Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Bootsy Collins, Lip Critic, Eliza McLamb, Rocket

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SXSW 2024 is hurtling toward its conclusion, and the music portion of the festival entered the weekend with a bang on Friday. The loudest, busiest night so far this year featured tons of great sounds if you knew where to look, or even if you didn’t — in a year that’s been as much about unofficial shows as the ones on the schedule, serendipity was the rule. Here are the best things we saw on March 15.

Samantha Tellez for Rolling Stone

Eliza McLamb already had fans present in the sweaty Shiner’s Saloon, singing every word to her songs during her set. But she gained even more in real time, with listeners’ eyes widening whenever the Los Angeles singer-songwriter uttered an extremely relatable line — which was often. When she sang “I feel like a modern woman/I get up late, I’m always saying/’Man, I gotta hit the DMV,’” a circle of friends all looked at each other and nodded in agreement. In that same verse of “Modern Woman,” when she confessed “2 p.m. is a wormhole into buying clothes on Instagram/And standing in front of my fridge eating deli ham,” those same friends giggled. McLamb first came onto the scene in 2020, when her song “Porn Star Tits” went viral on TikTok (she is also co-host of the Binchtopia podcast). In January, she dropped her excellent debut Going Through It, produced by indie legend Sarah Tudzin of Illuminati Hotties. Her set included tracks from that record, as well as previous gems like “Salt Circle” and “Lena Grove.” “I love Texas, I’m having a fantastic time,” McLamb said. “Even though Greg Abbott told me never to return.” —A.M.

Around 4:15 on Friday afternoon, the funk band Zapp took the outdoor stage at Lady Bird Lake dressed in sharp gray suits and sparkling black shirts. Early in their set they acknowledged several important beings: The Lord, who would come up several times during the free-to-the-public show; Roger Troutman, the band’s bygone founder; and Bootsy Collins, a longtime associate who would join them onstage. Zapp boast some classic hits (“Dance Floor,” “More Bounce to the Ounce”) and ties to the hip-hop world, and their set felt like one long, boisterous groove, with a welcome interlude of Bootsy out front. Bootsy and his wife Patti Collins have been around Austin this week, co-hosting events and supporting their Funk Not Fight initiative. On Thursday, dressed in a long, regal coat, purple tophat, and star-specked shades, he dipped into the Seventies classic “I’d Rather Be With You,” led a “we want the funk” chant, and at one point waded down into the crowd. (“Austin is my security,” he noted.) After Bootsy left the stage, Zapp carried on, various members switching to white suits, red suits, and a football-referee uniform, and quoting “California knows how to party,” a line made famous when Roger Troutman sang it on Tupac Shakur’s 1995 single “California Love.” Near the end of the set, bandleader Lester Troutman invoked the 1999 death of Roger, in an apparent murder-suicide by their brother Larry. “Because God is real and he kept his promise,” he told the crowd. “25 years later we’re here playing in Austin Texas for y’all.” —C.H.

The fact that it was 5 p.m. in Austin did not deter what was clearly a mood of end-of-the-night insanity for Lip Critic. Playing Cheer Up Charlie’s, the New York noise quartet — two guys mashing samplers, two other guys going ham on two drum kits — unleashed a nonstop cascade of carnival-barker vocals and a relentless synthetic stomp. “It’s a beautiful day to be here with you all, beautiful individuals, spread across the world like seeds on a field,” lead vocalist Bret Kaser nattered away over a low rumble. Were these song lyrics or an impromptu dedication to the crowd? It was hard to know for sure. At one point, Kaser let out a bloodthirsty howl and began quoting Blink-182’s “All the Small Things.” At another point, he did a series of arm and hand motions that resembled the Macarena. These surreal moments might or might not appear on Lip Critic’s upcoming Partisan Records debut, Hex Dealer. At SXSW, they made for an anarchic, categorization-defying experience that got better and weirder the longer it went on. —S.V.L.

Snooper Keep It Moving

Griffin Lotz for Rolling Stone

Down the street at the 13th Floor, capacity and scheduling issues meant that Snooper ended up playing outside on the bar’s porch, which is more or less the sidewalk. That was no problem for the Nashville punk band and recent Third Man Records signees, who attracted a sizable crowd around 6 p.m. for their blisteringly fast and loud songs. Lead singer Blair Tramel shouted vociferously and did jumping jacks while her band bashed out athletic riffs, punctuated by blasts from the whistle that their guitarist had around his neck. In between songs, there were wacky samples of someone talking about workout regimes, sped-up drum’n’bass beats, a rotary phone ringing, old AM radio songs, and more. This was a band with energy to burn, and it was fun as hell to watch. —S.V.L.

Alice Ivy Eases Into the Evening

“Can someone do me a favor? Can somebody give me a beer?” Alice Ivy uttered these words as she relaxed into an early evening set at the Australia House, a pop-up party held at Lucille on Rainey. Despite her call for lager, Alice Ivy wasn’t boozy or sloppy. A one-woman band, she bopped along to pre-programmed loops and synth stabs, vamping along on a Strat that she used for texture and rhythm, not shredding. Keeping the focus on sunny vibes — the melodies were felt as much as heard — Ivy is ultimately a practitioner of working-class pop. Her vibes may be ebullient, but her music served a practical purpose of keeping the party rolling from the afternoon into the night.  —S.T.E.

