Whatever Fall Out Boy frontman Patrick Stump's been cooking up for his debut solo album needs a bit more time in the oven. In an awkward 20-minute set last night at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, Stump took the stage completely by himself, armed with an array of live loops, pre-recorded tracks, and a variety of instruments -- none of which could hide the fact that his new material isn't yet ready for mass consumption.
"I'm karaoke-ing songs that haven't been recorded yet," Stump admitted to the crowd at the Crush Management showcase at Dirty Dog Bar. But in karaoke, people sing over songs that are finished -- and these don't seem to be.
Stump first tried to re-create the one-man band video he released to the web in January, a song called "As Long As I'm Getting Paid," in which he plays each instrument in the song, one at a time, then loops his performances together into one funky jam. But the drum beats he played were messy, his guitar sound came out crackly and out of whack, and his keyboard flourishes provided little stability. Basically, it was close to a trainwreck.
It wasn't all so bad. On the next song, Stump thankfully scaled things back, just singing and playing guitar over a prerecorded track, and appeared far more comfortable, his powerful voice belting out a moving chorus. "This is my confession," he sang over a bare-bones arrangement that was equal parts R&B slickness and sexy swagger. Ideally, Stump should have remained in this zone all night, curbing what seemed like a rather urgent desire to prove his multi-instrumental mettle.
Clearly, the most successful element of Stump's set was his new look: He's ditched the hoodies and trucker hats for a sharp blazer and black t-shirt -- projecting a more serious vibe, for sure. He's also shed a significant amount of weight, so much so that many in the room didn't recognize him at all when he first appeared on stage.
Hopefully, we won't recognize these new songs, either, the next time Stump decides to present them to a live audience. The basic elements appear in place -- a funk foundation, a little bit of disco-inflected guitar, Stump going R&B-style, vocally, like he did on Gym Class Heroes' "Girlfriend" -- but they clearly need some further attention to match Stump's own physical leanness and meanness.
Newly renamed solo artist Travie McCoy, meanwhile, is much closer to sorted for his own debut, Lazarus, which is actually done, and set for a June 8 release. Playing earlier in the night and backed by his Gym Class Heroes bandmate Matt McGinley on drums, McCoy was confident and spot on, even though his DJ missed a flight and couldn't make the gig.
"Dr. Feelgood," which features Cee-Lo on the album version, was the night's most polished cut, a funky number that instantly conjured thoughts of soul band Hall & Oates, whom McCoy unabashedly adores, and whose names are tattooed on his arm. But "Superbad" was totally stunning, with thick, brooding, bass-heavy verses that unfolded into a head-banger of a chorus -- think Linkin Park, but in the best way possible. "Billionaire," which was released as a single earlier this month, also impressed.
In between these two bigger names came the New Politics, a Danish trio with abundant energy -- and a genre-bending approach where anything and everything is fair game for inclusion in a song. On "Dignity," guitarist-singer Søren H played a thinly veiled ripoff of the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind," then hollered all punk rock style over it, sounding like Ted Leo covering an AFI song. Søren's rock chops are counterbalanced by David Boyd's goofball rap-sung vocals, through which he recalls skate-punk era Beastie Boys -- and that dude from EMF. You know, "You're unbelievable."
Later, the trio stormed through their single "Yeah Yeah Yeah," and even when bookended by the solid, radio-ready songs from Travie and the stumbling debut from Patrick Stump, its instantly hummable hook was the night's most lasting take-away.