This was a year of many firsts for me at the South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. For the first time in 12 years, I didn’t get a wristband, didn’t attend the entire week of events, and didn’t have any friends join me for the week of music madness. All of these firsts were a result of another first for me – my spring break from work didn’t line up with the music festival this year. After spending my actual spring break in San Diego with a friend (great beaches, great weather, and great beer), I didn’t think I’d attend the festival this year due to money, work, and the lack of comrades.
Then, of course, the day of the festival neared and I got the SXSW itch – I had to go. I ended up calling-in sick to work two days (don’t tell my boss) and made the best of my three days in Austin. Usually the SXSW experience contains its moments of frustration (the goose chase that is buying a wristband, the annoyance of not being able to get into shows, and the insanity of 6th Street) but this year didn’t feature any of these issue. I avoided 6th Street for the most part, didn’t worry about the wristband rat race, and was able to get into every venue I walked to. Not only that, but almost every performance I saw was top-notch. Although I don’t have nearly as much experience to draw from for this year’s best of SXSW list, here were some of the highlights (and a few low-lights).
A few years ago I read Bob Dylan’s Chronicles: Volume One, and I found the chapter on Dylan’s approach to live performances to be pretty polarizing stuff. Dylan discusses the boredom and monotony that comes with performing the same songs every night. On his 1987 tour, Dylan opted to change his live shows to a more organic experience, and he’s hasn’t altered his live show methodology since. Instead of giving the fans what they what, Bob and his ever-changing band take Dylan standards and flip them on their head. Some tours have interpreted his songs within the style of blues while other times his touring band can resemble a bluegrass outfit. I’ve seen Dylan perform twice, and during both shows I had the same guessing game experience where half the time I wasn’t quite sure what song he was performing. It doesn’t help that his voice is almost unintelligible these days.
posterized n - 1. North American slang derived from an action in the game of basketball in which the offensive player “dunks” over a defending player in a play that is spectacular enough to warrant reproduction in a printed poster 2. to be humbled, shamed, and exposed as an inferior athlete 3. a blog series on BDWPS.com that revisits various concert posters collected over the past ten years by contributor Android50
When talking about music with friends, a common question that comes up is “What’s the best concert you’ve ever been to?” Many shows come to my mind (Elliot Smith, Propaghandi, Sleater Kinney, Bonnie “Prince” Billie, Man Man, HEALTH, Death From Above 1979, Jay Reatard, Times New Viking, Sufjan Stevens), but the concert that almost always pops up first is when I saw Arcade Fire in January of 2005. Three months earlier the band’s path was altered forever when the influential Pitchfork.com deemed their album Funeral a 9.7 out of 10.
Technological innovations over the past 10 years have changed the entire concert experience. There was a time where filming or tape recording a concert were frowned upon. In fact, there was an entire episode of What’s Happening? in the mid-70s that focused on the perils of bootlegging concerts (featuring The Doobie Brothers!). But in today’s concert setting, people pull out their phones to live tweet, take pictures, and film with nary a glance from security or venue staff. I myself get annoyed by the iPhone Army present at most shows, many patrons spending more time checking their Facebook status update about seeing the band than actually watching them. I don’t mind patrons taking a moment to snap a picture, but when it turns into a photo shoot, I have a problem.
Several years ago I saw Broken Social Scene at SXSW and before even playing a song, front man Kevin Drew gave a speech along the lines of “Instead of trying to capture this concert through videos and photos, let’s just enjoy the moment and let our memories encapsulate it.” This was a big moment for me since I’d spent the past year filming a lot of shows for this blog (one look at my YouTube page and you’ll see there’s been a major falloff in video posts since that show). Up-and-coming British post-punk band Savages have taken it a step further, requiring all patrons to turn off their phones or the band won’t play.
Just moments before sitting down to write about the best and worst of the South By Southwest music festival of last week, I found out about the death of Jason Molina, the troubled genius behind folk-blues outfits like Songs/Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company. This news would have been unsettling and heartbreaking regardless of what I was about to embark on, but sitting here trying to write about my 10th year at the music festival, I can’t help but think back to my first year in attendance and how I got to see Magnolia Electric Company perform at The Parish.
A lot has changed since that night a decade ago when Molina first enchanted me with his fragile, somber voice. Over the years I’ve seen SXSW grow along with my understanding of the festival and all its nuances. I think back to those performances from the first few years and wonder where the festival’s one time luster has gone. Don’t get me wrong, I still had a great week, seeing dozens of bands each day, but along with the growth of social media, SXSW has become more about the hype and less about discovering unpolished gems like my friends and I did 10 years ago with Jason Molina and his band. Yes, Dave Grohl, Stevie Nicks, and John Fogerty played a surprise set together, as well as Prince and Green Day (badge only shows), but due to the influx of speculation and misinformation within the Twitter world, I was unable to see several shows I would have in years past due to the miles of sheep lined up in hopes of seeing MTV TRL darlings like of Usher and Justin Timberlake.
Yet as much as these moments of frustration tainted my week, I still relished my chance to see up-and-coming artists pour their hearts out on the stage. Within the past ten years I’ve seen unknown artists perform at SXSW that went on to big time success (Bon Iver, The Fleet Foxes, and TV On the Radio), and I expect that many of the artists seen this week will go on to do just the same. Who knows? Maybe in ten years folks will be lining up for miles to see some of my favorites from this past week while I roam 6th street, 10 years older and wiser, in search of that next great unearthed treasure.
In memory of Jason Molina, I present to you my list of the best and worst of SXSW 2013.
posterized n – 1. North American slang derived from an action in the game of basketball in which the offensive player “dunks” over a defending player in a play that is spectacular enough to warrant reproduction in a printed poster 2. to be humbled, shamed, and exposed as an inferior athlete 3. a blog series on BDWPS.com that revisits various concert posters collected over the past ten years by contributor Android50
To be posterized is to be remembered – whether it be Tracey McGrady over the towering Shawn Bradley, Malik Rose humbling the finger wagging Dikembe Mutumbo, or Vince Carter shaming every unsuspecting European that got in his way during the 2000 Olympics. The concept of being posterized began with the Airness himself, Michael Jordan, victimizing NBA rosters throughout the late 80s and early 90s. Guys like Patrick Ewing, Kevin McHale, and Hakeem Olajuwon will forever be immortalized thanks to their inclusion on iconic Jordan posters that adorned the bedrooms of every warm-blooded teenage boy between 1986 and 1993. My childhood bedroom would be one of these many Meccas to Jordan thanks to my older brother who shared a room with me. I tried countering my brother’s yearning to be “Like Mike” with as many David Robinson posters as I could find in Northwest Iowa (as difficult as you would imagine). I eventually held a dominate Admiral grasp on the room once my brother and his Jordan posters went off to college.