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Wednesday, 19 March 2014 20:10

Festival review: Closing out SXSW 2014 with Lion Babe, Dune Rats, Foster the People, Washed Out and the Twangfest Day Parties at the Broken Spoke

Laura Cantrell at the Broken Spoke Laura Cantrell at the Broken Spoke Roy Kasten
Written by Tyler Williamson

To the families and friends of Jamie Ranae West, Steven Craenmehr and Sandy Le -- victims of a horrific crime on the streets of Austin during SXSW 2014 -- I offer my sincerest condolences for your losses. To the dozens more injured, I can send only expedient recovery wishes.

In spite of the reminder at every venue and the heavy-hearted texts or calls back home, the opportunity to return to normalcy will always, rightfully so, win out. Luckily, there was still a city full of live music for that.

At Butler Park on Saturday afternoon, Lion Babe arrived on stage in slow motion and Spice Girls approved platforms. The fun diversion exclusively featured love and love-lost songs -- "Treat Me Like Fire," "Don't Break My Heart" and "Can You Satisfy Me" rounded out the short set. The more comfortable the two got on stage, the more they resembled a couple of happy kids from Brooklyn, N.Y. dancing with their selves in front of the mirror.

At the International Day Stage, the Dune Rats provided a high mark for the week. With no free drinks but an overabundance of chairs, I was privy to one of many entertaining mismatches in band to crowd. Scrawny Aussies channeling alternate reality Ramones from the beaches of Brisbane -- "You'll never like us 'cause we're so lame, we'll never like you 'cause you're so fake!" - played to a greybeard crowd who seemed annoyed they mistook the ballroom for 15 minutes of access to chairs, free power outlets and quiet. No matter, the trio turned inward and pushed each other harder for the blast of a set. Despite being cut short, the raw need to power chord their guitars into charred remains infected another scrawny surfer in the audience -- I pogoed the hell out of the aisle, green light!

Butler Park, playing the role of Auditorium Shores during its renovations, gave a couple middleweight radio contenders, one looking to escape one-hit wonderdom and one inching closer to a breakthrough, a slot each for sunset.

On the wrong end of live memorability, Foster the People performed like a homeless man's version of the Killers -- with matching haircuts. Fans looking for a show instead got a near motionless stage presence that completely discounted the personal-manifesto lyrics. The life raft of the set ended up being the simply undeniable four-minute declaration of not-giving-a-fuck, "Call It What You Want."

Washed Out, however, has graduated to an always necessary live show; half of the time by virtue of the smiles stretching across the stage. Ernest Greene led his Georgian congregation through the highpoints of a genre dubiously entitled "chillwave." The endearing freeform session wove in and out of familiar samples and hooks for the fans. This set heavily featured the breakthrough album, "Within and Without," allowing the slowed crowd to spiral through "You and I," "Eyes Be Closed" and the seminal "Soft."

Next day, the Broken Spoke served up the ultimate shelter for those looking to get some worries off their mind and all the chicken-fried steak Austin needed. With a slate full of KDHX-selected country, bluegrass and folk, the annual party encouraged the burgeoning mass to trade rooms every half hour for a brand new flavor of twang.

The Carper Family kicked off Saturday's Twangfest day party, keeping a constant bounce on a fiddle and stand-up bass while the three-part harmonies encouraged the tickling of the dance floor. The trio of girls from Austin ensured the crowd got its fill of classic country upfront.

Then, the Melodic shifted gears immediately. Keeping everyone on their toes with two vocalists trading off lines, a baritone vibrato to shake the tourist trap treasures (located just off the lobby area) and different instruments few in the crowd could name for each song. Taking a note from the Clash, the English group paid tribute to the late Victor Jara midway through the set.

Laura Cantrell, another annual favorite, pulled everyone right back to the ballroom. Bonus points for inspiring the most creative dancing on the day -- "Yonder Comes a Freight Train" saw a few couples imitate the train comin' on down the line.

Back on the lobby stage, the Cactus Blossoms turned out to be a pleasant throwback to the Everly Brothers. Both a ballad duo, trading harmonies and guitar parts throughout the catalogue, but the Everly Brothers never wrote "Change Your Ways or Die." The haunting refrain and staccato guitar jangled around my ribcage far after its first listen.

Featuring a couple guitarists raised on a lot more Hank Williams Jr. than Sr., the hellraisers of Sturgill Simpson's band still couldn't play fast enough to shake the folk that came to dance. Better yet, the drummer took a solo until he damn near hovered above the stage, then walked off stage into a group hug of about 20 friends and family.

If not for a cornucopia of different tastes throughout the day, Hayes Carll might've stolen the whole show on Saturday. His story about meeting the CEO of Tyson's Chicken certainly topped the stage banter for the week. More importantly, he and his guitarist still shook a couple screws loose in the floorboards of Texas' favorite honky tonk.

Humming House elicited all of the fun between the swaying lead duo and the call and response turning into an enjoyable -- almost comically -- Eddie Vedder guttural growl impression. "Gypsy Django," with its spastic jitteriness laying down an inhibitions-free groove, encapsulated both the band and the uninhibited personal embarrassment they elicited on the dancefloor.

Paul Burch finished out Saturday afternoon at the Broken Spoke with one more ode to love lost, "Straight Tears, No Chaser." The perfect upbeat, bittersweet kiss-off to a situation better left in the past. And with that, it was time to let the heartaches end. Thanks again, Texas.

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