Keith Urban seems like a nice guy. But his SXSW panel was kind of boring.

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Introducing South by Southwest’s “Conversation with Keith Urban” at the Austin Convention Center on Friday, Grammy Museum executive director Scott Goldman rattled off Urban’s impressive list of chart-topping hits, awards and other career accomplishments. The New Zealand-raised country star’s credentials certainly are beyond reproach. But such success doesn’t necessarily guarantee an illuminating dialogue.

Country music star Keith Urban speaks during SXSW on Friday, March 16, 2018. JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The hourlong panel was pleasant enough, touching on how Urban got started in the business, his ascent to Nashville stardom, his songwriting process and more. Ultimately, though, there’s just not much more to Urban than a guy who’s good at making pop-oriented country music.

Yes, he’s married to Nicole Kidman, but he rightfully downplays this. (When Goldman asked about the personal/celebrity balance in their lives, he answered wisely that their credo is, “Nothing to hide and everything to protect.”) And he did have a couple of great anecdotes, like the time his upstart band got booked to play at a baggage claim carousel in an Australia airport. It went surprisingly well until the arriving-baggage alarm blared out mid-song. “I just got on the thing and went for a ride, playing guitar,” he cracked.

But Urban’s music generally doesn’t dig deeply enough to make for a really memorable panel discussion. The midsize room was a little more than half full, perhaps partly an indicator of interest-level, and/or investment of the artist in the event. Urban is performing at 11 p.m. Friday at Stubb’s, but when Garth Brooks did a big show and press conference last year, he also snuck in a much-buzzed-about Broken Spoke secret show the night before. No such Urban sightings around town last night.

Keith Urban talks with Grammy Museum executive director Scott Goldman during SXSW on Friday, March 16, 2018. JAMES GREGG/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

There were insightful moments, like when Urban talked about how he approaches collaborative songwriting: “I know what I do, and I know what you do, but I want to know what WE can do.” And his story about how his family’s New Zealand community rallied to assist them after their house burned down when Urban was 10 was touching. Then there were the embarrassing remarks, like his comparison of songwriting to childbirth: “As a man who can’t bring a child into the world, I can bring a song into the world.”

The closing Q&A segment produced a similar mixed-bag of whimsy and vacuity. Early on, a woman informed Urban that her son-in-law, guitarist Matt Gregg of the Austin band Western Youth, was Urban’s third cousin. She detailed the family-tree branches that connected them, prompting Goldman to ad-lib, “This part of the panel brought to you by ancestry.com.” Urban seemed to genuinely appreciate it, giving the band an acknowledgment that may well spark up their social media.

And then the final question brought things back down again. It was a worthy inquiry about whether the current polarizing political climate has any effect on Urban’s songwriting. The answer was a definite no, primarily because, as Urban put it, this is “a very dangerous time when the mob is just running rampant.”

That was a vague dodge, punctuated by his addition that he and Kidman strive to “live away from all that.” Such is the privilege of those who have the means to avoid politics. He’s free to steer clear, providing music that he himself described as “audible incense.” Smells like Urban spirit.

RELATED: A recap of Thursday’s Luck Reunion on the outskirts of SXSW

 

SXSW 2018: Don’t call Rapsody your favorite female rapper. Call her a beast

A few songs into her furious 20-minute rumble at the Belmont, 35-year-old hip-hop artist, Rapsody paused to break down her reasons for persevering in a music form that, over the last two decades, has been largely dismissive of women.

Rapsody performs at the all-female rapper showcase during SXSW at The Belmont on Thursday March 14th 2018. Dave Creaney / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

I do it for her, and for her, and for her, and for you, and the daughter you may someday have if you don’t have one already, and your wife, and your sister,” she said, speaking directly to the women and men who had gathered for the all-female rap showcase. “I do it so women can know: anything a man can do, we can do just as well, if not 10 times better. So when they ask about Rapsody, don’t tell them I’m a female rapper. Don’t tell them I’m a female rapper, don’t tell them I’m a female emcee. When they ask you about Rapsody, you tell them I’m a (expletive) beast.”

It was a potent rallying cry, backed by the lyrically precise, but viscerally raw verses she savaged the crowd with as she blazed through “Nobody,” “Ooh Wee” and the title track from her excellent 2017 album, “Laila’s Wisdom,” one of the best hip-hop releases of the year.

