TV On the Radio | Photo by John Vettese
SXSW Dispatch: Partying with NPR Music, TV On the Radio, Stromae and more
At SXSW, the word “party” can mean just about anything: singer songwriters strumming in the courtyard of a bistro, pyschedelic bummer-rockers playing off of the sixth street chaos, a DJ spinning to a crowd of ten somewhere on the other side of the highway. For its annual opening night party at Stubb’s, NPR Music defined “party” very literally; every one of the eclectic array of artists exuded energy and cheer, and got the packed-in crowd moving in a big way.
Charismatic Compton rapper Boogie got the night started delivering rhymes infused with a witty realism over a bubbling DJ backing. He was funny, skewering relationships and social media – “How many of y’all got a problem with fake Instagram models. How many of y’all got a problem with dudes who tweet 100,000 times a day?” He has my full support on the basis of this banter alone, but the moments where he dug into the harsh realities of his neighborhood hit home even more.
When NPR Music released their Austin 100 this year, Shamir‘s “On the Regular” was the jam that immediately fell into my heavy rotation. A bit clubby, a bit hiphop, silly but sincere and in-your-face and with astonishing beats and hooks…it was kind of like Prince in that regard, and it was hard to shake. The rest of the Vegas musician’s set was an equal blast, and even dialed the mood down a touch. “I can write a slow jam too,” he laughed. But of course he ended by diving into the front row and dancing his way to the back of the house, so it’s clear which mood he prefers.
Wow. Wowwowwow. Courtney Barnett and her band brought the fire to this show, playing the new Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit pretty much in its entirety. Where her earlier stuff was mellower and breezy, these are full on rock jammers that had Barnett shredding, diving into her amplifier and back, stealing quick looks over her dudes with glee. “Aqua Profunda” is a rager of a song, and the searing seven-minute closer “Kim’s Caravan” lit the fuse and ran with it. I can’t wait to see her again on Friday at the Public Radio Rocks show.
I seriously cannot say enough good things about Belgian dance-rock sensation Stromae. He’s an insanely spry dancer, he possesses a great voice and a charming command of the crowd, he’s quite handsome, etc. And his songs are just pure people-movers; his hour-long set, backed by his bowler hat clad band, was the high-energy point and didn’t shy from theatrics. As part of his act, Stromae does the James Brown / Bruce Springsteen pass-out-mid-song-get-dragged-off-stage-then-recover shtick, with his own spin on it of course, and the audience ate it up. Also: the epic “Papaouti” that closed the set, holy smokes. He plays the Electric Factory in September and I’ll be there.
Now might just be the ideal time to see Brooklyn art-rock icons TV On the Radio; not only is their current outing, Seeds, quite a good record, but the back catalog they’ve amassed over the past 15-ish years packs a punch. You might not think about it often (or at least I don’t), but watching it performed in front of you, it’s impossible to deny. “Golden Age”: a knockout. “Wolf Like Me”: a knockout to the knockout. They were definitely the most high-drama, “serious” of the bands on the bill, in that the several minutes of fuzzed-out krautrock sprawl that opened the show might not be the first thing you’d throw on a party playlist. But Tunde Adebimpe is just such an amazing force as a frontman, you can’t help but get swept away.
Check out a full gallery of photos from the showcase below.