Friday afternoon’s South By Southwest party hosted by Spin magazine was a microcosm of this year’s festival. There were mixtape rappers (Big K.R.I.T., G-Side), indie darlings looking to buck the sophomore slump (Best Coast, Chairlift, the Big Pink), and a healthy dose of WTF-ness (the sprawling disco orchestra Escort). And like most of the bigger showcases over the past few days, it ultimately centered around the anticipated arrival of a star.
At Stubb’s BBQ on Friday afternoon, that star was Santigold. Following the critical and commercial success of her debut album, she has been missing in action for too long, and her second album Master of My Make-Believe, which has been completed and sitting on the shelf for a year, has had a few rumored release dates (it will finally arrive on April 24). With so much time on the bench, what would Santigold 2.0 look and sound like?
The jury remains out on the new material, but even if the songs go completely south, there will at least be something to look at. Santi took the stage with a pair of, as she described them, “badass b—–s who will f— you up.” To call them dancers would be a bit of a misnomer; while they did indeed execute precise choreography, they were more like those interpreters who translate musical performances into sign language—except in this case, they were explaining Santi’s songs to aliens.
The showmanship often upstaged the songs, since the most infectious grooves came out of already-familiar tunes like “Creator” and “Lights Out” (also known as “that Bud Lite Lime song”). As Santi explored her complicated beat science, the dancers waved pom-poms, did tricks with umbrellas, and at one point did a mini-skit with two people in a horse costume (which prompted one confused—and possibly chemically altered—reveler to wonder, “Wait, is that a real horse on stage?”).
Were Santigold a new artist, this development would be a bit vexing. After all, a performance gimmick may get you noticed in the beginning but will more likely prove an obstacle later on. But Santi is an excellent performer with an incredibly confident approach, and most importantly, the crowd, which was distracted for most of the afternoon, was in her thrall for the duration of her set and seemed eager to welcome her back.
The only other exceptional performance to emerge from the din of Friday afternoon was over at the Fader Fort. In the midst of the afternoon humidity, British quartet 2:54 stepped on stage to make their case as a band to watch. It always seems as though there is a female-centric combo looking to pull transcendent beauty out of droning guitar—before 2:54 there was Warpaint, and before Warpaint there was the Like.
But unlike those other two groups, 2:54 take a more aggro approach, dousing the hum with well-plotted blasts of crunch and thump. It’s as though mid-’90s-era PJ Harvey was fronting oft-forgotten fuzzy ladies Madder Rose, which give songs like “Scarlet” both a haunting beauty and a dangerous edge. There didn’t seem to be much potential for mainstream radio success, though if somebody offered you solid odds on one of 2:54′s songs showing up in a key scene during The Vampire Diaries, you should probably take that bet.