SXSW: Too Much Music

SXSW: Too Much Music

This year, I approached the 5-day music festival
in three different ways, each with its own benefits.
But it wouldn’t be enough. There is
far too much to see, hear and do.

First things first: Check in. I made my
way to downtown Austin to pick up my
wristband at the Austin Convention Center.

Even though it was only 3 p.m., large
groups of people and event booths had already
begun to line the sides of the streets.

When I got to the Convention Center,
artists, volunteers, writers, photographers
and bloggers, surrounded me.

Most of the events in the convention center
were limited to badge holders and other
artists, but one of the biggest events in the
building, the music poster sale, was open
to everyone.

Table after table of letterpress
and screen-printed posters filled the room,
with every band from the Dixie Chicks to
Grateful Dead represented. Any rock fan
could find his or her own favorite artist.

I worked up a little list of shows I wanted
to see before I came down to Austin, but
on Thursday I decided to put my list aside
and see if I could find some great bands
on my own. So I started walking around
Red River Street just north of Sixth Street.
I was looking for short lines outside of
clubs where the action was already thick.

I walked into the BMI Lounge where I
found Puerto Rican rock band Circo. A
passionate group that sounded a lot like
something you would hear on a island
vacation, which made for a great way to
start the night. The band sung entirely in
Spanish, and although I couldn’t understand
a word they said, I was pulled into
their music.

I decided to leave the BMI Lounge after
the performance and check out what was
going on at Stubb’s Bar-B-Q. I couldn’t
have walked in at a better time. A group
of performers from the soundtrack to the
anti-war documentary Body of War were
onstage. The artists on the soundtrack included
Kimya Dawson, Serj Tankian, Tom
Morello, Brett Dennen, Brendan James,
RX Bandits, Ben Harper and Billy Bragg.
The entire lineup was terrific, complex
and engaging, but Dawson, Harper and
Morello’s performance of Woody Guthrie’s
achingly beautiful folk classic This
Land Is Your Land stood out.

I met up with Image photographer Ronald
Villegas at the one of my local favorites,
The Blind Pig Pub, where we hatched
a strategy for the night. From our rooftop
perch high above Sixth Street, we watched
the throng of concertgoers and drinkers
crawl from bar to bar.

As is often the case in Austin during SXSW,
we didn’t have to go far to hear something
unique. A pop band from Montreal mysteriously
named Creature was setting up
on the Blind Pig’s rooftop stage.

While they were pretty raw and amateur (They
sounded like what you might see at a high
school battle of the bands,) they gave it
everything they had, so I give them a 10,
though part of that score comes because
the female members of the band wore
matching Boy Scout uniforms.
After a trip to Emo’s turned out to be a
bust (There were already lines at three entry
points) we went to he Blind Pig, where
Hot Little Rocket and WoodPigeon were
playing. Hot Little Rocket’s energetic indie
rock style helped me to get back into
the concert groove again and finish out
the night.

Friday Day 2

I had to fight emo kids and aging hipsters
to find a spot in the parking garage. Austin
has grown so much in the last decade;
it’s hard to get around both the new loft
apartment buildings and the construction
sites where more lofts are going up. Add
about 8,000 extra people for SXSW, and
you’ve got a real traffic nightmare.

I followed a more strategic plan Friday.
I went straight to Stubb’s, where Santogold
were playing. Brooklyn-based Santogold
sound a little like Sri Lankan rapper
M.I.A. with a more urban feel.

The stage set-up is fairly basic, with a singer,
DJ and backup vocalists/dancers. The two
backup vocalists on either side of lead vocalist
Santi White steal the show, though.

They’re synchronized movements, thickrimmed
sunglasses and emotionless expression
combine Styx’s Mr. Roboto with
a screwed-and-chopped version of the
Macarena.

It was a great performance and
something cool to look up on YouTube if
you’re bored.

Epic lines and nature’s call kept me from
seeing much of Brooklyn buzz band
MGMT.

I would liked to have seen more,
but I’ll blame the long lines on the popularity
surrounding the band after their
song Time to Pretend was used in the
opening sequence of the movie “21.”
Following MGMT was The Cribs, and
luckily Ronald and I were able to make
our way up to the front again to enjoy
the UK indie rock group. If you’re into
The Strokes or Arctic Monkeys, The
Cribs might be your new favorite band.
The music was instantly accessible and the
band members were high energy throughout
the set.

Next up that night was Sia, another UK
performer. You’ve probably heard Sia
when you were drinking your caramel
macchiato in Starbucks, where her CD,
Some People Have Real Problems, is
proudly on display. She’s also collaborated
with English downtempo stars Zero 7.

Sia and her band took the backlit stage
covered childishly in neon glowing tape.
The music, like her outfit, was soulful and
bright, and her bubbly personality and
innocent expressions on stage made for a
great show and a breath of fresh air against
the dirty and sweaty bands of SXSW.
Baltimore avant-rappers N.E.R.D were
up next. After an hour and half of setting
up the stage and a very long sound check,
frontman and producer extraordinaire and
Pharell Williams finally took the stage. I
haven’t kept up with the band in recent
years, but in the time I was away, they had
not changed very much. They performed
the singles Lapdance, Rock Star and She
Wants to Move to the crowd’s approval, but

their other material seemed to fall flat. Because
of their late start, the band skipped
an encore. Not a headliner performance.
I headed home, smelling like beer, sweat
and a combination of emo and prep polo.
You start to get a little burned out after
several nights of SXSW, and I started to
have a woeful feeling about taking on the
festival again the next night.

Saturday Day 3

I decided to not try so hard to see specific
bands or have a set schedule. I made my
way down to Sixth Street and started to
open my ears.

I met up with a fellow TCU friend and
concert “wing woman” Kristan Charles.
We decided to check in on a small dive
bar called Touché. We took in the sights
of the thousands of people that made
their way down to down the bar district
that night. Cross-dressers, punkrockers,
urban-cowboys, first-timers and
frequent-visitors surrounded the bar and
walked past the window. Many of the
people did not care to buy a wristband
or badge and were happy just being in
this crazy bar environment.

After a beer and a nice conversation with
a guy who obviously got the party started
a little too early in the day, we decided
to make our last night all about the atmosphere
and just go with the flow.

We walked out on to Sixth Street and were
swept into the crowd. Our first stop was
into the bar Bourbon Rocks. A relatively
large building with bars on the window, it
seemed to be one of the main attractions
for the night.

We stayed at Bourbon Rocks for a couple
hours, enjoying the west coast sounds of
Audrye Sessions, Elephone and the Matches.
Audrye Sessions put on a great show
with an arsenal of guitar solos and trendy
beats, while Elephone stuck to a pop indie,
techno rock style which was as retro
as their red thick rim sunglasses they wore.
The Matches had been a long time favorite
and one of my many high school period
bands; their style had not progressed
since then. It was a short, unsatisfying set,
and reason enough to move on.

The night began to wind down and we
made our way to a nice club south of
Sixth Street to spend the remaining SXSW
time. Another year of Austin music fun
had passed and soon thousands of people
would be forced to wake from their hangovers
and face the real world.