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AUSTIN, Texas — Our second full day of music at South by Southwest offered a little something for everyone, from a sublime #WomanCrushWednesday set by Solange to nostalgic alt-rock from the reunited At the Drive-In and indie supergroup BNQT, from an inspiring talk by elder statesman Nile Rodgers to thrillingly buzzy performances by ones-to-watch PWR BTTM and the Lemon Twigs. Here’s what went down.
Solange offered 800 lucky fans a seat at her Austin table
Fresh off her Best R&B Performance Grammy win for “Cranes in the Sky” (off her massively acclaimed third album, A Seat at the Table), Solange stunned during her magical set at YouTube’s headquarters at the 800-capacity Copper Tank club. Fans queued up for hours to see the alt-R&B diva (some even ordered pizza, perhaps taking Solange’s album title literally), but Solange was definitely worth the wait.
The younger Knowles sister took the intimate stage (20 minutes late) looking regal and elegant in a pale blue cutout jumpsuit, flanked by her similarly outfitted backup singers/dancers and backed by a supremely funky, brassy band as she cooed A Seat at the Table’s dreamy opening track, “Rise.”
Solange didn’t speak much during her set, letting powerful songs like the black feminist anthem “Don’t Touch My Hair” and the heartbreak ode “Cranes in the Sky” make her major statements, but she did take time to thank the patient fans in the audience — “the many beautiful faces out there” — for supporting her ever-evolving career through “such a long journey … I’m so grateful and so humbled that you saw a light in me.”
Nile Rodgers brought good times to the Convention Center
Delivering his keynote address Wednesday morning, the 2017 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee covered everything from touring with the Sesame Street band to dropping acid with Timothy Leary, and he even jammed a bit on guitar. But the legendary hitmaker’s most interesting anecdote came when he discussed the egalitarianism of pure pop music, saying, “Any song that sells and gets to the top 40 or top 10, any song is a great composition.”
Rodgers recalled arguing with his jazz guitar instructor many years ago about the artistic merit of 1960s cartoon band the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” (which Rodgers hated at the time), and the teacher “said something that changed my life: I asked him how he could say it was a great composition, and he said because it speaks to the souls of a million strangers,” explained Rodgers. “Two weeks later, I wrote a song called ‘Everybody Dance.’ That was so profound to me. I wanted to learn to speak to the souls of a million strangers. I wanted to learn how to develop my voice that could communicate with people when I wasn’t in the room. How do I write compositions that will have depth and meaning for people just like ‘Sugar Sugar’?”
Clearly, as Rodgers demonstrated during an onstage deconstruction of one of his many hits, Chic’s “Le Freak,” he figured out that winning formula.
At the Drive-In reopened for business
Aside from Solange, the other most in-demand showcase of Wednesday night was the surprise performance by Texan emo legends At the Drive-In, a last-minute addition to the lineup at Mohawk’s House of Vans. The recently reunited and incredibly influential band just announced that they’ll soon release their first album since 2001’s Relationship of Command — and while the absence former ATDI guitarist-vocalist Jim Ward was felt Wednesday, the die-hard fans in the pit still seemed thrilled to get close to their post-hardcore heroes and hear the new song “Arcarsenal” as well as classics like “One Armed Scissor.” And manic frontman Cedric Bixler sounded as ferocious and fiery as ever.
PWR BTTM rose to the top
One of the breakout bands of SXSW 2017, this provocative queer-punk duo dazzled with their bold sequined stagewear and even bolder political messages at NPR’s showcase. Along with “New Trick” (a snarky tune “to teach people to use gender-neutral pronouns”) and a duet with Hurray for the Riff Raff’s Alynda Lee Segarra (who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “No Human Is Illegal”) dedicated to “anyone who’s been made to feel ridiculous for their gender or for who they love,” bandmates Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce joined forces on the anti-Trump song “Big Beautiful Day” — introduced as “a poem designed to kill fascists.” The two even asked spectators to sing along “so loud that a certain man in a certain house just goes away.” PWR to the people, indeed.
Indie supergroup BNQT put on a super show
BNQT’s indie-dream lineup consists of Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle, Travis’s Fran Healy, Midlake’s Eric Pulido, Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell, and Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos — and while Bridwell and Kapranos were MIA Wednesday night, the supergroup’s first-ever public show, presented by TuneIn, was still a smashing success. While performing both new originals and catalog songs like Grandaddy’s “AM 180,” Midlake’s “Roscoe,” and Travis’s “Why Does It Always Rain on Me?” at the Easy Tiger club, the boys in the band displayed downright adorable onstage chemistry. “I’m a fan first,” Pulido said of his new bandmates, bowing down to Healy, whose “Rain” was the soundtrack to Pulido’s “1999 summer of wooing girls.” BNQT definitely wooed their SXSW audience, which included Hanson brothers Isaac and Zac.
The Lemon Twigs brought the sweet retro jams
Speaking of powerpop brothers, the charming sibling duo of Brian and Michael D’Addario, aka the Lemon Twigs, were another buzz-band standout of SXSW this week. The D’Addarios arrived at Pandora’s party dressed to impress (19-year-old Brian in bug-eyed sunglasses, plaid trousers, and a natty red blazer; 17-year-old Michael in full-on Rhoda Morganstern mode with his gypsy head scarf, midriff blouse, and flared mom jeans), high-kicking like Diana Rigg on teenage-kicks anthems like “Queen of My School” and the harmony-laden Do Hollywood tracks “I Wanna Prove to You” and “These Words.” We’ve heard the future — and it sounds kind of ’60s/’70s, by way of the ’90s (think Teenage Fanclub or a less cartoonish, more psychedelic Pooh Sticks, Redd Kross, or Jellyfish). And it sounds exactly like the Lemon Twigs.