Music » Music: Streetside

Highlights from the 2013 South By Southwest bacchanal

A look back at SXSW from the rear view mirror.



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Way has a little Karen O in her, and a little '90s riot grrrl, too. She wore red lipstick and had a commanding, no-nonsense, mechanically authoritative presence. She is in charge, and she is utterly confident in the role. I am sometimes suspicious of bands with hot women in them, so I close my eyes and pretend that the singer looks like Billy Powell from Lynyrd Skynrd. Are they still a good band then? With White Lung, the answer is, probably, yeah. I'm not the first person to say it, but Way is a star in the making. She's fierce as shit.

Mac DeMarco

Probably the biggest draw at Hotel Vegas on Friday was Mac DeMarco, a grimy-looking, gaptoothed 22-year-old who writes surprisingly sturdy songs. I was a big fan of 2, the album he released last year, and I've been working backward to catch up to his first release, Rock and Roll Night Club. (DeMarco and Cohen are both on Captured Tracks, which is one of the most reliably good indie labels — DIIV and Wild Nothing are also on the roster.)

DeMarco's band rocked a sleazy look: dirty snap-back hats, ill-fitting shirts, self-administered haircuts, cigarettes dangling from mouths. I dig their style, and I dig their music, which is a kind of loose glam rock with a little '50s crooner in it. DeMarco opened with "I'm a Man," from Rock and Roll Night Club, then went into "Cookin' Up Something Good," a 2 highlight. On one song, he and his guitarist cozied up to each other and jammed together, and toward the end of it, DeMarco gave him a gentle peck on the mouth. Later, the guitarist and the bassist kissed at length while playing. It was the guitarist's birthday. "I am so drunk," he said, and stared at us with some nice comic timing.

They closed with "Together," during which DeMarco stage-dived. Then he climbed onto the bars holding up the stage tent and hung upside down, still singing into his microphone. You can't ask for a whole lot more from an act.

Majical Cloudz

One of the unfortunate things about SXSW, and festivals in general, is that a lot of acts don't fully translate under the harsh light of the sun. Morose synth pop is one genre that requires the cover of darkness. I caught Montreal duo Majical Cloudz at a day party thrown by Spin, and band's intense sadness — Morrissey meets James Blake — didn't work. But Saturday night at Mohawk, in a packed room with low lights, it was easier to appreciate its virtues.

Nick Cave

SXSW purists gripe that the fest used to be about discovering talent, but now it's all industry types jostling to see Prince, Justin Timberlake and other established big-name acts. They are not wrong. Nick Cave is not exactly an up-and-comer, and his set at Stubb's on Wednesday was highly anticipated. But I had never seen Cave before or really understood his appeal. So the fact that his set pretty much blew me away qualifies as something of a discovery.

I was probably 300 feet from the stage but still totally mesmerized by many of the songs, particularly the opener, "Higgs Boson Blues," from this year's Push the Sky Away. He slithered around the stage, pounded the piano, growled the names Robert Johnson, Miley Cyrus and Hannah Montana. He is one sexy motherfucker of a performer, and the brooding theatricality of his music really comes through in a live setting.

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