Nerds (said with love, people; I am one, OK?) sometimes come back from nerd conventions talking about having caught "con crud," an unavoidable illness caught while in the company of so frakking many other people. I woke up on Friday with what I'll call "festival funk." I blame everyone, no one and my own late hours. Take your vitamins, SXSW campers. Or at least drink your vodka with orange juice. Festival funk will screw with your days.
I couldn't string a coherent sentence together for much of Friday, so here are a few disconnected thoughts from Day 16,239 — I mean, Day Eight — in Austin:
1. Apps someone should create and hope to make a killing on for next SXSW:
• An updater that tells you how packed each movie screening is.
• A map the entire function of which is to get you from place to place quickly while spending the least time ducking and bobbing around drunks on Sixth Street.
• A schedule that combines the official festival events with the countless day parties and nearby free shows. There was a website that got close to the latter, but it was still a little on the more-research-needed side. And I'm not just saying that because I forgot about it until Saturday.
2. Were there few people at the Writing About Music in the Twenty Tens panel because everyone was still hung over at 12:30 in the afternoon? Because everyone who wants to write about music is just doing it rather than wondering about it? Because people have figured out that panels aren’t going to give you a magical one-sentence key to how to become Chuck Klosterman? Regardless, once the panel got through its way-too-long personal introductions, it was a good reminder to embrace new technologies, be open to new ways of “thinking hard about music” (a phrase Ann Powers attributed to her husband, Eric Weisbard) and maintain your voice.
3. There’s a fashion/clothing show/sale during the music part of SXSW. There is nothing like this during the interactive part. Draw your own conclusions.
4. Was I underwhelmed by White Denim, the overcrowded venue in which they were playing, or both? If you're into that sort of '70s rock influenced, jammy-noodly, neither-here-nor-there rockish sound that feels like it's been making the rounds for a while now, you probably want to check them out.
5. It’s more than a little disheartening how few men attend any panel about women in the music business. Liz Phair tells stories about being treated like she’s selling sex, not music; Jenny Eliscu talks about the lack of female reviewers at Rolling Stone; Sarah Baer has tales from the Warped Tour and great advice about how to make yourself useful in the business; Maggie Vail talks about Kill Rock Stars' Slim Moon telling her that in her job, she can always tell anyone to fuck off; and Wanda Jackson is goddamn Wanda Jackson. These successful, smart women are sitting on stage saying that things are still changing slowly. Too slowly. And very few men are listening.
What all the excited, giddy, half-drunken tweets from SXSW don’t tell you is how much time you’re likely to spend walking from venue to venue and/or waiting in line for shows you may or may not get into. I’m not complaining. I’m just telling you why I feel like a total slacker for how few bands I’ve seen the last two days. Goddammit! My scheduling powers are no match for the distance between the Cedar Street Courtyard and the Scoot Inn!
Tomorrow, young Jedi. Tomorrow I will see more than five bands. I might even see TV on the Radio, who reportedly played an incredible set last night. Tomorrow I'll get to one of Wild Flag's eleventy-million SXSW shows. No, for serious. There's no missing Wild Flag.
You know what I would like? I’d like for St. Patrick’s Day not to fall during SXSW. I overheard my first “Where’s your green?” conversation before noon. Sixth Street doesn’t need this. Drunken music fans + drunken, green-garbed college kids = double the mayhem. I expect to see piles of green, and I don't mean shiny green leprechaun money.
It might be a night for going to a lot of movie screenings. Except that TV on the Radio is playing and Janelle Monae is playing and The Bangles are playing (all at the same time, which is just cruel) and The Sounds are playing and ... you get the picture.
Greetings from Austin, earthlings. I have been here for four days (five? four? five) and have lost all sense of time and perspective. It’s what happens at South By Southwest — enjoyably (for the most part). You get lost in a sea of free drinks, companies trying to convince you that their apps are going to save the world, inspiring speakers, swooning geeklets bringing Felicia Day cupcakes because she said she likes them, drunk guys on Sixth Street trying not to barf in the gutter, amusing movie screenings filled with nerds who chortle at every reference to their beloved nerd culture (guilty as charged), presentations that might actually help with your personal productivity issues, insight on everything from adapting comics for the big screen to the consistent need for authenticity from creators — and the discovery that Fireball Whiskey makes a whiskey and ginger ale taste like liquid Red Hots (with apologies to my elegant-cocktail-mixing bartender friends: this shit is kind of delicious).
If you see a theme there involving drinks, well, SXSW does this thing where we all pack into the convention center by day, learning and listening and, say, developing elaborate arguments about why the gamification (gameification? It’s a made-up word either way) of the world is just another way to keep the people down — and then 6 pm rolls around and the panels wind down and the parties start. And by 10 pm you wonder how anyone is functional the next day. Foursquare calls you a panel nerd for going to three panels and suggests you go to bars to avoid being thrown in a locker. You can get a Guinness milkshake at your arty movie screening. (You can also fall asleep at your arty movie screening. Perhaps the couches at the Ritz are not the best idea for a tired festivalgoer.)
