Ah, South by South West. It could be wrapped up into saying it's alcohol + music + four days, but I will go a little further. And for those who just want to know how outrageous Lifetime was, just scan down, you'll find it.
For those who want to know what the whole fest is like, keep reading. The few that are lucky enough to get to go to this festival know that this is probably one of the few events that makes the year worthwhile. For the college student, while others went to beaches and skiing and other typical college student destinations, the smell of stale cigarettes, whiskey and sweat is all that one SHOULD need for an amazing spring break. For the avid music listener, I would say it's very hard-pressed to go to any other festival and get introduced to so much music and new music. Everywhere you turn you are getting thrust a new CD or a new flyer for a show you should go to; it's so head-spinning at times it's nauseating. Yet, looking past all of the music industry hoopla is one of the minor flaws of SXSW. Past that, the 20-year anniversary of the live music capital of the world's shining incarnation is without a doubt something one should try to do at least once in your life. Enough sucking the power teat...let's get into the music (on a side note, I tried as hard as I could to remember set lists, but it became too much of a hassle, so take it as you can; if you really want to know what songs were played, I'll do my best to remember, but a boy can only do so much.).
Wednesday the 15th:
Once arriving in Austin and getting settled into town, the group I was with began our venture into the eye of the storm on 6th Street, where we decided to go to Emo's for the night. ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and Of Montreal were playing that night, yet the way that Emo's is set up, you could walk between stages to check out one of the other shows going on, so I stepped into part II of the club and caught Owen. You know, the Kinsella brothers are never going to stop making music, ever, so if you haven't caught one of the incarnations of their many bands, just wait for one to break up and another to form and go on tour. Mike was the only one there though, playing on his acoustic minus the whole band. From what I hear, he has a problem being able to afford a whole backing tour band, so that takes a bit away from his show because some of the best moments on Owen's discs are the backing band parts. Either way, it was a nice relaxing way to begin the evening.
After Owen's set, the Headlights came on. It's very rare that bands that I know nothing about make me stick around for their whole set, especially at SXSW, but the Headlights were really quite phenomenal. Dueling vocals between a guy and girl singer and fast, upbeat song styling make the Headlights a very interesting surprise.
After seeing them go on, the M's came on. The M's are what the Futureheads would be if they didn't rock. With the rise of Bloc Party after their appearance last year plus the Futureheads and other similar artists, I was expecting a lot of newer versions of this kind of music, so their lack of staying power really didn't surprise me. So I skipped out on that and got ready to catch Of Montreal.
(Note: The amount of international bands that came this year was staggering. It's amazing to see this festival take on such a worldwide scope.)
Of Montreal took the stage at the main room of Emo's and was what you would expect from them, glam and all. I was really looking forward to seeing them put on a very enjoyable live experience, but they lacked the danceability that their music blares out in recordings. The music was very tight all around, but minus the singer prancing around stage every now and then, there wasn't much to be desired for them.
As they left the stage, Trail of Dead came on and I was expecting a barrage of noise to invade my head and make my ears bleed. I was expecting the singer's voice to steal the air from my lungs while screaming "Caterwaul," but once again, another live show disappointment. They have all the music down, but when a band just puts off that they really don't want to be there, for whatever reason it may be, it puts everyone else in a bad mood, so I left on the better judgment to try and get ready for the rest of the week.
Thursday the 16th:
One of the best parts about SXSW is the day shows. Think of bands and label reps getting together the night before, after copious amounts of Lonestar and Shiner Bock and talking about how they should play a show together tomorrow at any of the venues downtown. Plus the fact that all of them are free, with or without a wristband or badge, makes the day shows quite an amazing time.
While walking through Emo's I caught a glimpse of Jason Collett, who is the guitarist (one of the many) from Broken Social Scene. Imagine taking the eclectic music of BSS and putting it to alternative country. It is quite the pleasant mixture. It remained reminiscent of Wilco at times.
After that I wandered down to Waterloo Records where the Go! Team was setting up to do an in-store show. One of the problems I have with Waterloo and their in-stores is that they INSIST on playing the artist that you are about to see. So while it took the Go! Team about 30 minutes to set up, we basically heard what their set was going to be. But they did play a few new songs that will shape up quite nice on record, and they are really an energetic bunch. If you haven't heard them yet, you should check them out; apparently they were pretty "hot" in `05.
