Tyler, The Creator takes flight
Friday was my best day yet at SXSW, during which I was driven to rapturous joy by the acts I had most hotly anticipated and was blown away by some bands I had not planned on seeing. Columbus continued to keep it real as well.
Things started off at the Scoot-Inn, where Thrasher and Converse were throwing one of the best parties I've ever attended at SXSW — great music, multiple easily accessible bars, incredible food cart. Plus there was a skateboard area if you're into that sort of thing.
The first act to step on stage upon my arrival was Das Racist, the "deconstructionalist" Brooklyn rap trio responsible for two top-notch 2010 mixtapes and 2009 internet novelty smash "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell". That song, once Das Racist's calling card, feels like a fun footnote after delving into their recent works, so I was more than happy not to hear it Friday. I was somewhat bummed that "hahahaha jk?" didn't crack the setlist, though.
On stage, these dudes are just as smart and goofy as on record. Heems, Dap and Kool A.D. select sick beats and drop some of the cleverest rhymes I've ever heard, celebrating and critiquing culture in a string of often hilarious non-sequiturs. They're serious rappers in that they can seriously rap, but they don't take themselves or anything they say too seriously. Except a lot of what they're really getting at is kind of serious. Confused yet? Anyway, these dudes were highly entertaining. I recommend them for your next backyard barbecue or academic seminar.
After a forgettable set by Detroit rapper Danny Brown, the moment arrived. I had been waiting all week to see Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, the Los Angeles skate-rat devil children who have been setting the internet on fire and inspiring juggalo levels of devotion. Mostly teenagers, they seem intent on one-upping each other with Eminem-esque shock and awe regarding murder, rape and other wholesome pastimes. (Sample chorus: "Kill people! Burn s---! F--- school!")
Though my worldview is pretty close to 180 degrees from Odd Future's, I've been mesmerized by their collected works over the past few months, in particular those of ringleader Tyler, The Creator. If you haven't seen his "Yonkers" video or his Fallon appearance, you're doing yourself a serious disservice. He's one of the most magnetic, fascinating and downright talented pop cultural figures to emerge in recent memory, and I was absolutely stoked to see him and his crew in action.
They didn't disappoint. Friday's Scoot-Inn show was a thrilling spectacle powered by adolescent fury — the truest intersection of hip-hop and punk rock I've ever seen, complete with 15-foot stage dives, Budweiser showers (better than Faygo, I guess) and exhilarating singalongs. It was infinitely better than the Wu-Tang show. If only Earl coulda been there.
Tyler, The Creator gets swagged out with the Scoot-Inn crowd
To recover from Odd Future, I went back to my hotel and watched the second half of the Buckeyes game. Then I headed to the We Are Columbus Ohio event, an unofficial showcase that brought together about a dozen Columbus acts. A lot of people put a lot of work into this event, and while it's tough to tell whether that effort quote-unquote paid off, it went off without a hitch, often with the tiny Foo's Treehouse Bar at capacity. So I'm calling it a success.
Slick City Ramblers were finishing their set when I showed up. They were one of several artists on the We Are Columbus bill who I had never checked out back home, a country trio (featuring Chris Shaw on guest fiddle) with wide eyes and big hooks. I'll have to pay closer attention to them on the home front.
Joey Hebdo, who I encountered busking Thursday, was next to perform. The first few songs of his set were a pleasant reminder that the folk-rocker has really hit his stride since going solo. He has a way with melody that cuts across his songs in a way other Dudes With Acoustic Guitars can't muster.
I skipped out on Hebdo to catch a few songs by The Main Street Gospel, another Columbus band who was playing an official SXSW showcase in the back room at Headhunter's. I've said it before, but there's some special vibe about this band I can't quite put my finger on. I find most bluesy psych bands to be tired, cliche and indistinguishable from each other, but Main Street takes the tried-and-true Crazy Horse template and makes it feel fresh and alive. The new drummer seems to be working out too.
The Main Street Gospel
After cutting out on Hebdo to see the Main Street Gospel, I cut out on Main Street to see Lower Dens, a Baltimore quartet with blog buzz, kick off the Mexican Summer/Gorilla vs. Bear showcase at Klub Krucial. They're fronted by ex-freak folk singer Jana Hunter, but they sound nothing like a product of the Devendra Banhart-led scene she earned her stripes in. Instead, I walked into alternately dreamy/dreary indie rock chugging along with easygoing precision. Their mildly noisy, soft-spoken but firm approach reminded me of Yo La Tengo covering Crystal Stilts, which is a combination I can definitely get behind.
Next up at Klub Krucial was No Joy, who blew me away like no band since, well, The Joy Formidable two days ago. From its first few notes of incessant bass rumble, the opening song sounded like Pavement's "Frontwards" if it was on My Bloody Valentine's "Loveless" — another convergence of influences that won me over instantly. There was a gnarly chug to this music, giving it a swagger many shoegaze bands lack. Huge swaths of noisy power chords swept through the bar, nearly drowning out the eerie harmonized vocals at the eye of No Joy's storm and ultimately congealing into a monolithic haze that was violent and serene all at once.
Stopped back at the We Are Columbus show next, only to encounter Karate Coyote 2.0 setting up. I was impressed with how tight and catchy their new songs are, and even more so with keyboardist-singer Kendra Jados, a former stiff who has developed a cool, comfortable stage presence. The jury's still out on April Kitchen, who replaced former lead singer Sam Corlett after Corlett quit the band last fall. Kitchen definitely shares Corlett's penchant for slightly odd on-stage attire though.
Former Columbus resident Tim Easton stepped in next to perform a few rousing roots rockers backed by members of New York's Madison Square Gardeners, who also feature an Ohio-heavy membership. Like Main Street Gospel, Easton stands out in a genre where it's hard to stand out, wringing emotion out of his harder-hitting material and adding heft to his mid-tempo numbers. Dude is a masterful songwriter, and his work sounds even better with such seasoned players backing him up.
Next, I crossed town to La Malverde, where Stone's Throw signees The Stepkids were set to unveil a psychedelic R&B dance party complete with colorful projections that might as well have been broadcast through a time portal direct from the Summer of Love. They wisely donned all-white apparel, making the players a blank canvas that could blend into its tripped-out imagery. The music was cool, understated and funky as hell, seeping into my consciousness with wicked wah-wah solos and falsetto harmonies. I found myself wishing my Alive colleague John Ross was there to fill me in on which old records they were conjuring.
I ended the night at Club DeVille, where I found Toronto duo P.S. I Love You unfurling noisy pop-rock anthems. The girthy frontman was tapping into the spirit of J Mascis with his searing guitar melodies, and I couldn't help but be impressed by him playing the bass pedal with his foot while churning out all the guitar goodness. The songs weren't doing it for me though — all show and no substance. P.S. I Love You