“Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you’re too old to go to South by Southwest. People back home in Midland think we are crazy because we once drove 400 miles to see Rod Stewart, but we absolutely adore his music. If it’s something you love, don’t let anyone stop you from enjoying it.”
old lady at hotel in Waco talking to us over a continental breakfast of Fruity Pebbles
Using the same categories as last year and a few new ones, my best of SXSW list triumphantly returns! I also got all high tech and fancy, allowing you to click on the artists’ names to check out their music while reading this drivel.
BEST OVERALL BAND
Times New Viking
When I heard TNV’s CD I enjoyed the charming, low-fi pop punk sound but it didn’t go further beyond that. This opinion changed once setting foot in the Exodus last Friday night, as the trio unrelentingly pounded their way through two minute songs as chaos broke out in the audience. Before I knew it, Paul and I were amidst the insanity, bouncing through the throng of fans as the band passionately performed. It may have been the day long free beer binge, or the free energy drink chugged down only an hour earlier, but Times New Viking brought the best out the both of us. Amy Phillips, a blogger at Pitchforkmedia.com, even mentioned us dozen or so fans at the front of the stage saying: “Ohio’s Times New Viking recently signed to Matador, but they already have a committed fan base. There was quite a bit of slam-dancing and general hysteria in the first few rows of the crowd as the trio slammed out high-energy, melodic noise-punk, and keyboardist Beth Murphy pumping her fist in the air and showing off her luxurious armpit hair. By the time their Matador debut is out, that excitement will probably have spread far enough to fill up a room.” She even included this picture, that features Paul and I with our mouths gaping in excitement:
I understand the lo-fi recording style gives an album an authentic, recorded in a garage sound, but when your band sounds this much better live, aren’t you doing your music fans outside of Ohio a disservice? Hopefully Matador can clean these kids up (they can shave her pits while they’re at it) and send them out to take over the world.
WORST OVERALL BAND
I wanted to like this band; I really did. I talked to one of them while waiting for the restroom and he told me about how they moved from Venezuela to New York in hopes of making it big. He told me all about them recently making connections, and when asked what they sounded like by another guy in line he responded, “It’s hard to describe, you’ll have to see it for yourself.” He was a friendly guy and peaked my interest with his band description.
As the band set up I became even more excited when Paul pointed out a cute blond girl with a keytar strapped around her neck. A Venezuelan band with a keytar player: could they NOT be good?
Well, the answer is yes. They were miserable. So bad that we had to leave due to Paul’s inability to stop laughing. Think early 90s dance music minus any semblance of melody. Poor kids.
BEST SOLO ARTIST
As Saturday unfolded, I slowly became more and more sick with a chest cold. By six o’clock I was not in the mood to see anymore bands and took a nap in the car while Paul went off to see the Kill Rock Stars showcase. Two hours later I awoke, slightly refreshed, and ventured back out onto the streets ofAustin alone. A few blocks up the street I came upon a Presbyterian church where Smog front man Bill Callaghan was performing a solo gig. As I entered the church he was just beginning his first song, with a violinist at his side and Joanna Newsome tucked behind the piano (you know I love!). Since the church was completely filled, I squeezed into a space in the back pew and soon found myself absorbed by Bill’s croaking, baritone voice and vibrant guitar. I’m not a big fan of the whole church thing, but this venue provided the most ambient, soothing sound of the week. The guy next to me soon entered into some type of Zen like state, several people sped out during songs with their faces drench in tears, and a few left their pews and sat in the aisle up front. I sat cursing the fact that Paul was missing possibly the best show of the week, when lo and behold, St. Paul appeared in the doorway. Once the song was finished he motioned that he was going up front and I followed him as we sat at the feet of Bill like little Sunday School kids waiting for the weekly children’s message. He even played “Cold Blooded Old Times”, a shared favorite by Paul and me.
WORST SOLO ARTIST
This douche isn’t really worth discussing. He pushed play on his computer and proceeded dancing around a la Napoleon Dynamite while singing karaoke style. At first it was funny in a “He’s making an ass of himself” kind of way, but when the dancing act continued throughout the remainder of the show I had to side with Paul that he was just plain miserable.