It’s debauchery and inspiration in nearly equal parts, with a side order of aggravation. And I love it. In the next week or so, I’ll be posting film reviews, music round-ups and more. Possibly a rant or two (I’ve got a few issues with the notion that, to quote Christopher Poole, “Anonymity is authenticity”). So far, the theme of this year’s SXSW (as I’ve experienced it) is twofold:
According to the nerds in the know, we’re moving from the decade of communication to the decade of games, the game layer, gamification, game mechanics, etc. More on this later. Short version: I’m wary of the notion of shifting from a culture of communication (as evidenced by Facebook and other social networks) to a culture of competition and think we need a good old Jaron Lanier-style hard look at what exactly this means. Maybe that’ll happen next year.
Meanwhile, is there something you’d do if you were in Austin? A show or a film you wouldn’t miss? I’m happily taking suggestions for how to spend the rest of my time here. Leave ‘em in the comments, or email molly at eugeneweekly dot com.
(Lest you think it's all fun and games and booze while the world ends, there's also SXSW4Japan.org.)
Where were we? Or rather, when were we? Last month. Let's just cut to the chase.
Between the “Creating a Music Town” panel in the morning and the Jared Mees show, I mostly missed stuff on SXSW's last full day. I went to the IFC Crossroads House and wrote and just missed Frightened Rabbit. I had lunch with a friend — the first real food sit-down meal I’d had in days — and missed the last showing of the award-winning Tiny Furniture. I went to see Fang Island at the wrong time. And then I made my way to the Portland showcase put on by Riot Act, where the weather, dim and damp and colder by the second, made everything feel maybe just a little too much like home.
Jared Mees and the Grown Children @ Liberty Bar
Jared Mees was singing about “Strong Black Coffee” to a small but dedicated gaggle of folks in the Liberty Bar’s damp backyard. I assume most of them, like me, were kind of wishing the drinks in our hands would transform into cups of coffee.
Jokes were cracked about fingers slowly thawing out. The rain stopped for a little while. I admired the coats on those more prepared for the weather and wondered if anyone could focus on anything but keeping warm. The Grown Children were totally charming and not at all restrained by the weather.
Titus Andronicus @ Scoot Inn
Did I mention it was fucking cold? I think I did. I also mentioned this show a lot in this post, which was about Titus Andronicus’ show a week later at a house in Whiteaker — a show which was a lot louder and a lot warmer. But in Austin, in the cold, in parkas and kneesocks and suffering a truly biting wind, TA were fantastic, ferocious and unexpectedly endearing. And the Fortress of Solitude reference in “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future” just seemed all the more appropriate.
Gwar @ Mess With Texas
Walking back to the main drag, cup of tea in my hands doing the job of a good pair of gloves, I heard this … noise coming from behind the Mess With Texas fence, on which people were precariously perched. On tiptoes, I peered over the fence — and saw Gwar. They don’t even have to do anything. They just stand there, and their costumes say everything. People were watching from the rooftops across the street; one lucky bastard was perched in a tree. I stayed long enough to watch the band spray the adoring crowd with fake blood. It was loud, ridiculous and incredible. And best watched from a safe distance.
Rival Schools @ Red 7 Patio
To my total surprise, this was one of the highlights of SXSW — a show by a band that broke up after one early-oughts record (clearly, they’ve since reformed). I’ve listened to Rival Schools’ 2001 album United by Fate enough to know that there’s one song on it I always think of as “that one really good Rival Schools song.”
Or so I thought. (Keep reading...)
Erik Abel (aka Animal Farm's Gen.Erik) from Focused Noise sent over a link to this video, which is sort of a video scrapbook/goofy behind-the-scenes look at the experience Focused Noise artists Animal Farm, Serge Severe and Mic Crenshaw had at SXSW. Skinny men in green bodysuits, missing Thai food restaurants, free hugs in the middle of the street — it's all here.
(Holy shit, it's the Wild Things dude! That guy was everywhere!)
Warpaint @ Lustre Pearl [unofficial day show] Lustre Pearl, a converted house just blocks away from the Austin Convention Center (and right behind an IHOP), might’ve been my favorite venue of the week. The building, tucked behind a rusty fence (the pic above was taken while I stood in line), is small, just a few rooms, one taken over by a bar, but the backyard area is huge, and complete with taco truck. The delight of finding a Brooklyn Lager (a sentimental choice) went nicely with the delight of finding Warpaint absofuckinglutely amazing. They were good at Sam Bond’s last year. They were superb in the middle of the afternoon in Austin, creating a dense, precise wash of sound, winding vocals in and out with such ease that it seemed like the music just hung there, undulating, in the middle of the sprawling white tent. I can’t remember songs. I can’t remember how many there were, or which they played, or if they were the ones I wanted to hear. It wasn’t that kind of show. It was like a big aural vacuum: You’re sucked in, you live in it, and then it’s over and nothing that comes next is going to be quite as good.
