SXSW 2011: Thursday with the Strokes and TVOTR


To a New Yorker, the apparent lack of organization—or just plain naivite—at last night's Strokes show was almost unbelievable. Here was a free event, open to all, to see a really, really popular band, crowds of more than 25,000...and no police or even real security in sight. Admittedly, we are in hippiesville Austin where everyone's easygoing. But a half hour before showtime, things were looking more like Altamont than Woodstock. Crowds outside the gated entrance were chanting "Let us in!" and by the time the band took the stage, hundreds of people at either end of the area had crashed the barriers and flooded in to the space. While TONY's Corban Goble watched the show from the front—see his account here—I climbed over the steel railings at the entrance in the dark and joined a bunch of kids sitting on a tin generator for an eagle-eyed (and rather scary) view of the show.

It seems safe to say at this point that the Strokes are always going to be a formidable live prospect: Has anyone ever seen a bad Strokes show? But last night's performance felt truly special, not least because it's been ten years since the band's SXSW debut, but also because the Strokes played like they were loving it. This was no charming-but-depressing Pavement-esque trudge through the back catalog; Julian Casablancas spat out angry tracks like "Reptilia" with genuine venom, and sighed out a perfectly nonchalant "Under Control." It was a gloriously surreal scene from where I was perched: two little kids fighting each other with glowing lightsabres, while at the front of the stage, a signer dressed in a bright red blouse translating the Strokes' lyrics into ASL (with no small measure of swaying around thrown in). David Lynch is set to direct Duran Duran's webcast, but he'll have an hard time topping this.

"Did they play last night?" one kid sitting on the generator asked his friend. "I don't know, I wasn't here..." "No, I mean the song."

We couldn't have scripted that better; "Last Night" remains the Strokes' biggest hit, and to their credit, they played it like they weren't sick of the sound of it. The song ended the show, accompanied by a massive fireworks display. Some 30,000 people filed out of the park and over the bridge and through the traffic (with no kind of policing, etc.) without a hitch. That's Austin for ya. Next up: TV on the Radio. Around 2,000 partygoers flocked to Stubb's to catch a 1am show from Brooklyn beardies TVOTR, celebrating forthcoming fourth album Nine Types of Light (due next month).

Unlike the Strokes, who still have a loucheness to their live shows, TVOTR have an air of taking everything very seriously. This is by no means a bad thing, but you've got to be up for it: up for the sight of singer Tunde Adebimpe waving his arms around like a bird's wings, and for the furious energy that propels songs like "Young Liars." The band opened its set with that song, transitioning effortlessly from a tambourine-accompanied waltz into something far more powerful. Similarly, "The Wrong Way" hurtled along like a juggernaut. Slower numbers from the new album showed off the scorched tone of Adebimpe's voice and Kyp Malone's spooky falsetto. While TVOTR bassist Gerard Smith is currently undergoing treatment for lung cancer (a stand-in took his place last night), the band still sounds thoroughly reinvigorated.