[caption id="attachment_30054" align="aligncenter" width="640" caption="Photo courtesy of M. Ward/Facebook"][/caption]
Maybe it was the setting of his first (of three) official SXSW Showcase, at the 150+ year old downtown Austin cathedral currently serving as the Central Presbyterian Church, but the material M. Ward debuted last night from his new album, A Wasteland Companion (out April 10 via Merge Records), was especially glum. It seems unlikely anybody is going to be using these songs to sell beer during NFL game broadcasts. Maybe beer after a funeral? In any case, new song "Pure Joy" opened the set with as subdued and low-key a presentation a song with that title could possibly have without dipping into farce -- lots of a capellas in both that one and the second song, another downer that opened with the line, "Everything I have learned I have forgotten." Other lines from other songs -- which were heavy on the recurring themes of childhood nostalgia and the Rio Grande -- included "There was a boy/ A very strange, enchanted boy" and "The first time I ran away/ I saw faces in the trees." Introducing the new "Crawl After You," Ward apologized for the number of ballads the band was playing, before delivering another slow, sad one with imagery-based lyrics that reminded us a bit of Tom Waits. When it came to the straight-ahead rockers, your only real options were from previous albums -- and it sure didn't seem like he was in the mood to drop "Never Had Nobody Like You" or anything like it into the set. If the M. Ward you like best is the sad one, his SXSW showcase last night leads us to believe that he's going to be in full effect on A Wasteland Companion.