The Best of SXSW Music: Wednesday 3/14/2012

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Ben Westhoff
Toy Bombs
The Toy Bombs - The Thirsty Nickel You know those hungover early SX afternoons, when you'd rather kill yourself than go into some loud, cornball 6th Street bar? This time I ignored that impulse, a rockabilly-mod looking foursome having sucked me off the street into a place called The Thirsty Nickel. Their trick? Sheer playing-their-asses-off-for-a-record-deal energy. Turns out they were Los Angeles garage rock outfit Toy Bombs, in the midst of 15 minutes of pure bouncing off the walls inspiration, before a crowd smaller than the Rolling Stones' craft service squad. It was incredibly melodic in an acoustically-challenged room, and the players emerged fully soaked in sweat, imploring the small crowd to come see their next show, though they had no idea where it was. It was the performance of their lives. Or, even more likely, they play like that every time. -- Ben Westhoff

Fiona Apple - Stubbs BBQ
Fiona Apple's set at Stubb's last night, the first act on a bill with buzz acts Alabama Shakes and Sharon Van Etten, was the first hottest ticket of this young SXSW. Lines for badges and wristbands wrapped around the venue. Opening with "Fast As You Can", Apple's first show outside Los Angeles in quite a while, was rickety in places, but Apple has never been a smooth and silky act. Her voice was a gravelly wonder, now evoking Tom Waits, and the years have been kind to her material. New cuts from the upcoming album, like "On The Bound" were raw, much more raw than her debut. But Apple was never a pop singer, she's a poet who happens to sing in line with Leonard Cohen or Laura Nyro. Fifteen years since 1996's Tidal and it's wave of adulation, and half a decade since Extraordinary Machine, she's still compelling onstage, minus the technical difficulties. Closing with her now eternal "Criminal", Apple proved she's "back". How long that will be, remains to be seen. There was a moment during "Carrion" where she slinked back to watch her band, and it seemed to stop time at Stubb's. If you were there, you know what I mean. -- Craig Hlavaty

Craig Hlavaty
Fiona Apple - Stubb's BBQ I got goosebumps at least three times during Fiona Apple's set at Stubb's, mainly because I have the clearest memories of every aspect of Tidal, her 1996 debut: The cover, the lyrics, the time. 1997 was a bad year for me, and that album somehow steadied, since it was ostensibly about a breakup/heartbreak. Seeing her play "Criminal," "Sleep to Dream" and "Carrion" 15 years later made me look back at 18-year-old me with wonder. Was I really ever that morose? Yes, but 2012 Fiona Apple doesn't seem to be, though she looked like she still might cut a bitch. She played a few new songs from her upcoming album, The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, and even though she didn't play piano that much, "I know I'm a mess he don't wanna clean up" from "Paper Bag" still hit as hard now as it did then. Follow that up with the wonderful Sharon Van Etten, and I get the feeling this generation might think of her heartbreak songs with the same fondness. -- Audra Schroeder

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