SXSW 2016: Weather delay at Willie Nelson’s Luck Reunion

Update, 9:08 p.m.: Artists that were supposed to play the main stage at Willie Nelson’s Reunion in Luck are being moved indoors.

“Main stage is cancelled so there may be some big artists in small places,” according to Don Bartlett, manager of Joe Pug, who is playing the Tent Stage at Luck. “At the end of the day it’s actually a really cool vibe. Survivors.”

Luck is Willie Nelson’s ranch outside Austin that was used for as a set for his movie, “Red-Headed Stranger.” It has a series of smaller buildings that can be used.

Earlier: Peter Blackstock is in Luck for Willie Nelson’s Reunion, a now annual event during South by Southwest. He reports that folks have been told to go back to their cars while they wait for weather to pass. Artists have been told to still plan to play, once it clears up. The lineup includes Jenny Lewis, Blitzen Trapper, Lucius, Doyle Bramhall II and many more.

The latest from our weather blog:

The National Weather Service is urging residents to stay indoors as a severe thunderstorm moves over Central Texas on Friday.

The service say the cell of storms is capable of producing frequent cloud-to-ground lightning along with hail and 60 mphs winds.

In Marble Falls, residents reported some hail and strong winds Friday.

As the storm continues moving southeast, the service says it will likely impact western Travis County, west of downtown Austin.

SXSW 2016: Bombino jam out Hotel Vegas’ backyard

There was a big crowd and a killer age of Aquarius-style projection at Hotel Vegas’ Patio stage Thursday night. It was almost a micro festival vibe that fell right in line with the Levitation Fest showcase happening indoors.  

A huge line snaked around the building, waiting for a lineup that included Yuck, but the buzz seemed to be for Bombino — at least until they ran about a set behind.

In their place at 10:45ish was Noura Mint Seymali, who has a similar vibe. Seymali, from Mauritania performs in full headscarf, which drapes luxuriously over her torso.

This was not completely unlike Bombino, if they were less about rocking out and more about having a Female singer floating above a great rhythmic jam — the guitar strums, sparkles and jams while and Seymali’s voice does much the same thing, often erupting in long sustained warbles.

Above the band on the white tent was an awesome projection made by heating up colored liquids directly on top of old school overhead projectors. And the result is a lava-lamp of circular shapes that the projectionist actually made move in time to the beats. Brilliant and perfect for each of these bands.

In between sets I popped inside to catch the end of a satisfying oddball set by Exploded View out of Berlin. It’s Jefferson Airplane meets Portishead, with a bit of noise guitar thrown in for a laugh. I barely caught any of the vocals but apparently it’s political. Lead singer Anika wandered into the crowd towards the end.

At last though Bombino started outdoors. These guys can do no wrong. Their set was peppered with older familiar material (though, they don’t make the kind of records that you listen to one track at a time, so it’s incredibly hard to tell what they actually played).

Their collaboration with Black Keys was a bit of a misstep for me, as if the band allowed their sound to be corrupted with a scuzzy guitar for no good reason. Not that we shouldn’t embrace change. And a new collaboration with Dirty Projectors’ David Longstreth, and his great restless energy will, fingers crossed, be a brilliant and weird undertaking that does Bombino justice.

But their showcase featured their typical tight playing, a couple of blues riffs even found their way in there. There was less focus on vocals and the band laid into nothing but the grooves, making space for sleek guitar solos, hand claps and pulsing drums. 

The bits of blues and jazz, Bombino are so good at ramping up and down, at carving out that space for silence and solos, it’s a result of impeccable communication between the band. Nothing felt formulaic or pre thought. The band are always fixed in eye contact—in constant communication with one another.

Four piece took a triple bow at the end, totally deserved. 

SXSW: Years later, the Heavy sounds less sinister

Jay Janner/American-Statesman
Jay Janner/American-Statesman

“We’ve been away for a while,” Kelvin Swaby, lead singer for British rock band, the Heavy said at the top of the band’s afternoon set at the South by Southwest Radio Day Stage on Friday afternoon.

