March 23, 2009

  • SXSW Music Fest 2009 Recap

    Another year, and another successful SXSW fest under my expanding belt. Once again, my friend Jay and I purchased all-access badges that made us look indistinguishable from music industry bigwigs. We mingled with celebrities, or at least near them. We were lavished with luxurious “swag bags” full of swanky promotional items, including FREE CONDOMS, which is nice because now I can throw out the ones from last year’s festival. We drank FREE SANGRIA and ate FREE ENERGY BARS. We chewed FREE GUM. We plugged our ears with FREE EARPLUGS. It was awesome.

    On to the obligatory recap:

    Wed 3/18

    Hilary York @ The Ginger Man – We traditionally start our festival each year with a trip to the Ginger Man. Last year we learned that the pub was going to be demolished soon to make way for condos, so we were pleasantly surprised to find that it hadn’t happened yet. In fact, the pub would be closing after THIS weekend, and reopening in another building less than a block away some time next week. Now, in all honesty, we didn’t *intend* to see Hilary York at this time and place, it was just the gentle Hand of God making it so. Hilary used to work at this pub as a bartender circa 2001 when Jay and I were first setting the tradition, and in subsequent years she would remember us and greet us warmly, and in even more subsequent years she would be playing a set somewhere and we would make a point to go see her. This time around I had her on my list, but it was an early show on Wednesday that we had already missed, as we were still in Houston eating lunch at that time. So it was a very nice surprise to find that she was just starting a set on the Ginger Man patio as we arrived. How bout that gentle Hand of God, eh? (my pix)

    Ladyhawke @ Stubbs - Hmm. I’m hearing a lot of 80s synthesizers here. I guess maybe it’s cooler if you didn’t live through it during the actual 80s. (my pix)

    Heartless Bastards @ Stubbs - Holly Hunter infused with equal parts spirits of Melissa Etheridge and Patti Smith. (my pix)

    Avett Brothers @ Stubbs - I kinda liked them. Kinda country, kinda punk. Kinda like an Appalachian Pogues. (my pix)

    decemberistsThe Decemberists @ Stubbs – I’m a late fan of the Decemberists. Basically I “discovered” them with their last album, The Crane Wife, which I loved, suffice it to say. And I saw them on the Austin City Limits tv show so I knew that they could put on a great live performance. And I had heard that they were going to be performing their not-yet-released new album, nay, ROCK OPERA, in its entirety at this performance. So I designated this as my one pre-determined “must-see” performance of this year’s festival. Did it live up to my expectations? Eh… okay, so technically it was an excellent performance, but it was all unfamiliar material to me, and only once or twice did I find myself really getting into the zone. The band didn’t really interact with the audience, probably because they were performing a long-form work of art as opposed to a set list. The new vocalists seemed to be having fun. The blonde girl reminded me of a young, idealistic Hillary Clinton circa the flower-power era, you know, before Bill got his paws all over her.  (my pix)

    Thu 3/19

    Dananananaykroyd @ Dirty Dog Bar – This band wasn’t on my radar until a friend o’ mine mentioned that this was a band she was going to try to see. Said friend was in town for the Wed-Thu portion of SXSW, and though many text messages were pingponged, we didn’t actually manage to meet up. BUT! It did result in me seeing this band, which was playing an early day show to a mostly empty venue. And they were frenetic and fun and bouncy, and they have a really cute bassist. They have a couple of vocalists and a couple of drummers, and they have a really cute bassist. And band members leave the stage and jam with the fans, and hug the fans. And they have a really cute bassist. They put on such a good performance to such a small crowd, they were already a contender for the coveted Jim Porter “Best of the Fest” award before we even had a chance to see them work a real crowd at an official showcase, which we vowed we would do on Friday. (my pix)

    Music of Spain @ Brush Square park – Okay, so last year we went to this Spanish music day party and discovered a contender for last year’s “Best of the Fest” award, a band called We Are Standard. This year? Well, there was still the FREE SANGRIA. And Jay was doing pretty well for himself chatting up a cute girl there too, until her mother showed up. Her mom was pretty cool, though. (my pix)

