AUSTIN, Texas -- Can't think of anything better than a cappella gospel music in the morning, especially when it's sung with the grit and flair of the Relatives.
On Friday at the South by Southwest Music Conference, it was a rollercoaster ride across continents and musical styles. It began with the Relatives, a groud-breaking 1970s Dallas gospel outfit, which has reunited and still sounds fresh by blending hard gospel, funky psychedelia, and Southern soul grit. The five white-jacketed singers found the pocket inside a deeply funky bass line and detailed their redemption after a "Bad Trip." Then the band left the stage, and the five preachers went to work, delivering a musical sermon about more hard times and their fervent belief that somehow, someway they were going to make it through with the help of a higher power.
Mikal Cronin, a key member of the San Francisco garage-punk scene that includes Ty Segall, debuted new material with a ripping five-piece band. Playing 12-string electric guitar as part of a three -- count 'em-- three-guitar lineup, he brought a wistfulness to his voice and a pop sensibility to his songs that snugly complemented the rhythm section's roar.
Earl Sweatshirt, widely regarded as the most gifted of the MCs in the Odd Future collective out of Los Angeles, played a short but well-received set that highlighted his gift for wordplay and the rabidness of his fans. But the set was so brief -- barely 15 minutes -- that it was difficult to call this anything more than a tease.
Despite briefly referencing an illness, singer Mike Milosh sounded as enchanting as ever fronting a six-piece version of Rhye, his soul-fired study in atmosphere and mood-setting with Danish multi-instrumentalist Robin Hannibal. Hannibal doesn't tour, so it was left to Milosh to present the songs, and his band -- which included a two-piece string section -- did a marvelous job of stretching the arrangements while retaining their evanescent sense of slow-burn lust and longing. Instead of being overly precious about the near-perfection of Rhye's debut album, "Woman," Milosh and his accomplices gave it new vibrancy in concert.
Danish singer Karen Marie Orsted, stage name "MO," capped the evening with a series of songs that bridged hard rock, electro-pop, grime and melody. She has a voice big and versatile enough to handle all of it, sultry one minute, punkishly indelicate the next. She acted out each song like a fight to the death. As pop singers go, she may be too complex and rough-edged to compete with more polished divas on the charts, but her appeal lies in something more visceral and earthy.