After battling back from imminent digestive death (my food challenge days are behind me, apparently) I rallied to the first actual day of SXSW. The morning consisted of randomly running into a few smalls groups and stumbling upon a steam-punk bar (Metal and Lace...who knew?), before stopping in to see Deadmau5 and Richie Hawtin host a panel on the crossroads of music and technology. Aside from some major nerd-tech geeking out over the changing world of programming electronic music, the pair brought up some interesting points regarding how the explosion of electronic dance music has led to an increase in awareness of the genre, but a decrease in artist creativity. The duo even discussed some interesting food-for-thought genre-specific performance issues, such as electronic artists and DJs being expected to never take breaks in sets where other performers in other genres can get away with it.
The evening showcases kicked off with Boston's Parkington Sisters, a folk quartet that I last saw open up for the Dropkick Murphys in Rochester in 2011. The group is versatile enough to manage to fit in with the heavier side of the folk world, yet still performed well in the intimate church setting in which they were booked. Twin fiddles, guitar, piano, and luscious harmonies abounded, cut with undertones of a giant thundering bass drum and percussion section. The women pulled from the mellower side of music, but it was still mesmerizing, beautiful stuff. Just beautiful. Who said Mumford's boys are the only family in the musical folk tree?
Next up was a live act that truly has to be seen to believed, but once you see it, you won't be able to unbelieve. The musical performing behemoth that is The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band kicked off a killer SXSW set, and as vocalists and guitarist the Reverend Peyton himself said, it's big talk to get on a stage at SXSW and tell the audience you are going to "show off" on guitar. But show off he did, and he not only met that bar, but raised it. Peyton and his band continue to set a fierce standard for live performance. His on-fire slide blues guitar, coupled with his wife Breezy's washboarding, and their cousin Aaron Persinger on the buckets and drums, created a massive sound that took its basis in country blues and exploded it through the audience's skulls, taking no prisoners along the way. Music is this Reverend's sermon, and the whole crowd became his disciples.
And when Peyton pulled out a cigar-box guitar, it only reinforced my theory that he can make anything sound awesome. And it isn't really a party until someone sets a washboard on fire, now is it?
Grabbed a few drinks in between sets and headed over to check out the explosively popular Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. To be honest, rap isn't really my scene, and even if it was, I can't say "Thrift Shop" does much for me. I really didn't expect much from the man behind the viral -- and not entirely that good (even if it is catchy) -- internet sensation. But when and where else am I going to get a chance to see him perform? (OK, fair enough, he'll be at RIT on April 28). But it just felt right to give him a chance at SXSW.
Much to my surprise, and despite what "Thrift Shop" might lead you to believe, Macklemore actually can throw down a decent rap game, and seems to have more talent than I had originally given him credit for. Can you blame me when his first big hit is about as complex as an Epic Sax Guy loop played over corny lyrics? Perhaps not, but he put on a surprisingly good show. Though it was a little odd to see him perform the megaton hit live using a saxophone loop instead of the real instrument: there was at least one street performer blasting the song today that probably would have jumped at the chance to take the stage. And given that there was already a trumpet player there, the saxophone seemed a missing - and crucial - element. Perhaps you can't find vintage instruments at thrift stores these days?
So, that's day one: a quick jaunt from subdued folk, high-powered in-your-face blues, all topped off with some of-the-moment rap. That's SXSW for you. Tomorrow brings one of my most anticipated shows of the week, a special set with comedy-acoustic-rock group Tenacious D, and a few other shows I'm trying to squeeze in there as well.
If you want to keep up with all that is SXSW, be sure to follow the minute-by-minute action on Twitter, and dig through that bands list and let me know who I need to check out the rest of the week. Day 2, here we go!
South by Southwest, one of the largest music festivals in the world, comes to Austin, Texas, for its 27th edition this week. And this year, City readers are getting in on the action. Yours truly - Willie Clark, City's music editor, will be there, bringing you the best (and the worst) of the shows, the music, and the random revelry that comes together when a professional music-industry meet-and-greet erupts into myriad band concerts and events.
