SXSW music photos and review: Sharon Van Etten, Alabama Shakes, Fiona Apple and more

Braving a night of Lone Star, rock & roll and hearts in danger of breaking.

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  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    White Arrows at The Fader Fort Presented by Converse

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    White Arrows at The Fader Fort Presented by Converse

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    White Arrows at The Fader Fort Presented by Converse

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Chelsea Wolfe

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Chelsea Wolfe

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Chelsea Wolfe

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Japandroids

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Japandroids

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Japandroids

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Japandroids

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Japandroids

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Bleached

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Bleached

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Bleached

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Bleached

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Frankie Rose

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Frankie Rose

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Frankie Rose

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Fiona Apple

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Fiona Apple

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Fiona Apple

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Fiona Apple

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Fiona Apple

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Fiona Apple

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Fiona Apple

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Fiona Apple

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Fiona Apple

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Sharon Van Etten

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Sharon Van Etten

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Sharon Van Etten

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Sharon Van Etten

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Sharon Van Etten

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Sharon Van Etten

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Sharon Van Etten

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Devin

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Devin

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Devin

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Devin

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Alabama Shakes

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Alabama Shakes

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Alabama Shakes

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Andrew Bird

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Andrew Bird

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Andrew Bird

  • Photograph: Marielle Solan

    Andrew Bird

Photograph: Marielle Solan

White Arrows at The Fader Fort Presented by Converse


At the Fader Fort, the sun was high and the Bushmills-infused Texas tea was flowing while cool kids in cutoffs and Vans lounged on a fake grassy knoll and congregated around Ping-Pong tables. L.A.'s White Arrows valiantly tried to fill a large but mostly empty venue; I guess everyone was still congregating around the open bar. But the band, outfitted in tie-dye T-shirts, put on a solid set of guitar-driven psych-pop. After a life-changing fried-chicken waffle taco, I checked into Hotel Vegan—Brooklyn Vegan's day party—which featured indoor and outdoor stages; the latter overlooked a cemetery. The mood was far from morbid outside, but inside was another story: The band Chelsea Wolfe clambered onto one of the dark and cool stages, fronted by the eponymous L.A.-based doom-folk princess. It was hard to take my eyes off Wolfe, with her haunting voice, her long black gown and giant septum ring. But as I stepped closer, I found myself standing behind an older gentleman in a lace dress and bejeweled belt, with intricate braids in his hair. He danced the goth two-step with abandon, gawking at Wolfe as if they were reunited lovers. (He is currently my favorite person at SXSW—I spent the rest of the day trying to find him again.)

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Back outside, Vancouver duo Japandroids roused the crowd with wild, ebullient garage rock. Photographers pushed to the front, and the sun-drowsy crowd started dancing as frontman Brian King flung sweat across the front row during the excellent "Adrenaline Nightshift"—one of the standout cuts from the band's latest, Celebration Rock, out in June. I ducked inside to catch the last two songs from California girl-punk group Bleached, formed by beautiful blond sisters Jennifer and Jessie Clavin. Shame they weren't playing a fake beach setup of some kind; the band's reverb-tinged jangle sound is about skateboards, boardwalks and purposefully sloppy summer romances, where it's cool to be coy but even cooler to tell your crush you like him. Outside, Brooklyn's Frankie Rose (formerly of Crystal Stilts, Dum Dum Girls and the Vivian Girls) was wrapping up with a moonbeam-textured palette of synth-rock; her latest full-length, Interstellar, came out last month. We left immediately after Brooklyn heroes Bear in Heaven, who punctuated their psychedelic vibe with a few goofy crowd interactions—at one point frontman Jon Philpot lifted up his T-shirt to bear his midriff while grinning unironically at us all.

The line to get into NPR's showcase at Stubb's BBQ snaked around the block and up another street, but once inside the large alfresco venue it became clear that this was the show of the night. In an interesting move, potential headliner Fiona Apple opened the show at around 8pm. The singer-songwriter, whose long overdue fourth release The Idler Wheel… is due in June, walked onstage to screams of appreciation and began with "Fast as You Can." "You're imaginary!" she shouted at one point, waving her arms in front of her face as she stared at her fans. "You're not real!" It was odd watching Apple perform through the screens of 500 smartphones, but her smoky voice was in full form, and she mostly stayed off the piano in favor of gripping the microphone and fronting her four-piece band.

Apple debuted a number of new tracks, including one that may or may not be called "Whatever We Want," which featured the gorgeous, repeated chorus, "And then, we'll do whatever we want"; Apple sang it by biting back every other word before it exploded from her mouth. Other choice new lyrics included "I am a neon zebra" and "I just wanna feel everything." We truly felt everything alongside her, but particularly during old favorites like "Sleep to Dream," during which the singer was caught in some wonderful, ecstatic trance all of her own. She shook her body, twitching and shuddering her limbs in time with her vibrato. In the middle of "Carrion," Apple seemed on the verge of tears at points. Her voice was filled with pain, and she kept doing deep backbends away from the audience, then looking back at us with a mixture of love and disgust. Some bad feedback in the middle of "Extraordinary Machine" didn't stop her from delivering a near-flawless performance, punctuated by a tremendous arrangement of "Criminal." The night belonged to Fiona.

Ladies' night at Stubb's continued with a raw and powerful set from Sharon Van Etten, who swept through her epic new album, Tramp, with an assertive confidence that added a great deal of beauty to tracks like "Give Out," "Kevin's" and "In Line," which are filled with hurt and longing. After Sharon, I raced over to the Stage on Sixth Street to catch a set from Brooklynites Devin, fronted by Devin Therriault. As a leader, he is a breath of fresh air, tinged by the scent of Old Spice and the feel of a silk leopard-print button-down. He has more swagger than the majority of whispering, sighing indie bands in Brooklyn combined, and sings captivating stories about his goals and his girls—which are sometimes one and the same thing. "I'm not here to waste your time," Therriault told us, before digging his shiny shoes into the floor and launching into the deliciously flirtatious "New Horrors," from his new record, Romancing. I saw at least two girls swoon.

Racing back to Stubb's, I found Alabama Shakes' charismatic leading lady Brittany Howard screaming, "Hello, Austin! I wanna marry you!" Howard and her red guitar led the Southern neosoul band through a rapid set of songs from their debut, Boys & Girls, a danceable, lovable record unadorned with gimmicks and suffused with a rock & roll ferocity Jack White and Craig Finn would approve of.

I ended the night with another quirky gentleman: Only Andrew Bird would play SXSW in a scarf and a wool jacket with elbow patches on an incredibly humid night. Behind him, his trademarked Spinning Horn speakers were decorated with a sock monkey wearing Converse sneakers. A lyric-free opener gave way to a fantastic mix of old and new tunes, including the sorrowful and glimmering "Desperation Breeds" from his latest, Break It Yourself. By this point I was in a bit of a daze—Bird's performance is now a pleasurable memory of violin plucks, tuneful whistles and very little audience interaction, which made the whole thing even more dreamlike. Ever the professional, he thanked us all and departed quickly, leaving us to deal with our empty paper plates of barbecue, cans of Lone Star and slightly broken hearts.


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