Every year, The A.V. Club reports from the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. This year, we had three writers—Kyle Ryan, Marah Eakin, and Marc Hawthorne—down there on Tuesday night. We’ll beef up to five for tomorrow, but for now, here’s our daily mini-reports on the best stuff we saw, ate, and did. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.
SXSW Music has traditionally begun in earnest on Wednesday, but this year, plenty of things were happening on Tuesday, which coincided with the last day of SXSW Interactive. I hit a couple of panels during the afternoon, but the best part of the afternoon was seeing Robert Duvall do a sort of live Random Roles with Leonard Maltin. Duvall’s 83, and his hearing is going out, but he was full of great stories, as you’d expect from someone with such a long, rich filmography. Some of my favorites:
- On Billy Bob Thornton’s directing approach: “Rehearsal’s for pussies. Two takes, that’s it!” (Maybe that’s what Brett Ratner meant?)
- On directing himself in movies: “I almost put a mirror up so I can yell at the director any time I want.”
- Francis Ford Coppola would get frustrated with the Godfather cast because they joked around so much on set, particularly Duvall and “Jimmy” Caan, who liked to moon people on set.
- Coppola’s directing technique: “He turned the process around and put it on you to see what you’d bring,” instead of demanding things be done one way.
- Caan loved country music, so when they’d go home on the weekends while shooting The Godfather, he’d be singing along and listening to it so much, he’d have a bit of a drawl when he returned to shoot. “He’d have to go talk to the Teamsters for a little while,” Duvall said, to get his New York accent back in force.
It went on like this for an hour in a packed ballroom with a bunch of people waiting outside to get a seat in case anyone left. National treasure, that guy.
Comedy has become a much bigger part of SXSW, though it doesn’t seem as deluged with podcasts this year as it has been in the recent past. Pete Holmes recorded his first live You Made It Weird—an awesomely awkward episode with Chris Gethard, Judd Apatow, Kumail Nanjiani, and more—here in 2012, and this year he returned, crew from his TV show in tow, to chat with Jim Breuer, Tom Middleditch, Matt Braunger, Andy Haynes, and Nicole Byer. It moved at a much brisker pace than the last time Holmes was here, showing how doing a TV show has honed his hosting chops. Later I checked out the Imaginary Radio Program, a musical comedy show created by Drennon Davis. He uses sampling pedals to create loops for short, funny songs (inviting the inevitable Reggie Watts comparison) as he imagines flipping through various radio stations on the dial. It’s a clever setup and made for some very funny moments, particularly once he was joined by Nick Stargu, who acted as a sort of co-performer. They were joined by Karen Kilgariff (of Mr. Show fame and head writer for Pete Holmes’ show), who played a couple of her funny, surprisingly affecting songs (and did an amazing Björk impression), comedian Conan writer Andrés Du Bouchet, and comedian Jake Weisman.
I closed out the night with Marc Hawthorne at the Riot Act Media showcase, where we saw Torres and Split Single, the solo project of Jason Narducy, who people will recognize from Bob Mould’s band and as Laura Ballance’s tour replacement for Superchunk. The band’s Fragmented World, out April 1, is one of the 2014 albums I’m looking forward to this year.
Oh, and I saw a Dell executive introduce Diddy/P. Diddy/Sean Combs/whatever at the Fader Fort, who talked for a couple minutes about entrepreneurship or something (“Shout out to Michael Dell, a great entrepreneur”) before introducing Charli XCX. For that, he was probably paid more than your grandparents earned in their lifetime.
SXSW’s generally still ramping up, music-wise, on Tuesday night, so the pickings were relatively slim. Still, I was glad to head over to the Harvest Records (new home of Morrissey!) showcase to check out three bands: Glass Animals, Arthur Beatrice, and The Preatures. All three bands are from out of the country—England, England, and Australia, respectively—so it seemed like a good chance to catch some acts that might not be around all that often. Britpop-influenced Glass Animals sounded a little like Alt-J, but veered more toward the rocking, R&B friendly spectrum of things. Frontwoman Ella Girardot was definitely the highlight of the Arthur Beatrice set. Clad in a sharp-looking pair of tuxedo pants and a crisp white shirt, Girardot brought a bit of rock star air to a stuffy, sweaty space, and a festival usually best known for punk rock throwdowns in dirty fields and beer-fueled insanity late, late at night. The Preatures were no doubt the biggest band I saw last night, having booked an upcoming appearance on Kimmel on just the success of some live shows and a new EP, Is This How You Feel?, but the set felt a little too on the rock ’n’ roll nose, with Joan Jett-esque frontwoman Isabella Manfredi slithering across the stage between riffs.
With some first-day South By luck and a little determination, I found myself inside the Moody Theater on a warm Tuesday night watching Coldplay remind the world that they still exist. Despite the noticeably short set that didn’t break the hour mark, the band’s mix of new and old did an excellent job of getting arms raised while perking up ears for the forthcoming Ghost Stories, and everything about the band’s demeanor suggested they wanted to be there as much as we did. Launching with “Always In My Head” conjured up fears that we might be subjected to an all-of-our-new-songs-are-the-best-things-we’ve-ever-written show, but quickly the quartet was giving the crowd something to sing along with, and after a triumphant take on “Viva La Vida,” Chris Martin acknowledged it was nice to be in front of an audience after being cooped up in the studio. “Every Teardrop Is A Waterfall” and “Fix You” were similarly epic, with the former shrouded in streamers and the latter played atop the confetti aftermath, though for the encore the band decided to avoid the climb up to “Yellow” or any number of other hits from the past decade and instead went moody with the electro-charged “Midnight,” which, along with new single “Magic,” suggesting we may be getting something a little weird with Ghost Stories. Appetites successfully whet, guys.