FIRST ANNUAL TERMINAL BOREDOM SXSW REPORT
by Jeff Greenback
I was always vaguely aware that South by Southwest happened sometime around March in Austin, but I knew very little else about it. So at the end of last year when my friend Mark mentioned SXSW and when I realized that the little two week window that it falls upon would be my only shot at vacation time for this whole year, I considered going. Was it just a music industry shit fest full of losers with ponytails or was something good actually going on? Mark mentioned some bands that he was interested in seeing, but nothing really stood out. After a bit of research it looked like most people agreed that although SXSW could be an anally retentive snooze fest, if you wanted it to be fun, it would be. Hell, with plenty of free shows and the talk of free beer taking up most of the days how could one really go wrong? And with over a thousand bands playing, there's gotta be some that are decent, right? A few weeks later, some of this year's acts became listed, and thanks mostly to the lineups booked by the Horizontal Action/Blackout team I decided I was there.
Mark initially wasn't sold on the idea of going, as it was going to be a fairly expensive trip, but when I found out that his main financial concern wasn't how much he was going to be spending on his flight or hotel, but on how much he was going to be able to spend on booze, I reassured him that this was Texas we were talking about and booze had to be cheap there, especially when you compare it to Canadian prices. Cheap booze for Mark is too much to resist, so he was in as well. I decided to make a real trip out of it, as I had always wanted to check out the southern states as a whole. The plan was to fly to Austin, rent a car for the first week or so and check out New Orleans and then Memphis, and then meet Mark, flying in from Toronto, back in Austin for SXSW. March arrived sooner than I could imagine, and the trip began.
The first week was a whirlwind blast through the South. New Orleans was full of random walks through old neighborhoods and random conversations with strangers, two things required on any memorable road trip. The only rock action in New Orleans came courtesy of Harahan, Louisiana's own King Louie One Man Band playing a show at the Circle Bar with Mangina. I walked into the Circle Bar shortly after the advertised start time of 8pm, to find a super cozy, incredibly small one room "venue" with some regulars drinking at the bar and a few people who looked like they were waiting for the show. Apparently somebody in Mangina was sick and they cancelled so the next little while was spent shootin' the shit with the locals. The night became more interesting when the bartender abruptly plunked down a massive cooler at our feet and then promptly vanished. Without even thinking twice about it, Therapeutic Records label-dude Michael Bateman slyly crouched down, eased open the top and removed a bottle of beer. Just as we were thinking that he had gotten away with it, the bartender's eyes caught his, but instead of freaking out, she surprised us all by saying "go ahead guys, it's free!"
Fast forward a few hours and Louie began to stomp out his hits (most of them about food) to a now well-lubricated crowd of friends and a few drunken freshmen from Tulane. He played most of the songs from his LP, my faves being "Jesus Loves My One Man Band" and "Walkin' With the Light" from the Therapeutic single, plus a few originals and covers that I had never heard before. It's clear that not just anyone can pull off the one man band thing, but with Louie's genuine enthusiasm for his songs he played for an hour and a half without once losing the interest of myself or anyone else in that tiny room.
It was then off to Memphis but not before first taking an incredibly relaxing drive though the church-infused, rolling back roads of Mississippi. Memphis highlights included a goosebump inducing stop at Sun Studio, more random walks (this time through some pretty sketchy old neighborhoods) and a whirlwind tour of some of the tastiest grub shacks ever, including Gus' (best fried chicken ever!), Payne's (best BBQ ever!) and D'Bo's (best wings ever!) This is a good opportunity to mention that no trip to Memphis should be conducted until you've purchased the "Kreature Comforts Low-Life Guide to Memphis", put out by the fine folks who run Shangri-La Records. Available as well from Zac and Eric at Goner Records, who will also point you in the right way for cool things to do and great places to eat while in the area. I decided to see a show one night at Young Ave. Deli as there was nothing else going on. Openers the Paper Lions were fairly boring and had a horrible vocalist, but one or two of their more Wire-esque songs had me listening. I left a few songs into the horseshit set of I Am the World Trade Center.