After going down to the Convention Center to check out the poster sale that was going on, I met up with my friends who were able to get us into one of the few day shows that ended up being private, and that was Ted Leo. Let me just say how ridiculous he is. To have the stamina to play as hard as he did, and he played about 4 shows that week, is nothing short of amazing. Live, he was incredible. The man and his fellow Pharmacists know how to put on a show. His new songs that he is working on are going to make his new album one of the best that he has released. Be on the lookout for that one (no pun intended).
Then the night started up and we got ready to go see what turned out to be one of the best night shows of the whole week. It started off at Emo's again with Flogging Molly. In ase any of you missed it, it was St. Paddy's on Friday, and apparently Flogging Molly thought it was a day earlier because they tore the place apart. I have seen then about 3 times, but this was a show that was not to be reckoned with. The whole band was steaming with energy and sweat and Guinness. It was fantastic.
After that, the Living End came on. I have been a fan of them for about 4 years now and since it's a rare chance to see them in the States, I was ecstatic to be able to see them. They were playing a majority of their songs from the past two records they put out,but they just released a new one in Australia called State of Emergency; once it comes out here, I suggest you go buy it. Hopefully they are going to make a headlining run at the U.S. soon, because a full show would be fantastic -- fact.
We then ventured over to see Minus the Bear at the second Emo's Stage. I have really enjoyed their records and various people have told me that they are a show not to be missed, but I thought there was a lot missing from their presence on stage. They were very reserved and the singer didn't seem to care about what he was singing enough for me to get involved in the show. This could also be due to the fact that the tied-for-best show of the week was just about to happen.
Leaving to go back to the larger Emo's stage we got in the middle of the crowd for Gogol Bordello. First of all, if you don't have the Gypsy Punks, then you don't have a fucking amazing album. Go. Buy. Now. The show maintains Gypsy girls dancing to bass drum beats, while riding on top of the said bass drums and the singer beating his hand and head together with the top of the mic. And not only is the stage presence incredible, but the music is so flawless that it's like listening to the record. I saw the singer down on 6th later that week to congratulate him on one of the best performances I have ever seen in my life. He gave me a stand-off look, stepped back and deservingly arrogantly said, "ONE of the best?" Spoken only like a true madman. If you have not given these guys a chance, do it soon, and if you have and were disappointed, you have really bad taste.
Friday the 17th:
The day began with a few Irish coffees and headed down to catch the free Lifetime show. Wait, did I say that correctly? Yes, it was free to anyone and everyone who showed up to the door. If you were within, say 500 miles of Austin and didn't come, you my friend, are missing out on one of the best shows that has ever been etched into my skull.
The day started off with us waiting to catch the Loved Ones, who were also playing the show. You could definitely tell who was there in the crowd for Lifetime and who was there for My Chemical Romance and Circa Survive, who were also playing the show. The older fans there such as myself really seemed to enjoy the Loved Ones. I thought they put on a great show, and the nice thing about them being a fairly new band is the fact that if you have any of their catalogue, then you are sure to hear a few songs that you would know. Check them out and the new record, it's rad.
I really had no intentions on watching any of the other bands that were playing up until Lifetime, so I walked around and headed over to the Pitchfork day show. Yes, the pretension was very thick in their air, but thankfully Patton Oswald was there to make sure that every single hipster was put in check, that and the ghastly amounts of food that we Americans eat now, especially us crazy, BBQ-loving Texans. Hi-larious, I wish I could have seen more of his standup, but I had more pressing matters to attend to.
So after that, I hurried back over to see Lifetime, but they still weren't on, so I caught a little bit of Circa Survive. I had no idea how into this band the indie/emo scene kids are, they were all going nuts for these guys. Apparently one of the guitarists was in This Day Forward, whom I thoroughly enjoyed back when, but I was unimpressed by CS's effort.
Then, all hell broke lose.
Ari Katz drunkenly pointed out to all the 20+ aged people there ready to snap that he had never seen so many girls at a Lifetime show. After making this observation, he followed up with saying "I think I like it" and they began to tear through one of the most energetic and amazing shows I have ever seen, band-wise and audience participation-wise. Everyone who I was talking to that was waiting very patiently for Lifetime to play was talking about how the kids waiting around for My Chemical Romance needed to get out of the way or face getting destroyed, and the girl pants-wearing fools didn't heed our warning. They tore through their set with so much raw power that they could have ripped through a phone book. It wasn't complete without Dave Hause from the Loved Ones and currently defunct Kid Dynamite's Spider (which by the way, he says no more reunions, sorry folks), jumping in the crowd and crowd-surfing and getting in the pit with the rest of the drunks and punks. Even Kris Roe from the Ataris was there. I know I thought what the hell too, but he held his own. And it ended with Dan Yemin getting in the pit and ripping it up with us. Getting to hold up Dan Yemin during his own songs, fucking spectacular. This is the show that was tied with Gogol Bordello if you were curious. Pray that they do another tour, because it owns.
