band was all backing tracks, and when she wasn’t singing, she nervously pulled her hair in front of her face and/or drank from a tall boy of Lone Star. When her set ended after almost a half-hour, everyone was relieved for themselves and her.

Iggy Pop By Comparison: Blair – Blair Gimma when she lived in New Orleans – is herself fairly restrained onstage, but unlike jj, she seemed comfortable with being who she is in front of the audience. She played songs from Die Young, her new album, and like her, you realize hearing her that there’s more behind the reserve than is immediately obvious. There’s a subtle playfulness in her pop, and taken as a whole, the songs suggest a fully-rounded person behind them.

Favorite So Far: Toronto’s Holy Fuck, but that’s based solely on my affection for Krautrock and space rock. And the name.