SXSW: Jack Antonoff Segues from Lena Dunham to have fun. with Solo Project Bleachers

12:48 PM PST 03/13/2014 by Gary Graff, Billboard
Courtesy of RCA
Bleachers' Jack Antonoff takes time off from 'Girls' duty.

Aloe Blacc, Phantogram, Johnnyswim and Sam Smith also perform at MTV high-def channel Palladia showcase.

Jack Antonoff was the biggest rock star in the room last night at MTV high-def network Palladia’s Epic.Awesome.Showcase. at Austin’s Cedar Door. But the fun. guitarist, and boyfriend of Girls' Lena Dunham, playing the first-ever live show with his new band, Bleachers, had no use for those kind of trimmings.

“Can you guys turn off the smoke? I can hardly breathe!” Antonoff directed the crew early during Bleachers’ half-hour, seven-song debut set, as fog wafted across the stage. Of course, one would think Antonoff would be used to such effects, but he had other business to attend to on Wednesday than peering through the haze.

The fledgling Bleachers may have played to a much smaller crowd than Aloe Blacc, who immediately preceded the quintet in his ongoing quest to set the world record for SXSW appearances, but Antonoff and crew certainly sounded tighter and more assured than most groups would during their inaugural performance. The songs – including the already released single “I Wanna Get Better” and a cover of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ “Don’t Come Around Here No More” – were cut from the same semi-theatrical cloth as fun., but with a little more propulsive oomph thanks to two drummers and a heavy emphasis on keyboards and electro-pop style arrangements. The hooky and buoyant “Rollercoaster” sounds like a future hit, while “Wild Heart,” “Shadow” and “Like a River Runs” were solidly crafted ebb-and-flow rock, and “Reckless Love” was a densely packed, somewhat murky ballad.

With its album due later this spring on RCA Records, Bleachers is set to perform at the mtvU  Woodie Awards today in Austin and play the Troubadour in Los Angeles on March 19, with an appearance on Late Night with Seth Meyers slated for March 26 and festival appearances in the U.S. and Europe during early summer. And last night's show certainly established that this is not a band that plans to sit on any sidelines.

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Bleachers may have been the compelling story at the Palladia bash -- a non-official SXSW showcase that still generated plenty of buzz and built a substantial audience on the Brazos Street sidewalk as well as inside the venue – but Blacc was its clear draw. Performing the day after his third album, Lift Your Spirit, was released and an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Blacc had a packed Cedar Door grooving through a high-octane set that started with his hit “The Man” and rolled through the rootsy hand-clapper “Wake Me Up” and his career-establisher “I Need a Dollar.” He also got seriously funky on the Pharrell collaboration “Love is the Answer” as well as Lift Your Spirit's title track – which, ironically, is a deluxe edition bonus track. Look for a post-SXSW bounce from his myriad scheduled shows here, followed by a trek opening for Bruno Mars’ next North American tour.

STORY: Aloe Blacc's 'Lift Your Spirit': What the Critics Are Saying

And while Palladia’s classic-leaning programming showed on the bar’s TV screens, the network's salute to up-and-comers also included a powerful set of electrorock by Barsuk/Republic duo Phantogram – whose “really pumped” singer Sarah Barthel gave a shout-out to fans on the sidewalk – while Johnnyswim showed up its rich husband-wife vocal harmonies (featuring Donna Summer's daughter Amanda Sudano) and Capitol's U.K. pop-soul phenom Sam Smith won friends for his deft pop/soul/electronic blend.

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