Story and Photos by Andy ArgyrakisOpening night of SxSW is a great warm up to the week, but the heat doesn't really get turned up until evening number two. It's on Thursday night that the prominence level starts to increase in terms of the concerts, showcases, parties, and performances. Here's a look into a few of Thursday's notable shindigs and special events, in addition to a few that didn't fair as well:
Daniel Lanois - Austin Convention Center/ Austin Music Hall
The world class veteran producer made appearances in a pair of different capacities, including a keynote public speaking address and a musical performance featuring his solo material. In the early part of the day, getting to hear the man behind such classic albums as U2's "The Joshua Tree," Peter Gabriel's "So," and Bob Dylan's "Time Out of Mind" speak was truly priceless. Lanois shared briefly about his rise in the business, while encouraging all in attendance to pursue their musical dreams to the fullest extent. What could have been a sappy phoned in speech was turned into a truly inspiring motivational work out, supercharging the crowd to run with their dreams (as U2's Bono would say) "Where the streets have no name."
By the evening, Lanois made his way across town to the Austin Music Hall to perform 45 minutes worth of original material, mostly previewing his upcoming endeavor "Shine." His musical musings certainly had poetic leanings that mirrored the previous clients he's worked with, but unfortunately Lanois lacked the stage presence and accessibility level that many of his proteges have transcended over time.
Blur - (Surprise Performance) La Zona Roza
There's always an element of surprise at every SxSW Festival and one of the biggest buzzes that brewed all Thursday afternoon was the possibility of Blur popping up for an unannounced MTV2 showcase. Such discussions were for the most part unsubstantiated (a rumor at best) but I followed my gut with this one and camped out a bit earlier than normal to ensure my spot in the club. I'm thankful I went with my instinct because following a set by New York retro rockers The Rapture, Blur made their first appearance together on stage in four years, which also marked their performance debut of the brand new record Think Tank.
Based on Blur's stage time, it appears like the disc will go in a significantly different direction than their previous projects, shedding a bit of their inbred Brit-pop image, adapting a more rock driven, slightly soulful vibe (which a trio of background singers further brought to life.) At times, their sonic explorations were avant-garde, other moments a bit intangible, but in all cases, absolutely intriguing. Think Tank's first single "Out of Time," was a focal point of interest, partially because it threw attendees for a loop falling well out their typical single structuring. A bubbly "Song 2" or a danceable "Boys and Girls" it was not, but rather a meshing of grazing guitars and forceful vocals, setting the tone for a record that will probably put Blur back on the map in a big way.
Boas - Yardbirds' Backyard Barbeque (presented by Schuba's)
Despite the sun beating down amidst a 75-degree summer-like breeze, Thursday's luncheon showcase felt like it was taking place in the good old windy city. Chicago's popular Schuba's Tavern took charge of Austin's Yardbirds club for their annual Backyard Barbeque, featuring the best in Midwest talent over some Texas styled grub. The standout of their well attended event was the four piece modern rock outfit Boas, who are not only apparent disciples of the Velvet Underground, but also demonstrate a deep love and respect for fellow Chicagoans Wilco. They performed several songs from their full length debut CD "Mansion," all of which stood apart from one another with enough thematic variation and cross between instrumental delicacies and electric experimentation to result in a particularly pleasing performance.
Liz Phair - Austin Convention Center
After taking a step back from the spotlight to experience motherhood for the first time, the one time Chicago resident Liz Phair returned to the spotlight to deliver her bad girl brand of gutsy acoustic/alternative and with a sexual edge. Phair has a new album about to be released via Capitol, and a performance of the punchy, possible lead single "Everyday" showed she hasn't lost a single step due to the hiatus. In fact, she's grown all the more, once again stabilizing a mainstream presence without selling herself short when it comes to artistic solidarity.
Michael Penn - Austin Music Hall
For a guy who used to yearn so energetically for "Someone to Dance With," Michael Penn was all about sitting down for a sluggish solo acoustic SxSW set. That was a very bad move for the respected troubadour/budding producer/husband of fellow storyteller Aimee Mann, as the spacious Austin Music Hall (the Texas equivalent to Chicago's Aragon Ballroom) was incredibly far removed from a coffeehouse or theatre setting where such a style may have worked. Sure, Penn had meaningful messages to present from his four acclaimed albums, except he was barely audible. Known on record for his lively, sometimes quirky pop/rock magnetism, Penn did little to convince the inattentive crowd that his upcoming batch of organic offerings is worth checking out.
The Yardbirds - Austin Music Hall
Billed as a "reunion" of sort for The Yardbirds was a bit misleading, especially considering three of its most famous members were no where to be found. Without Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck, the remaining originals were a few cards short of a full deck, and regardless their attempt to fill in such gaps (with Guns N' Roses' Slash and Steve Vai) the vibe was somewhat artificial. The band's live previews of their April 2003 release Roland (the first recording using The Yardbirds' identity since 1968) indicated a slight evolution, though compared to their original mix of classic and hard rock over blistering 12 bar blues, this configuration was only a sum of its parts.
Stay tuned for Day 3 coverage of the festival. For up to the minute information, log onto www.sxsw.com.
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