I nommed a fantastic taco and split after four Rogue Wave songs. I love Rogue Wave as much as the next pop-harmony sucker, but my magical spell had been all busted up and I wanted to be somewhere else.
Frightened Rabbit @ Mess With Texas [non-SXSW awesome minifestival] Standing in line for the Mess With Texas fest, a delightful bit of counterprogramming that I would commit unpleasant acts to have happen in Eugene, I heard Billy Bragg, and I cursed whatever bit of timing had made me arrive when I did, and not half an hour earlier. Bragg broke into “A New England” and I got goosebumps; is there a more plaintive, honest love-longed-for song? Could it be sung in a better voice than Bragg’s haunting, slightly creaky British tones? The answer you’re looking for is “No.”
The FRabbits were lovely and the crowd was huge and the sound was imperfect. I stood in the back, too close to a tent in which the curious, mostly women, were perching on a Harley-Davidson and revving the shit out of it. You can see how that might affect the mood. But I'd watch Frightened Rabbit through just about anything.
Jenny Owen Youngs @ Live Create Lounge The Live Create Lounge was well-stocked with free nutrional bars, phone chargers and overpriced beer. I took appropriate advantage of each and watched Youngs, who looks like a poster girl from the ’60s and sings like it’s as easy as breathing. Her pop-folk songs tend to the catchy and disconcertingly sweet-sounding, with an underlying steeliness, and she deserved to play to a bigger, more attentive crowd.
Anya Marina @ Maggie Mae’s I was curious about two things: Marina with a band, and the venue in which she was playing, with its multiple levels and slightly confusing staircases. Marina with band was fine, but unexpectedly lackluster, despite her perky, “fuck”-dotted stange banter; I think she’s got more personality than is showing through in her songs. Maggie Mae’s offered a nice vantage point from which to look down on Sixth Street, where the crowds had yet to reach their full nighttime density.
Patrick Stump @ Dirty Dog Bar Stump practically snuck onto the stage; there was no fanfare, and if some people didn’t immediately recognize the Fall Out Boy singer, newly shorn and less more than a few pounds, it seemed likely he liked it that way. (“Hi. I’m Patrick,” was all he offered as introduction.) But there was an off-kilter feel to his five-song performance. He tore around the stage for the first song, getting loops going with each instrument, proving himself a capable musician, but when the song finally settled in, there just wasn’t much to it: a bit of funk, that soulful vocal delivery, and what else? It wasn’t just Stump’s feverish uncertainty — which suits him when it’s in the lyrics; one song trades “This is my confession” for “I’ve got nothing to confess” in a matter of seconds — it was the nagging feeling that maybe these tunes (unrecorded, he said) weren’t ready for their close-up just yet. Operative word there being "yet."
Les Savy Fav @ Galaxy Room Backyard At one in the morning, those that aren’t wearing out are getting wearing on those that are. You follow me? Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington was as cuckoo as ever — was that a Wild Things costume he was wearing at first? — tearing about the stage, fucking with the lights, ripping up glowsticks, all that jazz, but something was missing. Penultimate SXSW night blues? The general lack of movement in the crowd? Everyone woke up for “Patty Lee,” which mustered up a bit of a singalong. It went like this: “Back before Babylon,” Harrington roared, and fans joined in, “SHIT WAS COOL!” This was almost as awkward — and equally entertaining — as when crowds sing along with Cursive’s self-aware songs about being self-aware dudes in a self-aware band.
The first day of SXSW's music track was also St. Patrick's Day. Whether this made a difference in anything but the amount of green seen on Sixth Street, the festival's main drag, I'm not quite sure; the street overflows with drunken revelers every night of SXSW. Before long, however, the main topic of discussion was a bit more somber: By that night, the news was out that Big Star's Alex Chilton had passed away. The Big Star show scheduled for Saturday night would go on as a tribute and memorial. But there were plenty of other things to do before then.
Miles Kurosky @ Red Eyed Fly [unofficial day show] If the name Miles Kurosky means nothing to you, I’m sorry. I’m sorry because that means you missed out on the bittersweetly joyous jangle of Beulah, the late-‘90s/early-‘00s band for which Kurosky was the singer. Despite it being the middle of the afternoon and there being more people onstage than seemed comfortable, a slightly nervous-looking Kurosky made new fans and charmed the old with a mix of songs from his new solo record — and a few much-missed Beulah favorites. I’ve never been more happy to see a trumpet player as when Kurosky, muttering something about how they had a trumpet player, they might as well use him, broke into “Emma Blowgun’s Last Stand.”
Goodness knows, it’s been a wonderful run...
I’ve not had a chance to listen to the new record but what I heard in Austin was just what I wanted to hear: Kurosky’s perfectly ordinary voice still blends with bright guitars and, yes, trumpets — among other things — as timelessly as it ever has. This guy makes songs that could fit on a mix-tape from any era in my life. There’s a magic that happens when the usual rock lineup transforms through superb songwriting into something so expansive. Go back and listen to When Your Heartstrings Break. You won’t be disappointed.