The next night at Murphy's was much better. Openers River City Tan Lines apparently used to be a two-piece called the Ultracats but have since added a bass player and changed their name. Alicja from Lost Sounds sings and plays guitar for about half of the songs and then her and the female drummer switch jobs for the other half. The songwriting was very simple but all of the songs had big hooks. Apparently they used to play lots of Ramones covers, but they reminded me of a female led M.O.T.O., which ain't bad at all. The Cool Jerks followed and although they were often entertaining, they played for way too long. I'm not huge into their bar rock sound, but there's no denying that all of 'em are ace on their instruments and are doing exactly what they wanna do. They kept on coming back for more and more encores even as the place was quickly emptying out but they finally ended things after Rich from Lost Sounds belted out a few old r'n'r covers. The post show party was full of fun times meeting random Memphis strangers (everyone in Memphis is in a band, by the way), but I got what I deserved the next day as I awoke the proud owner of a massive hangover, plus a nasty bug that left my throat aching and head pounding for the next week.
After arriving back in Austin I had a day to kill before Mark showed up. I ended up roaming around the Capitol building for a while, getting a hearty chuckle over the big painted photo of Bush up on the wall. I also checked out Austin's record stores (not much happening), ate some fine Mexican food and saw the hilarious new Memphis based, John Landis documentary "Slasher" (with the Stax Records vaults exclusively providing the soundtrack) as part of the film festival side of SXSW.
The next day, Mark arrived and we spent the day laying low and gearing up for the ensuing insanity of the following four days. We spent a good hour or two going over the official SXSW schedule, plus the unofficial, free day shows schedule to develop a plan of attack. This turned out to be an excellent idea as there's no way we would have been able to see as much as we did without our planning. It was clear from the start that it was going to be impossible to see every single band I wanted to due to the numerous conflicts. We went to bed fairly early realizing that we weren't likely to get much sleep on any of the four following nights.
Wednesday - Day 1
On paper, Wednesday was clearly the day with the weakest schedule, but we left the hotel with an open mind. First band of the fest honours go to the 00Spies who were playing a daytime show at 710 Room. They played a tight, but unimpressive set of three chord garage punk which at times approached a Little Killers-like vibe. When they finished, to kill some time I headed across the street to Emo's to investigate the "free beer" posters that they had advertised outside. Amazingly enough, upon entering, I realized that it wasn't a joke and they actually were giving away free beer. Only problem was the only beer that was free was Keystone Light, which would have gotten me about as buzzed as a Canadian root beer does. The decongestant pills I was on would have to do for now.
On the stage at Emo's were the Faceless Werewolves who weren't that bad. Their songs were a bit on the long side, but had some pretty cool arty/noisy punk parts to them, which made me think of Sonic Youth taking it from behind from a Crypt band. As they finished up it was back to 710 Room to see The Ends who bored me with their brand of Briefs/Stitches influenced punk. Their best song was a cover ("Radio Radio"), which is never a good sign. This was also the first of many times that I saw Vancouver's own Bryce Dunn, who I promptly became very jealous of when he was rubbing it in that he was traveling on someone else's dime. University radio does have its perks it seems.
There wasn't really much else scheduled of interest for the day, so we hopped on a free 'Dillo bus and headed up to Tower Records to check out the Cinema Eye. As we walked in there were two horrible rappers free-styling up on stage in an apparent attempt to clear as many people out of the store as possible. No Cinema Eye, which is not really that big of a loss based upon what I've heard from their records.
After an hour or two of random wandering, followed by some shitty pizza for diner (who the fuck uses canned mushrooms on pizza nowadays?) we were off to Stubb's, a huge outdoor venue, to check out Division of Laura Lee, from Sweden. First up was Squad Five-0 who were perhaps the shittiest of the many shitty bands I saw all week. Mark thought they got lost on their way to the Bon Jovi concert, and I wouldn't be surprised if he was right. Division of Laura Lee followed and although I'm not huge into their records, I though they might be able to better pull off their brand of hook heavy post-punk in a live setting. Unfortunately they didn't and proceeded to drudge through a completely half-assed set, only playing two or three songs that I recognized. Their stage presence was about as engaging as a televised chess match, with the singer alternating between patronizing the audience about how " fucking great" we all were, to ripping into every one for not getting behind them and then apologizing for the ass sucking that the band was engaging in. We left as soon as they were done which prevented us from busting out our many "Jack White kicked your ass" jokes, as shit-bots the Von Bondies were playing next.
