by Willie Clark
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!