Live Music Reviews

I've reviewed live music in Austin for the Austin American-Statesman since 2013, when I went to a 6 a.m. SXSW radio broadcast unsolicited and asked the entertainment editor if she wanted to publish what I wrote. (I worked the night shift in the newsroom at the time, so it wasn't like I lost a lot of sleep or anything.) Before that, I wrote a music blog with my old roommate that we thought was pretty good at the time.

Anyway. Here are a few of my favorite reviews from shows around Austin. Read more at Austin Music Source.

Sufjan Stevens kisses death at Bass Concert Hall

Sufjan Stevens: the mad prophet of all kids sad, spiritual and starry-eyed. Church day is Sunday, no matter where you go — sometimes Wednesday night, too, if you like potluck dinners. But on Tuesday night at Bass Concert Hall, a packed house of pilgrims gathered at the feet of a priest in a trucker hat, a mirror reflecting their personal sorrows back to them, and a dry-witted troubadour of tragic love. ... Read more

Legendary Loretta Lynn takes SXSW on a jukebox joyride

Literally dazzling in a dress so ruby red that it looked like she peeled it off of a witch’s feet, Lynn held court with her band behind her (including son Ernie) and a lifetime’s worth of fans in front of her. ... Read more

PWR BTTM at SXSW: Glitter, guitar and gay tears

Ben Hopkins (guitar and vocals, then drums) looked like Jesus of Nazareth got in a heated argument with a clearance bin of McCall’s dress patterns, festooned in a crown of rainbow threads and draped in black sequins and garish prints. He fell face-first into a makeup caboodle, his mouth a shiny red crater. ... Read more

Carly Rae Jepsen is killing pop to keep it alive

Here’s the deal: If you thought C.R.J. started and stopped with chart-juggernaut “Call Me Maybe,” you need to check yourself, grandpa. (You probably didn’t even know everyone’s agreed to like Justin Bieber now.) “Emotion” is the poster child for a curious cultural shift — pop music, ostensibly built to be popular, has drifted from the FM dial to the buzz blog and found new kinda-underground appreciation. ... Read more

The stars at night are big and bright for Beach House at ACL Live

There’s no point in trying to draw a better metaphor for the evening’s music. Shimmer, danger and wonder. You could find them in the Hill Country skies or in a crowded room on Second Street last night. ... Read more

She said, he said: The Weeknd may have earned it at ACL, but he creeped us out

Now that we’ve brought up the “bad decisions” elephant in the public park, let’s talk themes. For the bulk of this set — with all its imposing, elastic beats and soaring R&B emotion — I felt like Tipper Gore. My chief thought: “This is morally irresponsible.” ... Read more

Nicki Minaj crashes X Games Austin with a butt-shaking feminist party

At the risk of waxing rhapsodic, Nicki Minaj is a hero — maybe not to everyone, but to many. The self-professed/self-evident queen of rap closed out the second night of X Games Austin at Circuit of the Americas on Friday night with a greatest hits compilation that was, true to expectations, very pink and very … butts. (There were a lot of butts.) ... Read more

Lorde, for one night, the most popular woman in Austin

Lorde, already iconic, emerged in an all-black ensemble — crop top, harem pants and a diaphanous sleeveless kimono. She jerked her limbs without inhibition, with every industrial beat and droning synth blast. She thrashed her body up and down, using her wavy, brown plumage to maximum effect. She looked like a goth comet. And that’s exactly what half the festival was there to see. .. Read more

Wynonna Judd at SXSW: Tales of Antone’s, Jesus and Taco Bell

“Started out at a bar and ended up in a church,” Judd said. “Every day’s a Saturday, every day’s a Sunday.” Opening with “Change the World,” Judd grabbed on to each note and shook it in her teeth, and drawing out phrases like salt water taffy. ... Read more

Future Islands drops jaws, melts hearts at ACL Live

The highlight of the evening: a rendition of summer jam “Seasons (Waiting On You)” that leaned even less than usual on Herring’s pseudo-patrician/Bowie-tinged singing voice and even more on his throaty, death metal worthy gut-roars. (Don’t worry, it’s not just the kids who were into it. A white-haired woman in the front row appeared positively transported.) ... Read more