After recovering and celebrating my fair share of St. Paddy's enjoyments, we went to Red 7's where we were going to go catch the Lucero/Ted Leo show. I didn't get there in enough time to catch Les Aus like Ted had told me too, but I did catch a bit of Spider in the Webs right before Lucero. I enjoyed what I got to hear; they seemed to me what Death from Above 1979 would be like without the bass and if fronted by a woman.
Once Lucero came on, I was ready for a great show, but I didn't realize how great. All the best drinking songs were played, including my favorite, "I'll Just Fall." Seriously, go find their records and go see them if you haven't done so.
Then the forgettable Tralala came on, which was almost a more expanded version of the Go! Team, but without the hip-hop beats and the `80s dance.
Then Ted Leo came on again and played about a 3-hour set.
Yes, 3 hours, even knowing that he had to play a show the next day. I tried to talk to him, but he was losing his voice and told me he was trying to save his energy; I now know why.
Saturday the 18th:
After Thursday and Friday, I was so exhausted I was up for a nice relaxing day of shows, and I got that for sure. We headed across the river over to Yarddogs to go check out Billy Bragg's day show.
The first band that I saw that I recall was Tres Chicas, who maintain a bit of celebrity status in the alt-country genre, having Caitlin Cary, who was in cohorts with Ryan Adams back in the day, and even though I don't know all of the history with them, I'm sure they still maintain a good relationship, when Ryan is sober enough to remember who she is.After that came Billy Bragg.
I have wanted to see Billy Bragg for many years, so this opportunity was one that could not be passed up. Although he didn't play a majority of the songs I had been hoping for ("A New England," "To Have and to Have Not"), he told the crowd he was still working on sobering up and easing down from the night before, so I couldn't stay terribly mad at him, plus his new songs that he is working on are fantastic, especially since he is still so politically involved with his lyrics; it's nice to see him not change his ideals after all these years.
After heading out, I caught a bit of the Barsuk day show with John Vanderslice. If you haven't heard his record Pixel Revolt, I suggest, among my many suggestions to hear what he has to say. A brilliant guy and a truly genuine musician.
That night, I figured I could catch one more uproarious show and see the Riverboat Gamblers. I have been trying to catch their show for about 3 years, and have missed it every time, and I almost missed it again, but I made it in by my fingernails and caught their high energy set. The singer was bouncing around the stage, hanging from banisters and just having a ball. He had a very high level of crowd involvement, which is always a good show for the viewer. Definitely a plus.
Now, to say this trip didn't have its blunders would be an understatement. My biggest one would have to be the fact that I went to go see the Pretenders and got into the VIP section, yet due to my bowels, I had to leave it to go to the restroom. Now, I told the guy at the VIP section that I was going to be right back, but apparently he doesn't maintain a very good memory because I wasn't allowed back in. In a desperate attempt to get back where my friend was, I ended up leaving Stubbs completely and was not allowed back in. So I missed the whole show, and apparently, it was one to be seen. So I found my way to the church where Billy Bragg was playing at again, but was so tired I fell asleep and by the time I woke, he had already played.
Now, you may be asking yourself why I cannot give what seems like an AMAZING time a perfect score. Well, there are a few problems that cannot be avoided, but still take away from the trip. The fact that the wristband sales are only done in Austin and getting them off eBay is ridiculous (I paid 260 dollars for a 150 dollar ticket; as it turns out, my friends got down there ticketless, found a flyer on the street for 2 tickets at face value, bastards) and badges were so expensive by the time I was looking to buy one, it's just such a financial strain. I was told it was because it was the "20th anniversary" that they just had to raise the prices, but it was a bit pricey for most to afford. Also, the annoyance of the constant barrage of sample music, even though some of it isn't all that bad, can wear on any person. Yet if you are able to get past the fact that you will be living off Ramen for a couple of weeks and exhaustion will overcome your body, SXSW is definitely one of the premiere music festivals that I have ever been too. Now it's time to start saving up for next year.