SxSW Music Diary: WOMPS, Hinds & Iggy Pop
Glasgow's WOMPS win American fans early in the day, heavily hyped Hinds charm the patrons of a packed barbecue house, and Iggy Pop brings a hailstorm of expletives and dark prophecy to an unforgettable set at The Moody Theater on Wednesday night at SxSW.
"This is the hottest I've ever played," says Ewan Grant of Glasgow's WOMPS. It's actually quite cool inside The Side Bar on 7th St., but the white light of Austin's noontime sun blares at the boys' backs, and Grant's flannel (which indicates his foreignness as much as his accent) can't be kind as he puts his all into the band's first of three shows here at Sx.
"Our hangovers will go away after the second or third song," he says, before soliciting advice from the audience as to whether he should snag a PBR or a Lonestar. They favour the latter in unanimous chorus – I raise my own Lonestar tallboy in solidarity with the Ewan's struggle, and the trio tears into their next song. On a song like Live A Little Less, Grant can shriek or sail as need be – it fits perfectly atop WOMPS' tuneful pop-punk noodling and the low-end sound they produce today (augmented by Scott McColl on bass). Drummer Owen Wickstead cites The Cribs as an influence, but WOMPS' sound is harder – Wickstead's bludgeoning his drums, and their 'hooks' are really left hooks and right hooks. Songs like Cancer of the Bone, off their upcoming LP Our Fertile Forever, are undeniably catchy, and please everyone here, from the bouncers to the bands on deck.
Later we catch up over a few cans of Austin Beerworks' festival release at Cheer Up Charlie's down the street. WOMPS have played in New York on three different trips already, but this was their first gig in the west, and it's evident they enjoyed the experience. It can be hard, they say, to get Scots out to shows, and the crowds that do show up to Glasgow punk gigs are overwhelmingly young, white, and male. WOMPS' audience at The Side Bar was more diverse, and maybe more fun – "I like when people actually dance," Grant says.
Pointing over his shoulder toward the venue where at least a hundred people are packed shoulder-to-shoulder to hear another act, Wickstead observes that "this is a prime example – the industry is oversaturated. It's hard to say 'come see my band' when there's another next door." But of course a band in their position doesn't come to Austin and bring their own audience – they're here to win stumble-upon fans, and if their next two shows (Thursday at The Main II and Sunday at Hard Luck Lounge) go like this one, they'll have laid the groundwork for more American appearances in the near future.
The upper level of Lamberts Downtown Barbecue, a tony ribs and brisket joint, is filled to capacity when we arrive later that afternoon. C3 and Live Nation, the promoters behind Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza, have a hand in Sx too, and are putting on a showcase with some of the most buzzed-about acts of the week. We get in just in time for Mothers, here from Athens, Georgia. Their huge, warm sound is well suited to the overfilled bar, where baskets of Angus beef have to be crowd-surfed over heads from one side of the room to the other. "It hits you right in the trachea," a friend in the crowd says. He's right, and not only because of our position next to the throbbing monitors.
'He wants me mostly when I'm leaving,' Kristine Leschper sings to us; 'I was half gone when we met.' Enigmatic lines like these open up like the bright centers of Georgia's Cherokee Roses – her vocals take a cue from Florence, but Mothers' dreamy rhythms are easier to ride, while syncopated tangents keep the set from becoming mere background music. At their best Mothers sound like an asteroid collision witnessed in real-time through the Hubble – they loosen up and the set turns into a titillating jam, but this ends all too soon.
Hinds take the stage next, and run through a goofy soundcheck while singing the praises of the pulled pork they ate downstairs. These charming Madrileñas are dressed like The Brat Pack, toss around huge heads of hair, and sing through irrepressible smiles. Their energy and freewheeling spirit belie the rigor behind their reputation: these are well-shaped songs, rock you can't say 'no' to. The lyrics are mostly indecipherable as the sound washes over us, but their cannily crafted indie-pop doesn't need to be understood. Playing 17 shows this week, their own enthusiasm has proved infectious – everyone from an Uber driver to CHVRCHES' Ian Cook has told us that they're keen to see these girls.
After feasting downstairs on jalapeño-cornbread, fried okra, mac and cheese, a quaich of cilantro coleslaw, and short ribs drowned in three varieties of house-made hot sauce, our party sets off for the Moody Theater, famed home of Austin City Limits Live. We're here for Iggy Pop, backed by Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme and Dean Fertita as well as Matt Helders of the Arctic Monkeys, but we arrive in time to catch a few tunes from Noveller, who plucks aching lines of sound from her guitar. It's good material but few here seem to be in the mood for ambient music. This could be the soundtrack to a Netflix documentary about the mistreatment of Pluto by the International Astronomical Union – right now she just sounds like she'd be improved by a band.
This is, after all, the case with Iggy Pop, whose Post Pop Depression benefits from Homme's craftsmanship and Helders' precise and unimpeachable drumming, producing something that blends elements of punk, desert rock, and New Wave to make for an intriguing album and a live show at turns transporting and bizarre. Some of these songs, American Valhalla, for example, are sleepers, and could use a little more of Iggy's Stooges-era grit and spittle – at some moments during the set it feels easy to write off the old guy, who prances awkwardly around the stage like a dropsical goat-man. But the stronger Post Pop Depression material is full of ominous gloom and prophetic crooning – it draws us in. Pop makes an obligatory stage dive and starts working in older material, notably Tonight and The Passenger from the 1977 Pop-Bowie collaboration Lust for Life.
After a brief departure, the band returns for an encore, Homme toasting us with a glass of red wine, or blood. Now we're close enough to the stage to hit either of Iggy's withered nipples with a barroom dart, and he steps into the role of senile shirtless grandpa that he's been dancing around all night. And it's fantastic. This includes a brief encomium to Helders – "I just like to listen to Matt playing the drums," he says; "It puts me in a good mood, no matter what" – and then a lecture on distinguishing between shit and Shinola. "I wish you would fall in love with me," he says, and by now we have – some for the first time and some for the dozenth. He closes with a quintessentially Pop utterance: "We played a long time. It's a long life, and I showed up, so fuck it."