SXSW 2011 Aftershots

Friday

Charles Bradley & Menahan Street Band

Cedar Street Courtyard, March 18

Charles Bradley has waited 62 years for his chance at stardom and he's leaving nothing to chance. Brooklyn's hardscrabble soul survivor had been onstage for all of two minutes when he launched into a 360-degree spin, grabbed the mic stand, and dropped to his knees to wail the closing chorus of "Heartaches and Pains." As his incredible bio attests, Bradley has had more than his share of hardships, and you could damn near hear every setback in his anguished voice. Bradley's Daptone debut No Time for Dreaming is rock solid, but it barely begins to capture the raw emotion and power of his extraordinary live performance. He first came to the Daptone label's attention while moonlighting as a James Brown impersonator, and those skills – dizzying dance steps, mic trickery, and that agonizing scream – were on full display as Bradley and Daptone backers the Menahan Street Band played nearly all of Dreaming along with a transcendent take on Neil Young's "Heart of Gold." – Thomas Fawcett

Pharoahe Monch

Emo's, March 18

It's a thrill watching Pharoahe Monch pull off his own lyrical intricacies. Dressed in jeans, a white T-shirt, and a green military jacket, and rocking an M40 Field Protective Mask as he appeared onstage, the Queens native exploded out the gate, rolling through "Let's Go" with a guest appearance by MeLa Machinko, original soul controller on Monch's Desire. Pushing upcoming release W.A.R. (We Are Renegades), the rapper dropped "Shine" and turned "Clap (One Day)," a controversial protest against police brutality, into a fan-assisted freestyle flowing tighter than most MCs' practiced compositions. Machinko filled in for Jill Scott afterward on "Still Standing," and a "Desire"/DJ solo/"The Next Episode" medley kept bodies moving. Neither were as live as the finale, though, a Jean Grae-supported "Simon Says" that was all stomp, flash, and bravado. "New York City gritty committee, pity the fool." – Chase Hoffberger

Her Space Holiday

The Bat Bar, March 18

"I don't know where you guys have been for the past five years," mused Marc Bianchi to a crowd crushing toward the front of the stage with devoted fervor. Announcing that his next release would be his last as Her Space Holiday, Bianchi spent the showcase set plying 15 years of HSH material reaching back to his days in Austin. With only a bass player and laptop accompanying, he started by spinning the familiar angst-riddled relationship dramas that define high points The Past Presents the Future and The Young Machines, opening with "Forever and a Day" and "Japanese Gum" before segueing into the harder beat of "Something to Do With My Hands." Bringing in the hard laptop strings for "My Girlfriend's Boyfriend" and "Tech Romance," the scrawny and bespectacled Bianchi hit all the right nostalgic notes, including the apropos "A Match Made in Texas." – Doug Freeman

John Grant With Midlake

Central Presbyterian Church, March 18

The main room of Central Presbyterian Church offered up just the right atmosphere for John Grant's orchestral pop songs. Appearing supremely confident although he was being joined onstage by Denton's Midlake for only the second time, Grant thrilled those in love with last year's Queen Of Denmark, as most of the album was performed with its stylish elegance intact. After chilling opener "Sigourney Weaver," Grant moved to a reimagining of "Paint the Moon," written while with his previous band the Czars. That then pointed the direction of the set toward one intensely spiritual moment after another. The high point came on a stormy "Jesus Hates Faggots," a plea for tolerance, with Grant claiming afterward, "It's really weird singing that in church, but it's probably one of the most Christian songs you could sing." A police siren from outside entered right on cue during the set-ending epic title track, bringing a smile to Grant's face, one he surely earned after a masterful performance. – Jim Caligiuri

The Baseball Project/Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3

Momo's, March 18

Just in time for spring training, the Baseball Project pitched a winning set of wistful pop meditations on America's pastime in preparation for their Cactus League ballpark tour. With an all-star line-up featuring ex-Dream Syndicate principal Steve Wynn, REM guitarist Peter Buck (on bass here), and Young Fresh Fellow/REM sideman Scott McCaughey, the group paid homage to Reggie Jackson's Summer of Sam with "The Straw That Stirs the Drink" and more recent moments such as Minnesota Twin Denard Span hitting his mom with a line drive foul ball on "Look Out Mom." As Wynn sang Dream Syndicate classic "When You Smile," the Project morphed into the Miracle 3, scorching the gray-templed crowd with high-Western psych-pop that hasn't lost an ounce of vitality since the mid-1980s. Their sure-handed set culminated with "Amphetamine," last decade's most criminally under-heralded grand rock statement and a perfect ear-ringer to ward off sleep on the drive home. – Greg Beets

Men Without Hats

Club de Ville, March 18

The biggest failure of Men Without Hats was that Ivan Doroschuk – who, plus whichever musicians he has backing him, is Men Without Hats – didn't bring either a midget or a maypole to the SXSW set. You're not honoring the integrity of your biggest success without having both in tow. Still, Doroschuk might have had one of the better lines of SXSW when, between cheers following "The Safety Dance" and before "Pop Goes the World" he said, "That song was about politics; this song is about mescaline." That would have made more sense if the descriptors had been reversed, but yes, they played their hit, and yes, they played their other minor hit, and yes, they sounded like they were both stuck in time. How to craft 40 minutes from that? Some filler came from 1982's Rhythm of Youth, plus there was the bizarre, weeny synth opener of a "Jumpin' Jack Flash" cover. You weren't born in a cross fire hurricane. You're from Canada. You have access to health care. Plus your contribution to music is still that midget and that pole. – Michael Bertin

Endtables

Barbarella, March 18

For every unsung punk scene of the late 1970s, there's a band that pops out of its geography years later. Louisville, Ky., birthplace of Hunter S. Thompson and baseball bats, also sired these onetime misfit teenagers mad at the government and fueled by heavy riffage and suburban ennui. The Endtables' 1979 bow, reissued last year by Drag City, finds the quartet hashing out an identity, and 30 years later the subject matter of their songs is still topical, even if the band looks a little less "punk." Singer Steve Rigot, a fringe of black and blond hair overtaking the top of his face, stood nearly motionless while sing-drawling like Pere Ubu's David Thomas in an industrial jumpsuit. The group's sound is now commonplace, so the coastal influences are easy to spot (Ramones, Black Flag), but remember that in the Midwest punk scene of the first punk era, a band like the Endtables had to break its own mirrors. – Audra Schroeder

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