Faye Webster Rules

Faye Webster has seen some of her songs become TikTok hits long after their release, including 2019’s “Kingston,” from the now-classic Atlanta Millionaires Club, and “In a Good Way,” from 2021’s I Know I’m Funny Haha. She played both of these in her headlining set at Rolling Stone‘s Future of Music showcase at the Moody Theater, while sprinkling in tracks from her brand-new record, Underdressed at the Symphony. Webster and her bandmates grooved through the set, stretching out “Jonny” into “Jonny (Reprise)” and playing such a potently chill “Thinking About You” that wafts of weed drifted through the air. Webster doesn’t usually talk much during her shows, but she took the time to say a few meaningful words before it started, standing in front of a gigantic bust of herself: “I just wanted to say before the show begins — we’re very happy to be here and to be able to play music and for you guys showing up for us. But I also feel uncomfortable and conflicted being here. There’s a lot of artists that I admire and respect that have dropped their official South By showcases, and I wanted to say that we do not support war profiteers … Cop City will never be built, and free Palestine. Thank you.” —A.M.

Sinkane Brings the People Together

Sinkane, the project led by Sudanese-American musician Ahmed Gallab, isn’t your typical SXSW newcomer — Gallab has been making warm, danceable music that subtly mingles genres for more than a decade now to steady acclaim. But he’s got a new album called We Belong to share with the world, so he came to Austin, and we were luckier for it. Sinkane drew a large crowd at South by San José, a long-running outdoor party celebrating its 25th anniversary in the fashionable South Congress neighborhood, with a true festival atmosphere that is sometimes in short supply on the main drag downtown. Performing with a six-piece band, including two fabulously attired backup singers, Gallab gave us extended grooves with elements of jazz, funk, rock, and reggae, and lyrics that radiated bliss and togetherness. Couldn’t we all use a little more of that? —S.V.L.

Mamalarky Rise Above the Noise

One of the first acts to pull out of their official SXSW showcases as a protest over the festival’s association with the U.S. military, Mamalarky made an elliptical reference to their decision to bow out from the festival early in their 8 p.m. set at Cheer Up Charlie’s. Not long after Lyvvy Bennett began explaining her group’s decision to depart SX, her words were drowned out by the incessant crescendo of the band. That dynamic played out throughout the group’s set, but usually Bennett delivered hooks that pulled her above the din of her band. Mamalarky’s facility with melody — they’re insistent but never forceful —helps give the group’s noise-pop shape: The band displays its muscle through control as well as targeted aggression. Still, Mamalarky’s calling card is their kinetic, coiled energy. The band plays with a kick that’s evident even in their slow, restrained numbers. —S.T.E.

Alexalone: Guitar Heroes With a Post-Rock Twist

Samantha Tellez for Rolling Stone

A little later at Cheer Up Charlie’s, two guitarists and a drummer quietly set up their instruments, as well as four vintage amps with microphones pointed directly at them. This was alexalone, a local Austin band that makes incredible art-rock noise. They began with a long, sustained drone, developing gradually toward a crashing peak as Alex Peterson repeated the phrase “It’s all on me.” Their performance was all about the slow, wordless build, with glacial washes of pedal-treated guitar and feedback interrupted by bursts of activity — scraping Sonic Youth noise, crunching Van Halen chords, and even a screaming Neil Young solo. It was an impressive performance that gave Peterson a fair claim to the title of the most blazingly talented guitarist at SXSW this year. “We’re alexalone,” they told the crowd. “We’re from Austin, Texas. Y’all ever been there?” —S.V.L.

The Howdies: Outlaw-Country Classicists

You’d be forgiven for thinking the Howdies were a homegrown Austin attraction. The Athens, Georgia quintet pledges allegiance to the sounds that powered the Armadillo World Headquarters way back when long-haired hippies like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings roamed the land. The group — who pointedly make the joke that they play both kinds of music, “Country and Western,” in their press bio — aren’t a covers band, but they do love luxuriating in familiar tropes. At Antone’s at 8:45 p.m., they spent their set doubling down on the twang and snap of outlaw country. Sometimes something simple is all that’s needed for a barroom on a Friday night. —S.T.E.

Hinako Omori’s Prayer for Peace

Griffin Lotz for Rolling Stone

Central Presbyterian Church, which hosts shows when it’s not being used by its progressive downtown congregation, might be the single most beautiful venue in Austin. It’s always worth finding a show to see there during SXSW, and it made the perfect setting for a showcase of ambient-leaning and electronic music on Friday night. At 9 p.m., JFDR — a.k.a. Icelandic singer-songwriter Jófríður Ákadóttir — set a meditative tone with her cool synth tones and gorgeous, pleading vocals. At 10, Hinako Omori came out and asked the audience to turn our attention to Gaza. “It’s more important than ever for us to come together to pray for an end to war… in areas of conflict around the world,” said the London-based artist, who is making her first-ever appearances in the U.S. this week. Her set layered dreamlike melodies over softly looped arpeggios and gentle beats. At times she ran her vocals through filters, pitching her voice down to create a haunted effect. Her music felt like a balm for an injured world. —S.V.L.

