Laura Marling, Bacon on Donuts + Street Performers: SXSW Recap, Day Three
Day Three at SXSW (March 19) found us running on fumes, fueled by Tecate and tacos (life could be worse, right?). By the time Thursday rolled around, we had already seen an inexplicable amount of good music, and somehow we topped it with performances by the likes of Matthew E. White, King Tuff and Viet Cong. And as if the showcases strewn throughout Austin weren't cool enough, we were lucky enough to hang out at the Heartbreaker Banquet at Willie Nelson's private ranch, Luck, Texas.
So how do we whittle down the best of the day to just a handful of topics? It takes decisive focus and ... bacon:
Best Set of the Night -- Laura Marling
"Is it still okay that I don't know how to be alone," the English singer began with a line from "False Hope." It was a spare start, a vulnerable line pared with her steely stare aimed just above the crowd, and then, fittingly, her band joined her. The upright bass boomed, the drums crashed, and the guitars fired up. Laura Marling didn't look any less happy, but her troubled lyrics had extra teeth, and gnashed verily at our beer-steeped hearts. It's not an easy thing to evoke complex emotions in a crowd full of happy drunks, but the English folk queen did so handily. She favored her new album, of course, Short Movie, delivering the title track with all the accompanying skronk it deserves, dressing up "I Feel Your Love" with all sorts of guitar shimmer, and turned "How Strange I Love You" into a bluegrass jam. "Master Hunter," from Once I Was an Eagle, made a welcome return too. As for banter, it consisted of one fan yelling, "Play your first album," to which she rolled her eyes ever so slightly. And a second fan shouting, "Play whatever you want," which got an index finger of acknowledgement and a small nod from the performer. Marling doled out heartache with the same precision heard in her lyrics, leaving us all wonderfully wounded.
Best Donut in the Entire World -- Gourdough's
While hanging at the Heartbreaker Banquet, we were surrounded by not only great music, but great food. From barbecue and lobster rolls to burgers and sausages, it was a foodie's paradise. But no piece of food stood out more than Gourdough's "Flying Pig" donut. If you can't tell from the picture above, the "Flying Pig" is an outrageously delicious donut topped with perfectly-crisped bacon, and smothered in maple frosting. We're still dreaming about this donut.
Best Performer on 6th Street -- Alice Phoebe Lou
Spend enough time on 6th Street and you may find yourself a member of an pots-and-pans marching band or a perpetually unsung rap crew. Or worse, wearing a backpack full of speakers and playing a keytar. The point is, there's no shortage of questionable (and fun) music on SXSW's main drag, so it's rare to find yourself stopped dead in your tracks and staring at a performer, mesmerized because she's actually good — like, really really really good. For us, that was Alice Phoebe Lou, from Capetown by way of Berlin, blessed with a voice and guitar style that brought up a whole host of excellent comparisons: Laura Marling, Tiny Vipers, and Joanna Newsom (just a touch), to name a few. Her gloomy but gorgeous folk was entrancing, collecting more passersby as her set went on. One drunk fan even awkwardly took a selfie with her while she poured her heart out on the mic.
Best Song Swap -- The Heartbreaker Banquet
To be honest, this was probably the only song swap around SXSW; regardless, it was an unforgettable experience at the Heartbreaker Banquet. Jonny Burke led a conversation with four other outstanding songwriters (Langhorne Slim, Luke Bell, Daniel Romano and Hugh Masterson), who, over the course of a couple of hours, each took turns playing their original songs. With heartfelt appreciation for both Willie Nelson and the crowd, the instant camaraderie between the five men was inspiring. If there has ever been an instance at SXSW of absolute pure and unadulterated perfection, this must be it.