BEST BAND DISCOVERED
Old Time Relijun
Paul played me their CD on the long drive south, and I enjoyed what I heard. It was bluesy, howling, folk rock with a twang. I agreed to go see them with Paul thinking of it as a nice littler filler before going to the big shows in the night ahead. I completely underestimated what I was about to see, with the raucous band bounding about the stage fervently as singer Arrington de Dionyso spit out lyrics in a voice resembling David Byrne. Imagine a southern gospel blues band being possessed by demons hopped up on crack and Pop Rocks: it’s that good.
BEST SOLO ARTIST DISCOVERED
Paul has recently been on a metal binge, gobbling up any new metal bands he can find. I, not being so much the metal fan, found myself sitting at several less than stellar shows (Oxbow just scared me). One of said shows contained Zoroaster and Boris. Sandwiched between these two acts was Marissa Nadler, a Massachusetts folk artist preoccupied with death. Her voice matched her ghost-like appearance, performing like a spirit in an Edgar Allan Poe poem. While Paul roamed to the other stage inside to see more metal, I sat cross-legged amidst drunken metal heads and listened to her tales of gloom.
I’ve been hearing about this band for a while now from several people but had yet to actually hear them. Some say they are Japanese Metal, others Japanese Psychedelic Rock, while even others will claim they are a Japanese Jam Band. I guess one thing they all agree on is that they are Japanese. Whatever the case, I anticipated what was about to be seen on stage as they set up a giant gong. Once the waif of a guitar player, who Paul claimed was amazing, took the stage, Boris commenced playing a 45 minute set. Within this set they played one song…one 45 minute song. It was neither metal, nor psychedelic, nor even jam band for that matter: Boris was just boring.
I’ve been digging on the new Walkmen album big time over the past few weeks but feared what they may sound like live. On their albums singer Hamilton Leithauser’s voice sounds like a hybrid of Bob Dylan and Roger Daltry, a perfect combination. I didn’t know how this would translate on the stage, but I soon found I was foolish for being a doubter. He sounded BETTER than he does on album. He’s also a true rockstar, spending a night in jail during the week at SXSW this year.
It has become a yearly tradition for us to see Frog Eyes perform at SXSW. With only a day left of shows, we decided to try making it to Poke-E-Jo’s in time to catch our beloved Frog Eyes.
The paper said it was on 5th street, which meant it wasn’t very far away from 6th streeet, at least in our eyes. What soon followed was a 20 block walk up 5th street with me bitching about not getting a bus the entire way. When we finally found Poke-E-Jo’s, we felt like Indiana Jones finding the Holy Grail. The stage was set up at the end of a sand volleyball court with picnic tables dispersed throughout the area. Since the show was free and located so far from the SXSW hub-bub of downtown, the majority in attendance were Austinites out looking for free happy hour beer and some good music. This gave the show a more relaxed, down-home feel. With free Shiner beer a flowing, we sat and enjoyed yet another great set by Frog Eyes. They sounded better than ever, although singer Carey Mercer didn’t seem to be hopped up on speed like usual. I guess it’s okay to sacrifice showmanship for sound quality. When they were finished the Absolutely Kosher party was over, yet the bartenders continued filling our cups with Shiner. Before we knew it, some friendly Austinites were loading us into their car and taking us to see Public Enemy, which leads me too…
Dew Music Festival Town Lake Stage
SXSW always caters to the locals, offering free shows for the entire family to come enjoy. This is where the Town Lake Stage comes into play, an outdoor stadium-type stage at a park near downtown. When we arrived at Public Enemy we were surrounded by families pushing strollers and drunken frat boys screaming “Flava Flav!!!” We quickly approached the stage, but soon found we couldn’t even get close to Chuck D and the gang. We stayed for handful of songs, and finally left due to disappointment. The whole point of SXSW is seeing great bands in smaller venues. Seeing a band in a stadium or festival setting is just not satisfying anymore. There’s no connection there; there’s no feeling that anything could happen next. It’s so protected with guard rails and bouncers. If I want to watch Flava Flav on a screen, I’ll flip to VH1 for one of their many “Flavor of Love” marathons. Does that make me a snobby ass? So be it.
