Night two of the SXSW Music Festival featured a trio of big guitar bands with new lineups, playing new — in some cases not even completed — albums. The pressure was on to strike a balance between satiating fans with classics and testing new material without trying their patience.
The Southern rock band Drive-By Truckers — now without its third singer-songwriter, Jason Isbell — proved the worth of their new album, The Big To-Do, right from the get-go at Stubb’s. Remaining singer-songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley went back and forth with hardened new songs about old themes, principally boozing (”The Fourth Night of My Drinking”), whoring (”Birthday Boy”), and employment with “fast food wages” (”This Fucking Job”).
Muscle Shoals legend Spooner Oldham joined the band on keyboard for their final song, “Let There Be Rock.” Hood said it was in homage to record stores, where boys and girls learn about music new and old, and about Big Star’s Alex Chilton, who died of an apparent heart attack Wednesday.
Band of Horses followed with their bar-raising stadium rock. Under a crescent moon emblazoned on a blue backdrop projected onto the underside of the stage’s half-shell, frontman Ben Bridwell led his revamped lineup through a stout set including “The Funeral,” one of the great singles of the passing decade. The middle of the set featured two songs — “Factory” and “Compliments” — from the new album Infinite Arms, out May 18th. They may have been working titles but the mechanics therein were anything but in flux. “Factory” was a casual rocker with a punchy refrain and an undercurrent of keys, over which Bridwell sang something to the effect of, “I got to get my shit together and try to find something to sing.”
Headliner Broken Social Scene arrived with more manpower than the two prior bands combined. Twelve microphones awaited the ever-fluctuating Canadian collective well past midnight. Jason Collett, a former core member participating in SXSW as his own concern, joined the band’s brain trust — Kevin Drew, Andrew Whiteman, and a freshly shaven Brendan Canning — for the intro track, a new one called “World Sick” (hear it here). The song took advantage of the band’s five-guitar assault, its ascending and descending melodies hopscotching gracefully along Drew’s lyrics about the homesickness inherent to incessant touring.
The band played a handful of old songs, among them a “7/4 (Shoreline)” embellished with a seven-person horn section, but mostly they rocked out new songs from the forthcoming Forgiveness Rock Record, out May 4th. “We’re gonna play our guts out,” Drew said, referring to dance- and keyboard-inflected songs like “Forced to Love,” “Texico Bitches,” and “All to All.” “But we’re human beings,” Drew continued, “still trying to figure things out.”