- Posted on Mar 18th 2011 12:45PM by Kenneth Partridge
Joseph Llanes for AOL
Leading the six-piece Menahan Street Band, a crackerjack ensemble featuring members of the Budos Band and Dap-Kings, 62-year-old up-from-nothing newcomer Charles Bradley went the classic route. On the title track of his recently released debut album, 'No Time for Dreaming,' he asked in no uncertain terms the kind of deeply felt question his main inspiration, James Brown, posed throughout his career: "Why is it so hard to make it in America?"
With their barrage of guitars, bass, synths and samplers, headliners TV on the Radio wondered the same thing. The Brooklyn art-rockers just happened to follow the question mark with a few dozen exclamation points, capping in grand fashion an evening that also saw performances by Foster the People, Noah and the Whale and Portugal.the Man.
TV on the Radio is gearing up to release its fourth album, 'Nine Types of Light,' and given they sat out much of 2010, Thursday's set marked the triumphant return of one of this millennium's most consistently groundbreaking rock bands. Six strong, thanks to the addition of a trombone player (and a musician filling in for bassist Gerard Smith, who is battling lung cancer), the group played everything louder and faster than on record, turning understated early gems 'Staring at the Sun' and 'Young Liars' into stadium-worthy anthems.
They fared even better on the avant-funk jams 'Dancing Choose' and 'Red Dress,' singer Tunde Adebimpe and guitarist Kyp Malone blending their voices in the strange harmony that is their trademark. The band slowed down for the love ballad 'Will Do,' one of several new songs, but on 'Satellite,' the second of two encore tunes, they came on with the speed and ferocity of an '80s hardcore act.
While fans have come to expect great things from TV on the Radio, Bradley and the Menahan crew treated the Spinner showcase like a coming-out party. If most of the Stubbs audience had never seen Bradley before, they became instant fans, realizing after the first line of his first song, 'Heartache and Pain,' that they were in the presence of greatness. Bradley plays and sings like a man making up for lost time, and after years as a James Brown tribute artist, he's got the shrieks and gyrations down pat.
"Now you know what I'm talking about," he told the audience during closer 'Golden Rule.' "Now you know my heart is for real."
Hours earlier, as the show kicked off at 8:30PM, Foster the People did their best to make that same point. The upstart L.A. band has been likened to MGMT, and while the quintet sometimes mixes dance beats with wonky electronics, justifying the comparison with songs like 'Keep on Rising,' it shares more in common with the group that headlined Stubb's the night before: Duran Duran. Photogenic founder and namesake Mark Foster knows how to write a synth-pop hook, and on the single 'Pumped Up Kicks,' he had the packed lawn singing along, commanding the stage like a Gen Y Simon LeBon.
Next up, spiffily dressed British five-piece Noah and the Whale did indie-pop with a folk twist, pairing fiddle with electric guitar on a series of deceptively simple, massively tuneful pop songs. Their songs skew hopeful, even cheery, and when they were forced to cut their set short -- likely due to technical difficulties that prevented them from taking the stage at their allotted time -- violinist Tom Hobden opted to accentuate the positive.
"That's the way life goes, I guess," he said, transitioning nicely into single 'L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N.,' an affirmation and spelling lesson in one.
Falling somewhere between Foster the People and the pair of soul heavies that followed, Portland-based Portugal.the Man played 45 minutes of jammy, psychedelic R&B.
With his sweatshirt hood pulled over his head, singer-guitarist John Gourley looked like a druid and sang like Jason Mraz, hitting high falsetto notes on choruses that would have sounded massive even without all the accompanying musical fireworks. But fireworks are a Portugal specialty. Gourley plays a white Gretsch nearly as big as he is, and while he noodles away, Ryan Neighbors gets proggy on keys, bassist Zachary Carothers lays down booming lines and drummer Jason Sechrist keeps time with flashing strobe lights.
Their solution to the problem of making it in America: blast off into outer space.
Check out the band's SXSW Top 100 Profile and watch the full interview with TV on the Radio below. Visit AOL Music's SXSW site for more Live from Austin video interviews
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