At SXSW, Cloud Nothings reign and sweat pours

The air was hot, the bodies slippery and the ground wet with spilled beer, and those not in the cheerful crush in front of the stage stood on the benches lining the walls of the bar for a better look at Dylan Baldi at the mic. The band charged through anthem after anthem — “Now Hear In,” “Stay Useless,” “Fall In,” “I’m Not Part of Me” — and that surprisingly well-intentioned mosh pit took the most care with crowd surfers that I’ve seen. (In between screaming “You’re a part of me” at each other, of course.) ... Read more

Jenny Lewis full of magic at ACL Live

Lewis is a performer who knows levels, easily transitioning from light pop melodies to tearing up the stage with alt-country aplomb to laying on velvety pain on the torchy “Bad Man’s World.” She shined in subtleties: a serpentine flick of the finger when she sang of golden rings on “Slippery Slopes,” singing “there’s a little bit of fight left in me yet” through a snarled lip on “Head Underwater.” ... Read more

Halsey is a rebel with a cult

“I write songs about sex,” a dour, 21-year-old singer said from Austin City Limits Music Festival’s HomeAway stage during her Sunday set. “I write songs about being sad. I write songs about the human condition.” Halsey knows her brand. ... Read more

An open letter to Hozier

First of all: big fan of manbuns, yours in particular, keep up the nice work. Secondly, why don’t people give you enough credit? ... Read more

Vampire Weekend owns the night at Stubb's

Watching an audience watch (Ezra) Koenig feels like witnessing the beginnings of a cult. He is Bram Stoker's Dracula in camo-print shorts and a fully buttoned polo, forever cocking his head to one side and raising his eyebrows with every culturally literate line, all in the service of hypnotizing a willing audience full of Lucys. ... Read more

Imelda May is the patron saint of sin at ACL Fest

As she slid into one of her first songs, the singer looked at the trumpet under eaves of narrowed mascara, her lips rounded into a rose. She released them in a flash of ivory as the trumpet whined a pained whine. Hips to the side. Hips to the other side. The final note. ... Read more

Ed Sheeran brings awkward charm to ‘Austin City Limits’

Sheeran’s devoted front-row Greek chorus sang along to every song with unceasing eye contact, many literally fanning themselves as their knees literally buckled. If you were wondering if that sort of thing still happens at concerts, well, there you have it. ... Read more

Paramore thrills, Fall Out Boy thuds at Austin360 Amphitheater

Fall Out Boy’s bloated Saturday night set brought nothing but questions to mind. How did a clever little pop-punk band from the suburbs of Chicago end up mired in a contrived slog that’s equal parts hair metal spectacle and dad rock dullness? If this is all “artistic exploration,” why does the band seem so unenthusiastic about the songs they’re playing? Why is Pete Wentz shouting at me? ... Read more

Ben Howard brings a thunderstorm to Austin Music Hall

From the opening Spaghetti Western strings of “Small Things,” with a tousle-headed Howard illuminated in a rainbow corona by the spotlight behind him but otherwise cloaked in shadow and smoke, the mood never ticked up past “conflicted and compelling sorrow.” ... Read more

Angel Olsen dreams a little too deeply

When a SXSW artist tells you she’s trying to put you to sleep at 1 a.m., your first instinct is not to take them seriously. ... Read more

Pity Sex gives SXSW the late-night closer it deserves

A performance of “Dogwalk” put a bow on the night, diving headfirst one last time into a deafening whirlpool of feelings. Pity Sex’s huge, raw sound taps right into the heart of what SXSW can still be: brash and just off the beaten path. ... Read more

Other Music Criticism

360 First Spins

My Statesman colleague Deborah Sengupta Stith and I started hosting a weekly Periscope show in 2015, where we review new album releases every Tuesday -- literally giving LPs and singles their first spin. For rights reasons, we do not archive these streams, but we do write recap posts with reaction GIFs. Read the archives here.

"Best Of" Lists

I've written's year-end lists of best albums for two years. Here's 2014 (spoiler: Jenny Lewis took the top spot) and 2013 (Vampire Weekend, if you've gotta know).