    Airborne Toxic Event @ Bat Bar, Convention Center – I really want to like this band. In fact, I think I “iLiked” them on Facebook recently. I’ll have to undo that. They’ve got the “passion” part down. Jay said, “Ah, it’s The Killers.” I was leaning more towards Arcade Fire. I don’t mind influences occasionally bleeding through into imitation, but the lyrics really pushed me too far. “We were only seventeen, We were holding back our screams,” and “I was only twenty one, I wasn’t having any fun.” God dammit these cliches are coming to fast. Let’s get out of here and go see the Meat Puppets and Gomez at Stubbs. (no pix, thanks to anti-camera nazis out in force)

    Meat Puppets @ Stubbs – I admit I was never into the Meat Puppets. I was familiar with the name and I know they hold a place of honor in the history of punk or thrash or one of those other genres that never got played on the radio. So I figured I’d go pay my respects, and go with an open mind, and at the very least I’d be there early for Gomez, a band I *do* know and like that was slated to go on next. Stubbs wasn’t full, but there was enough of a crowd that we were back far enough, and if there was a Sphere of Influence I don’t think it reached back as far as we were. Plus, to me they seemed rather *tame* for a hardcore punk band. Maybe it’s because they’re older than me, I dunno. Jay indicated that the Meat Puppets weren’t doing anything for him either, so we consulted the schedule and considered our options. We could stick it out here and see Gomez, but, ya know, I’ve seen them before, and they do kinda seem to be trending toward Dave Matthews territory in recent years. OR! HEY! There’s the Sam Roberts Band playing a gig over yonder (another band that I want to see that *isn’t* trending toward Dave Matthews territory), and that would still leave us equidistant to this venue where Dan le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip is playing later (an act that Jay wants to see). So, we bail. (my pix)

    Sam Roberts Band @ Cedar Street Courtyard – Okay, this is possibly the worst venue for official SXSW showcases. It’s a courtyard wedged between two buildings. It fills up quickly. The stage isn’t exactly elevated. And Sam Roberts is, well, kinda short. We did manage to work our way into one of the side buildings and find a fishbowl window view to the side of the stage, and it looked like he was putting on a pretty good show, but the sound wasn’t very good from where we were. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think Jay got a very good introductory Sam Roberts Band experience. (no pix. I have some, but they’re all crap)

    Ebony Bones @ Aces Lounge – We have now arrived at the venue where Dan le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip is scheduled to play at 11pm. It’s about 10:30pm. It appears that this showcase is running behind schedule, as the 9pm band, Vivian Girls, just finished up as we arrived. We take advantage of the fan turnover to situate ourselves in a primo front-row balcony spot. Who’s on next? What boring act do we have to wait through before we get to see Scroobius Pip? The schedule says Ebony Bones. Never heard of them. The band is taking the stage now…

    Ebony Bones

    Huh. This is interesting…

    ebony bones

    What are those, Oompa Loompas?

    Ebony Bones

    Holy crap, this is awesome! So it’s like, start with Diana Ross and the Supremes, but replace the Supremes with hyperkinetic Oompa Loompas, and infuse it with P-Funk mothership weirdness. This performance wins the coveted Jim Porter “Best of the Fest” award for 2009. And I’m pretty sure it also won the not-unrespectable Jay Lyall “Best of the Fest” award too. I know we both remarked about these strange new feelings of attraction we were feeling for Oompa Loompas. Later Googling would reveal that they were playing another show tomorrow, so that would be marked as a last-minute must-see. (more pix)

    Dan le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip  @ Aces Lounge – WTF? He cancelled? What happened? Who’s this “Rye Rye” act? We leave, hoping to catch Easy Star All Stars playing next door.

