South By Southwest 2010 turned out to be one of the strangest yet in my seven years of attending the music festival. There were some disappointments (both GZA and The Title Tracks were no shows), some major changes (Todd P and his legendary day shows decided to pack up and head to Mexico), and there was, at least in my perspective, an unexpected Canadian take-over of Austin (it will make sense later). We also began our first real promotion for BDWPS.com, plastering homemade stickers all over the city of Austin. I even handed out a few business cards, which is just plain silly when you think about it.
But one thing that had the biggest impact on our experience this year was the absence of my long-time SXSW comrade SongsSuck (as he would like to be referred to now). He did make the trip to Austin but was gone by 6 a.m. on Thursday, opting to forego the remainder of the festival in order to fulfill what he refered to as “a life-time dream” by watching a kid he coached in high school compete at the College Wrestling Nationals (I think he should change his name from “SongsSuck” to “LittleBoysInSingletsRule”). Nonetheless, Johnny Good Year and I still had another great week at SXSW, despite all the changes taking place.
Best Band Discovered- Pivot
One of the best parts of SXSW is coming home with a list of new bands I need to check out. Unfortunately, this year I didn’t have many of those “Holy crap, this band is amazing!” moments. This is probably due to SongsSucks not being around, the ying to my yang when it comes to going to shows. 60% of the shows he takes us to are hardly tolerable, but those other 40% have the potential to give a jolt to your musical senses. Without SongsSuck, we went primarily to shows with bands I wanted to see. This worked out great because I enjoyed almost everything we attended, yet that discovery element was almost nonexistent.
One of the few moments of the week where I found myself mesmerized by an unfamiliar band occurred at The Phoenix. Johnny Good Year and myself were at the swanky bar to check out the Born Ruffians and caught the last few songs in Pivot’s set. They are a psychedelic/electronic outfit from the UK who approach dance music from an epic stand-point. Although I don’t have a clip of them playing, I did find a video of the song that first caught my attention, “O Soundtrack My Heart”.
Worst Venue- The Phoenix
Although both Pivot and the Born Ruffians put on excellent sets, the setting for the show left a bad taste in my mouth. On first impression, The Phoenix overwhelmed me with a dramatic decor of velvet walls, elegant chandeliers, and wall sized paintings of Victorian imagery that seemed to be moving like the haunted painting in “Ghost Busters II”.
I thought the environment of the bar was cool, like something out of “Interview With a Vampire” (back when vampires were still cool). After Pivot finished up, Johnny went to buy drinks and returned to tell me that it cost him 18 dollars for two drinks. SXSW beer prices are usually hiked up, but this was ridiculous. Then we noticed on the table in front of us there laid a silver bucket and a note that read: Do not sit here unless you paid for a bottle to be brought to your table. “This must be one of those uppity bars on most nights,” I commented to Johnny, thinking that the bottle deal didn’t apply during SXSW since the room was jam-packed with sweaty, hairy, music fans rather than the high-class clientele I imagined usually enjoyed the velvet womb. When Johnny left to hit the restroom, a waitress approached me with a large group and informed me that they paid to sit on this couch. I guess I was wrong. These people were douches year round, regardless of SXSW.
Despite my irked mood, Born Ruffians still put on a great set, including the following clip I filmed of a new song that will be on their upcoming album (you can see the glow of the blue chandelier on singer Luke LaLonde’s face):
Best Venue- Lovejoy’s
You would think after seven years of attending SXSW and six years of living an hour away from Austin that there wouldn’t be any venues left that I haven’t set foot in, yet every year, I find myself entering strange new environs. This year I made my first stop at The Phoenix, The Long Branch Inn, and the Trailer Space Record Store.
My favorite venue of the week though was actually one I’d been to before. Lovejoy’s, a hole in the wall bar located on a side street right off 6th Street, is both a brewery and a brewhaus featuring a couple dozen beers on tap. In the past the little watering hole seemed quaint and unassuming with its walls covered in beautiful murals and intricate artwork spreading across the rotting ceiling tiles and beams.
What made the brewery stand out so much this year was the fact that each day they held a day party, each serving free beer. Oh sure, tons of day parties offer free beer and liquor but not of the quality of Lovejoy’s! Whether it be Flying Dog’s “Raging Bitch” or Ska Brewing’s “Mopus Hoperandi”, Lovejoy’s opted to serve free cups of hoppy goodness all week. These beers, packed with flavor, were a huge step up from the Miller High Life and Lonestar of most day shin-digs. We visited Lovejoy’s so much during the week that by Saturday’s DC Show, the bartenders were handing us fresh glasses of free Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA before our cups were even empty. Free Dogfish Head? Yes, a free glass of beer made with Sam Calgione’s love and filled with joy.
