Nick Cave is a hellacious frontman, and the Australian songwriter with the stentorian voice never cracked a smile as he whipped his rail thin frame around the stage of Stubb's BBQ on Wednesday, starting off the NPR Music showcase, one of the marquee bills of SXSW, with a bang.
The sun hadn't entirely set when Cave, violinist Warren Ellis and the rest of the Bad Seeds took the Stubb's stage, so the singer said "We're going to start off with a realy long song, and hopefully by the time we're done, it'll be dark." The band then blasted into the bruising "Higgs Boson Blues," and it got plenty dark from there, with lots of bloody Biblical imagery, mixed in with Cave's highly theatrical yet dead serious belief in the mythological power of early rock and roll.
Maybe the funniest moment of SXSW so far came when Cave, who in a SXSW interview on Tuesday compared birthing songs to "pushing burning watermelons out a tiny orifice" wordlessly mocked texting fans in front of the stage by imitating their thumb movements. Don't cross Nick Cave, he'll make fun of you in front of 2000 people, and on a streaming webcast to boot! Cave & the Bad Seeds play a sold-out show at the Keswick Theater on Tuesday.
After Cave played at Stubb's, the action moved indoors for Waxahatchee, the nom de rock of Alabama-born Philadelphia songwriter Katie Crutchfield, whose album Cerulean Salt is one of the standout releases of the young year.
Indoors at Stubb's in front of a far smaller crowd, Cruchfield introduced herself and her band - "I'm Waxahachee. We're Waxahatchee. " Before the bassist and drummer weighed in, she started off with three spare, affecting solo songs on electric guitar. It was her first ever performance at the Austin festival, and Crutchfield admittted to nervousness as she faced a bank of big lensed photographers at her feet, SXSW style.
Waxahatchee's ruminations are fraught with the frailty and uncertainty of real life, but backed up with rock solid songwriting sense. "I'll write you letters and I'll write you songs," she sang in "Noccalula," "And you will be endlessly distracting and then, it'll fall flat onto paper again." Crutchfield is on a bill with the Bernie Worrell Orchestra at The Liberty on Saturday and she plays 285 Kent in Brooklyn on April 3.