SXSW Music: Punks Not Dead


Punk lives at South by Southwest:across generations, genders, wardrobes an skills sets.As Dr. Seuss never wrote, you can do it in a suit, you can do it in a dress, you can play it quite precisely, you can play it like a mess. Much of my Wednesday at SXSW was a blast of punk old and new, a testament both to indie-rock’s archival pride and to the enduring alchemy of frustration and loud guitars,

But SXSW didn’t have to compound the frustration by scheduling two punk elders-Nick Cave and Iggy and the Stooges-in overlapping sets at different (and fully packed) clubs, so that only someone with connections could hear them both. Mr Cave, in a black suit, was wrathful, sarcastic and slow-burning as he stalked the stage, with a band that built the music from glowering driges to apocalypic blast of dissonance; songs from his new album, push the sky Away, were interspersed with equally barbed dramas from years past like From Her to Eternity.

Luckily, NPR was recording the set. So I broke away to hear Iggy and the Stooges, reuniting Iggy Pop with the guitarist James Williamson, gleefully cackling and hammering through the live premieres of songs from their album due in April, “Ready to Die,” with titles like “Burn,” “Dirty Deal” and “Sex and Money,” which rev up to garage-rock speeds. With Mr. Williamson making every lead sound proudly insolent, Iggy Pop — shirtless of course — hurled himself balletically around the stage and into the crowd, grinning as he introduced new songs like “Gun,” which he said was about thoughts of buying one. “Would you give a gun to a guy like me?” he asked.

None of the younger punk (and punky) bands I saw matched the untrammeled physicality of Mr. Pop, who’s 65. But Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had her own nutty spontaneity: cooing at one moment and screeching moments later, bounding around the stage, wrapping herself in a big scarf as she sang and eventually flinging it into the crowd.

Other groups were busy with their instruments. Wax Idols, from Oakland, reached back to the crashing, dissonant Gothic new wave of Siouxsie and the Banshees, with the singer and guitarist Heather Fedewa (aka Hether Fortune) always keeping a melody within the blare of scrabbling guitars. And a band that set off serious moshing, Fidlar, from Los Angeles, worked a sly paradox. In songs about characters leading dissolute, drug-addled lives, the music is as cleanly executed as punk could be; unisons are perfectly tuned and timed, like one big shared instrument, pounding home riffs like a stainless-steel railroad spike. It’s punk as a known genre: not a new invention, but a mighty efficient one.

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