To be specific, it’s been four years since the band’s last album dropped. Their fourth album is due out in April and they used their SXSW set to introduce an enthusiastic audience of music industry insiders to some of the songs.

The first two Heavy albums bubbled with an ominous undercurrent. Swaby’s menacing vocals beckoned listeners to lose their inhibitions and venture into the darkness. Never mind the devil secretly smiling in the shadows, this was music that urged you to do bad things because they feel so good.

Based on this afternoon’s performance, the band has left some of that malevolent energy behind, moving into a straight ahead solid rock sound. The band was tight and the songs sounded good, but the general vibe was much safer than it used to be.

Swaby had some mic issues during the performance (he asked to be turned up twice) and he might have been saving himself for the band’s night shows, but his vocals lacked the snarling intensity he brought the last time he played SXSW in 2009.

The performance, which closed with the band’s biggest hit “How You Like Me Now,” was well-received. The band was tight and Swaby sounded solid, but something had changed. Perhaps he’s matured into a kinder, gentler individual. That’s all fine and good, but half the band’s appeal was their edgy vibe. The seductive bad boy who’d abandon you in a vampire’s den was not in the building.

Update: This article has been updated to correct a few dates.

SXSW 2016: Roger Sellers’ Bayonne tries to escape the bedroom

Austin’s Roger Sellers played an early SXSW set at Barracuda Thursday under his relatively new moniker, Bayonne. 

“I’m going to do a lot of weird loops for the next 30 minutes,” he said. The talented, inventive electro-acoustic artist drew a solid crowd, and for good reason. There’s always an infectious pulse under most of Bayonne’s songs, and Sellers’ vocals are catchy and totally emotional enough to speak to an audience.

And he’s putting in a huge effort in his stage show, dancing and moving his body along with cues to the music.

But there is something tricky about bridging the disconnect between pre recorded loops and a live audience.

Sellers bounces around the stage, does live vocals, live drum loops and God knows what else with the triggers under his fingers. But he never quite sustained eye contact with the audience, and try as he might, the stage show doesn’t impart a mood or sense of urgency to the crowd.

Ultimately there’s probably only one way to make a live show of all these digital pieces feel live, and that’s to perform as much music as humanly possible on stage in front of the crowd.

Every time a performer steps away from the instrument (or electronics in this case), to dance, or do anything, something does not compute in the viewer’s mind. It begs the question, why are we watching you on stage right now, instead of popping on headphones and downloading the album?

Still, it’s not for lack of trying. Sellers does interesting live vocals, and pounded away on drums, building loops that worked under the digital arpeggios. He brought on a second drummer halfway through too.

It’s completely compelling music, and there’s a good reason that, his next record is being released on a serious national label (I believe he said Secretly Canadian, but don’t quote me here, as the web is a void on this topic). In any case, this could be a huge year for Bayonne, but mostly because his records are gorgeous works of art.


A (Very Loud) Classical Refuge at SXSW 2016

It’s not Classical — it’s Austin’s Graham Reynolds, Justin Sherburn, Line Upon Line, Mother Falcon, Fast Forward and others, all under one roof, tucked away in the Hideout Theatre on Congress.

It’s only a block away from the action, but walking into the dark theater to sit down was an awesome exercise in sensory deprivation. You have a seat, immersed in the dark instead of jostling with a bored, chatty crowd, and on stage is Graham Reynolds and his piano, two singers, a cello, violin, guitar, drum kit, and bass/tuba.

The one thing this show had in common with the rest of SXSW was the volume. It was freaking loud. Stupidly loud. But at least with earplugs, it worked well enough to send the message that this was not delicate music. And let’s be honest, anything that so much as hints at old people’s music is not going to play well here. So it’s a smart strategy.

And so was the music, Reynolds’ epic piece about the life of Pancho Villa. The singers, Liz Cass and Paul Sanchez do much of the heavy lifting of this chamber opera, singing in Spanish. But it’s a choreographed affair — shifting moods that tell Villa’s tale.

The strings are solid, Adrian Quesada does gorgeous work on guitar, and the strings and percussion keep the pace moving. It gets a little messy — Reynolds tried to cue solos but sometimes the players were unsure when to come in and out. This will hopefully change as the piece grows. 

