SXSW Night 3: A bounty of riches

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Thoughts on my glorious third night at SXSW after the jump...

The plan was not to write this today, but I've hit a few snags and I'm not sure if I'll be seeing any more music this SXSW, so now seems like a good time to reminisce about last night's magical experiences.

I tried to start out my night by continuing to follow Columbus' art punks by seeing Psychedelic Horseshit at the ultra-hip Vice party, but things were way behind schedule, so I just had a delicious brisket sandwich from a mobile vendor, watched Enslaved and some other metal band with awful makeup that reminded me more of ICP than Kiss. Neeeext.

Next, as it turned out, was a couple songs by hype magnet Santogold at Stubb's, Austin's big outdoor amphitheater. The Brooklyn emcee draws a lot of MIA comparisons, and not just because they both ladies look, as Michael Scott would put it, exotic. They share a sing-songy vocal style and a sometimes collaborator (producer Switch)—to be honest, if I heard one of Santogold's songs at a bar, I would probably think it was some MIA rarity—and the brief sliver of Santogold's set I caught last night reminded me a lot of MIA's appearance at Siren Festival last summer, though Santo's choreography was a lot more on-point. I have a feeling she could rock a club, but the amphitheater setting wasn't doing her any favors.

It was much worse for MGMT, though. Santogold's fellow Brooklynites put out a decent record this year (John Ross is gaga for it), but the keyboard-heavy pop-rock just sounded like a hollow exercise from the front row, and it only worsened as I backed away for some perspective. I'm listening to "Weekend Wars" on MySpace now and loving it, so maybe they just started with some of their weaker tracks. I couldn't stick around to find out because I had an appointment with...

...Born Ruffians! First thing's first: These three guys look like they're about 16 years old. (They're actually about 21.) But they rocked like seasoned pros, unfurling complex post-pop-punk(?) with sharp, jittery rhythms and a pop songwriter's Midas touch. I was a bit harsh on their new record for shaving off some of the band's weird edges—mostly the its furious off-the-rails energy and Luke LaLonde's bizarre vocal tics—but seeing them in the flesh made me see the light. They didn't compromise themselves at all with this new material, they just matured. And if they sacrificed a bit of their oddness, they only increased in their considerable musicianship. Last night at Ninety Proof Lounge, I was shocked at how tight they were, how they made strange time signatures sound natural, how the rhythm section pulled off the sassy swing-kids shouts (see "I Need a Life"). Everything they did was impressive, but most of all I was taken aback by how these tunes manage to be utterly accessible and inventive at the same time. Future stars!

Things just got better when I strolled up to Spiro's for another encounter with Psychedelic Horseshit. This showcase was sponsored by WFMU, the New Jersey radio station known for championing the kind of outsider punk and indie rock that's popular among the Cafe Bourbon Street regulars.

When Horseshit took the stage, the room was practically empty, but by the time they finished, it was a madhouse, and rightfully so. I've never seen Horseshit quite like that. They were tight but scattershot at once, Matt Whitehurst's pop genius—yes, genius—shining through all the abrasive signifiers. Selections from Magic Flowers Droned mixed with a boatload of unfamiliar material—maybe new, maybe from the paper-packaged CDRs they used to release—and every one of them was like a long-lost hit single. This was pop stripped to its core and redressed in just the right amount of ugliness for our times.

Adding to the fun were friends Ryan Jewell and Adam Elliott, who jumped on and off stage throughout, trading turns on short-circuiting keyboards and auxiliary drums. The crowd was a solid mix of Columbus folks and likeminded outsiders, all of them wide-eyed and broad-smiled at what they were witnessing. It was a communal celebration of this glorious noise.

Watching the Columbus bands during this trip has, more than anything else, confirmed and elevated my appreciation for this band. It took me a long time to understand just how much they were bringing to the table, but now I'd argue with anybody who dares write them off.

I finished up the night back at Emo's (the site of my daytime exploits) with some hip-hop. I arrived just in time for the last few selections by ace DJ A-Trak, who then manned the decks for an astonishingly solid set from Chicago rapper/Kanye protege Kid Sister. I don't usually look forward to concerts by rappers I don't know, and my knowledge of Kid Sister doesn't go beyond the single "Pro Nails," but she rocked the house like few emcees I've ever seen (in my admittedly limited rap concertgoing experience.) Consider me a fan. But that's not why I was there.

The real reason for my return to Emo's was the nightcap set from hip-hop heroes Clipse. Their critically-lauded but commercially disappointing Hell Hath No Fury is among my favorite records of all-time, so I was not about to miss the chance to see them live and up close. They did not disappoint, emerging from backstage to the sounds of "Momma I'm So Sorry" and proceding to absolutely murder a slew of tracks from Fury and the new We Got It For Cheap Vol. 3 mixtape. They welcomed Ab-Liva (looking like a TV sitcom dad) and Sandman, the rest of their Re-Up Gang crew, for a few tracks, but those Philly cats couldn't match Pusha and Malice's authority on the mic. This was a tour de force by Virginia Beach's finest, ultimate confirmation that Clipse are among the best—if not the best—in the rap game.

How's that for an electrifying conclusion?