AUSTIN, Texas - The volume turned up Tuesday as the raucous SXSW Music Festival took the baton from the geeky Interactive conference, and thousands of rock and rap fans poured into Austin.
SXSW Interactive drew to a close with its final panels Tuesday afternoon. Neil Young rolled out his hi-fi online music store and player PonoMusic. Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen talked Portlandia. Chelsea Clinton gave a keynote.
And then the music began. Once again, this year's fest is packed with huge names unable to resist the promotional opportunity SXSW offers, all attaching their names to corporate brands. Coldplay headlined the iTunes Festival in its first-ever night at SXSW on Tuesday. Jay Z and Kanye West are playing a Samsung- and Chevrolet-sponsored event on Wednesday. And Lady Gaga will play for Doritos on Thursday.
For the music fan, SXSW is awesomely enticing - and a huge logistical challenge. You can enter a digital lottery and hope to get into the really big shows, or try to plot out an evening in which most of your time is not spent waiting in line. On Tuesday, the queues for buzz acts like Australian band the Preatures and Chicago MC Chance the Rapper were prohibitive.
Out of the chute, the music fest seemed too big to manage: On Tuesday night, a mere 46 venues had a full 8-till-2 slate of bands. From Wednesday to Saturday, that number will double.
I started out at Haven with Arthur Beatrice, a four-piece British pop band with lead singer Ella Girardot. They were playing SXSW on their first-ever day in the United States, and they were a pleasant enough gateway band to the fest, with an understated moodiness like a less-arresting version of The xx.
From there, I went looking to check out a Chicago band called Archie Powell & the Exports at Red 7 Patio, but they were playing two hours before Chance the Rapper. No chance to get in.
OK, nix that. When in doubt, go local. I headed over to Trinity Hall at Old School to catch Pattern Is Movement, the Philadelphia indie-soul duo of singer-keyboardist Andrew Thiboldeaux and drummer Chris Ward, who have a new, self-titled album on the Home Tapes label due out in April.
That turned out to be the right move, with the added bonus that I caught the last few songs by Leverage Models, the terrific indie dance band fronted by convulsively energetic singer Shannon Fields, which also records for Home Tapes. I tried to take some pictures, but they came out blurry because he's such a jittery performer. He had a great sign-off: "We ask nothing from you but your happiness."
Pattern Is Movement then came on and took care of business most effectively. "I gotta say, Philly is in the house tonight," Ward said with a smile, before the bearded band moved into tightly disciplined, starkly soulful songs like "Suffering" from the new album. They took on even more percussive power when Thiboldeaux banged on his own drum.
The showstopper was the duo's trademark cover of D'Angelo's "Untitled (How Does It Feel)," included on the forthcoming Pattern Is Movement, in which Thiboldeaux displayed a supple, impressive falsetto. Not a bad start to SXSW music, after all.
SXSW is really at least four festivals in one. As mentioned, Interactive had just wrapped up, and somewhere in there was SXsports, a mini-festival-within-a-festival. Also just wrapped was SXSW Film.
I tried and failed to get into a lot of great movies at SXSW Film, including the Tilda Swinton vampire flick Only Lovers Left Alive, the Michael Fassbender rock-band comedy Frank, and Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey's Rear Window update Open Windows. But I also saw other great movies.
Two are, at heart, about fathers and sons (and grandsons). Songs From the Forest is a documentary about Louis Sarno, an ethnomusicologist originally from Newark, N.J., who, after hearing music performed by a Bayaka tribe in the Central African Republic in the mid-1980s, moved there and immersed himself in the culture, marrying a tribeswoman and raising a son.
I also caught A Night in Old Mexico, the Robert Duvall vehicle written for him by Lonesome Dove screenwriter Bill Witliff. It concerns a crusty old rancher, played with charming flair by Duvall.
The most anticipated music movie of SXSW Film has got to be Jimi: All Is By My Side, the unconventional Jimi Hendrix bio starring André Benjamin (also known as André 3000 of Outkast) written and directed by 12 Years a Slave Oscar-winner John Ridley.
The movie, which had its U.S. premiere in Austin Wednesday, avoids the cliches of the music biopic genre. Rather than the conventional arc of the rise and substance-abuse-assisted death of a doomed genius, Jimi, which is Ridley's directorial debut, focused on the year Hendrix spent in England before taking America by storm at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.
On Sunday, a week after he won the Oscar for best adapted screenplay, Ridley was in Austin to talk up Jimi.
Of Benjamin, who's startlingly good as Hendrix, Ridley says, "I just cannot imagine anyone else in this role."
Being an Oscar winner hasn't sunk in yet, Ridley says. "To have Robert De Niro hand you that award, to have Meryl Streep tap you on the arm, to be backstage and meet Daniel Day Lewis and Cate Blanchett, and to be only the second person of color to win that award. There's a lot of weight that goes with that."
What about the supposed feud between Ridley and 12 Years director Steve McQueen? They did not thank each other at the Oscars. Ridley says it's nothing.
"Twenty-four hours earlier at the Spirit Awards, I went on and on about Steve. Steve has always been gracious to me. We were there together - we've been to a million events. In this moment when you're rushing on stage, they tell you you have 30 seconds. . . . Steve helped make me who I am. I got no problem with him."