White Reaper keyboardist Ryan Hater began the band’s Wednesday afternoon set at Lambert’s the same way so many SXSW patrons begin their adventures: thirsty.
“I’m gonna need two things. The first one is a shot of tequila,” he told the audience. “And I’m gonna need everybody to come in and have more fun, because it feels like I’m at a college graduation party.”
Eventually, Hater got both his wishes, which should come as no surprise, given White Reaper’s rapid ascendancy over the past year. The Louisville, Kentucky garage-punk quintet blends snotty, adenoidal vocals and twin-guitar harmonies à la Thin Lizzy to irresistible effect, and many months on the road have brought them dangerously close to fulfilling the superlative of their latest album, 2017’s “The World’s Best American Band.”
Rousing a daytime audience from its midweek slump is no easy feat, but White Reaper proved up to the task, as did hard-rocking Seattle quartet Thunderpussy. Yes, all of the band members are women, and no, they were not particularly interested with talking about the dynamics of being the “girl in a band” at Lambert’s. They were too preoccupied with shredding furious, wah-drenched guitar solos and breakneck drum-and-bass grooves, as lead singer Molly Sides howled into her vintage microphone and writhed onstage, the light catching on her sequined dress. If White Reaper is “The World’s Best American Band,” then Thunderpussy is undoubtedly the coolest.
After those exhilarating sets, one could almost forget that Albert Hammond Jr. was headlining the daytime showcase — almost. The guitarist took the stage to waves of applause and cordially greeted the audience, “Hey everyone, welcome to the Hotel California.” And suddenly it was obvious whom everybody had come to see.
Despite playing arenas and headlining festivals around the world with the Strokes, Hammond showed no traces of customary rock star pretension onstage. He jumped to whack the ceiling and danced earnestly with his bandmates, often defaulting to playing rhythm as his other two guitarists traded solos. Hammond’s new solo album, “Francis Trouble,” features the same dicey riffs and anthemic choruses that made early Strokes hits so sublime, and the guitarist reveled in his bandleader status, a refreshing foil to Julian Casablancas’ brooding insularity.
Hammond has several more SXSW shows on the docket this week, including Stubb’s outdoor stage and the enormous SXSW Outdoor Stage at Lady Bird Lake. Those stages might offer more room to flaunt, but on a Wednesday afternoon at Lambert’s, Hammond proved he’s a rockstar at any level.