Rapsody knows a thing or two about being dismissed. She’s been fighting her way through the trenches of the hip-hop underground for over a decade. A man with half her moxy and skill would have caught a break years ago. Hers came in 2016, when Kendrick Lamar tapped her for a verse on “Complexion.” She was the only rap feature on his phenomenal album “To Pimp a Butterfly.”

With “Laila’s Wisdom,” released by Jamla Records in partnership with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, she’s lays claim to her place in the ranks of hip-hop’s titans. This is her time and she’s hungry. The unspoken subtext to her relentless performance? I’m coming for all y’all dudes.

Nowhere was this clearer than in the standout track “Black and Ugly” with its searing hook “Yeah, they call me black and ugly/ But I go so hard, make the whole world love me.” In an era, when the majority of new rappers coming up in the game (including several on the showcase that night) lean hard on a backing vocal track, Rapsody performed all her verses live. On “Black and Ugly,” she went one further and took the track out with an epic a capella that seemed to go on for two minutes or more.

Rapsody performs at the all-female rapper showcase during SXSW at The Belmont on Thursday March 14th 2018. Dave Creaney / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

It’s been a rough couple years for women, and when she addressed us earlier in the night she said, “Whatever you want to be, whether you want to be an emcee, you want to be a DJ, producer, you want to be the first woman on Mars, you want to be the head coach of the Houston Rockets…whatever you want to do, believe in yourself. Because nobody can tell you what you can and can not do. Nobody can tell you the path that you gonna take to get there. Nobody can tell you the time. Nobody can tell you that but you. That’s between you and God.”

Her performance added extra fire to her aspirational words, reminding us not to strive to be the best female emcee, DJ, astronaut, er…music writer.

We should all strive to be a (expletive) beast.

Rapsody appears at Stubb’s BBQ at 11 p.m. March 17 and in the Roots Jam at Fair Market the same night.

Kim Petras: the best pop star at SXSW you’re currently sleeping on

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Kim Petras is a human pop hook. Everything about the German singer gets your attention: Her diamond-studded choker and her giant hoop earrings give the sense of a Harmony Korine character brought to life. She speaks fluent Britney Spears with a Jewel accent, though her pop dialect can be distinctly traced to Charli XCX.

Then there is Petras’ hair bun. It’s a jaunty thing, cocked to the side of her head. When she made her way through the crowd up to the stage Thursday night at Palm Door on Sixth, you could track Petras’ progress by watching the bun. It was as if Jaws had developed an ear for a good pre-chorus and decided to hit up a South by Southwest showcase.

And man, does Petra know good pop when she hears it percolating under that bun. Like if a Real Housewife had actual musical talent, her impeccably structured songs sparkle like champagne, full of self-described “glitz and glamour.” There’s “Faded,” an ode to nocturnal debauchery that gives the lowest common denominator something fizzy to turn up to. There’s “I Don’t Want It All,” a celebration-cum-parody of Los Angeles rich girls that Petras dedicated to “all the daddies in the room.” She’s fully Marilyn Monroe in bike shorts and a puffy jacket in the song; Paris Hilton makes a cameo in the music video. More than one young dude in the crowd broke out a little light vouguing.

Petras knows how the auto-tune and backing track look. Her way of letting people know she’s a serious vocalist Thursday night: an acoustic Killers cover. “Brandon Flowers is my favorite songwriter of all time,” she said in a goofball intro to a terrific, unplugged rendition of “Human.” Even when she’s punch-dancing her way through a song like “Hillside Boys,” she goes the Mariah Carey finger wave on the big notes, just so you know what she’s doing the work.

Petras has spoken openly about her role as a visible transgender woman in the pop landscape. The youngest person on record to ever receive gender affirmation surgery, she was subjected to sensational media coverage as a teenager, according to Out magazine. She’s worked with big-name producers, including Aaron Joseph, Dr. Luke (who’s been publicly accused of sexual abuse by pop star Kesha, a matter Petras has been asked about in interviews) and the aforementioned Charli XCX (who featured Petras on her 2017 mixtape “Pop 2”). Her SXSW set was packed; the crowd already knew most of the words.