Best Day Party- Rachael Ray’s Feedback Festival
If you’re not an avid reader of BDWPS.com, then you might not know my love of Rachael Ray and her recipes (I’m probably the only straight male in his 30s who subscribes to her magazine). For the past several years, Rachael has hosted a day show at SXSW, featuring free drinks (mojitos, margaritas, etc), free gourmet appetizers, and an array of great bands (the fact that she had Holy Fuck at her 2008 show proves Rachael is no prude). Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to get into one of her shows. In the early years she had an RSVP. Last year would be her first show open to the public, but the line wrapped around Maggie Mae’s way before the party’s noon start time. This year I went so far as to email Rachael’s talk show, thinking I could be one of those people who wins a prize, in this case a backstage pass, and then screams into the phone over tears for 10 minutes. Of course, those tears never got the chance to shine.
What did happen was a cold spell hitting Austin late Friday night. The frigid temperature and the unforgiving wind both caused problems for any day party set outdoors on Saturday. This included Rachael’s party that took place at Stubb’s BBQ. By the time Johnny and I stumbled by the party, there was no line and still tables stacked with mounds of classy hor dourves. Soon the two of us were stuffing our gullets while She & Him performed on stage. Our menu consisted of Tex-Mex sliders, pulled pork tortillas, quesadilla suiza stacks, and albondigas subs along with a couple strawberry margaritas that were heavily spiked for good measure. After a week of eating cold cut sandwiches in a parking garage and inhaling late night slices of pizzas, Rachael’s fine dining hit the spot.
Worst Band- Voivod
On SongsSuck’s only day of SXSW festivities, he wanted to see the classic Canadian speed-metal group Voivod at the Austin Music Hall. Since he didn’t have a wristband, SongsSuck dished out $15 dollars to see the band, a sign to me that the aging rockers would put on a top-notch show. Boy was I wrong. The decrepit cast of characters moved about the stage slowly and stumbled their way through the music like a band of zombie gypsies. After the first song, SongsSuck turned to me in disgust. “Sorry dude…these guys used to be metal giants.” Now they are simply Metal geriatrics.
Best Band- Lullabye Arkestra
I’ve had Lullabye Arkestra’s 2009 album “Threats/Worship” for five months now, and overall, I’m a big fan of the married couple’s approach to hardcore. As much as I enjoy their music, I always felt that the Canadian duo’s album was a bit tongue in cheek. With Justin Small’s main musical project Do Make Say Think, I saw Lullabye Arkestra just being something he did as a favor to his bass-toting wife. Their performance on Friday at the Red7 would prove the sexist in me wrong. Small, a guitar player for his other band, tore his way through one raucous song after another on his lit up drum kit while Kat Taylor’s fingers plucked up and down the neck of her bass spastically. Like a modern-day Death From Above (think Canada), the two love birds showed that being married doesn’t mean you have to be boring.
Although the sound quality stinks on this one, you get just a glimpse of their raw power:
Worst Crowd Interaction Moment- Japandroids
Another Canadian duo to swoop onto the indie rock musical scene last year were the Japandroids. I saw them this summer at a small bar in Boise, Idaho with a crowd of a dozen people, so I looked forward to catching them at Emo’s during a day show on Friday with what would be a crammed house. At first I stood back, watching their performance, but quickly the music took over and I made my way for the heart of the crowd – I needed to dance. Once out amongst the throng of on-lookers I joined in on the fist pumping and po-going through the band’s biggest hit from last year, “Young Hearts Spark Fire”. When the song came to a close, the crowd settled down faster than an anchor. Despite my efforts to keep the energy up, all the young hipsters looked at the crazy bald man, me, with annoyance. I felt a bit like Pierce on “Community”. Despite my eagerness to enjoy an energetic punk rock show, I still felt these kids had some learning to do. Heck, even the 12 Boise natives at the show this summer could produce a better pit than this sad, slew of Twittering introverts.
With the crowd so dead, it was easy to film a steady shot of their show, although the beers seemed to be trying to keep my bouncy cam alive (take note of how their drummer looks like Hedo Turkoglu):
Best Interaction- The Very Best
When we arrived to the Beauty Bar for The Very Best’s closing show of the night, I could tell something crazy was going to happen. It was packed. I don’t know if a show has been that overcapacitated since the last Great White show. We could barely manuever through the throng of people as Shout Out Out Out Out finished their set. Johnny couldn’t hack the sardine like surroundings and chose to leave, while I decided to stick it out to see the band perform. I use the word “band” loosely, knowing that The Very Best consist of a couple DJs and Esau Mwamwaya singing his African inspired melodies.
