SXSW Wednesday Dispatch: Tenacious D, The Whale, Earl Sweatshirt, Warm Soda, Hiatus Kaiyote

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Tuesday marked the official beginning of the music chunk of SXSW, but Wednesday, oh Lordy, felt like the real kick-off: bigger bands, more venues, and those lines, lines, LINES. Here’s the best of what I managed to catch:

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Hiatus Kaiyote – Flat Top Burger, 5:30pm

If I were to take part in some sort of police lineup experiment, wherein I were forced to pair the soulful, Erykah Badu-inflected voice of Hiatus Kaiyote’s singer with the person, I guarantee that 0 percent of the time would I choose the white Australian girl with scalp tattoos. But such is the anomaly of this band (well, that and the fact they’re an Aussie neo-soul band named Hiatus Kaiyote). And despite her unlikely look, lead singer Nai Palm is possessed of one of the Festival’s most incredible voices (she’s already received the coveted Badu bump). But if Nai was the hook that brought me in, the band itself kept me anchored for their entire set, navigating beautifully through some incredibly tricky shifts, especially on single “Shaolin Monk Motherfunk.”  I’d keep an eye out for these guys.

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Tenacious D – Brazos Hall, 10:30pm

Seeing the D live has been an aspiration since I learned to play “Fuck Her Gently” on my $70 pawn shop guitar in high school. And though the concert was a bit of a ploy (the goal was to fill the room for a new Yahoo! web series that Jack Black was producing), I gladly would have gone through much, much more corporate foolishness for a shot of KG and JB’s rocket sauce. Armed with just two guitars, the duo ran through a quick set that was a little heavy on tracks from last year’s lackluster Rise of the Phoenix, though they did get the crowd going with fan favorites “A History of Tenacious D,” “Kielbasa,” and of course “Tribute.” Granted, they didn’t get quite get me to cream their jeans as they no doubt could have done with ease during their heyday, but it would be good to see the D still reign supreme.

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Warm Soda – Hotel Vegas, 11:45pm You’ve probably never heard of Warm Soda. Hell, a couple people watching the show with me reached over to ask who they were. But while no one was looking, the Oakland-based quartet quietly assembled some of the catchiest pop songs this side of a T. Rex greatest hits comp. They committed fully to glammy sleaze, from the singer's '70s porn stash to the drummer’s coked-out daze. The sing-along hooks abounded, as they ran through their debut Someone For You pretty much in sequence. Surprisingly, the band also spent a sizable portion (30-40 percent, I’d gauge) of the show just rocking the fuck out, with both guitarists getting their inner Marc Bolan on during multiple occasions. It may be a sad fact of SXSW that I’m impressed when I see a band that can, like, play their instruments well. But after seeing too many dudes running their sets off Mac Book Pros, a little Warm Soda was a welcome tonic.

Earl Sweatshirt – Scoot Inn, 1am After missing Piñata Protest’s set at Karma Lounge by a devastatingly small margin, I settled for the next most likely show at which to sustain a mosh-related injury. That just so happened to be Earl Sweatshirt, the now freed Odd Future member, who was out to push his forthcoming release Doris. I’d call Earl the thoughtful one of  OF, but really that would be like calling Paul Stanley the philosophical member of KISS. He certainly showed moments of deeper lyrical insight on tracks like new single "Chum,” but it’s telling that he cut that song short to get back to tracks that hewed more closely to the OF ultra-violence aesthetic. Quick audience note: I have no idea what sort of Pavlovian trigger the OF crew have tapped into. But from their last show in SA to this one, they have a unique ability to make perfectly normal looking kids lose their shit at the drop of a beat. Scientists should look into this.

The Whale – Flat Top Burger, 3pm (full disclosure: I work as Operations Manager of KRTU 91.7 FM, who was an acting sponsor of this event) With a crowd beginning to build up at the Flat Top for Toronto’s BadBadNotGood and Hiatus Kaiyote, San Antonio’s own The Whale proceeded to scare the living shit out of most in attendance, with the free-jazz equivalent of electroshock therapy. Led by core Whalers saxophonist Eddie Vásquez and a particularly rabid Kory Cook on drums, the band was augmented by Ingebrigt Håker Flaten of Swedish free-jazz collective The Thing. Ingebrigt, especially, was a force of nature, manhandling his upright while pounding and prodding notes of it I didn’t know existed on a bass.

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