Day 1 in Austin was already jam packed. I've ridden in a "Game of Thrones"-inspired pedicab , stumbled upon a free Yahoo party, nearly killed my digestive tract in a nuclear-taco-eating contest (but won a bag of chips and salsa for the pain), and still rallied to catch some of Passion Pit's set (the act was much more active than its more subdued set at the Armory last month). And that's all just night one; the music convention proper kicks off tonight, March 12.
But it's not all fun and games and tacos. Day programming brings together music panels featuring everyone from 50 Cent to Deadmau5, with a keynote address by Dave Grohl. And between the official showcases, unofficial parties, and random surprises, there are a lot of names, both big and small, in the music world hitting Austin this week. There are a lot of groups to dig through, some big names, lots of small names. But I'm going to try to bring you a mix, while focusing on the smaller acts you may not have heard about. I mean, do you really need my thoughts on Justin Timberlake? Probably not, but there are a lot of other bands here that nobody's heard of that are probably just as interesting to know about.
So take a look at the list of participating bands and let me know who you think I should check out. I'm here to deliver the best of SXSW 2013 to you all, so let me know if there are acts you really want me to try to schedule in. Until tomorrow!
Best show of the winter alert: The Deadstring Brothers served up an excellent set of honky-tonk barroom boogie Friday night, winding the packed house that Abilene built into a two-step frenzy. The band rocks out the country without losing sight of the actual country. It's like a more rural, less collegiate Old 97s. The instrumentation was twangstastic and simple as it supported the tunes with their classic themes and lyrical depth.
You're not allowed to simply watch a Cowboy Mouth show. Drummer/singer Fred Leblanc simply won't let you. The New Orleans band is an eight-armed, eight-legged party with Leblanc leading the charge from behind the kit. The fact that he has any body fat on him is amazing as he does not stop moving, pounding, howling, singing, berating, or cajoling during the band's set Saturday night at Water Street. The audience was all arms in the air with a rabid response -- and I don't mean that in the stock music-critic parlance. I mean rabies. I saw one dude foaming at the mouth.
Thursday night at Kodak Hall the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra presented a lovely evening of the music of love by Rossini, Puccini, Respighi, and Verdi, led by guest conductor Neil Varon. Soloists Karin Wolverton, soprano, and Dinyar Vania, tenor, gave exquisite performances from "La Boheme" and "Madama Butterfly." The program will be repeated Saturday; it's a not-to-be missed concert.
Maestro Varon brought out the best in the RPO. He balanced sections and soloists, drew out subtleties, and shaped the dynamic range from the quietest moments in the strings to the most rousing portions of the full orchestra. In particular, his interpretation of "Le Fontane di Roma" by Ottorino Respighi was just beautiful. The work has four movements, each depicting a different fountain in Rome at different times of the day, from dawn to sunset. The composition was a gem and Varon brought it forward as a truly memorable experience.
Varon appeared last night as a guest conductor to the RPO. He is on faculty at the Eastman School of Music, where he leads the Eastman Philharmonia, the Eastman School Symphony Orchestra, and the Eastman Chamber Orchestra. Previous positions include principal conductor at the Deutsche Oper am Rhein Duesseldorf-Duisburg and general music director of the Musiktheater im Revier in Gelsenkirchen.
The show-stopper of the night was tenor Dinyar Vania, singing excerpts from "La Boheme" by Giacomo Puccini. Vania's voice is sensational. Vania filled the entire hall in a seemingly effortless manner, while communicating the depth of the emotion called for by the score. How can we not have heard of him before? He is young. He is working his way along. But do not underestimate his potential. I recommend that you get to hear him on Saturday night, as it is only a matter of time before his career carries him into plum roles and venues in the world of opera.
The Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra repeats the program Saturday, March 2, at 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre. For more information visit the website.