The Hideout seems to be a good fit for this show. It gives the performers a quiet performance space in the theatre, and a place to mingle just outside. The result was both an oasis away from 6th Street and an epic storm of something different. 

SXSW: With gorgeous sound shadows, Chvrches gets sad for once

CHVRCHES performs at the Radio Day Stage during South by Southwest on Friday March 18, 2016. (JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
CHVRCHES performs at the Radio Day Stage during South by Southwest on Friday, March 18, 2016. (JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Imagine Chvrches playing “MTV Unplugged.” But still, you know, a little plugged. Just as functionally plugged as absolutely necessary.

The Scottish synth-pop band hit South by Southwest’s Radio Day Stage on Friday for a stripped down, intimate set that made you realize that a Scottish synth-pop band can do stripped down and intimate. The trio’s been all over the place this SXSW, from an ill-conceived DJ set at the fest’s opening party to a shiny stadium-style stunner at the MTV Woodies to a sunset set at Spotify House. Chvrches has blown up since they made their SXSW debut a few years ago. It’s been a fascinating exercise to see them show different facets in different venues this year, for good or for ill.

Sandwiched on Friday between a rousing “Never Ending Circles” (which Lauren Mayberry said she forgot the words to Thursday) and an even more rousing “Leave a Trace,” gorgeous shadow loomed over several songs that normally fizz brightly. Starting with an amazingly downcast performance of “Recover” straight out of John Carpenter movie, Mayberry, Martin Doherty and Iain Cook synced their melancholy lyrics with uncharacteristically melancholy synths.

The always hilarious Mayberry (who squeezed in some Jon Bon Jovi jokes) knows we’re onto their songwriting tactics, explaining the upbeat-but-sad dichotomy that marks the Chvrches catalogue: “But we trick people!” Their performance of “The Mother We Share” waded into the same doom and gloom as “Recover,” with Mayberry’s iridescent voice poking pinholes of light instead of the normal rush of sugar. “Afterglow,” normally moody, held the set together like a pin with wobbly bass and humpback whale tones.

Mayberry joked that a clutch of sad songs was a funny way to ease into Friday. But no joke, it was actually the perfect chill pill to unplug from a festival that can wear you ragged.

A David Bowie tribute that let All the Children Boogie

“Thank you David Bowie, for existing!”

Jason Rabinowitz spoke for everyone at Scottish Rite Theater as New York duo the Pop Ups left the stage Friday, shortly after they’d delighted a packed house of children and parents at “All the Children Boogie: A Tribute to David Bowie.”

Charlie Sexton joins the Barton Hills Choir at Scottish Rite Theater Friday, March 18, 2016. Photo by Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman
Charlie Sexton joins the Barton Hills Choir at Scottish Rite Theater Friday, March 18, 2016. Photo by Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman

Presented by local “indie music for indie kids” radio program Spare the Rock Spoil the Child and the parenting website, the daytime event at Scottish Rite Theater wasn’t an official South by Southwest event, but it was a good example of how SXSW can spawn wonderfully creative collateral events.

The big crowds showed up for an 11:30 a.m. appearance by the Barton Hills Choir, well-known for their annual opening sets at ACL Fest. Joining them this time were local luminaries Charlie Sexton, on “Space Oddity” and “Starman” (he also did “Heroes” and “Golden Years” on his own), and Nakia, who also sang Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” after joining the Choir on “Lady Stardust.”

Nakia sings with kids from the audience at Scottish Rite Theater Friday, March 18, 2016. Photo by Deborah Cannon/American-Statesman

One might think Bowie’s music is too “adult” for child’s play, but there are entryways if you seek them out. The Pop Ups smartly chose “Oh You Pretty Things,” with its telling lyric, “Don’t you know you’re driving your mamas and papas insane.” And the event’s name came from the chorus of “Starman”: “Let the children lose it, let the children use it, let all the children boogie.”

