March 22, 2010
I am pleased to report that once again my friend Jay and I have survived another SXSW music festival, although I gotta say, this one almost had a Donner Party ending with the frigid temperatures on Saturday night.
Every year I make an Excel document with all the acts I’d like to see, and this year’s list was larger than most, but I only had two “must-see” acts on it: Broken Bells (James Mercer of The Shins, and Danger Mouse of everything else) and Metric (who I have seen recently but I heart them so much I want to see them again every day). My must-sees ultimately turned out to be disappointments, but there were a higher-than-average number of unexpected surprise discoveries that made this festival a rousing success.
There were no Oompa Loompas this year, but one day we did see a guy jacking off in the street around 10:30 AM, and I think we got to experience a Bill Murray meme being birthed via Twitter.
Road trip to Austin: Jay suggested that we deviate from our usual route and stop for lunch in Lockhart, TX, The Barbecue Capital of Texas. I’m okay with this plan. I have a tooth that may be needing a root canal or extraction soon, but lately I’ve gotten pretty good at favoring the other side of the jaw, and worst case, I could certainly enjoy a hearty bowl of barbecue sauce. We arrive at Smitty’s BBQ and get in what appears to be the lunch line. I’m a bit puzzled, because we’re standing outside of the main room, next to the smokers, and instead of a menu, the signs on the wall just list the prices of the meats per pound.
“I think this is the To-Go line. I think we’re supposed to go inside to that other counter,” I say, pointing to that other counter I can see through the door. No, Jay points out that everybody is getting their meats here. And sure enough, everybody is going up to the smoker attendants and ordering a pound of this and a half pound of that, and having their meats presented to them on a big square of butcher paper which they then fold up and carry into the main room.
So I order a half pound of “lean” and one link of sausage, I pay the smoker, and then I make a hobo bag out of my butcher paper parcel and go inside, where there is another counter where you can buy stuff like pickles and iced tea. I buy some pickles and an iced tea. There is no sauce. There are no forks. We sit at a long picnic table, and today, next to us there is a mother with carnivorous babies alternately sucking on and spitting out meat pacifiers.
The sausage was pretty good, but I didn’t think the “lean” meat was very good or very lean. But the pickles totally kicked ass.
The New Ginger Man – Last year we mourned the impending demise of our traditional SXSW home base pub. The original location on 4th St. was going to be closing just days after the 2009 SXSW festival, having been forced out by douche bag condo developers, and a new Ginger Man location was being prepped just around the corner on Lavaca Street. Tradition dictates that we visit the Ginger Man to drink our initial beers and map out our festival strategy, so we visited the new location. On the plus side, it’s still got a bazillion beers on tap. And it still has friendly locals who will chat with you. But on the minus side, it now has an obnoxious kitchen P.A. system that every few minutes keeps blasting out things like, “SMITH, your order is ready, SMITH, your order is ready.” I’m not feeling the classic Ginger Man vibe here.
On to the shows… Night one was entirely devoted to the showcase at Stubb’s.
Visqueen – Really just caught the last song, and didn’t hear enough to form an opinion. Seemed like pretty straightforward pop/rock. I cannot in good conscience discourage you from patronizing this band, even if I don’t personally remember anything about them.
Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings – Philly soul lives! If you see only one throwback band this year, I heartily recommend you see Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings instead of Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears. (my pix)
Broken Bells – An early must-see I can cross of my list! Okay, so go listen to the music at their Myspace page, crank up the volume and turn off your lights. That was the concert experience. They played mostly without lighting, and they didn’t noticeably deviate from the recording. I do like the recording, and the volume is much better than I can do with my home stereo, so I did enjoy this performance. But it ain’t a contender for Best of the Fest by any means. (my pix)
Spoon – This is a band I love on record, but whenever I have seen them live they have usually disappointed. Maybe because most of their recordings are minimalist masterpieces, it’s harder to “nail it” live, and so they overcompensate with gratuitous delay effects and other gimmicky crap. I dunno. But THIS! This performance! This was good stuff! I didn’t leave this performance disappointed! This wins the coveted “Didn’t Disappoint Me As Much As Usual” award. (my pix)
At approximately 10:30 AM, while heading south on the 900 block of Red River St. toward the Convention Center to see Smokey Robinson deliver the 2010 SXSW keynote address, we witnessed one Caucasian male, between 30 and 45 years of age, pleasuring himself right out there on the street in front of the cops and God and everybody. He wasn’t exposed, per se; he was just making exaggerated hand gestures within his shorts that implied there might be some masturbation going on.
