SXSW, at its best, is about stepping outside your comfort zone. You’re probably already physically uncomfortable – by Friday night you’ve been standing and walking and drinking for most of three days straight – and that can make familiar pleasures all the more attractive. Not always a bad thing. We traipsed across the river to catch the tail-end of the Divine Fits, playing their 8th show of the week, at the sunstruck Auditorium Shores. The Divine Fits modestly update the terse, perennially frustrated sound of Britt Daniel’s other band, Spoon, who played Auditorium Shores the first time I came to Austin, 8 years ago.
So I wasn’t looking to be surprised, and wasn’t. But their record (a friend calls them “Spoon Parade”) is so strong that it was worth the hike just to hear the songs stretched out a little, particularly when they ended with “Shivers,” Daniel singing, “The sound of her name sends / A permanent shiver / Up my spiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine.”
I’d never seen Steve Earle play before, but when I walked into the Parish at midnight I had a pretty good idea what I was doing. It’s a SXSW-ready crossover irony that after nearly 40 years in music, Earle is now “The guy from The Wire,” as one punter gleefully announced to his date. And so he is (though technically he’s the guy from Treme, though the character – which is Earle’s character – remains the same). Just so long as people are listening to the songs, not just the telegenic beard and shrug, like the barnstorming reading of “Copperhead Road” that closed Earle’s set.
Solange, in this her breakthrough year (mark my words) conveys an odd mix of buzz and familiarity. There is the occasional family resemblance (she can really, really dance), and the potent persuasiveness of her “Losing You” single. On Friday, at the Spin party, she battled sound problems, which magically cleared up as she launched into a carefully-observed cover of Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is The Move.”
So in the end the night’s biggest surprise took place in a church, where a trio of English sisters sang us gorgeous close harmonies. The Staves were playing St David’s for the second year running, and the space is perfect for their heartbreaking singing. Sometimes outside your comfort zone turns out pretty comfortable.