AUSTIN, Texas -- There's no shortage of grizzled veterans at
Wearing his customary slim-fit dark suit, black hair swept back from his high forehead, Cave sauntered onstage at Stubb's before sundown, which as you can imagine was not ideal. "We're gonna do a long song to start with," he said, "and hopefully by the end it'll be dark." The song was "
Yet if the band's punk-blues crawl seemed at first like an ill fit for the rowdy festival atmosphere, Cave (who repeatedly mocked a guy near the front for typing on his phone) slowly ratcheted up the intensity until all eyes were locked on the seven nicely dressed men onstage. And once he had us, he switched gears, reaching back to the Bad Seeds' 1984 debut for a thunderously brutal rendition of "From Her to Eternity." By then it was dark.
The band kept it up for the rest of its hourlong set, slinking with predatory menace through "Red Right Hand" (which nonetheless featured a sweet flute solo from Warren Ellis) and bringing a deranged garage-rock energy to "Deeana." The highlight, though, was the Bad Seeds' delightfully profane take on the age-old murder ballad "Stagger Lee," not a single line of which can be quoted here -- or, one presumes, on NPR -- but which suggested that Cave may well end up the most imposing rapper at SXSW. Watch out, Action Bronson.
Following the Bad Seeds, I caught some of Natalie Maines' set at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater, where the now-short-haired Dixie Chick previewed tunes from her upcoming solo album, "Mother," due out in May. A collaboration with
The opposite was true when
I finished Wednesday night with a 1 a.m. set at the Belmont by Paramore, which also has an album coming in April. ("Grizzled" may not describe Paramore or Yeah Yeah Yeahs, but both acts have been around long enough to know that SXSW provides a useful launching pad for new projects.) The emo-rock outfit has been through big changes since the release of its last record, 2009's excellent "Brand New Eyes"; in 2010 Josh and Zac Farro, the band's founding guitarist and drummer, quit in a very public squabble over Paramore's direction.
"Thanks for sticking around for the soap opera that was Paramore," frontwoman Hayley Williams told the full room at the Belmont. "It's been canceled, though, and this was the theme song." That was the cue for "Ignorance," which details what guitarist Taylor York told me earlier Wednesday was the "dysfunction" that used to rule the band. But judging by its powerful performance here -- which included the band's current single "Now" and the debut of another new song, "Still Into You" -- Paramore has figured out how to work again.