Tuesday, March 22, 2016

South by Southwest Music Festival 2016, Day 2

Event: South by Southwest Music Festival, Day 2
Location: Austin, Texas
Date: 16 March 2016

Introduction: There was a lot going on this evening, but I had friends arriving from out of town fairly late, so I wanted to be home to greet them. I still had time to catch a few bands, and I decided to just spend the evening at the esteemed Moody Theater (home of Austin City Limits), where I knew there would be seats and good sound.

First up was Moonlandingz, which has some sort of complicated history involving Fat White Family, Charlotte Kemp Muhl, and (maybe?) Sean Lennon. The latter didn't appear on stage, but Muhl and six other performers did, even if half of them were inaudible. The band appears to be some kind of joke, and their lyrics and performance lend credence to that. I was vaguely interested because Muhl and Lennon's other psych rock outfit was unexpectedly really good (Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger), but this is something entirely different. There wasn't actually any psychedelia – just noise, raw punk energy, and a bit of crass behavior. There was no depth to the music, and certainly nothing in the way of a hook. It was trashy and thrashy seemingly just for the fun of it.


Incongruously, the second band was a solo instrumental guitarist who goes by Noveller. Normally, I expect SXSW to do a decent job lining up bands that might share an audience, but this was a bit of a stretch. However, I vastly preferred Noveller's warm, synthy, layered, beautiful sound to Moonlandingz's raw buzz. This was almost like seeing a classical performance in comparison. Her combination of loops, effects, and guitar finesse yielded great tones reminiscent of a less aggressive My Bloody Valentine. In a few parts, she did let loose with some solid riffing, but most of the time her music was more of the trance-inducing variety. I enjoyed it, but it did feel a bit tame at times, and it was easy to get distracted. During a break between pieces, she confessed that this was a special performance for her, in that it was her birthday and that she played her first show in Austin while a student at the University of Texas.

The main draw of the night was Iggy Pop, one of the few major headliners to appear on the official SXSW schedule. Unlike most showcases at the festival, he played a complete show of over an hour and a half. I had to leave a bit early, but still caught most of the set.

I will admit that I harbor mixed feelings about Pop, as he has a long history of deliberately creepy, arbitrarily crass, and unnecessarily confrontational antics. Nonetheless, he is a talented performer and hailed as an influence by many others. I like the Stooges as much as the next person, but the side of Iggy I always have liked best is his arty, mechanical, experimental work, best exemplified by his two Berlin-based albums in collaboration with David Bowie. However, considering that Pop released his new collaborative album with Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age two days after this show, and Homme appeared on stage as the lead guitarist, I wasn't expecting to hear many of my favorite Iggy songs.

The band opened with the distinctive "Lust for Life", which I figured wasn't entirely out of place, but followed it with the strange "Sister Midnight", which was a delight and a good sign of what was to come. He ultimately played 13 of the 17 songs on his two Bowie-era albums, The Idiot and Lust for Life. He also did most of the songs from the new album, Post Pop Depression, but almost nothing else. He didn't perform a single song from the Stooges' canon. I was surprised by his choices, but I largely got what I wanted, and the new material was passable. I rather wonder if he was trying to do a conscious tribute to Bowie by doing so many of their collaborative works.

Iggy might not play any instruments on stage, but he ran around, jumped about, and injected enough energy in the vocals to make it easy to understand why he just focuses on the words. He came out wearing black pants and a black suit jacket (with no shirt, naturally), and it only took two songs for the jacket to come off. About thirty minutes into the set, he did his first stage dive and crowd surf. Some things never change – and thankfully that includes his powerful voice.

The band did a great job capturing the raw power of Iggy's music, but was also able to lend nuance to the more synthetic songs. I was quite surprised that they were able to take such a mechanized song like "Mass Production" and make it work so well live. "Nightclubbing" was a similar success, even with the plodding beat of the most basic drum machine imaginable. Somehow they captured the passive spirit of the song without making it feel tedious or dull. "The Passenger" was an immediate highlight.

The downside is that Iggy is still Iggy. He couldn't resist performing the truly disgusting "Sixteen", and plenty of his lyrics are simply cringeworthy, even when in the midst of otherwise brilliant material. At least he wasn't particularly verbose in his banter, and when he did speak, it was usually just ridiculous or hilarious. [Edit 2020.07.15: I previously had also criticized his song "China Girl" as "problematic", and while the title is, I've since realized the lyric is more nuanced than I'd previously appreciated.]

Here's the setlist (with some help from here):
01. Lust for Life
02. Sister Midnight
03. American Valhalla
04. Sixteen
05. In the Lobby
06. Some Weird Sin
07. Funtime
08. Tonight
09. Sunday
10. German Days
11. Mass Production
12. Nightclubbing
13. The Passenger
14. China Girl

15. Break Into Your Heart
16. Fall in Love with Me
17. Repo Man
18. Gardenia
19. Baby
20. Chocolate Drops
21. Paraguay
22. Success

Moonlandingz: D
Noveller: B+
Iggy Pop: B

P.S. Photography was not allowed and I was told to put my phone away after taking the picture of Moonlandingz above. Oh well.

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