AUSTIN, Texas — "Hi. I'm Patrick."
That's how Patrick Stump, former Fall Out Boy frontman/ current poster boy for portion-control dieting (I mean, have you seen the dude lately?) kicked off his solo career, one song into his much-discussed South by Southwest set. It was a brief, seemingly needless introduction — everyone was here to see him, after all — yet it was somewhat fitting too. He's always been a man of few words.
It was one of the few times he actually spoke to the audience at Austin's dive-licious Dirty Dog Bar, preferring instead to let his new music do the talking for him. And for the most part, that music didn't let him down. It was funky, it was soulful, it was a pretty nice preview of what fans can expect to hear on his upcoming solo album, which, based solely on Friday night's set, is shaping up to be perhaps the greatest '80s R&B album since, well, the '80s.
It wasn't all silky smooth though. Stump's big "one-man band" concept (just him, two guitars, a keyboard and organ, a drum kit, and some samplers) stumbled out of the gate, as opener "As Long As I Know I'm Getting Paid" was marred by sound problems and a general lack of rehearsal time, but things got progressively better from there. A pair of new songs (one a slinky electronic track featuring him keening "I've got nothing to confess," the other a shuffling, funky number with looped drums, handclaps and scratchy guitars) got the night headed in the right direction, and Stump knew it too, loosening up and cracking a smile.
And with his mood sufficiently lifted, Stump took things to the next level. Sliding over to the electric organ, he eased his way into a track that worked in Bobby Womack's "If You Think You're Lonely Now," then morphed into an R&B space jam, full of crashing drums, baying organ and Stump's pained falsetto. He belted out lines like "I'm not brokenhearted, I'm just kind of pissed off," pulled a winging guitar solo out of his fretboard, then let the song fall away for just a second, before bringing the beat back with a decidedly sexy grunt. It was a tantalizing preview of things to come, for sure.
And then, as the crowd whistled their approval, he simply said, "Done," saluted and walked offstage. There really wasn't much else to say. After all, he's a man of few words.
The same, however, could not be said about Courtney Love, who took the stage a few hours after Stump with her newest incarnation of Hole (basically a collection of guys with creative hair and adventurous beards) and spent much of the next 50-something minutes doing nothing but talking. About the lousy in-house sound system, her crappy hotel room, and the general suckiness of everything and everyone.
"I'm doing this for me, not you. If you don't like it, suck it," she sneered at the beginning of her set, before launching into a medley that started with Buffy Sainte Marie's "Cod'ine," shifted into the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil," and finally settled into "Skinny Little Bitch," the first single off Hole's upcoming Nobody's Daughter album.
That was followed by a rant about her guitar picks ("They're making my fingers bleed. They're for, like, Lindsey Buckingham.") and some complaining about the state of her voice, which had been ravaged earlier in the day during Hole's set at Stubb's and prevented her from howling in the way most are accustomed to. Then she had problems tuning her guitar, which led to her spitting, "This is totally amateur and I don't care," before finally playing Hole's landmark 1994 single,
"I'm really sorry that we suck, but actually, I'm not, because I'm doing this for me," she laughed at song's end. "So enjoy the f---ing suckage, because it's 1 a.m. and I'm an elderly person."
And perhaps this would be a good time to mention that, for all her nastiness, Love's set actually had its fair share of standout moments. "Malibu" was picture pretty (for Hole, anyway), "Northern Star" was stunning, featuring just Love's ragged voice and the acoustic work of guitarist Micko Larkin, and a new song about tawdry Saturday night sex and rainy Sunday mornings stopped pretty much everyone dead in their tracks.
But all in all, it was a pretty rough outing, full of awkward onstage squabbles, petty whining and more than a few garbled notes. As Love herself put it at set's end: "Worst f---ing show of my entire life. So glad you could be here for it."
Of course, immediately after she said that, she collapsed onstage, and, as a million iPhones snapped away, had to be carried by security to the bar, where she righted herself and downed a Budweiser. You know, just your average Friday night in Courtney-land.
And finally, as all this drama was unfolding on Sixth Street, the night's third can't-miss act, Muse, were busy positively destroying the stage down at Stubb's. Their gig was, in theory, a secret, thrown by the good folks at MySpace Music and Spin magazine, though by 7 p.m., pretty much everyone in Austin knew about it, and the line to get in already stretched well down Red River Street.
Muse didn't take the stage until after 10 p.m., but they more than made up for the wait, launching headlong into an ultra-riffy "Uprising" and a superb "Supermassive Black Hole," then keeping the energy high with "Resistance" and "Hysteria."
Frontman Matthew Bellamy joked with the crowd ("I can feel the good vibes in this city"), shredded through a Hendrix-y version of "The Star-Spangled Banner," and even broke out the keytar. There were lasers and lights and booming soundscapes, and not even a little rain could dampen the mood of everyone in attendance — even those who were forced to listen to the gig from out on Red River.
They got epic on "United States of Eurasia" and spacey on "Starlight," wrapped things up with a harmonica-aided version of "Knights of Cydonia," and then they were out, nearly as quickly as they came. It left the crowd wanting more, which, on a Friday at SXSW, is more than you could say about 90 percent of the other bands playing around town. Or at least Hole.
MTV News is at SXSW all weekend long, so check back for more show reports, interviews and blog posts on what's going down in Austin.