SXSW 2013: Jim James And Youngblood Hawke Shine At ‘Live In Austin’ Showcase

After a couple of days in which buzzword-spouting, app-shilling technology geeks dominated the streets of Austin, things were restored to their natural order yesterday when the music portion of the 2013 South By Southwest Music Festival kicked off in glorious fashion. We partnered up with our friends over at MTV and CMT for the Live In Austin Showcase, which featured knockout performances from current You Oughta Know artist Youngblood Hawke, bluesy banjo aficionado Elle King, super buzzy indie rockers Guards, and the legendary Jim James.

After early evening sets by CMT faves Striking Matches —who, we should add, did a really energetic cover of Patsy Cline’s “Turn The Cards Slowly”— and Ashley Monroe, it was Elle King’s turn to bring the house down. If you don’t yet recognize her name, you will almost certainly recognize her voice; after all, her song “Playing For Keeps” is the theme song to Mob Wives: Chicago. “It’s hot as sh*t in here,” she proclaimed a few minutes after taking the stage, but there’s no denying that her whiskey soaked vocals were responsible for raising the temperature in the room. Her eight-song set was a mix of new tracks and songs we’ve come to love from her eponymous EP, including “Good To Be A Man,” which she confessed was written about “somebody who broke my little heart.” Her plucky stage presence and confessional lyrics make her one to keep an eye on, and we can’t wait to her her full-length debut when it comes out sometime later this year. (Oh, PS, we interviewed her before her set last night; keep an eye out for that tomorrow!)

After a struck set from the incredibly cool ZZ Ward, it was time for Youngblood Hawke to hit the stage. Seeing them live, the six-piece act from Silverlake’s sound feels even more massive than it does on their self-titled EP. In particular, they really focus on percussion in concert; their songs on wax feel very slick and well-produced, but when lead vocalist Sam Martin and percussion whiz Alice Katz jump on the snares, the energy it brings into the room is palpable. The band was unfortunately plagued by a string of technical difficulties, but once they got past them and performed songs like “We Come Running” (see video below) and “Stars (Hold On)”, their undeniably upbeat rhythms got the crowd bouncing.

Next up were Guards, a new band from Brooklyn that combines elements of dream pop and indie rock. It’s very easy to be enveloped by their atmospheric sound, and it’s no surprise that they’re earning big buzz from the likes of NPR (Ken Tucker writes that they are “already well on their way to giving the anthem form more interest and gravitas than musicians with far more experience”). Their standout track was “Coming True,” where swirly guitars and hypnotic keyboards (the latter courtesy of the extremely foxy Kaylie Church, who is well on her way to becoming a fashion icon) pair with the some truly universal subject matter about what goes through your mind during the early stages of relationships: “Now it’s all coming true / What’s a boy supposed to do / With a girl, a girl like you?”

Headlining the evening was the incomparable Jim James, who hit the stage sometime around 1:30 a.m. His new album, Regions Of Light And Sound Of God, is a significantly more mellow affair than any of his previous work with My Morning Jacket. It’s one of those albums that has the magical, mystical ability to transport you to a very specific headspace, and James believes in his finished product so much that he played the entire album front-to-back last night before an adoring crowd that ate up every second of it. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he added some of his blazing, patented, Flying V guitar solos to tracks like “State Of The Art” (see video below) and “Of The Mother Again,” which whipped everyone in attendance into a frenzy.

With this new project, his already impressive legacy instantly just jumped up another notch or two. Oh, and did we mention he did a sax solo, too? (!!!)

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[Photos: Getty Images]