Read about SXSW’s best acts, then see them in action in our live gallery!
Jack White: At times Jack White can seem like he’s defined more by the things he rejects — digital recording, non-primary colors, music post-1975 — than those he embraces. But last night at the Third Man Records/From the Basement party at Stages, playing in front of a packed crowd that included Bill Murray and Third Man label signee John C. Reilly, White wrapped his arms around the entirety of his career, playing songs by the Raconteurs, Dead Weather, and White Stripes, as well as ones from his upcoming solo debut, Blunderbuss. For a dude who can come off a bit hermetic, this was an inclusive celebration. And it was great. Split into two sets — the first played with an all-female backing band, the second all dudes — White was on fire. White Stripes classics “The Hardest Button to Button,” “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” “Seven Nation Army” and, especially, “Ball and Biscuit,” on which White played long, thrilling guitar solos, scaled up beautifully. They lost none of the wiry ferocity Jack and Meg once gave them, and gained a stomping density. The Dead Weather’s jumpy “I Cut Like a Buffalo” and Raconteurs’ “Steady, as She Goes,” also benefited from the backing band’s tight, detailed playing. (The spaghetti-western ballad “Two Against One” from White’s Danger Mouse/Daniele Luppi Rome collabo was a nicely moody change of pace.) Sprinkled with warm keyboards and rootsy fiddle and mandolin, the Blunderbuss songs compared beautifully to the older material, as “Love Interruption” and “Sixteen Saltines” come off like a slightly countrified Led Zeppelin. The whole show was intense, loud, ecstatic, and, as the last notes of the closing folk standard “Goodnight Irene” faded away, it felt like a warning shot. Jack White is coming, America. Watch out. DAVID MARCHESE
50 Cent: His run-through of his classic Get Rich or Die Trying at the Shady Records 2.0 Showcase was a full-on bummer. First off, hypeman Tony Yayo was not wearing his signature bucket hat. The sound was atrocious from any point in Austin Music Hall, with poor sight lines to boot. Fifty, looking swole in his trademark bulletproof vest, brought a full band whose sound was lower than that of the backing track. The mics kept bobbing in volume. Thankfully when Eminem popped out for “Patiently Waiting” (in full 8 Mile black hoodie mode, no less) his verse was mostly crystal clear and the highlight of the set. Maybe Marshall paid off the sound guy? Anyway, here’s hoping next year’s performance of The Massacre delivers! LUKE McCORMICK
Imperial Teen: During their typically heartwarming and life-affirming show at the Merge showcase (held, in typically odd SXSW fashion, on a makeshift stage in the gourmet hot dog restaurant Frank), indie-pop vets Imperial Teen cracked that they were revving up the “SXSW time machine” and bringing us back to 1996, before playing “You’re One,” from their ’96 debut Seasick. But that song, an affecting and cutting reflection on singer-guitarist Roddy Bottum’s friendship with Kurt Cobain — with lines like, “That crown of thorns you wear it well / You bought it cheap, it’s time to sell” — spoke to the entire ’90s alt-worldview and why Imperial Teen, literally born as a side project out of frustration, desperation, and death in the middle of that decade (and, for what it’s worth, a certified SXSW buzz-band in 1998!), have always been such a refreshing gust of heartfelt wit and melody and perspective. When Bottum, sporting a trim mustache, sang the “You’re One” kicker — “Take it like a man, boy” — it now felt like winking parental advice for all of us.
Imperial Teen’s Friday set, promoting this year’s wonderfully weathered Feel the Sound (and featuring a mix of songs from that record, Seasick and its follow-up What Is Not to Love) was one of the festival’s sheer joys. Singer-guitarist Will Schwartz’s “angry baby voice” has matured while losing none of its charm, and the rhythm section of singer-bassist Jone Stebbins and singer-drummer Lynn Truell gives the group its uniquely relentless, reassuring, elemental swing. When Truell — the still-stunning grande dame of punk — stepped up to center stage for the timeless, caustic coo of “Yoo Hoo” (“I’ll sign something when I’m ready / I’ll kill someone, blood confetti”), it was difficult to deny that we were watching perhaps the most foolishly underrated indie band of the past 20 years. Stebbins reminisced that back in “the old punk days,” when she and Truell were teens in Reno, Nevada, the now universally revered Bob Mould, Friday’s Merge headliner, crashed at one of their parents’ houses during a Hüsker Dü tour. On this night, even though Mould was his usual furious force of nature, tearing through songs from Sugar’s Copper Blue, Imperial Teen were his legendary equal. CHARLES AARON Debo Band: “Parlez-vous Français, monsieur?” It was a question asked of us for no particular reason at all, moments before Debo Band, an 11-member Ethiopian pop behemoth, took the stage more than an hour late at Speakeasy. It was the kind of question that could nudge you slightly off-balance, all the better because this particular outing would feel all the more satisfying as a result. Dreadlocked, fedora-wearing global-groove seekers who had come in droves to see Balkan Beat Box headline were left grumbling when technical difficulties had forced the venue to shift back and hour, thus shaving off the New York outfit’s set completely. Those that stayed seemed delighted. For roughly an hour, the Boston-based crew rumbled through Ethiopian wedding songs and mighty, constantly evolving originals. Every hot blast of brass or well-placed outburst of strangled guitar combined to resemble a smartly tweaked, off-kilter version of what you might find in the Ethiopiques series. Tonight it all felt like a celebration: wild, unabashed dancing during every song, and hugging between friends and strangers alike in between.DAVID BEVAN
Eight and a Half: Dave Hamelin, Liam O’Neil, and Justin Peroff haven’t even played eight and a half live shows yet — the indie-poppers’ set at Arts and Crafts’ 11-band showcase at 512 was their eighth performance ever — but the three Canadian musicians have logged eons on the road as members of the Stills and Broken Social Scene. That experience showed in their gorgeous run through flashy epics anchored by Peroff’s virtuosic, syncopated drumming, O’Neil’s spectral synths, and Hamelin’s chiming guitar lines. Their lush sound exploded into something so massive and engrossing, it was easy to forget you were standing on the stickiest floor in Austin. Then the drunkest dude in Austin brought everyone back to earth with baffling chants of “U.S.A.!” Sorry, bro, our friends to the north win this round. CARYN GANZ