We had to walk by this fellow. Now, I’m a trouper. As much as I may personally dislike people jacking off on the sidewalks, that guy is probably a taxpayer too. I’m not dragging along any kids behind me or anything, so I am prepared to pass by without incident and let somebody else with a valid reason do the complaining. Besides, as we have been approaching, his jacking has slowed. Maybe he’s losing his erection. No need to make a mountain out of a molehill.
But as I pass, I just have to look that crazy bastard in the eye. Is it a primitive male dominance thing? Maybe. But I can’t let this guy think he’s jacked me into intimidation. I look him straight in the eye as I pass. And he looks at me. And I see in my peripheral vision that he has now resumed jacking at his original furious pace. I look straight ahead and keep walking. Dammit, okay you win this time, Jack.
Pre-Smokey Robinson keynote – The legendary Alex Chilton , who’s band “Big Star” was scheduled to play Saturday night, kinda just died on Wednesday. Me, I now potentially have an open slot on Saturday night.
FORESHADOWING, or, slap in the face had I been paying closer attention: SXSW “Express” passes are available in limited numbers on a daily basis. All of us shmucks who spent hundreds of dollars on badges could stand in another early morning line at the convention center to get one “Express” pass per day, which would allow us to jump ahead of other badge holders in line at the venue of our choice.
Smokey Robinson – I respect and appreciate his legacy, even if his music is not necessarily 1st or 2nd or 99th on my personal playlist, but Smokey Robinson is a great interviewee and storyteller. He even makes me wanna visit Detroit some day.
Grammatics @ British Music Embassy – This is the first of many unexpected surprise discoveries on this trip. Can’t really see them very well here as the venue is packed (free food free beer) but I definitely feel the vibe. They are loud and tight and energetic and they touch my musical soul. I will seek them out again, oh yes I will. They’re a contender for the coveted “Best of the Fest” award. (my pix)
Mini Mansions @ Annie’s – Holy crap, nearly passed them by unnoticed! We were headed for Little Woodrow’s to kill some midday time but we got there before Little Woodrow’s was open. Dammit! Oh well, let’s keep walking westward until Woodrow’s opens. Then we passed by Annie’s, and this band was in there, playing to an audience of less than a handful. Not sure what caught my attention, maybe it was the fact that it was a 3-piece making a noise much larger than 3 people. The drummer was working a minimalist kit masterfully (snare, tom, cymbal, tambourine, andthatsaboutit); the bass guitarist was also working the usual guitar parts, the vocals and harmonies were tight and put me in the mind of such late 60s stalwarts as The Turtles… and then they went and did an awesome grungy cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass.” I was sold. Also, I’m sure there is a better word than “grungy,” but I am tired. I’m sorry. They’re a contender for the coveted “Best of the Fest” award. (my pix)
Little Woodrow’s – Finally opened. We drank a lot of beer. A LOT of beer.
Ray Davies @ La Zona Rosa is tonight’s “must see.” Sorta like with Smokey, it’s more about seeing a music legend before he is dead. We get to La Zona Rosa early and see a little bit of The 88, which was okay, but they didn’t blow us away. Then Ray Davies came out and played a bunch of acoustic stuff. We weren’t much on acoustic stuff, and we now had seen him alive, so we left. (my pix)
The Cave Singers @ Club de Ville – This is how The Waterboys would have sounded if they hadn’t been so hung up on that Irish shtick. They’re a contender for the coveted “Best of the Fest” award. (my pix)
The weather forecast says that there will be rain and near-freezing temps on Saturday. WTF? After brunch, we must go to the nearest Academy Sports & Outdoors store and stock up on Navy Seal gear. It’s not so cold today, though, so we just don our hoodies and head out.
Brunch at Threadgill’s. Jay has chicken fried steak. I have a 5-veggie plate (2/5ths of my veggies have meat in them, just so you know). The food is excellent, and the service is attentive. The waiter repeatedly sneaks up from behind and appears from out of nowhere to refill our iced tea glasses, filling us with a conflicting sense of awe and unease.
Academy Sports & Outdoors – We buy frog costumes.
