What We Loved At SXSW On Friday
We're well past the halfway point of the music portion of South by Southwest, and things are starting to wind down in Austin. But the indefatigable All Songs Considered team (well, mostly Bob Boilen) is still raring to go. Bob, Robin Hilton, Stephen Thompson and Colorado Public Radio's Jessi Whitten convened on an Austin street corner Friday night to recap what they'd seen that day. Stephen and Bob rave about Anna Meredith's electric performance at Esther's Follies; Bob deems it one of the top 20 shows he's ever seen, while Stephen has to admit he might have erred in leaving her out of The Austin 100. Jessi's discovered an artist to help fill the Bowie-sized hole in her heart: Welsh singer Meilyr Jones, whom she describes as a "young, feral Morrissey." And Robin's in heaven after seeing both Weezer and Grandaddy in the same day. If you've ever doubted whether people still care about Weezer, he says, look no further than the enthusiastic "Say It Ain't So" sing-along he witnessed.
Each day of SXSW, we've been sharing an early-morning recap of our favorite sets from the day before. We'll be updating this page with short descriptions of Friday's best discoveries from public-radio staffers currently in Austin. Check out Tuesday's recap for a full list of NPR Music's SXSW coverage.
Gabriel Garzón-Montano at Lucille
I finally got a chance to hear what all the hubbub around Gabriel Garzón-Montano is about. Accompanied by just a vintage electric piano and a drummer, Garzón-Montano's songs dripped with old-school soul. It felt like Ladies' Night on that back porch — his lyrics were full of sensual playfulness and he performed with a voice that was made for that. —Felix Contreras, Alt.Latino
Anna Meredith at Esther's Follies
I hadn't thought all that much about Anna Meredith's music when I was compiling picks for The Austin 100. A trusted colleague had recommended her even before Bob Boilen picked her for All Songs Considered's SXSW preview, but I still might not have bothered popping in to see her show had she not been playing at Esther's Follies, a club I've come to love. But the moment I walked into the room, I was pulled into a stunning set that just kept building and bringing me in closer. The array of instruments on hand might portend an incoherent ruckus — tuba, xylophone, clarinet, two drum kits, cello, electric guitar and so on — yet Meredith's music held together beautifully. It was a stormy, ecstatic, endlessly danceable thrill to behold. —Stephen Thompson, NPR Music
Who says, "I'm heading to SXSW, and I'm bringing a guitarist, a drummer, a tuba player and a cellist"? Anna Meredith — who also handles keys, xylophone, clarinet, drums and vocals herself. The hype surrounding her debut studio album, Varmints, has been intense, but I didn't entirely understand why until I saw it all come together live. Her complex compositions were brilliantly realized in the dingy-theater setting of Esther's Follies, bursting with an exuberant sense of fun that it can be hard to discern on the record. The sheer virtuosity of Meredith's quirky orchestra, and her own delight in crossing compositional lines, would have been compelling enough even if she didn't also prove to be an infectiously charismatic bandleader, banging her head and conspicuously delighting in the joy of music-making. Oh, and also it was all extraordinarily loud, as it should be. —Jay Gabler, The Current
Panteón Rococó at Half Step
This Mexican reggae-ska band was working the crowd so intensely that after only three songs, lead vocalist Dr. Shenka was dripping with sweat like in an old James Brown video. Actually, though, it might have been the crowd working the band: The largely Mexican audience crammed into the small outdoor space knew every word and shouted out requests for the entire 50-minute set. Party rave-ups and political anthems had the same effect on the uber-enthusiastic crowd. —Felix Contreras, Alt.Latino
Diana Fuentes at Maggie Mae's Gibson Lounge
When I first saw Cuban vocalist Diana Fuentes here at SXSW a couple of years ago, it was just her and a piano at a singer-songwriter showcase. This year, she debuted some tracks from an upcoming album with a much more muscular sound, performed by a band that veered from Cuban-inspired pop to jazz to a blistering tribute to the Afro-Cuban deity Obatala. —Felix Contreras, Alt.Latino
White Reaper at Barracuda Backyard
It appears that White Reaper wants nothing more than to absolutely rock your face off, and that's exactly what I witnessed Friday night. Song after song was a driving, shouty anthem perfectly fit for fist-pumping and sing-alongs. The band also wins the award for Most Entertaining Keyboard Player — whenever he's not playing, he's dancing, and that dancing is both hysterical to watch and a perfect fit for the music. White Reaper's latest single is called "The World's Best American Band," which might seem a little hyperbolic until you've seen it live. —Matthew Casebeer, opbmusic
LVL UP at Cheer Up Charlie's
Late Friday night I found a chair with a back on it at Cheer Up Charlie's. I know it sounds lame, but I didn't want to move. But when LVL UP started playing, I was compelled to get a better look. Minutes later, I found myself in the middle of the crowd, enjoying a burst of energy fueled by this New York four-piece's set. The band's loud and brash brand of rock music has that effect on people. It's a sound steeped in the '90s alt-rock explosion with thundering guitars, punishing drum fills, and breakdowns that make you want to sing along. (I certainly did.) —Jerad Walker, opbmusic
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