Those in the line outside during Barton Hills Choir eventually got in, with performances continuing for most of the afternoon from the likes of Joe McDermott, Jon Langford, David Wax Museum and Riders Against the Storm. So, indeed: Thank you, David Bowie, for existing.

SXSW 2016: John Doe, still pushing toward the new

Thirty years into South by Southwest, all the talk about branding and corporatization of the event can’t keep the smart ones from realizing what the event can still be about. “If there’s one place you could play a bunch of new songs and have that make sense, it would be South by Southwest,” John Doe said as he started his set at the Main II on Thursday evening. Indeed, that’s the heart of SXSW Music: the artists who are seeking out a continued rediscovery of who they are.

John Doe has played many a SXSW set across the decades. 2008 photo by Deborah Cannon/AMERICAN-STATESMAN
John Doe has played many a SXSW set across the decades. 2008 photo by Deborah Cannon/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

And so, while he tossed longtime fans of his legendary punk band X, and of his many solo albums, a couple of bones in the form of “The New World” and “Golden State,” Doe’s set was a celebration of looking forward. At 63, the stage-commanding vocalist and consummate bandleader still has a lot to give. And his current band is one of the best he’s ever had: Austin guitarist Jesse Dayton walks just the right edge between roots and punk, and singer Cindy Wasserman — whose black dress with giant daisies was probably the best stage attire I’ve seen all week — may just exceed the chemistry he’s long had with X’s Exene Cervenka, heretical as that may sound.

The limitations of SXSW remain the transitory nature of some venues. Still vacant since the relocation of Emo’s many years ago, the spot at Sixth and Red River used in recent years under the names the Main and Main II apparently didn’t have the direct-input line Doe needed for a couple of acoustic numbers, so they plowed ahead with the electric stuff, which the crowd seemed pretty much fine with.

Doe closed with the cutting political tune “Never Enough” from his 2011 album “Keeper,” giving a shoutout to Austin’s late Big Boys bandleader and poet Randy “Biscuit” Turner and noting that he’s rolling over in his grave at the current campaign cycle. “Ladies and gentlemen, there is so much bull—- in this country,” he declared loud and clear. “It’s gotta change.” So, new songs, yes, but in terms of principles and purpose, Doe remains the same dedicated activist he’s always been.


Ramones tribute rocks, in fits and starts

By Steve Scheibal

Right as the Grammy Museum cranked up its official South by Southwest tribute to the Ramones on Thursday, legendary punk bassist Mike Watt was taking the late, lamented, open-only-for-SXSW Emo’s stage at 6th and Red River, and Loretta Lynn – Loretta Lynn! – was getting ready to serenade a crowd at Stubb’s Barbecue. Like a post-millennial Wooderson, we love South by Southwest: we get older, but our heroes … they play the early slots.

The Grammy Museum hosts one of these tributes every year, and the Ramones must have seemed like a tasty subject. Staging it the evening after the museum’s official SXSW panel honoring the 40th anniversary of the Ramones’ first record, and centering it on a band known for super short, super easy, super fun songs, the showcase promised especially electric performances from the 18 different acts on the bill.

(Just to get this out of the way, the total number of Grammys awarded to the Ramones during lead singer Joey Ramone’s lifetime equals zero.)

It worked, kind of. Over the course of the night, a wide variety of acts took their shot, to great effect. The leadoff band, Fort Worth’s own Quaker City Night Hawks, was terrific, even if they had to start playing before the crowd could come in (so punk rock). Folk singer Lissie eschewed a rhythm section as she ripped into “I Wanna Live” – it was awesome. And Lydia Loveless did a pretty funny, not-bad impression of Joey as she and her band blasted out a molten cover of “Chinese Rock.”

That’s one of the things that was so great about the Ramones – pretty much anyone can play their songs well, including the Ramones.

If only the band had also broken ground in cutting set-change times. Every performer on Thursday got 10-15 minutes to play two or three Ramones songs, and then one of their own that didn’t need to have any connection or resemblance to a Ramones song. And then came another 10-15 minutes of down time to change out the stage – not a welcome break when you’ve just stared rocking.

Still, a steady stream of people dropped in for at least part of the tribute, which ran until 2 in the morning. The bands had fun. So did the fans. And the live music, when it was going, consisted mainly of Ramones songs covered by capable performers in a rooftop bar above the din of 6th Street.

There are worse ways to spend a spring evening.

SXSW 2016 review: DJ Khaled knows the keys to success (and has famous friends)

Khaled and Bun B (Andy O'Connor / FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)
Khaled and Bun B (Andy O’Connor / FOR AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

It’s shocking that DJ Khaled chose to appear at the Music portion of SXSW and not Interactive. He first came to prominence with his association with artists like Rick Ross and Terror Squad, but it’s his Snapchat, filled with daily “keys to success” (let’s be honest, you didn’t know your phone had a key emoji until he came along), a consistent, if not exactly in-depth, look at his diet (some Austinites might appreciate that he’s going vegan for 22 days) and warnings to stay away from the shadowy force known as “They,” that has really elevated his status. 10-second bursts and the temporary nature of Snapchat aren’t obstacles for him; this is especially true if you remember the saga of him getting lost on his jetski last winter. It may be his true medium, mores than music, and his performance at Austin Music Hall last night was almost like getting the, um, keys to his Snapchat password.

Khaled’s performance wasn’t a performance in the traditional rap sense. Persona is important in hip-hop, and while a concert is usually reinforcing that persona through songs, for Khaled, it’s just about going all in to the persona itself. He is excellent as saying the same thing over and over again, substance notwithstanding. And his show was more of a string of catchphrases than actual musical performance. Railing against haters is pretty common, but Khaled’s talk of “They” goes way beyond that, making them into a faceless, formless entity programmed to bring you down. He gave the audience an enemy, and that purposes charged them up and made them yell ferociously for Khaled, as ill-defined as the enemy is. At one point, Khaled asked the audience if they were “ready for some real hip-hop.” Khaled is much more about promoting himself than artistic integrity, which is part of the fun, but let’s not pretend “real hip-hop” is something “they” have used against him.

Through “the pathway to more success,” he sells that same old American story that if you work hard — and it has nothing to do with who you know! — you too will one day get paid a lot of money to say “Congratulations, you played yourself.” How will you really get there? He doesn’t have the answers, and when you’re just selling the promise, answers aren’t necessary. Sloganeering has always been part of the Khaled Way — he’s yelled “We The Best” in too many songs to name — and now, it’s taken on a icky feel-goodness. Khaled’s sayings went from unintentional humor to mandatory declarations — nothing about this show felt accidental. It was a monument to how much he believes in himself, where he doesn’t know what doubt means. To be fair, it’s a pretty great way to get a crowd pumped up. He’s like if Rod Blagojevich had a really cool sneaker collection instead of a bad haircut.

Predictable as his manner was, there was some fun to be had. Khaled’s first guest was Wyclef Jean, who received a warm response, but Jean couldn’t hold a lighter, much less 25 of them, to Port Arthur’s own Bun B. The crowd sang along to “Big Pimpin’” so loudly that Bun could hardly get a word in of his own song. After a couple songs, Khaled says “Another one” to the DJ, reinforcing his brand, and the DJ goes into Bun B’s classic “Get Throwed” and everyone loses their minds. Bun B even shouted out Southern rap icon Lil Boosie, who didn’t perform but was in the audience. 2 Chainz also made a surprise appearance, faking hesitation to perform more when Khaled invoked the will of “the fans” to do so. Nas performed right after him, and while Khaled’s show was one big lead-up to his performance, it also paled in comparison to the display of Khaled’s arrogance. The onslaught of special guests is one of those things you look forward to at SXSW. “OMG, 2 CHAINZ JUST SHOWED UP” is never a bad thing to tweet. It also reinforced the perception that Khaled is perhaps the ultimate hanger-on or stage potato, riding on others’ successes without doing much to distinguish himself. Except for coming on to “All I Do Is Win,” barely any of his actual music was played. His idea of a show is showing off his famous friends who make music he likes. And if those friends include Nas and Bun B, you don’t actually need to feature your own music, do you?