Any night in Austin that begins with the sinister strains of the human spider himself, Nick Cave, and his Bad Seeds is sure to end in a peculiar fashion. The pinnacle of my first night at South by Southwest was certainly at NPR's showcase at Stubb's — where Cave & Co. played songs new and old, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs played their new single "Sacrilege" live for the very first time. But my Wednesday night ended amid the fallout of a Nashville-bred atom bomb by the name of Natural Child, and there may or may not have been some shady scooter riding somewhere in the mix as well.
Freelance photog Angelina Castillo managed to capture some shots from Thrasher's day party at Scoot Inn — see those (feat. Wavves, The Adolescents, Fidlar and more) in the front half of her slideshow. My first action of the night, however, came at 8 p.m. sharp, when the Nightmare Man and his Seeds kicked off. (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds will play at the Ryman in Nashville on Saturday night, and you can see my preview of that here.) As Cave took the stage, he promised to play "a long one" in hopes that the sky might be dark by the time the first song was through. And indeed, by the time the Hannah Montana-referencing "Higgs Boson Blues" from last month's Push the Sky Away was complete, the sky was as dark as the man himself — who all the while was arching his arachnidian arms over the audience, delivering lines like a carnival barker.
Next came a band that sounded like they were created in a lab by NPR — "Latin music with a mix of pop influences?!" I imagine Terry Gross crying, "Yes please!" Mexican rock/pop outfit Cafe Tacuba has been together for nearly a quarter-century, but their sunshiny, bouncy world pop is new to me. From their grinning, bubbly, long-haired frontman, to their almost garishly bright stage lighting and, yes, choreographed dance moves, Cafe Tacuba may very well be Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds' perfect polar opposites. It has its smile-inducing-in-spite-of-self dance-pop moments, but it also has ... "Macarena"-esque choreography.
At 11 p.m., a blonde Karen O and her boys exploded onto the stage, them in black, her in a yellow suit with a tinsel coat. A bass player (who occasionally switched to other instruments throughout the set) supplemented much of Nick Zinner's wild, flailing but perfectly enrapturing guitar noise, while loose-limbed drummer Brian Chase adorned each measure with perfectly timed jazz-style fills. One new song was a cacophony of blast beats and noise, punctuated with incongruous but perfectly catchy "dah-doos" from Karen O (who even brought out a coal miner-style headlamp for a song). Zinner took photos of the crowd just before the band played their excellent "Zero" from 2009's It's Blitz!
And then came one of the finest love songs of the 21st century: the undeniable "Maps." "Who's gonna catch me if I fall?" asked Karen O as she sprung up and down at the lip of the stage, going on to dedicate "Maps" to all the "lovers," as well as to Stubb's and to NPR. They followed up with by playing their new single "Sacrilege" live for the very first time.
Much-hyped art-rock Brits Alt-J followed, taking the stage about 30 minutes after their scheduled start time. With a hip-hop- and post-rock-informed set of indie rock there were certainly impressive moments — strong harmonies here and there, with lush arrangements — if perhaps delivered in somewhat blasé fashion.
It was at this point that Nashville photographer Jonathan Kingsbury pushed the key of his rented motor scooter into my hand, telling me to take it east to Hotel Vegas, where he'd meet up with me later. I'll spare you the solipsistic diatribe of how weird my night got from there. Suffice it to say that by the time I made it to Hotel Vegas with a freshly parking-ticketed scooter and a juiceless iPhone, I was only able to hear the final strains of Nashville rock 'n' rollers Natural Child's indoor, sweat-drenched set. "If you've only seen Natural Child in Nashville," one source close to the band told me, "you haven't seen Natural Child." Given the drying blood that covered pedal-steel player Luke Schneider's instrument and the sea of reddened faces that remained in the wake of NC's explosion, I'll take that as a truth.