South by Southwest is a festival of sorts that always interested me, but never enough to actually travel to. Living in Austin this year, I'd heard a lot of hype behind it and was anticipating it greatly. Then, it actually happened.
I'll get the bad out of the way first; I've pretty much come to the conclusion SXSW is just so snobby media types can continue to be such. There's an air of exclusivity with what people can and can't go to, there are corporate sponsorships and, for the most part, the whole thing just appears to be a big joke. For what I thought was a festival for unsigned bands, it certainly seemed like it was just a place for the industry to play circle jerk.
But now that the negative is done with, let's get to the positive.
The biggest event of the weekend for myself (and, I'd assume, people who frequent this site) was the Hot Water Music reunion show. Hot Water put on an amazing, and quite lengthy, set. The venue, Red 7, was fine with the amount of people jumping from the speakers and stage and let the show go off without security getting too uptight, which deserves a tip of the hat. The band seemed to be having a good time; Chuck was grinning ear to ear and the crowd was making the most of every second of the set. I got a shot of the 'official' HWM setlist, below:
Opening for Hot Water was Tiger Love, who were an odd selection but not bad musically. They were definitely more of the indie rock vibe, and while I didn't mind them, nothing really made me want to go home and listen. Drive By was next, and the only redeeming quality of their set was the lead singer's self-depricating remarks, as he seemed to know early on nobody was enjoying what they were listening to.
The Gaslight Anthem came on and were flat out amazing. I'm not a fan of the new EP at all, but the songs do translate well live. Highlights of the set were "We Came to Dance" and "Angry Johnny and the Radio," and the fact that the band was just having a great time. These guys just flat out love it all, and that makes their live show that much better.
Paint It Black is a band I listen to occasionally on record, but love seeing live. Dr. Dan and company did not disappoint, thundering through a 15 (or so)-song set, encouraging activity and positivity. He made points about the Shirts for a Cure foundation without being outspoken, and the band's intensity was nonstop.
I haven't mentioned Dead to Me yet because, well, I had to sit through three of their sets. I don't really understand why they were always so high up on the bills, as they're fun to watch but musically they seem like a boring Lawrence Arms. Chicken spent about as much time talking shit as the band did playing, and I really have no desire to see them again. Their new songs sound like the old ones, for anyone anticipating their new album.
I saw NOFX a couple times. The first was in a small venue where the band played 'Half-FX,' meaning they cut their songs off after the first chorus. It seemed to piss the fans off to no extent, but I laughed as it was something that probably won't ever happen again. The second time was the complete opposite: a huge outdoor park and the crowd was huge and quite annoying. The band was playing Punk in Drublic in its entirety, but watching NOFX play from 50 yards away on some colossal stage wasn't my idea of a good time (I didn't brave the massive crowd as I had my camera with me).
I caught a couple songs by Colour Revolt, and while I've never enjoyed them recorded, their live sound is quite aggressive and enjoyable. It wasn't going to make me a fan, but I did like watching them while waiting for God Is an Astronaut to set up. The Irish post-rock band had an electrical problem after one song, but for the most part thundered through a lengthy set. My only complaint would be the drummer didn't seem as into the music as the other two musicians, and the drums seemed to be far more passive than the bass and guitar.
Fucked Up played an amazing set which featured a few songs with Keith Morris. Entertaining as hell and abbreviated for a few mediocre songs by Attack in Black, Fucked Up provided my favorite Day 2 set. Jay Reatard was spazzy and fun with a slightly annoying crowd of fans, Pissed Jeans was nothing worth writing home about, and while I've never been able to get into their music, Lucero can really put on a live show, trading whiskey shots for song requests. I caught Saviours doing an in-store at Waterloo Records, and while the 2 P.M. start time was a bit early for such heavy music, they're too good to not watch. Certainly a strange venue but their set was quite worthwhile.
In the end, I'd say if you're ever given a free pass to SXSW, you'll probably get to see some really great bands in unique situations. And, if you're ever like me and find yourself living in Austin randomly, it's not a terrible thing to check out. But I can't see a great reason on dropping a lot of money to visit exclusively for the festival or buying one of those wristbands or badges. Also, I was taking pictures the whole time and included a link at the right to the bands that had any come out half-decent, so you're welcome to check those out. I'd like to thank anyone that let me sneak in front of them to get some shots as I didn't have one of those photo pass things.