|Sharon Van Etten, at the NPR showcase, was a stunner. Plus, there was a box accordion|
Christopher Cross - Austin Music Hall
Yacht Rock was so 2007, but Christopher Cross is one cool customer. His 20 or so minutes during the Austin Music Awards Wednesday at the Austin Music Hall was set on maximum smooth, but with teeth. The Austin music scene has always been associated with hippies and then indie-rockers, but Cross has more Grammys than anyone else in town outside Asleep at the Wheel's Ray Benson. The four players the fedora-clad Cross had with him had Steely Dan-level chops, too. He gritted out "Ride Like the Wind" with quiet anger and yearning for freedom, then brought out local string ensemble Mother Falcon and Austin Symphony Orchestra conductor Peter Bay to cruise through "Sailing."
Bonus: Watching Rolling Stone senior scribe David Fricke secretly enjoying himself during Cross' set, or at least try not to fidget too hard waiting for Alejandro Escovedo and reported special guest Bruce Springsteen. Eat your heart out, Kenny Loggins.
Random Thought from Wednesday: Supposedly Kenny Rogers is in town. Anyone know why? -- Chris Gray
See also: Fact: Christopher Cross and Kenny Loggins Owe Their Careers to Michael McDonald
The Toy Bombs - The Thirsty Nickel
You know those hungover early SX afternoons, when you'd rather kill yourself than go into some loud, cornball 6th Street bar? This time I ignored that impulse, a rockabilly-mod looking foursome having sucked me off the street into a place called The Thirsty Nickel. Their trick? Sheer playing-their-asses-off-for-a-record-deal energy. Turns out they were Los Angeles garage rock outfit Toy Bombs, in the midst of 15 minutes of pure bouncing off the walls inspiration, before a crowd smaller than the Rolling Stones' craft service squad. It was incredibly melodic in an acoustically-challenged room, and the players emerged fully soaked in sweat, imploring the small crowd to come see their next show, though they had no idea where it was. It was the performance of their lives. Or, even more likely, they play like that every time. -- Ben Westhoff
Ben Westhoff Toy Bombs
Fiona Apple - Stubbs BBQ
Fiona Apple's set at Stubb's last night, the first act on a bill with buzz acts Alabama Shakes and Sharon Van Etten, was the first hottest ticket of this young SXSW. Lines for badges and wristbands wrapped around the venue. Opening with "Fast As You Can," Apple's first show outside Los Angeles in quite a while, was rickety in places, but Apple has never been a smooth and silky act. Her voice was a gravelly wonder, now evoking Tom Waits, and the years have been kind to her material. New cuts from the upcoming album, like "On The Bound" were raw, much more raw than her debut. But Apple was never a pop singer, she's a poet who happens to sing in line with Leonard Cohen or Laura Nyro. Fifteen years since 1996's Tidal and it's wave of adulation, and half a decade since Extraordinary Machine, she's still compelling onstage, minus the technical difficulties. Closing with her now eternal "Criminal," Apple proved she's "back". How long that will be, remains to be seen. There was a moment during "Carrion" where she slinked back to watch her band, and it seemed to stop time at Stubb's. If you were there, you know what I mean. -- Craig Hlavaty