Back to the hotel – Next we’re going to head out to the Village Voice day party at La Zona Rosa where we can see The xx, Surfer Blood, and Superchunk, allowing us to scratch a bunch of acts off of our nighttime lists.
But then Jay discovers that his hoodie is missing. It was last seen at Threadgill’s. We go back to Threadgill’s, and I wait in the car while Jay goes inside.
The waiter denies ever having seen the hoodie. Or Jay. He then throws down a smoke bomb and disappears. Jay returns to the car crestfallen and hoodless.
“Waaah waaaaah hoodie waaaaaah,” he says, snot bubbles popping from his nose.
“There there,” I say, patting him on his head and giving him a biscuit. “There will be other hoodies. Sometimes, if you truly love a hoodie, you just have to let it go.”
Freakin huge line at La Zona Rosa — no Village Voice party for us
Nexcyx @ Barbados Talent Show Day Party – Mostly impressive rock/soul kinda thing. I say mostly because I heard backup singers when there were no backup singers visible on the stage, and that always makes me suspicious.
Spindrift @ Red Eyed Fly – Another contender for the coveted “Best of the Fest” award! This was like, spaghetti western music fused with psychedelic jams and tribal chants. I bought all the CDs they had to sell at the show and we listened to one of them on the drive back home, and I honestly don’t know yet if the recorded music will hold up to repeated plays on the iDevice of choice, but the live show was certainly spellbinding and highly recommended. (my pix)
Metric @ Stubb’s – COCKBLOCKED BY MUSE! Dammit! This was my one true “must-see” show for the festival, and MUSE had to go and fill in an open “special guest” slot at Stubb’s, and because they couldn’t keep it secret all these MUSE fans flocked to Stubb’s and prevented me from being able to get in and see Metric. I freakin’ hate Muse. And worse, I see people cutting the line with these “Express” passes which were mentioned before the Smokey Robinson keynote but I ignored because I didn’t understand at the time. Dammit!!1!
Scars on 45 @ Maggie Mae’s – Hmph. So, since I can’t see Metric I will scope out my alternates. Scars on 45 is okay. They’ve got a great name, and they’re kind of like a British Toad the Wet Sprocket with a female co-vocalist. (my pix)
Solid Gold @ Club de Ville – Ditto Solid Gold. They mighta been great but I am old and it was late. Their Myspace stuff sounds pretty good, though.
The rain moved out early, but the cold remained. Jay and I don our frog suits and head to the Convention Center to get our stupid “Express” passes for the Alex Chilton/Big Star “tribute” show scheduled for tonight at Antone’s. Fortunately, because we crapped out kinda early on Friday, we are there before the rush on Saturday. The Antone’s pass *is* the hot ticket, according to the workers at the convention center.
And even if we crap out before the Alex Chilton tribute, we kinda feel like we are still “stickin it to the man” by taking two of these scummy passes out of commission.
Aussie BBQ @ Maggie Mae’s – Good bands but I didn’t learn who they were. I’m sorry, mates. If you recognize yourselves in the photos, send an eShrimp to my iBarbie and I will correct the captions. (my pix)
Athlete @ Cedar St Courtyard – Apparently this was the stripped-down acoustic version of the band. Eh, it seemed pretty good to me.
HOLY CRAP!!1! What is this? The building that used to be the GINGER MAN PUB is STILL STANDING!? We were told it was going to be demolished a year ago! WTF? WTF? WTF?
It is now “The Ghost Room”. Supposedly the douche bag condo developers backed out at the last minute (apparently the real estate market hasn’t been so great lately), so the owners of the Ginger Man renewed the lease on this old building even after they opened their new place around the corner. Now this place has been largely gutted and refurbished into a music venue. Cool!
Exene Cervenka @ The Ginger Man – WTF? Exene Cervenka at the Ginger Man?
Frightened Rabbit @ Cedar St. Courtyard – This is one of Jay’s picks for “Best of the Fest.” I might have been either too distracted or too exhausted, but I wasn’t moved to such a declaration myself. (my pix)
Kam Franklin @ Prague – First off, SORRY KAM that I didn’t stay for more than one song, but my associate and I were on a pretty tight schedule and there was a blizzard in Austin that night. The song I heard was pretty sweet though.
MyNameisJohnMichael @ Maggie Mae’s – Oooh! Oooh! This is kinda tickling my Clem Snide / Weakerthans funnybone. It’s a healthy 80% of Americana with 20% freakout noise.