Off to Beerland, which soon became our home away from home for the weekend, to catch the Mortville/Super Secret Records showcase. I liked Beerland right away as their beer was half the price of Stubb's ($2 for tallboys of PBR or Lonestar) and it was the perfect midsized venue with a barely elevated stage, conducive to good punk shows. Manikin was up as we walked in and this Texas three piece wasn't really what I was expecting, but I definitely enjoyed their set. They employ the liberal use of a flanger pedal in nearly every song, which brought to mind Crimson Sweet without the gal vocals. Their songs ranged from hardcore-esque ragers to Joy Division like droners.
After pounding a few more tallboys, the fashion frenzy that is the Winks hit the stage. They're a four gal unit featuring Ms. Penny Tration from the Dirty Sweets on guitar and have the same drummer as Manikin. Foxy Amanda handles the vocals and she belted out a bunch of fun, simple ditties from the no-brainer school of punk, ala Deadly Weapons. Their debut single is a tad on the generic side, but they definitely come off a lot better live with their high energy set.
Off to Jackalope to catch the Preacher's Kids who were playing as part of the Get Hip showcase, which could have easily been subtitled the Rapidly Aging Old Men showcase. I know you should respect your elders and all that shit, but seriously, what the fuck happens to your ears when you turn 30 that makes all these generic rock bands sound so good? Get Hip's never been a label that's excited me and the Preacher's Kids did nothing to change that opinion.
To fight the boredom, I wandered down the street to catch the ultra packed Destroyer show. I made it through three songs before leaving in disgust over the boring selection of songs that they were playing. I really have no right to complain here as I've heard a total of three or four Destroyer songs in my life, but from what I remember they didn't sound like John Denver. The worst part of the whole thing though wasn't the shit songs, but frontman Dan Bejar's downright retarded stage presence, which essentially involved standing there motionless and speechless for 30 seconds between each song, gazing blindly out at the audience. Fuck you! How is that entertaining me?
Back at the Jackalope and the old man fest, the Paybacks treated us all to a snoozer of a show. How many different ways can I say "boring, generic, 3 chord garage rock?" To make matters worse, they didn't play the one song of theirs that I really like ("Black Girl"). The Cynics finished things off and Mark and I made it through half a dozen or so songs before we bailed. I'm sure they were a good live band back in the 80s, but last time I looked at a calendar it was 2004, which is about 15 years too late for The Cynics. The rest of the night was fairly low key as both Mark and I behaved ourselves quite well in the alcohol consumption department. Mark had promised me a return to the Mark-of-our-youth at some point on this trip (Mark-of-our-youth plus alcohol plus authority figures usually led to Mark-of-our-youth winding up in handcuffs in the back of a police car), but thankfully he was nowhere to be found tonight. Not the greatest first day, but it could only get better from here.
Thursday - Day 2
I awoke to the sight of a giant cockroach who was checking out the massive pile of snotty Kleenex sitting beside my bed. After acquainting the cockroach with the bottom of my Chuck Taylors I was repulsed while picking up the mounds of Kleenex to feel just how heavy they were due to the large amounts of fluids that were coughed and sneezed out of my body overnight. My plan was to kill the cold with booze, and it seemed to work for the rest of the trip.
After heading downtown and wolfing down lunch, it was off to meet up with fellow TB contributor Eric Lastname for the start off the Horizontal Action-Blackout day shows. Upon entering Beerland I glanced around looking for Eric, a self described "faggy looking retard with black bangs" and found one right away (it was the "faggy" part more than the black bangs part that gave him away) hunched over a beer and a paper. We said our hellos and then proceeded to annoy the hell out of Mark with our music nerd talk. After shootin' the shit for a while, we noticed that we were still pretty much the only people there and there were no bands in sight. The doorman (who must have I.D.'ed me at least 100 times over the fest) filled us in that the Dirty Sweets who were listed to play first, had just recently broken up, and the Fuse! and Fatal Flying Guilloteens had yet to show up.
