With nary a cloud visible all day long against the crisp Austin blue sky, there was no better place in the world for music fans to congregate than at the 2013 South By Southwest Music Festival yesterday. Living up to the festival’s promise of being able to deliver the music world’s most diverse musical lineup, we saw acts from no less than five different genres yesterday: Soul (Solange), hip-hop (Kendrick Lamar), country (Natalie Maines), singer-songwriter (Charlie Mars) and electropop (Chvrches).
After catching up with LA sister-rock outfit Haim and 2013′s biggest breakout act Macklemore & Lewis earlier in the day at the Moonshine Cafe —we’ll have those interviews ready for you on Monday!— we made our way over to Austin’s most famous barbeque establishment, Stubb’s, for SPIN‘s annual #SPINHouse event. Just as we were walking in, we caught a few minutes of the set from Scotland’s preeminent electropop outfit Chvrches (prounouned “churches”). The band was recently named as one of the BBC’s Sounds Of 2013 nominees, and their sound reminded us of a slightly synthier Robyn. Keep an eye out for them (and once you catch a glimpse of their lead singer, the waifish Rachel Leigh Cook lookalike Lauren Mayberry, you won’t be able to take your eyes off them).
Next up was a set from the soultry Solange, who looked absolutely dazzling in her coral jacket and short shorts. With the recent release of her 7-song EP True, she’s earned herself a reputation as being far more than Beyonce’s baby sister. Rather than marching to the major label beat, Solange instead decided to embrace the ethos of an indie artist, and on songs like “Losing You” and “Lovers In The Parking Lot,” you can see the realization of her creative approach. Near the end of her set yesterday, she made a simple request to the audience: “I want to see you dance.” And from where we were standing, there wasn’t a soul who didn’t oblige.
We’ve seen Kendrick Lamar perform twice while we’ve been in Austin; first at the Spotify House back on Wednesday (which, we have to admit, feels like an eternity ago), and then again yesterday courtesy of SPIN. Each time, he’s been able to raise the crowd’s energy to levels that we haven’t seen matched by any other artist down in Austin this week. The man who recently came landed the pole position on MTV’s Hottest MCs list is undeniably at the top of his game right now; every single person in the audience went bananas when he dropped tracks like “Money Trees” and “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” singing along with every single word and mention of “Ya Bish.” Just as impressively, the reaction was equally strong to Lamar’s earlier Section.80 and mixtape material. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen a new hip-hop with such an assured live presence on stage, which to us indicates that Kendrick Lamar is here to stay. (RELATED: Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent Set NYC Ablaze In Back-To-Back Concerts)
After Kendrick’s set wrapped, we went back to the hotel for some much needed R&R. We managed to drag ourselves out of our super comfy bed in time to see Charlie Mars at the Central Presbyterian Church. We’ll readily admit that we were wholly unfamiliar with either him or his work before last night, but his confesssion singer-songwriter style and charming personality quickly won us over, especially on tracks like “Listen To The Darkside” and “Let The Meter Run.” (FWIW, he’s also quite handsome, and may or may not still be dating Weeds star Mary Louise-Parker.)
What drew us to Central Presbyterian Church —which, we should really mention, is an ACTUAL church; we sat in a pew the whole night!— was the return of Natalie Maines. Best known as the outspoken lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, she’s getting set to release her first solo album in May. Mother marks her long-awaited return to the music industry; she’s been on an extended hiatus since the 2006 release Taking The Long Way Home. Sporting a close-cropped brown pompadour (a change from her traditional blonde style), Maines’ iconic voice was in peak form. Regardless of how you feel about country music as a genre, there’s no denying that her voice is among the most expressive of her generation.
Her hour-long set contained mostly new songs from this project, some of which she co-wrote with Ben Harper (who was also there to perform alongside her). She seemed quite energized and happy to be performing in front of live audiences again. There are a number of covers on the record, including a phenomenal rendition of Patty Griffin’s “Silver Bell” (which brought the house down last night), but it was her cover of Pink Floyd’s “Mother” that was one of the evening’s standout moments. She recently performed the track on the Howard Stern Show in support of the West Memphis Free, and it brought more than a few audience members to tears last night. The standout moment of the night, though, was when Natalie brought her father, legendary guitar player and country music producer Lloyd Maines, out for the last song of the night (which we *think* was called “Take It On Faith”). Lloyd and Ben Harper engaged in a searing, nearly seven-minute (!!!) slide guitar duel, some of which we grabbed for you to watch below:
It’s pretty clear when you see Maines in person that there’s still a part of her that’s reeling from the immense fire she came under for criticizing George Bush and the Iraq War in the mid-00s, but she quickly overcame her initial nerves and was grinning from ear-to-ear by the end last night’s incredibly well-received performance. It’s exciting to see someone come back from personal and professional adversity to triumph once again, but more than anything else, we’re glad to be living in a world where Natalie Maines is out writing, recording and performing again. We’ve already begun counting down the days until Mother‘s release in May.
[Photos: Getty Images]