“Austin is the one that put me on the map.”
So declared Charles Bradley, who was an unlikely SXSW buzz act in 2012 at the age of 62. The Florida soul-man showman came back triumphant Thursday night, wowing a crowd of about 8,000 at Auditorium Shores with a view of the skyline that matched his shimmery silvery muscle shirt. It was a quintessential SXSW showcase, with gorgeous spring weather, a cool hidden-gem artist like Bradley and a revered hometown band for a headliner, Spoon, who similarly reiterated their worth in a set reminiscent of last year's Rock the Garden finale.
Here’s how the rest of Thursday went.
MOST QUOTABLE: “I hope when they put these pictures up on BrooklynVegan, they’ll objectify my whole band, not just me. I don’t want to leave them out.” –Speedy Ortiz frontwoman Sadie Dupuis at Red 7’s patio, apparently unhappy with some of the media coverage her ¾-male band has gotten this week.
“We’ve played about six shows today. I’ve been drinking beer since about noon.” –Brandon Rush of the slick, chant-loving Portland pop/rock band Priory, who replaced an ailing Catfish & the Bottleman at the ACL Live theater and could pick up where Imagine Dragons left off at commercial FM radio.
“I thought there’d be a buffet.” –Slug of Atmosphere’s opening remark on the industry panel celebrating the 20th anniversary of Minneapolis’ Rhymesayers Entertainment at the Austin Convention Center.
CAN’T WAIT TO SEE HER AGAIN: Australian rocker Courtney Barnett -- who's lined up to play Rock the Garden in Minneapolis on June 20 – took a bold approach that paid off beautifully Thursday afternoon at the Tumblr day party in a dark club off Sixth Street. After playing a couple songs off her earlier EPs (but surprisingly not her hit “Avant Gardner”), she proceeded to roll straight through her entire new album, which comes out next week. The new songs alternated between a cool, cocky, Lou Reed-like sleazy swagger and Nirvana-like bombast, all of which her noticeably tightened band nailed. They’re definitely ready for festival gigs like RTG.
HOPE TO SEE THEM AGAIN: Neither the Districts nor Palma Violets have Minneapolis gigs on their current itineraries, which is really a shame. Both of the garagey, spunky fuzz-rock bands put on impressively full-throttle, rock starry showings late Thursday night at the Parish. Pennsylvanians the Districts sounded less polished and more grimy – in a good way – than it often does on record, with traces of early Kings of Leon and a nice cocksure stage show. A band that has been scarce on tour since their breakout at SXSW 2013, scruffy Londonites Palma Violets earned even more Libertines comparisons with their rowdy, unhinged, could-fall-apart-any-moment approach. But they never actually did burst at the seams, and in fact were gloriously in step on by the time they got to “Best of Friends” at the end of the night -- about the best way imaginable to end an 14-hour day of watching bands.
Thursday night’s other big treat was a near-opposite live music experience in a downtown church, where Madisen Ward & the Mama Bear – a son-and-mother acoustic duo out of the Kansas City area – charmed the bejeezus out of its audience. Madisen, 26, has a deep-but-smooth baritone voice and evocative folk-writer lyricism that would make him a worthy act on his own. His mother Ruth added a valuable sweetness and serenity, though, with her rich harmony vocals and extra guitar work. I could see them fitting in nicely at the Dakota or Cedar Cultural Center on the other end of I-35.
THE EH FACTOR: Arcade Fire bassist/keyboardist/whateverist Will Butler, brother of the band’s frontman Win Butler, took a noticeably (and admirably) different approach to his outing behind a new solo album Thursday at Pitchfork’s day party outside, but it was only mildly enticing. Sporting matching T-shirts with their first names emblazoned on the front, he and his band – which featured three women on backup vocals and keyboards but no bassist – giddily tore through his choppy, semi-manic, Jonathan Richman-evoking songs but were a bit disjointed and really just silly in their fun-loving delivery. Hopefully they will have their act together better by the time Butler hits the Cedar on June 3.
Big Data won’t have quite as much time to gel, as it’s due at the Fine Line in Minneapolis on March 31. Producer Alan Wilkis’ poppy Brooklyn-based electro synth-wave band came off like a cross between Fitz & the Tantrums and Erasure musically, with sexy grooves and dramatic melodies. But it wound up sounding like a hot mess despite being at the most hi-fi facility in town, the ACL Live Moody Theater, with a sometimes murky sound and overthought arrangements.
See Tony Nelson's photo galleries and more SXSW coverage at startribune.com/sxsw.