To kill time we walked over to the uber-hipster Lucky Lounge, which stank of your typical ultra-trendy Vancouver club, to see what was going as John Wilkes Booze were supposed to be playing as part of the Kill Rock Stars showcase. In true retardo indie rock fashion, the geniuses behind the show thought that it would be a good idea not to announce the time slots for the bands, which was standard practice elsewhere all weekend. This was not only an incredibly stupid idea from a logistical standpoint, but also who the fuck in their right mind can sit through 7 or 8 Kill Rock Stars bands in a row? Obviously not us, so we bailed back to Beerland with plans to check in later. It should also be noted that in the five minutes or so that we were there Lastname impressively pounded a tallboy. Mark and I appreciated his effort.
Back at Beerland, the Demolition Doll Rods were in the middle of their set, and although they gave the audience ample flesh to gawk at, they were pretty disappointing. After a quick jaunt back over to the KRS show, I was super pissed to see a very sweating looking dude leaving the stage, who it turns out was the singer for John Wilkes Booze. Fuck! The only other time JWB were playing was at the same time as the big In the Red show on Saturday night, so I was essentially fucked. After getting home and hearing their fab new full length, I was mighty pissed at having missed them.
I arrived back at Beerland to see Bryce who was super excited to see the Hentchmen. The few Hentchmen songs I had previously heard never really grabbed me, but from the first note they played I was hooked. Their brand of stripped down, 60s garage bash'n'clang was dead fucking on. Best band of the fest so far, no doubt, but they would soon be topped.
As the Hentchmen were finishing up I was pleased to see members from both the Fatal Flying Guilloteens and The Fuse! finally enter Beerland. Things were running a good hour or two behind schedule by this point, so both bands were told that they could only play four songs. The Guilloteens were up first and made the most of their truncated stage time. They were the first of many bands on the weekend to go absolutely fucking nuts and all four songs they played destroyed. Their records have always left me a bit wanting, but live they come off much better, sounding more along the lines of a band like This Moment in Black History with a bit of garage/hardcore crossover going on ala Sweet JAP. I had pretty high expectations for The Fuse! after seeing them play a blitzkrieg of a show this past summer. Instantly after the first note was played the drummer took the opportunity to fly off his bass drum into the drunken crowd, which seemed to ignite the other members to flip out as well. Their live version of "The Fisherman's Wife" was the highlight of their brief, but incredibly energetic set, and I was eagerly awaiting their Saturday night show. The three great sets in a row took some of the sting away from having missed John Wilkes Booze.
Following The Fuse!, Mark, Bryce and I took off to get some grub down our gullets in time for the night shows, but not before checkin' in with "Suds" aka Lastname, who besides having a pretty good tank on at this point (we're only talking around 5pm here) also had a pretty girl in tow. Stupid me standing there listening to bands, while the smart folks are the ones walkin' around looking for action! Eric kept on apologizing for being an asshole (why, I don't know), which was incredibly funny.
After pounding back some pizza and getting some cheap laughs courtesy of a horrendous funk band playing outside, it was off to the ultra tiny Cucarachas to catch a short, sweaty set by The Triggers from Portland. Their Dangerhouse style songs come off way more aggressive live than they do on record, so don't miss 'em if they come your way even if you weren't too hot on their LP like me.
I was pretty damn excited for the next show back at Jackalope, as it was the first time I was gonna get to see Chicago's mighty Baseball Furies. I had just recently flipped over their killer track off of the Maybe Chicago comp and was curious to see if the slower, artier slant to that song was an indication of their new sonic direction (it sort of is). Maybe it was just my high expectations, or maybe it was the early time slot and the fact that the crowd was quite sedate, but as they got into their set, I wasn't really feeling it. The handful of songs they played from their recorded output seemed dull and the new songs didn't really impress either. I'll afford a band with great records like the Furies more than one chance, so I was hoping that they'd be better on Friday.
Not much was going on at 9, so we headed off to see Vancouver's own The Smugglers next door at the Lookout showcase. I was expecting to see a huge Vancouver crew in effect, but no one was around that I recognized, not even Nardwuar (we were told that he was back at the hotel compulsively masturbating.) I think there's a rule written somewhere that says that if you see a band from your town in another city it's gonna be better than a local show, and it was certainly true tonight. The Smugglers, whether you love 'em or hate 'em on record, always put on a fun live show even though it can get a bit novelty at times.