    Kraak & Smaak @ Vice – Well this was a pretty neat little DJ / live band combo thingy. I can’t really remember much about them, but that might be because all the thumping bass was shaking up my colon and I realized I probably oughta go back to the hotel and poop pretty quick. Easy Star All Stars, I’m sorry. (my pix)

    Fri 3/20

    Idle Warship @ Cedar Street Courtyard – Woohoo! Another waycool accidental discovery. Just happened to be passing by the Cedar Street Courtyard at the right time. (my pix)

    Gomez @ La Zona Rosa – I got to see part of their set at the Village Voice day party. Pretty damn good, and not too Dave Matthewsy after all! (my pix)

    We Were Promised Jetpacks @ La Zona Rosa – Settling in for a showcase of Scottish bands at La Zona Rosa. This was a good, impassioned performance by a band that seemed to be awed by the fact that they were playing to a large crowd at a SXSW showcase. They got some charm and some chops. I’ll keep my eyes open for them in the future. (my pix)

    Dananananaykroyd @ La Zona Rosa – Woowoo! They can work a big crowd too. This might’ve been the Best of the Fest, if not for those meddling Ebony Bones kids.

    Bedouin Soundclash @ Cedar Street Courtyard – Might’ve been pretty good, but damned if they weren’t in that damned cramped Cedar Street Courtyard. Dammit.  (my pix)

    DEVO @ Austin Music Hall – Tried to go see them, but the showcase was running late, so we opted to bail and take our chances elsewhere. (my pix)

    BM Linx @ Vice – They look like Foghat. I initially thought they sounded pretty classic rockish, but after listening to the Myspace streaming, I may have just been projecting. But they were pretty damned good. And seriously, in a cage match, I think they’d kick Foghat’s ass. (my pix)

    The Willowz @ The Parish Downstairs – I saw em’ a couple of years ago and liked them, so I figured I’d check in and make sure they’re still doing okay. They are. Oh and they have a cute bass player too. The rest of the band kinda looks like Foghat though. (my pix)

    Sam Roberts Band @ El Sol y La Luna – Ah! Now I’ve got a front-row spot at a good venue! And this was a definite contender for Best of the Fest. The only thing he was missing was an Oompa Loompa or two. (my pix)

    Sat 3/21

    Ebony Bones @ Peckerheads – This was a day party for Rolling Stone magazine. Another excellent performance, although it was plagued by bad sound problems. Fortunately there was still plenty of frenetic Oompa Loompa goodness!

    Ebony Bones

    Quote of the Fest from Jay: “I think the Oompa Loompa with the purple hair is the one I’d most like to doompity-do.”

    Zillionaire @ Ginger Man – Okay, we’re back at the G-man for our final beers before they close it down. I don’t remember anything about the band, as I was too distraught. I did mange to get my picture taken with other heartbroken patrons though, mostly because I was wearing the right shirt at the right time.

    Last trip to Ginger Man

    Farewell, sweet, sweet pub. And here’s hoping the new location gets a cool vibe quickly.

    The Whip @ La Zona Rosa – Jay’s got a “must-see” performance, The Crystal Method, at La Zona Rosa later tonight, and because our legs are now battered and bruised from the week, we decide we’ll pretty much just camp out at La Zona Rosa for the entire showcase. Jay also says The Whip is a pretty cool band. And now, I concur. This was a DJ / band, dance music thing. Very tight, very energetic performance. I’m not a dancer, but I was bobbing. And the band has a cute drummer. (my pix)

    Dieselboy @ La Zona Rosa – Just a DJ. (my pix)

    Kaskade @ La Zona Rosa – Just another DJ. (my pix)

    The Crystal Method @ La Zona Rosa – Two more DJs. But hey at least I like they stuff they’re twiddling a little more. Okay, don’t get me wrong, I realize that it’s an art and a skill and all, but for me it doesn’t really make for a visually compelling performance. Did I mention I don’t dance? (my pix)

    Ra Ra Riot @ The Parish – I really like 50% of their new album a lot. And the other 50% sounds like bad 80s synth rock. So I went to this performance for the first 50%, and was not at all disappointed. Plus, they have cute girls playing stringed instruments. (my pix)

    Bobby Bare Jr. @ Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room – Only caught the last song on my way back to the hotel after technically already having called it a night. But the last song was an acoustic cover of the Pixies “Where Is My Mind” so it’s definitely worth mentioning. (my pix)

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