At SXSW, everything is artifice. Often a very fun artifice, with lots of excellent music and frivolity, but nonetheless it's a scene where people force themselves into a great time under contrived circumstances.
So who better to ring in the end of Wednesday night than the returning Andrew W.K., the prince of conjuring hard partying by sheer force of charisma?
The rocker's unselfconscious '80s power metal by way of Meat Loaf mastermind Jim Steinman (with, shh, a hint of Michigan's avant-garde noise scene) has long since been embraced by once-leery snobs as a kind of pure defiance — a platonic object of rock that makes you want to climb onto any nearby fixture and jump off it, arms flailing. He's also got sidelines as a motivational speaker, TV star and a deep intellectual backbone for the music he makes.
And now he's got a new record, "You're Not Alone," at a time when America most needs a pick-me-up.
Andrew W.K. is, at this point, classic rock for people who discovered his 'no way this is real' debut in 2001. Many have fond memories of partying extremely hard to "Party Hard," and although the bedtimes may have gotten earlier in the intervening time, Andrew W.K.'s enthusiasm never waned. At Hotel Vegas he wielded three guitars, a couple of keyboards, and enough fist pumps to knead the dough for a thousand pizza guitars.
"This song is all about tearing up all your fears and doubts and then throwing them into the abyss!" he yelled before playing "Tear It Up." In a time with more than enough fear (in Austin, a spate of package bombings has everyone on edge) and doubts (everything else in American life right now), it was a bracing, welcome punch in the face.
A little earlier, though, two young women made less bombastic but just as well-imagined pitches for better times to come.
The Barcelona rapper-singer Bad Gyal has made headway globally for her club-infused twists on reggaeton and other Caribbean sounds that have dominated pop music of late. She sings in heavily, intentionally Auto-Tuned Spanish and Catalan, so she comes at the sound from a markedly different angle than in former Latin American and Caribbean colonies where it originated.
"Fiebre" and "Nicest Cocky" pull from all over the internet-connected global tropics, and Bad Gyal's career is a testament to how this music can go from a local culture to a U.S. pop movement back into the European underground while never losing steam anywhere. ""Despacito" and Jamaican dance hall are global music now, but the connection between the Spaniard Bad Gyal's ideas for it is more interesting and tangled than most.
Back in East Austin, the L.A. country singer Pearl Charles played to a packed Desert Daze festival showcase. The Hotel Vegas looks the part of a derelict roadhouse, and Charles' demure but hard-bitten cosmic county fit right in with the scene.
Her new album, "Sleepless Dreamer," has some light touches of disco, psychedelia and indie, but its heart is right at the center of the classic-country era, where you can deliver pristine, wise ballads about men's foibles beneath a lime-green Stetson hat and a puffy-sleeve dress hacked into a crop top. Her voice just gets better the longer she's on tour, and the next time she gets back to L.A., she and her band should be top form.
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