We did some good work last night, Austin. The breakfast taco for dinner was a nice touch.


And then there was some music. On the first night, I like to hit the sack having checked off a bunch of boxes, wake up feeling liberated of the FOMO that is the SXSW signature.


Let’s review.


The night was bookended with some Big Fish. SXSW used to be the province of young, hungry, under-exposed bands, but late-career victory laps are becoming a staple. This year there will be performances by Depeche Mode, Green Day, and Dave Grohl’s Sound City Players. But I had my heart set on Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, who kicked off their American tour at Stubb’s right around sunset.


Cave took the stage, cast a baleful eye at the gorgeous sunset. “We’re going to play a long one first. And when we’re finished, hopefully it’ll be DARK.” That long one was “Higgs Boson Blues,” from the excellent, haunted new Push The Sky Away, a meditative reading of Cave’s literary preoccupation with violence, morality and death:


“If I die tonight, bury me

In my favorite yellow patent leather shoes

With a mummified cat and a cone-like hat

Like the Caliphate forced on the Jews.”


The Bad Seeds are as potent as ever, if slightly hollowed-out by the departure of guitarist Mick Harvey. After a brace of new songs, Cave plunged into the goriest bits of his repertoire: “From Her To Eternity,” “The Mercy Seat,” “Jack The Ripper” and the hilariously obscene “Stagger Lee.”


At the other end of the night, Ghostface Killah closed things out at Mohawk. Dressed for Shaolin winter in a ginormous hoodies and padded vest, Ghostface confessed to being “sick as a dog,” a circumstance he attributed to a recent tour of Canada. But leaning on his hyperkinetic DJ and Sheek Louch, his lyrical foil on last year’s Wu Block record, Ghostface was both Ironman and Shaky Dog, leaping between tracks without a pause. In the best Ghostface stories, the rising note of panic in his voice betrays the threat that the sheer cascade of events will bury the frantic teller, a gripping high-wire act.


In between these bookends, I saw:


Ben Sollee, who last fall toured the East Coast with his cello on a bicycle, is just as adorkable as that might make him sound. He’s got all the tools: great voice, witty writing (check out “Unfinished” for his Billy Bragg wryness) and he plays the cello like Jimi Hendrix.


Young Galaxy, who purvey dreamily shapeshifting, icily danceable pop.


The Besnard Lakes, an old favorite of mine. I saw them play here years ago, and it sounds like their upcoming record doesn’t monkey with the formula for their widescreen guitar spy operas.


And it wouldn’t be SXSW without the Buzz. This year much of said buzz attached itself to Alt-J, of whose music I was half-deliberately oblivious before seeing them at Stubb’s. And, I have to tell you: I don’t see it. I liked their minimalist drummer, but it wasn’t hard to move on, particularly when Ghostface was playing just up the street.