At one point in the night, Petras asked the question that might as well be her mission statement.

“Who’s ready for this underrated bop?”

MORE AT SXSW:

SXSW Sound Style: Noah Cyrus on the perils of growing up in the public eye

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One of the biggest breakouts of this year’s South by Southwest Music Festival is 18-year-old Noah Cyrus. She’s the youngest sibling of superstar Miley and came into the fest riding high off a few buzzy singles and a recent spot opening for Katy Perry on tour. She’s been hyping her polished pop songs at high profile showcases around town.

Noah Cyrus at SXSW 2018. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

We caught up with her down by the river on Thursday. She was thoughtful and down to earth, graciously pausing to accommodate a group of starstruck tweens who ran up for a photo op while we talked about her music, her laid-back street style and the pressures of growing up in the public eye.

PHOTOS: Noah Cyrus at Empire during SXSW 2018

Sengupta Stith: In this series I talk to artists about how the idea of image plays into their art, and I’m so interested in talking to you because you’ve been dealing with people scrutinizing your image your whole life. What was that like for you growing up? I mean, you get a haircut and some blogger in the Midwest has an opinion about it.

Noah Cyrus: Usually that blogger would have been Perez Hilton. He always has something to say about me, but I’m not going to point fingers at just him because I hate when he does that to me. A lot of people would have something to say especially when I was a young girl. I felt like that was unfair and I still feel like that’s unfair.

You’re still so young.

I mean it was like, I had braces young. And my first bang haircut and stuff like that. People … they felt like they could just say whatever they wanted about me and about my appearance when I was only like 12 years old or 8 years old. It was crazy. People always had something to say about me. … They would comment things about me on Instagram at 12 and 13 years old, when I’m not even comfortable with my body yet. And they were just adding more discomfort.

Noah Cyrus at SXSW 2018. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

How did you learn to deal with that?

Honestly it was just music. Music made my confidence boost a ton and, like, gaining fans. And just learning to have thick skin … forcing myself to have thick skin and that’s when I honestly learned to not give a (expletive) at all.

Does it drive you crazy that people always compare you to your sister?

Not really at all. It comes naturally to people and I get that. It’s a total human response to compare siblings to one another. So that’s not something I can judge people for because that’s human nature. I mean, it’s annoying. Every sibling gets annoyed. Whether you’re compared to your basketball brother or your singing sister.

Noah Cyrus at SXSW 2018. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

MORE SXSW SOUND STYLE: The Afrofuturism of Oshun

How would you describe your personal style?

I always wear like baggy pants and either like a little cropped shirt or like a baggy sweatshirt. So I would say a little more like street style. More comfortable, not very girlie at all. I sometimes like to dress sexier but I don’t think you have to show all of your body to be sexy. One of the artists I love is Billie Eilish. I love that she wears like a baggy shirt and baggy pants and she still looks sexy and beautiful and she’s not trying to show off her body.

I wear bra tops all the time and I do show off my body, because that’s not something I’m ashamed of doing. I don’t try to make it overly sexy … if I’m sexy it’s because I want to be. I’m not trying. … I have a very open style. I’m open to dressing sexy and I’m open to dressing in the baggiest clothes ever and I still feel hot. … I can wear my boyfriend’s sweatshirt and boyfriend’s sweatpants and feel hot.

SXSW 2018: Billie Eilish is about to be very famous

Who do you consider your style icons?

Kim Kardashian. That’s my No. 1 style icon. It’s funny. My least favorite is when she dresses up. She still looks amazing obviously, but my favorite style is when she’s wearing Yeezy and wearing like a big sweatshirt and sweatpants… or when she just wears a big baggy T-shirt and sneakers. I love that. Honestly, I just like looking at people’s Instagram and getting inspiration … I’ll check different fashion blogs that I like. I like going on the Chanel account. Going on the V Magazine account, the Marc Jacobs account. I like seeing what’s going with fashion.

Noah Cyrus at SXSW 2018. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

MORE SXSW: Photos, reviews, scene reports

How does your style relate to your art?

I’m kind of moody. So I wear dark colors most of the time. I feel like my outfits are pretty moody, like my personality. My music definitely gets a lot of that. Songs like “Make Me” and “Again” and many more coming are a little more ballad, or a little darker, gloomier. But I also have a contrast with other things, like my new single “We Are.”

