Alejandro Escovedo played a pivotal role in this year’s SXSW, hosting Bruce Springsteen’s appearance at the Moody Theater. Admission was by lottery, and guess who missed out? Still, there were numerous chances to catch up with the charming Alejandro, a magnetic catalyst who brought together Chuck Prophet, and REM’s Peter Buck and Mike Mills. Prophet, with his Mission Express, did six shows in two days, and I schlepped round to four of them, because there simply can’t be a better rock outfit in the world today. Agony for the feet, bliss for the soul.
Talking of which, no band bettered Alabama Shakes. Their unlikely combination of soulful vocals and county-rock stylings is on the way to being world-beating. Acoustic wunderkinder Ed Sheeran and Michael Kiwanuka both proved their worth in their showcases, and the other significant breakthrough act was Scotland’s Django Django, one of the few UK bands to stand out as really different. Their ethereal chants and stoned synths are laid over raging percussion and performed by a charmingly eccentric bunch.
It was tough to beat the thrill of seeing Kaiser Chiefs in the tiny Cedar Street Courtyard, and yes, they do perhaps go through the motions, but they have a panache and humour sadly lacking in Keane, who attempted, haplessly, to follow them. The entire show, however, was stolen by the crunching rock of Southampton’s Band Of Skulls. In other SXSW venues, Eminem joined 50 Cent, Jack White caused a human traffic jam, Lionel Ritchie wowed the Austin Music Hall, Freedy Johnson performed Cruel To Be Kind on a ukulele, and Jimmy Cliff played an entire set with his flies undone. It takes all sorts.