BEST LOOK ALIKE
This is very random, but I thought the new guitarist for the Rosebuds looked like my JV basketball coach Jared Cecil, who I fondly remember making us run marathons everyday in practice. Maybe I just have Cecil on the brain since he coached his girls’ basketball team to a State Title a week ago.
BEST OVERALL SHOW
Frenchkiss Records Showcase
The show began with a guaranteed great performance by The Fatal Flying Guillotines. At a show in an abandoned Mexican church a few years earlier, we saw them play wearing Girl Scout uniforms while spitting on and kicking audience members mercilessly. By the end of the show a girl attacked one of the guitarists, beating him with her purse. After the beat down he approached the mike saying, “I’m sorry we’re not Franz Ferdinand” and then spit at her friends as they broke into another song. As expected, they were chased out the back door of the church.
FFG didn’t disappoint this year, continuing their habit of spitting, jumping up on speakers, and leaning onto the crowd randomly in a psychological game of trust. At various points one of the guys would attempt to walk on people’s shoulders and heads without warning, as if he was Christ walking on water. As you’d expect, most people would cave under the pressure of a man walking upon their heads. At various points, one of the members would just stop playing, and glare with piercing eyes at a random person in the audience. Then suddenly he would dive at said person and attempt to reach them as if he wanted blood. Eventually he’d return to the stage and find someone else to glare at. At one point one of the more timid guitar players said, “Come on now, you promised no fights tonight.” I’m guessing what we saw at the Mexican church wasn’t a one time occurrence. Believe me; everyone in the bar’s attention was fully upon the band, knowing if they lost focus they’d get a lugie or foot to the head. I loved every tension filled minute of it.
Next up was Thunderbirds are Now!, a safer, poppier, more user friendly Les Savy Fav. They put on a great show also, although lacking in the lugie department. What made the show even more interesting was The Fatal Flying Guilloteens attempting to throw bottles at the band or trying to disconnect their equipment. Thunderbirds played composed and seemed to find humor in the drunken Guillotines. They were finally forced to put up police tape in hopes of stopping the ruckus, which of course just heightened the violence. The Thunderbirds were more than just a performance piece though; I will definitely be buying some of their music very soon.
The final act of the night was the most anticipated of the week, Les Savy Fav. I’ve read about Harrington’s crazy behavior during shows, including a tryst with mud wrestlers and kissing random audience members, but had yet to see the crazed maniac in person. Before starting, FrenchKiss Record’s head man, Seth Jabour, pointed out that it was next to impossible to one up The Fatal Flying Guillotines, but I felt he said this as a challenge to Harrington, who didn’t disappoint.
Harrington started the show in jeans and a pink polo shirt, undressed to completely nude, tucked his junk a la “Silence of the Lambs”, and finally put on a full body spandex jumper with Speedos over top. He then donned a pleather coat, shades, and a graduation cap.
By the end of the show he would be nude again at one point, and would finish the show wearing only red Speedos, a hilarious, cringe inducing sight considering he’s an overweight, red headed bald man with a mad scientist beard.
Other crazy antics: he crawled along the curtain rod on one side of the stage, almost ripping the curtain down.
Later he ran across the bar making one of the frat boy looking bartenders sing a song.
He spilled beer all over himself and then abducted a man from the crowd, rode him like a horse while singing a ditty.
And finally, in a move I’ve never seen before, he stuck the mic in his Speedos and thrust it in an adoring fans face who screamed the lyrics into his crotch. (No pictures of this for obvious reasons)
My favorite part of all though had to be when he sat down on the monitor speaker and began caressing Paul’s beard, singing to him. Classic. Watch the shitty quality video in my heroes section that someone put up on YouTube. About a minute and fifteen seconds he leans down out of the shot to feel Paul’s face. A fat naked man petting Paul: most hilarious SXSW moment ever.
I could keep going on and on and on. Most freaked out, shock inducing, laugh out loud, pump my fist concert experience ever. Unfortunately, this was the first show we saw all week, making most of the remainder of the week a let down. Anytime a singer jumped into the crowd I got douche chills knowing he wouldn’t commit and stick his balls in someone’s face. What a shame.