I like that single a lot.

Since we’re talking about women in music, I think it really stands up for women in a way, saying “We are (expletive). These days we only follow and these days we’re feeling hollow.” I think women are feeling very hollow at the moment, feeling very not listened to, or not heard. I definitely do, as a young woman in music. I sometimes feel a little underestimated, being 18 and a female.     

PHOTOS: SXSW Sound Style with Noah Cyrus

WARNING: THIS VIDEO CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE

 

 

SXSW 2018: SOB x RBE engage a lethargic Fader Fort with a little help from ‘Black Panther’

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Shame on you, Fader Fort! Some of the latest and greatest names in hip-hop are performing right before your very eyes, and you’re too busy chatting with your neighbors, blowing strawberry daiquiri vape rings and trying in vain to refresh Twitter to even notice! (Wait, that last one was me. Sorry.)

Luckily, SOB x RBE proved undaunted by the lethargy and even wrung some signs of life from the Fort’s Thursday night crowd — all it took was a little help from the biggest superhero of all time.

Photo courtesy Ryan Muir / The FADER

“How many of y’all seen ‘Black Panther’?” they asked to mild applause. “How many of y’all bought that ‘Black Panther’ album?” Slightly more applause. The Vallejo, California foursome promptly tore into “Paramedic!”, the blustery banger off the Kendrick Lamar-curated soundtrack to the highest-grossing solo superhero film of all time. Finally, the most applause.

RELATED: Check out the 2018 SXSW unofficial party guide

Photo courtesy Ryan Muir / The FADER

The members of SOB x RBE — short for Strictly Only Brothers, Real Boi Entertainment — are all between the ages of 19 and 21, and they just released their debut studio album, “Gangin,” last month, but they already boast a boisterous, fully realized sound and infectious stage presence that suggest years of studying their craft. (Yhung T.O. and DaBoii used to rap into their phones and put them over beats through a PlayStation.) Their production quirks are brash and unpredictable, occasionally hearkening back to ‘90s West Coast rap stalwarts Mac Dre and E-40. They spit schoolyard taunts and outsize boasts with gleeful tenacity, bars tumbling over each other and threatening to derail the songs at any moment — but never quite doing so.

RELATED: So many bands! Our music team makes some SXSW recommendations

Photo courtesy Ryan Muir / The FADER

At this stage in their early careers, SOB x RBE’s calculated recklessness would probably serve them better in a more confined space, where they could rage with their audience unimpeded by a barricade or elevated stage. But it’s a testament to their rapidly rising profile that they managed to headline Fader Fort and engage an audience that drowned out Raekwon’s brief surprise set just minutes earlier with its chatter. The kids are alright — and they’ll keep getting better.

With a little Luck Reunion, the SXSW week takes on a sun-tangled glow

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The sun was shining brightly when Kevn Kinney took the stage in the Revival Tent at the Luck Reunion a little before noon on Wednesday and sang a tune that could’ve been the theme song of this entire event on the western outskirts of Austin. “Welcome to the Sun Tangled Angel Revival,” goes the song, which Kinney wrote years ago for a record with his band Drivin’ N’ Cryin’. “You can go everywhere, you can see everything, in the world.”

The possibilities indeed seem endless when you arrive in Luck, Willie Nelson’s fictional western town in the hills around Spicewood. These all-day bashes, coinciding with all of the South by Southwest action every mid-March, consistently present quality music in an atmosphere that combines quintessential Hill Country scenery with the cultural sensory overload of SXSW week.

Micah Nelson leads Particle Kid at the Luck Reunion on March 15, 2018. Peter Blackstock/American-Statesman

The Luck Reunion isn’t an official SXSW event; it’s more like a big party for Spicewood locals, visiting artists, and various VIPS making a one-day escape from the downtown madness. But it does in some ways feel like the early days of SXSW, when it was still small enough to run in to everyone you wanted to see and have great conversations all day long. In that respect, it’s a social event as much as a musical one.

But the music punctuates everything from 11 a.m. till well past sundown. A fourth stage (dubbed “Music From the Source”) was added this year, similar in size to the Revival Tent which has room for 200-300 people. The World Headquarters stage is the primary gathering spot (capacity in the 500-1,000 range), but perhaps the coolest spot is the tiny, old-west-picture-perfect chapel, which holds less than 100 people yet featured some of the best performers at the reunion.

