Originally, my duty for providing Club Fonograma with SXSW coverage was to see as many high-profile Latin music acts as possible per night. But I appreciate music of all kinds (except for that new age/Enya stuff…ew), so I caught quite a number of non-Spanish speaking bands. Carlos encouraged me to write about them. So, here were my favorite five non-Latin shows:
St. Vincent: Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, is Texas born and bred, but her music is indebted to no place in particular. Her music is equally refined as it is cathartic, her singing voice is more than lovely, and she can shred with the best of them, regardless of gender. Her SXSW shows were among the most anticipated as her new album Actor begins to build buzz on the interwebz. Opening her show with the lead track off of the new record, “The Strangers” is a tempered piece of orchestral art-rock, with a hypnotic refrain of “Paint a black hole blacker” that burrows into your head only to be erased by St. Vincent powerful guitar soloing. The rest of the show was merely a preview of the new record, with isolated tracks from the excellent debut, Marry Me. Of the new tracks, “Marrow” seemed to have the most potential, but we’ll just to have hear the record to find out for sure.
Nellie McKay: In order to see Nellie McKay, I had to go to church for the first time in about four years. Upon entering I tried making a joke about whether it was sacrilegious to drink booze inside of a church, then I was politely informed that beer and wine could be purchased for $3 during the show. So yeah. Anyway, Nellie McKay has always been the type of artist who can provoke instant and intense reactions: Depending on your politics/love of musical theater, you’ll either fall in love with her or want to throw a heavy book at her. However, on this particular night, the preaching was toned completely down (except for one interesting comment on being so vegan that she can’t bring herself to destroy the moth’s nest that’s terrorizing her home) and Nellie treated the audience to a good old-fashioned show of retro piano pop. The show was light on the hits (so no “Dog Song” or “Long and Lazy River”), but heavy on the enthusiasm, and the crowd reacted favorably to virtually everything, particularly Nellie’s admittedly half-assed cover/improv routine version of Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight.”
The Chap: British indie rock band signed by Anticon. They’re like Flight of the Conchords, except you can’t quite be sure if their jokes are supposed to be funny. That being said, they were hilarious. Blighty!
Janelle Monae: Seemingly as insane as she is inspired, Janelle Monae is an OutKast-affliated R&B songstress whose finally beginning to make inroads on her own. Stepping out to a (purposely) smoke-filled stage after a cold voiceover sets up the story (Janelle is “Cindy Mayweather” an android who has fallen into forbidden love with a human, and who is being hunted by the droid control), Janelle opened the show the “Hey Ya!”-meets-Blade Runner pop magnet “Violet Stars/Happy Hunting!!,” one of the most infectious (and best) singles of this entire decade. Segueing directly into “Many Moons,” the crowd was unsure whether they were supposed to bang their heads or A-town stomp, but that didn’t seem to impede their fun. Janelle slowed things down afterwards with a jazzy cover of Nat King Cole’s “Smile,” before turning up the intensity with her final few songs, culminating in her stage-diving and riding the crowd all the way to the back of the venue, before racing all the way back upstage only to engage in James Brown-style theatrical fainting and flopping. This was the last show that I saw all weekend, and I couldn’t imagine a better ending. Bra-vo.