So flip flops were a terrible decision on SXSW 2013's third day. Thankfully, we made plenty of other good decisions on Thursday to balance out the pain of 15 hours on your feet in two-year-old Havaianas.
And it started out by securing tickets for Green Day's intimate show at Austin City Limits Live. The show had the kids all abuzz throughout Austin on Thursday with fluorescent T-shirts flooding the streets and "American Idiot' bumping from their parents' cars. These big shows at SXSW are hardly in the spirit of music discovery, but they're fun for the fans and they bring a certain mainstream legitimacy to the event.
Green Day's set was expectedly familiar with FM hits ("Know Your Enemy') and pop-punk-spirited power ballads ("Boulevard of Broken Dreams'), but it was also full of newer material from the band's trio of new records ("99 Revolutions' kicked the night off). Early on in the concert, frontman Billie Joe Armstrong ' fresh from a stint in rehab last fall ' brought a young boy to the stage for a feet-first stage leap. Every other song created a sing-along of sorts, prompting Armstrong to quip, "Everything is louder in Texas.'
But better than any of the band's songs ' from "Burnout,' "Welcome to Paradise' or "Holiday' ' was the energy the show created. Green Day is used to playing to 15,000-20,000-seat arenas, so seeing them in this 2,700-capacity room was truly a spectacle. They slayed the room, from the ground floor to the balcony, and the kids up front couldn't have been more ecstatic to see their heroes in such a unique room.
Thursday also brought us the best set we've seen so far. British rockers Alt-J threw down a stunning early-evening set at the Mohawk that backed up my call that the Mercury Prize winners' "An Awesome Wave' was the best album of 2012. Hearing that album live was a ridiculous treat, with the record's subtleties captured in a challenging live performance setting.
But they pulled it off. And it sounded better than the record ever will. Playing as a four-piece, they looked like proper English gentleman ' but they sounded like the most progressive band in the game. Also: We didn't expect that voice to come from that guy, but when it did, you couldn't help but sing along and throw your hands in the air. When they threw down "Matilda,' wow. And when they let out "Breezeblocks' to close the too-short set, the capacity patio fell into a universal groove. (If you're reading this from Denver, it's worth noting that the band's sold-out Bluebird Theater show originally scheduled for April 3 has been moved to April 23, still at the Bluebird. Also on sale, its show at the significantly larger Fillmore Auditorium on Sept. 5.)
The prettiest set of the day came courtesy of New West Records, which threw its day party in a castle of sorts, situated in a residential neighborhood 15 minutes outside of downtown Austin. Songwriter Patty Griffin, new to New West, played a few songs to the packed, pin-drop-quiet room. "Get Ready Marie' had the crowd swaying, and she closed with "I'll Miss You When You're Gone.' It was a lovely respite from rock 'n' roll, from bars, from mania. And we felt our heads cleared as we left the party to head back to town.
Others worth mentioning from SXSW Thursday:
Wisconsin-rooted troubadour Trapper Schoepp and his band the Shades played an early slot at the 1100 Warehouse, and even though the crowd was thin, the ever-affable Schoepp threw down a lively set of Midwestern bar rock that was as memorable as it was melodic. He closed with the best song off his "Run, Engine, Run' LP, "Tracks,' and that song ' which always reminds me of the Old 97s at their "Too Far to Care' peak ' set the bar high for the rest of the evening.
We caught film director Robert Rodriguez's band Chingon at the Doritos stage. (And that's the strangest sentence I'll write all day.) Rodriguez is competent on guitar, and he was a fierce narrator as he introduced the night's concept: Performing songs to the video backing of the films they appeared in. It worked to varying degrees, but a high point came right away when the band took on its "El Cancion del Mariachi,' a song he wrote with Los Lobos for the film "El Mariachi.' The mostly-locals audience ate it up.
We stumbled upon DJ/producer Cashmere Cat at Republic Live earlier in the night, and his blend of beats and soul made for an intoxicating mix. He hails from Oslo, Norway, but the kids who filled the dance floor in Texas took him in as one of their own.
British songwriter Laura Mvula gave Griffin a run for prettiest set of the day. Mvula, playing a late-night show at the Hype Hotel, had a startlingly beautiful voice. Sadly the venue was a bit loud, and her full band's sound had difficulty carrying across the warehouse-like space. Still, Mvula's music was what I immediately Spotified when I woke up this morning ' and I can't wait to listen to some more after Saturday's fourth and final day of SXSW 2013 wraps up tonight.