SXSW Music: Toadies rip into ‘Rubberneck,’ while Analog Rebellion and Pageantry both shine

Posted 11:29pm on Sunday, Mar. 16, 2014

The final full day of South by Southwest dawned gray and drizzling.

But, fortunately, the gloom only lasted until the early afternoon — not before raining out a few day parties, however — and with the clouds thinning a bit, I made my way to the Paramount Theatre, to catch a screening of Stuart Murdoch’s God Help the Girl. Murdoch, the brains behind Belle & Sebastian, is detouring into film with this latest effort, which he wrote and directed, and which has struggled to reach the screen since its creation over two years ago.

Originally released as a concept album and a solo work, apart from the beloved Belle & Sebastian, Murdoch’s film, sadly, isn’t quite as charming as the record. Starring Emily Browning, Hannah Murray and Olly Alexander, the melancholy film follows Eve (Browning), an emotionally troubled girl with a gift for song, over the course of one life-changing summer.

God Help the Girl is a bracing mix of kitchen sink drama and luminous, almost surreal musical sequences — there are echoes of Dancer in the Dark, Lars Von Trier’s famously moody musical, evident here — but a film that stretches far past the point of being interesting. The songs, apparently sung by the cast, are patently gorgeous, but the dramatic framework isn’t quite there to support them.

Murdoch was on hand, and before the film, the audience was treated to a mini-concert from the Barton Hills Elementary Choir, who had worked up a suite of songs from God Help the Girl. It was an absolutely endearing performance, and one which so moved Murdoch that he promised to write a song just for the choir although he allowed “it might take me a while.”

From one end of the spectrum to the other, I arrived at Stubb’s, pleasantly shocked that such a crowd had amassed to hear Fort Worth’s Toadies tear through their 20-year-old debut album, Rubberneck. If Vaden Todd Lewis and his bandmates felt any jitters — Saturday marked the first time, ever, the band had played the record through front to back — it wasn’t evident as they leaned into modern classics like Possum Kingdom, Away and Tyler, and provided muscular readings of fan favorites like Backslider and I Come from the Water.

Lewis can still scream like a scalded cat, and the band was locked in tight from the first notes. The crowd sang along to nearly every track, and if you closed your eyes, you would’ve sworn you traveled back in time to 1994. “Thanks for sticking with us,” said a visibly grateful Lewis midway through, before rearing back and giving the audience more of what it lined up for.

The rest of the evening was likewise all-locals: Aledo’s Analog Rebellion, touring behind its latest LP, Ill’e Grande, dialed down the frenetic style of previous live shows and found urgency in restraint, while Denton’s Pageantry was mesmerizing from its opening moments.

And with that, my 2014 South by Southwest experience drew to a close. It was an odd year, and one, upon brief reflection, felt pivotal in ways both good and bad. I’ll have some more thoughts on the festival just past and what lies ahead in the coming days.

Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones

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