The stage set-up consisted of a table with a DJ kit, and two inflatable palm trees. A DJ came out and basically pushed play, making the performance as close to karaoke as it gets. Yet, somehow, when Esau Mwamwaya came out onto the stage with a pair of African dancers, all negative thoughts subsided and soon I joined in with the other 100 white people in the room, dancing to the tribal music. Near the end of the set, the guest rapper (I never caught his name) asked a girl up front onto the stage. Bad idea. Soon the entire audience poured onto the performance area like they had just beaten Kansas in the NCAA tournament. By the song’s end the crowd surfing palm trees were deflating fast and the performers were forced to climb the speakers in order to escape the bedlam.
Best Solo Artist – Ty Segall
For some reason I didn’t attend any “real” solo shows this year. I’m not really sure why. I’m still a folky at heart, but it just didn’t happen. Due to this lack of singer/songwriters in my pool of artists viewed, I’m going to use this category as an excuse to promote Ty Segall some more (even though he technically has a band). Regardless, the accolades for Ty are definitely earned. Once again Ty Segall put on a stellar show at SXSW, this time in an eclectic bar on the southside of town called the Longbranch Inn. While the lame-o’s at the Japandroids show stood in what Isaac Brock would call a “cross-armed stance”, the handful of lo-fi fanatics at the Longbranch were up and po-going away throughout Ty’s set. With the unfortunate passing of Jay Reatard, I’d like to believe that Ty Segall can keep that retro-pop-punk sound alive and well.
Even when videotaping Ty I couldn’t resist hopping up and down. I would make a horrible camera man:
Best Look-Alike- Jack Black
In the early years of SXSW, we used to always enjoy spotting “celebrities” on the streets (although my celebrity spottings were almost always former MTV VJs). In recent years these spottings have become less and less, although when the Florida metal band Torche took the stage, I swore that lead singer Steve Brooks was actually Jack Black. He looked just like Jack, had the body of Jack, and even made the facial expressions of Jack. In fact, I’m beginning to think Jack Black may have went the Hanna Montana route and used his Steve Brooks alter-ego to pursue a real life career in the metal world (no matter how great their music, Tenacious D will always be considered a comedy band).
Biggest Surprise- Local Natives
I’ve heard a lot of hype about the band Local Natives in the past month or so, and I gave them a chance, downloading their latest release “Gorilla Manor”. After a couple listens, the music neither annoyed me nor did it excite me. It was just there – a milk/toast sound that reminded me a bit of The Cold War Kids, another band I gave up on simply because they left me in a blank stare stupor. “Gorilla Manor” does have its moments, specifically the cover of the Talking Head’s “Warning Signs” but overall it just didn’t enthrall me.
After a recommendation from a friend, a week or so ago, I decided to give them another shot. She seems to have good taste in music, plus they were playing the Frenchkiss Records show. The Frenchkiss show I attended at SXSW four years earlier would go down in infamy, so I had plans to give this year’s Les Savy Fav headlined set another go-around. Local Natives came out to a packed house, and I stood in back with my arms folded, awaiting disappointment. When the band began strumming their guitars for the introduction to “Wide Eyes” my eyes actually got wider. Not only did the song have me nodding my head and watching in awe, but it sounded so much better than I remembered it on the album. In fact, every song they played sounded better: the bass more plodding, the drums more frenetic, the harmonious vocals resembling a new age Fleet Foxes. I have since given “Gorilla Manor” another shot, but once again was left in disappointment. Not because it bored me as before, but because I knew it could be so much better.
Best Showcase-Arts & Crafts.
As much as I enjoyed Local Natives, I didn’t enjoy the large crowd. I know a lot has changed with Frenchkiss Records in the past few years with both the sound of their bands and their association with a major label that will remain un-named, but I still would like to believe that at its core, it’s still the Frenchkiss I knew and loved from their showcase four years ago. Unfortunately, the show felt sterile. There wasn’t any of the camaraderie I remembered from a few years prior when members of all the bands sat by the stage drinking and pulling pranks. Where were the Fatal Flying Guilloteens when you need them?
With the community vibe gone, I made the tough decision to miss Les Savy Fav for this year and head over to The Parish to catch the Arts & Crafts Showcase featuring the headliner Broken Social Scene. Once I climbed the creaky stairs leading up to the bar, I could feel that warmth that seemed absent from Frenchkiss. As I entered the door I was greeted by the guy selling CDs and t-shirts. Walking up to the bar several folks nodded and smiled. These people weren’t industry insiders…they were Canadians! After USA’s devastating loss to Canada in Olympic hockey I wanted to hate our northern neighbors, but these damn Arts & Crafts Canadians wanted to ruin it all by being nice.
That same cozy feeling would spread throughout the bar and all the way to the stage where all the bands hung out in the wings supporting their fellow Canucks as they took to the stage. The first band we caught was Zeus, a classic rock band filled with multi-talented musicians who could switch instruments on a dime and all sing like choir boys. At one point I thought in my head, “They’re like a Canadian Beatles” and moments later Johnny Good Year leaned over and said, “They remind me a bit of the Beatles.” Yes, that’s two for two on The Beatles comparison; par for the course as far as I’m concerned.