The Red Clay Strays Make the Most of Their Moment

The Red Clay Strays are in a brief, ultra-specific moment in time for their career, when their unexpected hit is more well-known than their own band name. “Wondering Why” was released in 2022 but went viral on TikTok last winter, giving the band their first Billboard Hot 100 hit. It currently has over 75 million streams on Spotify, and it showed at the Moody, where a sea of phones lit up to capture this sweet red dirt love song. “And I don’t know what happened/But it sure don’t add up on paper,” Brandon Coleman sang, wearing black converse and pompadour hair as hundreds of fans chanted along. “But when I close my eyes late at night/You can bet I thank my maker.” –A.M.

Swamp Dogg Gives the People What They Want

A few months shy of his 82nd birthday, Swamp Dogg never attempted to disguise his age as he wandered onto stage at Coopers BBQ late on Friday night, but he didn’t make a big deal of it, either. If you were paying close attention you might notice that he walked with a cane, an accessory that could also be seen as a stylish affectation; Swamp Dogg enjoys being an oversized character. His eccentricities are highlighted in the documentary Swamp Dogg Gets His Pool Painted, which has received play elsewhere at SXSW, and his forthcoming album Blackgrass: From West Virginia to 125th St finds the veteran soul man singing country. No rural instruments could be discerned at Coopers. Supported by a diverse pickup band — old pros all clearly a couple of decades younger than the singer, balding white guys offset by a self-styled freak on keyboards — Dogg stuck to the tried and true, playing hard-charging funk and soul instead of following the electronic and Americana detours of his recent records. The streamlined approach paid off great dividends. Swamp Dogg sounded bold and robust, his vigor encouraging his band to ratchet up the energy. By the time they descended into a volcanic vamp on “Total Destruction of Your Mind,” every musician on stage was locked into an undeniable groove. —S.T.E. 

Rocket Achieve Liftoff

Samantha Tellez for Rolling Stone

Los Angeles’ Rocket were one of the buzzier bands at SXSW this year, coming up frequently in conversations around town as one you shouldn’t miss. If you made it to Cheer Up Charlie’s in time for their performance at a Stereogum party at 10:30 p.m., you found out why. Rocket make soaring, anthemic alt-rock with a classic feel, picking up a torch from veteran acts like Dinosaur Jr. (who played SXSW earlier in the week). Lead singer and bassist Alithea Tuttle paired a deadpan look with big, searching vocals as two bandmates on guitar and a ferocious drummer pounded away. The band, who have been together since high school, played harder and faster than on their 2023 debut EP, Versions of You. They felt like that archetypal SXSW story, a band that’s ready to take it to the next level. —S.V.L.

Pylon Reenactment Society Go Back to the Future 

Pylon was one of the pivotal post-punk bands of the early 1980s, an Athens, Georgia, guitar band whose blend of nervy energy, enigmatic atmosphere, and jagged hooks had a significant impact on the fledgling R.E.M. Indeed, R.E.M. were instrumental in popularizing Pylon, placing a cover of the band’s “Crazy” as the opening cut on their rarities comp Dead Letter Office. Over the years, the group has re-formed in various incarnations, but Pylon Reenactment Society, which played Cooper’s BBQ Friday night,  isn’t quite a reunion or revival. Led by original vocalist Vanessa Briscoe Hay, who is the only member to be in both the 1980s band and this 21st-century iteration, PRS is a continuation of the band’s ideals, largely relying on songs from the group’s early days. The dedication to their initial impulse does give the group the slightest air of being a throwback, but Pylon Reenactment Society dodges nostalgia partially because Pylon was hardwired for the future. Adhering to the most basic rock formation, PRS doesn’t buck convention, yet their lively blend of guitar, and bass suggests there are further things to discover in seemingly familiar territory. —S.T.E. 

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Ash: Rock & Roll Survivors

Once young upstarts — they named their 1996 debut album, 1977, after the shared birth year of frontman Tim Wheeler and bassist Mark Hamilton — Ash are now survivors, weathering the slings and arrows of fashion. When the lights go dim, Ash still can appear to be teenage warriors: Wheeler slings a Flying V guitar and Hamilton never is content to be anchored at the side of the stage. Their visceral energy provided a dynamic, welcoming beginning to their show after midnight at the Mohawk. But as the set rolled on, the focus turned instead to the group’s enduring strengths. Chief among these attributes is a songbook that’s deep and sturdy, weathered enough to showcase how the trio is a tight and efficient unit, keeping hooks at the forefront without succumbing to the formalism of power pop. —S.T.E.

(Full disclosure: In 2021, Rolling Stone’s parent company, P-MRC, acquired a 50 percent stake in the SXSW festival.)

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