Tuesday-Wednesday SXSW Live Shots



Trampled by Turtles

The Bat Bar, March 15

Trampled By Turtles, a youthful quintet from Duluth, Minn., play bluegrass with the ferocity of death metal. Like Split Lip Rayfield, they use only acoustic instruments, adding a wide-eyed fiddler to the mix. Relying on tunes from its well-received 2010 disc Palomino, the quintet's brutal ensemble play and rough, echoed harmonies belied songs of desolation and heartbreak. It wasn't all blood and guts, however; the free flow of "Victory" and the almost pretty "Separate" demonstrate a level of rootsy simplicity that highlighted songwriting chops over nitro-fueled musicianship. A nod to contemporary influences came on a boozy retooling of the Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?". Frenzied crowd-pleaser "Wait So Long" earned them an encore, in which they proceeded to deconstruct Dolly Parton's "Jolene" into a raucous mess of blustery voices and white-hot mandolin. Their moniker doesn't exactly fit the sound, but attendees got happily trampled by the set's end. Look for TBT at Old Settler's Music Festival next month. – Jim Caligiuri


Sharon Van Etten

Swan Dive, March 16

"Thank you for not going to see Duran Duran! I love them, but I love you more," exclaimed Sharon Van Etten to the assemblage of hipsters near the end of her Wednesday evening showcase. The studied, shabby chic interior of Swan Dive was a perfect setting for Van Etten's mournful, diamond-edged urban folk, which should be filed alongside Cat Power, Aimee Mann, and even Jeff Buckley. Populated heavily by songs from last year's sophomore disc Epic, including the inaugural "A Crime," wounded "Peace Signs," and the optimistic "One Day," the set came backed by a rhythm section and fronted by the singer in a grown-out pixie cut, Van Etten holding sway over a crowd that briefly included Mad Men's Jon Hamm. No surprises there: Hers is an evocative voice that taps into a primal something you didn't know you wanted or needed until its welcome haunting nestled inside you. – Melanie Haupt

Okkervil River

Red 7, March 16

Has it really been nearly three years since The Stand Ins? With a bit of what's next balanced with plenty of what we know, Okkervil River unveiled material from its May release I Am Very Far. New songs including "The Valley" and "Rider" didn't have the benefit of familiarity, but the most polished of the lot, "Wake and Be Fine," sounded well at home amid songs from The Stage Names. And that's still where the locals' best clearly still lies. They know that too as the group back-loaded the set with superbly polished versions of "John Allyn Smith Sails," "Unless It's Kicks," and "Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe." When Okkervil River's on – and they were Wednesday night – they're really, really good. That we already knew. How well newer material plays catch-up might determine how much they're on the cusp of maybe being scary good. – Michael Bertin


St. David's Historic Sanctuary, March 16

Is there a more perfect place to see Low? The Minnesota trio's music has always felt like prayer, a practice in restraint and penance, and as a full sensory experience, the smell of church air and the velvet harmonies of guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker gave the night an extra-spiritual feel. The Robert Plant-approved "Silver Rider" and "Monkey," from 2005's excellent The Great Destroyer, were lullabies at St. David's, and "Try to Sleep," from upcoming ninth LP C'mon, sounded like a great suggestion. Seeing Low in its element reminds one what a precise, disciplined band they've remained for close to 20 years, subtly tweaking their sound to fit the mood. Much like prayer, their music is always a comfort to return to. – Audra Schroeder

Guitar Shorty

Speakeasy, March 16

At 71, Houston-born, Harlingen-based Guitar Shorty can still play circles around younger blues contemporaries. Accordingly, Wednesday's show was top-heavy with elongated solos to sate guitar hero-worshippers there to see a journeyman player who influenced a young Jimi Hendrix. Dexterity turned out to be only part of the reason why the onetime Ray Charles and T-Bone Walker sideman transcended the staid, overcurated veneer of modern blues. His Albert King-like tone and sustain had a lot to do with it, and the most effective exclamation points came when he held notes until they dropped squarely into the groove. Although Guitar Shorty's a consummate showman, strolling throughout the cheering, camera-phone-snapping crowd as he soloed, he's not a show-off. Moreover, tunes such as "Please Mr. President" from 2010's Bare Knuckle managed to make the blues sound socially relevant for the Great Recession era, a welcome departure from the ain't-nothin'-but-a-party ethos. – Greg Beets

Curren$y/Big K.R.I.T.

Mohawk, March 16

Big K.R.I.T. is a disciple; Curren$y is the caricature. The latter took to stage first, showing no hesitation to dive into his set even if sound issues had rendered his DJ useless. Two a cappella tracks and one precise explanation of the issues ("We just had to wait for the weed to hit the speakers") later, the New Orleans spitter whipped up a frenzy of Pilot Talk, dancing around the stage like he was alone in his bedroom. Amusing as that was, Big K.R.I.T. performed the better set, beginning a half-minute into Return of 4eva. Pushing a David Banner-esque energy over beats paying serious respect to Pimp C's drip, K.R.I.T. flipped "Just Touched Down" and "Hometown Hero" around a Curren$y-assisted "Glass House." With the excellent hype work of Atlanta's Big Sant throughout, K.R.I.T. powered through a Nate Dogg tribute before closing his set with "Country Shit," his pronounced claim to the Southern throne. – Chase Hoffberger

Warbeast/Arson Anthem

Emo's Jr., March 16

There are side projects, and then there are side projects. Warbeast began as a one-off charity fundraiser stocked with Texas thrash veterans. Now they're buzz-saw metal champs. Bruce Corbitt, the lungs of Rigor Mortis, stalked the back of the stage, while Scott Shelby dominated the crowd like Zakk Wylde's older, meaner brother. Gone is his Gammacide-era axe partner Rick Perry (no, not that one), but he's already meshed with new blood Bobby Tillotson Jr. If Warbeast is razor-sharp, then Arson Anthem is a flurry of blows with a claw hammer. Safe to say no one here is giving up his day job, but then who starts a crust-punk band to sell out stadiums? Label head to both bands, Phil Anselmo – hair shaved back as during his Pantera days – ripped through sloppy riffs as Mike Williams swapped Eyehategod's sludge for scream. Warbeast versus Arson Anthem? Same power, different precision. – Richard Whittaker

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Wednesday Interview
Wednesday Interview
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