Highlights for me on this day were plentiful. Kinney and Courtney Marie Andrews stood out in a pre-noon song-swap on the Revival Stage. Poking my head through the window of the chapel, I heard just enough of Lilly Hiatt to be quite impressed. Austin singer-songwriter David Ramirez drew an overflow crowd to the Source stage a little later and might have been the day’s big winner at Luck, likely winning over a lot of fans who’d not previously heard him. Aaron Lee Tasjan played tuneful rockers on the main stage, and brought the day full-circle when he brought his former bandmate Kinney onstage for a set-closing jam.

Willie’s sons Micah, with Particle Kid, and Lukas, with Promise of the Real, played as daylight faded over now-cloudy skies, with their dad’s closing set still to come after dark (along with a last unbilled special guest in the chapel who was rumored to have been Margo Price). We had obligations back in town and thus didn’t stay till the end, but we’d already had an ultimate Willie experience: a special invite to board one of his historic buses for a sneak-preview of “Last Man Standing,” his new record due out next month on Sony Legacy.

RELATED: Willie Nelson rolls on with another new album

And yes, the boarding time was 4:20. Willie’s also launching a new “Last Man Standing” line of his Willie’s Reserve marijuana brand in California to coincide with the album’s release. Your humble Statesman scribe was on the job and thus refrained from any free samples that may or may not have been passed around. Let’s just say that when an assistant opened the bus door to come aboard at one point, I’m pretty sure the view from outside of billowing smoke pouring from the bus approximated that classic Jeff Spicoli VW van scene from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

Welcome to the Luck Reunion, aka the Sun Tangled Angel Revival. You can go everywhere, you can do everything, in the world.

RELATED: Photos from Willie Nelson at private Farm Aid event the night before Luck Reunion

 

 

 

 

 

you can go everywhere,

you can see everything,

in the world

Drab Majesty’s alien post-punk make them SXSW’s must-see act

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Los Angeles’ Drab Majesty are a post-punk duo who dress themselves in white leather jackets and futuristic shades like intergalactic bikers, have a slew of songs about the UFO cult Heaven’s Gate, and kicked off their set by eating white roses. That may not be what you would expect for one of the most memorable performances of the fest, but their show at local electronic label Holodeck’s (founded by S U R V I V E member Adam Jones) showcase last night at Hotel Vegas proved that their unconventional approach to a well-worn genre is what makes them a must-see act.

Drab Majesty (photo by Andy O’Connor for the American-Statesman)

Led by vocalist and guitarist Deb DeMure, the alter ego of Andrew Clinco, and augmented by keyboardist and backing vocalist Mona D, aka Alex Nicolaou, Drab Majesty sounds simply heavenly, with bright guitars and warm synths out lushing the lushet dream-pop group. What separates them from most post-punk bands, and why they have nowhere to go but up towards celestial heights, is that even with their left-field presentation, they know how to rock. Deb knows a hot lick at first sight, even when it’s dripping in reverb and shimmer. He would occasionally get close to the crowd and point his guitar triumphantly, bringing a whiff of 80s guitar god into their voyage. They’ve always been a mesmerizing presence just from their appearance, and this is another step towards expanding their live presence. For just coming off a massive European tour, they had energy to spare. Their set emphasized their more propulsive tracks, like “39 By Design” and “Kissing the Ground,” the latter of which has lines that would be nervous if not for all the gorgeous effects. “Cold Souls” is an anthem for life beyond death, and its driving melody making gutsy rock into something beautiful and cosmic.

RELATED: So many bands! Our music team makes some SXSW recommendations

A Drab Majesty set is a study in contrasts: it’s aggressive and will have you feeling light-footed, there are 80s sounds abound and yet they sound like they come from a world where time is void, it’s inspired by space and makes you feel closer to the Earth. Even if you killed all your idols, Deb is beyond charismatic. Hotel Vegas became not a teeming pool of garage rock and quarter-baked psych like it usually is, but a space where new possibilities flourish. It’s stupid to predict the future in music, and I’ll say it anyway: Drab Majesty have what it takes to become a much bigger act than they are now.

