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It was a showcase in the backyard of a typically Austin establishment, a vintage clothing store that also sells records and New Agey hipster jewelry and shares space with a store devoted to art books. I'd hoped to catch Fielded, the current project of former Chicagoan and ex-Ga'an front woman Lindsay Powell, but I managed to show up directly after she finished. But I did get to see Talk Normal, a noisy deconstructionist punk duo that's become a mainstay of the Brooklyn art-rock scene. I've never actually seen them live before, and their set made me regret the many opportunities I've had to do so but didn't take. Guitarist-bassist Sarah Register intersperses minimalist riffing with bursts of grungy noise, while drummer Andrya Ambro flings out the most complex drum parts you can make out of a kit as stripped-down as hers while also delivering an attention-dominating vocal performance and generally making you feel bad about your own ability to multitask.
The show itself was tiny—maybe two dozen people in the audience, a dinky vocal PA, and a food cart selling vegan sandwiches. (Again, tres Austin.) But after the several hours I'd spent navigating wristband lines and swarms of publicists, its low-key charms had an outsize impact on me. It reminded me of the weird little shoebox-size DIY events that used to spring up on the fringes of SXSW, back before the festival claimed every square foot of space in Austin that could fit a stage and a sponsor's banner. The modern SXSW is what it is, and it's not without its own kind of pleasures, but watching Talk Normal with a bunch of people sitting around in the grass not really worrying about seeing or being seen was a relief.
I had another flashback to SXSWs of old later in the night. I'd headed over to Club 119 to check out mixtape rapper Young Scooter at a Source magazine showcase, and a day full of shows run with almost militarily precise timing duped me into making a rookie mistake—that is, arriving at a rap show expecting the rapper to take the stage at the time stated on the schedule. So instead of Young Scooter, I got to see an MC named Ricky Rude. Ricky Rude's gimmick is that he's a punk rapper, which means he dresses like a Darby Crash knockoff, his beats have lots of distorted guitars, and he raps in a vaguely punk-singer kind of way. If the description sounds terrible, the performance was possibly worse.
I could see something like this going over really well in a college town where the punks have just discovered hip-hop, but the crowd waiting for Young Scooter wasn't having it. My own reaction evolved from contact embarrassment to severe displeasure to bemusement over this dude sharing a bill with one of the most popular current rappers without a chart hit. With expertly curated lineups now the norm, I'd forgotten that there used to be showcases like this, with bills that seem to have been drawn randomly from a hat and arranged by someone wearing a blindfold.
Ricky Rude's set ended to boos from the crowd, which was the first time I'd ever seen that at SXSW. But in his last seconds onstage he managed to almost redeem himself with one of the most amazing walk-off lines I've ever heard: "This won't be the first time you see me. Ya bitch."