Next up was Jason Collett a guy I loved before this week and hated after it. Despite my adoration of his album “Here’s to Being Here”, he came off as an arrogant prick in both performances I caught during the week. Plus, his once folk stylings have been replaced with a disco-dancey pop blend. He’s our generations Rod Stewart, moving from “Maggie May” to “Do You Think I’m Sexy”. The only saving grace of his set was his back-up band, comprised by none other than Zeus. You could tell that Arts & Crafts were a family of musicians (Jason Collett would be the step-cousin no one likes but tolerates).
Finally, Broken Social Scene took the stage and Zeus stood aside to take in it all in. For the first 30 minutes of the show the band enveloped the crowd with their soothing tones, jumping from classics to new material effortlessly as Kevin Drew had the audience hanging on every word. Finally, the medley of songs came to a close, giving the crowd the sense that the band was finishing. Then Drew stepped to the microphone and mumbled, “Okay. That was the start of our set.” Of course, the audience went crazy.
A little later Drew asked the audience not to take anymore pictures or videos claiming, “the internet is destroying our memories.” It sounded a bit pretentious, but the entire audience respected his request (including me). He followed it up saying, “This is our moment” and then broke into another new song. Throughout the show Drew seemed to be trying to create something different for all of us, at one point even asking for the house lights to be on so he could see the crowd’s faces. Strange, yes, but I had to respect his efforts to connect with the audience.
By the night’s end, the Broken Social Scene’s set would be a two and a half hour marathon of music. The band’s cast of characters changed from one song to the next with guests jumping on stage to join in on the Canadian three-ring circus. At 1:50 A.M., when everyone was suspecting that the show was finished, Kevin Drew informed us that he had another surprise up his sleeve. “Every Sunday I go to the same bar back home to see The Beauties, so I decided you guys should hear them too.” He turned to the side of the stage and shouted, “Come on up guys! Play us a couple songs.” Right before our eyes, another band jumped up and grabbed the guitars, breaking into a great punk song. Kevin Drew hopped down into the crowd and stood a couple feet from me taking in the show as if he was one of us. And really, he was. Tonight wasn’t about Broken Social Scene, Jason Collett, or even The Beautys. It was about the music, regardless of who played it. We were all a part of this show, this moment, this family. No photograph or video could truly capture what happened that night in The Parish. Thankfully, it will remain intertwined in my memory for years to come.
I don’t have any pictures or videos due to Drew’s request, but here’s a link to their website where you can hear some of their new songs:
Biggest Let-Down- Man Man
Let me start off my saying Man Man put on an incredible show. Amazing. I’ve seen the band countless times and this performance ranks up there with the best of them. Honus Honus was brilliant as he pranced around spitting water and beating the living crap out of his organ. The band sounded as boisterous and jumpy as ever. There wasn’t a disappointed person in the house…well, that is, except for me.
Something was missing, and I couldn’t quite place it. I scanned over the cast of characters and noticed a big hole in the scene to the left of the stage…but what was it? I flipped through my Rolodex of memory, trying to place the missing piece…The cooky guy! With the tiny biker’s cap that played the metal drum! The guy with the great falsetto! Where was the guy with the falsetto?! Throughout my many Man Man experiences, one of my favorite performers, other than Honus, was Marlette Seveir. While many in the band seemed to be putting on a performance, Marlette always came across as truly insane. Maybe that’s why he had been kicked out of the band, unbeknownst to me.
In an instant, my mind flipped back to when I saw the band at the SoKol Underground in Omaha, Nebraska almost five years ago. A morose Seveir sat on the stage by himself pre-show, staring blankly at the floor. With SongsSuck and I standing stage side, we decided to talk to the lonely looking fella. When asked how he was doing, Marlette replied, “Not so good. The band’s fighting.” At the time I saw it as a little band spat, but now, watching the band minus their joker, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was the beginning of the end for Marlette.
The remainder of the show my eyes kept being pulled toward the empty spot on the stage. No matter how great the performance, I couldn’t help but notice that the falsetto singing wasn’t quite as strong, that the banging upon the metal can didn’t have the same ring, that the stage theatrics didn’t seem quite as chaotic or authentic. And then I realized one other major piece was missing: my good old friend SongsSuck. I’d never seen the band without my partner in crime, and I’d never been to SXSW without him by my side.
Sure, Man Man sounded great without Marlette and SXSW 2010 was a blast even without my friend, but in both instances, it just wasn’t the same without that ornery, unpredictable character keeping things interesting.
A clip of the Marlette-less Man Man: