Stubbs BBQ today was a sea of polar-fleece parkas, wooly hats and shivering hands: Thousands of fans lured by the promise of big-name headliners and free TV-chef treats, despite atypically icy and un-Austin-like temperatures. (My fingers are almost too cold to type this report, no joke).
The weather actually proved to have a real effect on Rachael Ray’s Fourth Annual SXSW party, beyond attendees’ red noses and hunched shoulders—several acts struggled with technical difficulties due to the low temperatures and single-powered generator on-site. But an already-packed house surged to the main stage to see She & Him, the sunny folk-pop pairing of actress Zooey Deschanel and Portland singer-songwriter M. Ward.
Deschanel, in a wide-brimmed red hat, looked and sounded the picturesque warbly-songbird part, cooing Volume One’s “Change is Hard” like Linda Ronstadt’s little sister, on into the just-released Volume Two‘s swoony opener “Thieves,” below:
With minimal stage patter, the pair—flanked by three additional musicians to fill out their live sound—ran through pretty, if not always galvanizing versions of “I Was Made for You,” “Ridin’ in My Car,” “Home,” “In the Sun,” “Home” and “This Was Not a Test.” “Magic Trick,” a track from M. Ward’s lovely Post-War, earned a jam out session with Zooey on a tiny ukelele while Ward faced off with his normal-sized instrument. She was back to tambourine for jaunty closer “Why Do You Let Me Stay Here,” floating out an a sweet a cappella outro. Throughout, the crowd gave their full attention, but even at its peak, something about the day felt muted (or maybe just bejeezusly frozen).
On the second stage just before She & Him, Tom Morello and Boots Rileys’ Street Sweeper Social Club appeared: Lots of Rage Against the Machine riffs and a cover of LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out” that seemed to galvanize a wandering crowd of showgoers clutching Rachael Ray quesadillas and mini meatball subs. Soulful, jangly Philadelphia rockers Dr. Dog started strong, then struggled gamely against recurrent mic problems. Jakob Dylan sadly underused special guest Neko Case in his disappointingly snoozy set, culled largely from his upcoming T-Bone Burnett-produced Women and Country album; too much much mild midtempo twang, not enough dynamic energy to make it catch fire with the audience.
If dynamism was in short supply, it may be because Andrew WK stole it all. The wild-man rocker, in his customary white jeans and white t-shirt, romped onstage like a joyful thrash fraggle, inciting the crowd in what is basically a 30-minute conjugation of the word “party” (it’s a noun! it’s a verb! it’s both!): “Party Hard,” “It’s Time to Party,” “Party Til You Puke.” (also: “She Is Beautiful,” and the equally instructive “Get Ready to Die” and “Get Wet”) With only a black thong leotard between her and the elements, his backup singer —a wild-haired girl who hooted and punched the air like a tae bo instructor at an anarchy day-camp—looked like she was having too much fun to feel the cold. And for this 30 minutes at least, they seemed to have enough for the whole crowd.