On first glance, this poster for a SXSW show back in 2005 doesn’t seem worth discussing in my “Posterized” series. It’s really more of an advertisement for MTV2 than actually a poster promoting a concert. Most shows at SXSW are sponsored by someone (a record label, an online streaming outlet, a beverage company, a natural gas/fracking conglomerate) but rarely do the posters feature much about the sponsor other than a small watermark logo in one of the corners.
The second reason this poster doesn’t seem to deserve much attention is the fact I didn’t even go to any of the shows listed on the poster. They were all day parties, something I wasn’t even familiar with in those early days of SXSW.
No, this is far from the coolest concert poster I own, and no, I didn’t even attend these shows. But despite these two admissions, it’s still one of my favorites in the entire collection that adorns my walls because it reminds me of one of the best concerts I ever attended.
During that same year at SXSW, I did actually get to see Death From Above 1979 and Bloc Party, but it was a different show, sponsored by Vice and scheduled for Thursday night. It took place at what I believe was then called the Blender House (a connection with the magazine). That same structure is now an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, located on historic 6th Street.
My friends Paul and John accompanied me to the show, and we arrived just in time to see Bloc Party. You have to understand that 2005 was the pinnacle of Bloc Party’s career. Sure, they sounded a lot like Gang of Four, but they brought a refreshing, technical edge to the post punk crafted by Andy Gill and John King decades ago. As a result of the hype that surrounded the band, the show was packed and we were never able to get very close to the stage. I don’t remember much about their performance other than that they sounded great. I never saw Bloc Party perform again, and from what I can gather, no else has in the past seven years.
A band called Panthers was scheduled to play next. With the venue clearing out after the darlings of SXSW 2005 finished their set, Paul and John made their way to the front of the stage. I chose to stay back, hoping I’d be able to squeeze my way to the front before Death From Above 1979 took the stage at the end of the night. As I stood toward the back of the venue, I noticed a table of people near me comprised of what can only be described as “industry types.” I don’t know exactly what distinguishes a music insider from the common fan, but you know it when you see it. One week a year during the SXSW Music Festival the streets of Austin are infested with this special breed of music pretension.
Even though this was only my second year at the festival, I knew without a doubt that these folks sitting near me were music bigwigs. I leaned in conspicuously to ease-drop, and I remember hearing a pudgy bespectacled man discussing a new compilation album his label would be releasing in the coming months. I decided in my drunken reverie to approach the rare species for the first time.
This moment stands out vividly because it’s the one and only time I’ve ever attempted to mingle with people from the music business. I’ve learned since that most of these folks are at the festival more for schmoozing than the actual music. I came to find out that these folks were from Gammon Records and that the compilation they were discussing was the Daniel Johnston tribute album Late Great Daniel Johnston: Covered Discovered. They seemed pretty excited about the album with several boisterous “Cheers!” that I somehow joined in on, and I do remember the album doing pretty well. Of course, that belief is based solely on the Bright Eyes cover of “Devil Town” being featured in the season 2 finale of the television show Friday Night Lights.
As I write this, I did a quick search to discover Gammon Records no longer exists. In fact, the Daniel Johnston tribute album was the last release from the label. I can’t help but wonder if that night was their final hurrah in Austin or if they didn’t yet see the writing on the wall.
When Panthers finished their set, I said goodbye to my newly found industry friends and made my way up to the front of the stage. After a little squeezing and a few “excuse me’s” I rejoined Jon Jon and Paul who were visibly wound up from the Panthers performance. They greeted me with animated cheers as if they hadn’t seen me in years.
As if on cue, Death From Above 1979 burst into their brutal set, Jesse Keeler’s fingers dancing up and down the neck of his booming bass guitar, Sebastian Grainger screaming like a mad man from behind his drum set. Everything was sweat. Everything was noise. Everything was pure, unadulterated energy. We jumped with the beat; we bounced off each other like pinballs, and we smiled deep-seeded smiles that leapt straight from our souls. We were alive.
Looking back, it was a big, joyous blur of bedlam and bliss.
One of my favorite pictures from that night was taken directly after the show, an image of the three of us draped over chairs, basking in the carnage we just witnessed. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt the same way I did that night, but every time I spy that MTV2 poster on my wall, a glimmer of youthful joy rekindles in my heart.