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SXSW Wednesday: Southfield Rapper Keeps It Real
AUSTIN, Texas -- It wasn't exactly the way Southfield's Mike Posner wanted his first big South By Southwest performance to go -- but he managed to make it work.
The 22-year-old came into the conference with a strong buzz for his electro-pop-R&B blend, which has netted him a recording contract with J/RCA Records for an album this summer, with a single, "Cooler Than Me," that's already hitting radio. Not a bad graduation present for Posner, who finished his sociology studies at Duke University in December with a 3.9 grade point average.
But as he took the stage in the wee hours of Thursday morning (March 18) at the club Aces Lounge, things had gone awry. The showcase was running more than an hour late, and his own set was delayed by technical problems with his keyboard. The crowd, restless for headliner Bun B, was clearly getting restless.
But despite catcalls and chants for Bun B, Posner was poised and assured as he worked three his three songs -- "New Dealer Girl," a cover of Electric Light Orchestra's "Evil Woman" and the bouncy "Cooler Than Me." Sporting shades and a patchwork jacket over his white T-shire, he assured those that he, too, was anxious to see Bun B but by the time his set ended he had the crowd raising their arms at his command and slapping hands as he prowled the edge of the stage, and he noted that Austin was actually one of the first places to embrace him after he began making music.
It was a condition win Posner could feel good about -- although he surely hoped that his next scheduled performance, on Friday (March 19), would be smoother.
It's never hard to find a Big Show at South By Southwest, but the characteristically eclectic NPR showcase at Stubb's BBQ was the place to be for most attendees on Wednesday.
Besides the intriguing mix of performers and styles, it was also a hometown gig for headliner Spoon -- although frontman Britt Daniel now resides in Portland. Nevertheless, the field in front of the stage was packed early with a long line outside the gates for what was also the opening of the group's tour to support its new album, "Transference."
"It's the first time since probably 1993 that I will not be here for South By Southwest," drummer Jim Eno noted before the show. "It's too bad because I actually like it; we meet so many people on the road and they all come to Austin over South By Southwest and then we can hang out with them -- and I sleep in my own bed."
Preceding Spoon was Broken Bells, the buzz-about collaboration between Daner Mouse and James Mercer of the Shins. The group, which released its self-titled album on March 9 and played a clandestine parking lot concert earlier in the day, accented its moody but powerful music with trippy stage projections and sounded sharper and more locked-in than most groups that have been together such a short time.
R&B singer Sharon Jones sported a glitter green dress in honor of St. Patrick's Day and smoked the stage with her band, the Dap Kings, playing a soulful revue that spotlighted tracks ("The Game Gets Old," "She Ain't a Child No More") from her forthcoming third album "I Learned the Hard Way" -- due out April 6 -- as well as the title track of 2007's lauded "100 Days, 100 Nights" and a funked-up version of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land."
New York indie rockers the Walkmen also previewed some new songs for an album they're still working on and added an eight-piece horn section on two songs, while Rachel Flotard, frontwoman of the Seattle rock group Visqueen, had the quick of the night during her band's brief set, noting that her mane of red hair has led people to mistake her for U.S. Olympic snowboarding champion Shaun White. "We were in Boise and this little girl asked me to sign her Rolling Stone," which features White on the cover, Flotard said. "I don't have pecs like that!' "
"Ready to play some ukulele?"
That was the unusual salutation heard at Jamie's club and restaurant as Brooklyn msuic producer Roger Greenwalt brought an equally unusual project to South By Southwest -- The Beatles Complete On Ukulele, during which Greenwalt and a variety of ukulele-wielding collaborators planned to play all 185 songs in the Fab Four's catalog.
The enterprise began Wednesday with New York singer-songwriter Shawn Fogel singing "Why Don't We Do It in the Road" backed by four ukuleles and continued with a variety of performers from around the world and even some passersby. It's slated to continue Thursday with appearances by Ben Kweller, Michael des Barres and Clem Burke and Nigel Harrison of Blondie. The Austin Beatles tribute band the Eggmen are providing backing during the shows.
It's the first time Greenwalt has taken the project on the road after two performances back in Brooklyn. He says he's already working on a San Francisco excursion and hopes to target other destinations soon.
"The Beatles were a ukulele band," Greenwalt says, noting that ukulele was John Lennon's first instrument and was also a passion of George Harrison's -- so much so that Paul McCartney has taken to performing a Harrison song on ukulele at his concerts in tribute to his late bandmate. "The ukulele is profound; it creates a state of 'Aloha zen.' And the Beatles are a universal language, so this is a great mix. It's good to grow this thing."Drive-By Truckers rocked the IFC Crossroads House on Wednesday with a five-song set drawn entirely from the Souther rockers' new album, including "This Fucking Job," "(It's Gonna Be) I Told You So" and "The Wig He Made Her Wear."
British hard rock trio Band of Skull stopped foot traffic on San Jacinto as its six-song set thundered out of the open windows of Latitude on Wednesday to close the British Music Embassy's Happy Hour party. Overcoming an equipment buzz early in the set, the group ran through its U.K. singles "I Know What I Am" and "Death By Diamonds and Pearls," along with album tracks "Bomb," "Impossible," "Patterns" and "Light of the Morning." Curiously absent -- "Friends," the group's contribution to "The Twilight Saga: New Moon Soundtrack." It wasn't missed
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