Drab Majesty just released “Cannibal” through Holodeck’s compilation Holodeck Vision One, which also features tracks from S U R V I V E’s Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, as well as local experimentalists like Troller, Michael C. Sharp, and Bill Converse. Austin isn’t just a hotbed for off-kilter electronic and rock, it knows how to cull from the best.

Thrasher brings metal back to SXSW

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Thrasher Death March’s absence the past two SXSWs has been the biggest loss for fans of metal and hardcore, as there wasn’t a better day party for them. This was the day party on the pulse, bringing the hottest new talent and the most righteous veterans together, and just far enough from the downtown chaos to make it worthwhile. Its return — at Weather Up, a cocktail bar that doesn’t seem like an obvious choice — heavily makes up for the anemic presence of the official lineup by bringing heat from Texas and all over the nation.

Spirit Adrift (photo by Andy O’Connor for American-Statesman)

Arizona’s Spirit Adrift made their Texas debut as people were starting to trickle in, and though the crowd was a little sparse at this point, they brought an arena gusto nonetheless. Lead vocalist and guitarist Nate Garrett was sounding fresh with his high vocals — the wear of the fest hasn’t gotten to him yet. Spirit Adrift were especially founding with the Trouble-Metallica fusion of “Curse of Conception,” Garrett’s catchy metal synthesis will get them better fest slots in the future. He was also pulling double duty playing guitar for death metal band Gatecreeper, where his bandmate Chase Mason takes over on vocals. A much larger crowd had came in by then, and when Mason ordered a circle pit for “Desperation,” a track that’s Swedish death metal gone hardcore, he got one. Despite having come through quite a few times in the past couple years, enthusiasm from them or Austin hasn’t waned. (Both groups will also play an unofficial show at Lost Well on Saturday.)

RELATED: Check out the 2018 SXSW unofficial party guide

When New Orleans sludge metal pioneers Eyehategod last came through in May, it was a bit of a disaster — vocalist Mike Williams left the stage after three songs because of exhaustion, and fans got up and sang the rest of the set. This time, he looked much healthier and got through a 30-minute set with nary an issue. He authoritatively announced they were playing a four-piece, minus guitarist Brian Patton, and jokingly called themselves “Black Flag,” a quartet that is one of their biggest influences. Not having Patton on board was no problem for guitarist and original member Jimmy Bower, who handled all the sludgy grooves himself with ease. Even with Williams in better standing, it was grim to hear him say “We’re on tour forever, and ever, and ever.” Staying on the road can take its toll, and for a guy like Williams, who’s lived Eyehategod’s lyrical themes of addiction and living on the margins, it can be especially painful.

Texas had an especially strong presence at Thrasher. In between sets on the West Stage, chopped and screwed music played over the PA. Punks and metalheads sure do love their DJ Screw, a contrast to the familiar fast and loud. Army are a new hardcore band from Austin, abundant with youthful energy and rage. It’s a simple name you’ll see on a lot after this week is over. Total Abuse blasted through a set of noisy hardcore, and the claustrophobia they bring surprisingly worked well outdoors. Dallas’ Mothership were a total 180 from both, opting for boogie-heavy stoner metal that careened towards Motorhead speed and scuzz. Thrasher knows how to bring variety in addition to quality, and that’s why its return bodes well for the state of heavy music at SXSW. It may be still close to the edge, but it hasn’t fallen off.

SXSW 2018: Speedy Ortiz shows who’s boss at Clive Bar

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Sadie Dupuis is tired.

Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. The self-proclaimed “frontdemon” of Massachusetts indie rock band Speedy Ortiz is tired of “people who say they’re allies, but you end up having to do a lot of emotional labor for them”; tired of people “not respecting other people’s space or agency”; and extremely tired of people who have not seen Frankie Shaw’s Golden Globe-nominated comedy “SMILF,” but still have the audacity to attend its SXSW showcase.

Andy Molholt and Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz also performed at The Fader Fort during SXSW on Wednesday March 14, 2018. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Dupuis aired her grievances between songs at Speezy Ortiz’s Clive Bar set on Thursday night. It made for some heady stage banter, but the singer, guitarist and former University of Massachusetts writing teacher isn’t one for small talk. She mixes her ruminations on sexism, addiction and music industry sleaze in a cocktail of buzzsaw guitar riffs and cymbal crashes, which she chases with snide, singsong vocal hooks. Oh, and the band brought a saxophonist on the road this time, because why not?

The audience at Clive Bar eagerly lapped up Speedy Ortiz’s grunge-pop concoction, watching and listening intently so as to not miss any of Dupuis’ knotty lamentations or threats, both figurative and literal. That proved a challenge on the bar’s humble outdoor stage, which was ill equipped for such a visceral performance and suffered from painfully loud feedback in spots. Noticeably frustrated, the band soldiered through the set, refusing to let sound problems halt their momentum.

RELATED: Check out the 2018 SXSW unofficial party guide

Did Speedy Ortiz deliver a joyful set? Maybe not in the conventional sense. But they delivered an empowering set, establishing their mission statement with their opening song, “Raising the Skate.” “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss / Shooter, not the shot / On the tip an fit to execute / I’m chief, not the overthrown / Captain, not a crony,” Dupuis sang in the anthemic chorus, a concise tell-off to people who try to dismiss or oppress powerful women because they’re intimidated by their talent.

Nobody challenged Dupuis’ proclamation on Thursday night. Nobody dared to even try.

A letter to Dashboard Confessional at SXSW

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Emo rock band Dashboard Confessional headlined Pandora’s South by Southwest showcase at the Gatsby on Thursday. 

To whom it may concern, but primarily Chris Carrabba,

Right now, there is a cool mist floating in Austin’s night air, and you are wearing black leather loafers. They look great. Where do you get off?

Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba preforms at The Gatsby during SXSW, Thursday, March 15, 2018. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

In all seriousness, I was a little worried I wouldn’t get into your SXSW show at the Gatsby tonight. But there I was, at the bar and talking to a charming woman from Erie, Pennsylvania, about our favorite “Project Runway” contestants, when you planted those loafers on the stage. Me and everyone else in the audience were on the same page. We wanted you to sing “Hands Down.” I’m sure you get that a lot.

MORE PHOTOS: Dashboard Confessional at SXSW 2018

You’ve made a career of backing away from the microphone, in these latter days of millennials having life insurance policies instead of LiveJournals. “Should we, like, sing one together?” you asked almost as soon as we saw you. I truly don’t think you got past one verse of “The Best Deceptions” before you dropped back and let your audience fill in the blanks.

See, I don’t get the feeling that you’re salty about singing to a flock of parrots every night. You smiled through your sound problems, and you maintained eye contact longer than my optometrist does. You stared deep into individual audience members’ peepers when you sang “you have stolen my heart.” I’m not saying I’m afraid of commitment, but when you did that, I wanted to change my address. You’re a ray of sunshine singing the saddest songs in black skinny jeans. You know your oeuvre is the “previous experience” section on the emotional résumés of most people here. (Duties included: screaming infidelities, laying my armor down, light clerical work.) Thanks for playing ball.

And yep, “Hands Down” gave everyone their life around 1:30 a.m. I know that you meant it, Chris. You meant it.

Dashboard Confessional’s Chris Carrabba preforms at The Gatsby during SXSW, Thursday, March 15, 2018. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

But let me address the elephant in the room (note that I avoided using the phrase “confess,” and you are welcome). I am not a deep cuts Dashboard man. As a #teen discovering music that was not sold at Family Christian Store for the first time, I went Death Cab when I was sad, and I went Yellowcard when I was amped. I don’t know if a 42-year-old is super jazzed to play their contribution to the “Spider-Man 2” soundtrack 14 years after the movie came out, but it meant a lot that you played “Vindicated.”

All you need to know is that it’s my 29th birthday as of midnight. When I was 15, I listened to “Vindicated” on repeat on my CD player, taking deep into myself the parts about being flawed but cleaning up so well. Correct, the actual story of the song has nothing to do with anything I was going through when I was 15, starting with the diamond ring and ending with parting anyone’s lips with my fingertips. But the point is, when I was doing “sad secret gay teenager,” I sat in the Regal Westgate movie theater and actually stayed for the credits to “Spider-Man 2.” Hope was dangling by a string, after all.

Send my best to the whole band, especially Chris Kamrada’s tank top.

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