SXSW Recap Day 2: Fiona Apple, Charli XCX, Purity Ring, and Grimes
Second verse, same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit fuller of electro indie pop. Erm…yeah. Pretty sure that’s how it’s supposed to go. At any rate, after a full (read: exhausting) day at Under the Radar’s second SXSW day party (where every band on the bill could be dubbed a “personal favorite”) I found it in me to stagger over to Pitchfork’s showcase at the Presbyterian Church.
First up was Fiona Apple—a wise choice by the bookers as having a heavy hitter assured a full house from the very start. She opened with “Fast as You Can” from 1999 album, When the Pawn, nervously flailing her white scarf around and dotting her vocal phrasing with jazzy slurs. A vocal and emotional workout, Apple seemed apprehensive throughout the entirety of her set, often opting to stand behind the piano rather than at the mic placed center stage. She did, however, seem pleased to be taking on the challenge of returning to a life of live performance. Rays of her dark humor poked through, like when her backing band teased her about her hair band, and she admitted it was the top of a pair of baby sweatpants she rescued from the garbage.
Apple took the opportunity to play a few new songs from her forthcoming album, The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do. While “Anything We Want” and “Every Single Night” were all well and good, both songs lacked Apple’s trademark wit and musical twists and turns. They were welcome though—as it marked one of the few moments in the set Apple played piano.
Despite being an early supporter of Charli XCX, I found her set off-putting. First, let’s all officially agree to retire the term “Goth” in reference to British singer’s music. She’s about as Goth as a Hot Topic. While her persona—something akin to a 1980s exercise instructor—was a lot of fun, and the synths on single “Nuclear Season” remain above reproach, the gestalt was one of American Idol levels of cheese rather than dance floor diva. Pass.
After last night’s failed attempt to get through a Purity Ring set with both eyes open, I was excited to be given a second chance. Oh, boy was I excited. Actually having managed to put their orange and blue curtains up in under 45 minutes this time, the Canadian duo managed to create a ghostly and inviting set—even if it started with them begging the venue to turn off its houselights. When the venue was sufficiently dark, the pair haunted the chapel with their twisted tunes—lead singer Megan James holding a lantern to her face as though telling the venue a particularly terrifying ghost story. Echoing my statement from the previous evening—this is art.
Going into the show, Grimes (née Claire Boucher) was my dark horse. You know the artist that leaves you mentally exploring the pros of leaving early (Warm bed? Midnight snack?) While the first three songs made the running screaming into the night option look mighty inviting, I was suddenly taken by the addition of a police-hat wearing bandmate, who joined her to work additional drum machines. The pair bopped gracefully through a set of “post-Internet” tunes (whatever that means), Boucher giggling self-effacingly during the occasional screw-up. It was an unexpectedly charming, and light-hearted take on dance music. It also had a small clutch of female fans dancing in the isles, which is a good sign. A set good enough to call it a night on a high note, I left—even though it meant a painful limp to through the darkened streets of Austin.