Continuing with the trend of seeing bands from our respective cities, we headed back to the Jackalope to check out The Mistreaters. Eric promised a great show, and a great show we were provided with. Christreater's got the charismatic asshole frontman persona down, which is a sure bet in my books. The set list was heavily based from "Playa Hated to the Fullest" and all of the songs flew outta the speakers and got the audience all riled up, with beer showers for anyone within' ten feet of the stage.
I bailed after the Mistreaters to head back to Beerland and was unfortunate enough to catch the end of The Cuts' set. I swear I've given these guys chance after chance both on record and live to impress me with their new sound, but I just don't get it. What I hear is some god-awful caterwauling overtop of some psychedelic, hippy shit music. And how anyone can keep a straight face when the keyboard player opens his mouth to sing is beyond me.
I wasn't expecting much either from Modey Lemon, but decided to stick around and luckily I did as they laid down the heavy groove with an unbelievably well played, tight as a nun's snatch set that had everyone enraptured and returning to the front of the stage that had been vacated during The Cuts. Their drummer's gotta be one of the most gifted percussionists going today, and the singer/synth/guitar player and second guitarist ain't no slouches either. Time to go back and re-evaluate their records after seeing them put on such a compelling live show.
To finish off the night, I was back at the Jackalope and caught the end of the the tits and ass show, otherwise known as the end of the Demolition Doll Rods set, which seemed to be identical to the set they played earlier in the day. The real reason I was there though was to see the The Black Lips for the first time. Once again, just as with the Baseball Furies, my high expectations were my downfall as their set bored me. They played all the hits from their record but they seemed more into being drunk and fucking around than getting through their set. Penises were revealed, punches were thrown but I wasn't buying it. I should fess up to the fact that I was feeling like absolute shit at this point. Two weeks of little sleep, an unhealthy diet, a nasty cold, plus the ingestion of copious amounts of alcohol wasn't really working for my body. So when the bass player decided to slice his head open during the last song and open up a deep, deep gash which wasn't just bleeding, but spurting blood out in thick, dark, red waves, I had to try my hardest to not barf all over the place (which from what I here, would have been welcomed at your average Black Lips show).
Stumbling outside after the show my senses were overloaded by the sight of an endless number of hippies, bikers, mods, rockers, country fucks, drunk punks, oi kids, run of the mill hipsters and, above all, indie rockers of every size, shape and colour all literally crawling the streets, each one drunker than the next, trying to hail a cab. To make matters worse, once we did find a cab, Mark decided that it was of the utmost importance to go buy a toilet (at all those 24 hour toilet stores, I'm sure) to throw off of our hotel's balcony when we returned. I became a bit frightened when I realized that he was actually serious, but thankfully his booze addled mind soon moved on to something else and I was spared the gong show that would have likely resulted.
Day 3 - Friday
Friday started once again at Beerland, where we met up with the recently defenestrated, and hence temporarily homeless, Lastname and his friend Mark who entertained us with tales of their drunken mishaps the night before. The Kodiaks were up first and cranked out a fun and snappy garage punk assault, which reminded me of another Texas band, The Wontons, mixed with some harder edged sounds. They played a Germs cover if that helps. Their number one asset was their bleached blonde Japanese singer who was not only writhing all over the place while singing, but was also dancing it up for nearly every other band that played at Beerland over the weekend.
I had to pinch myself after The Kodiaks were done, as the one band that I've been absolutely flipping over in a total geek-boy way this past year, The Ponys, were due to play next. My expectations were set so fucking high for their set that it's a true testament to how brilliant this band is that I was not let down in any way. In fact, I was fucking floored. The Ponys played a short six song set (sans organ, unfortunately) that made their nighttime slot on Saturday even more eagerly anticipated. They started with a surprising selection, the ultra poppy "Discoteca" from their unreleased demos, and proceeded to completely change gears with the quite sublime "I Wanna Fuck You". The slow build to the guitar wail freakout near the end of the song was pretty fucking intense and completely reeled me in. Song of the trip, for sure. "Little Friends", "Virus Human", and two new songs, the best one I'm guessing is called "Shadow Box", rounded out the set. Their calm and collected stage presence stood in sharp contrast to a lot of the "wild" and "crazy" bands playing, but with an incredible knack for writing such mesmerizing, melancholic pop gems I was reminded that content always wins out over style.
I was still reeling from The Ponys set when the gents from Sweet JAP hit the stage and proceeded to tear the shit out of the place. Limbs, guitars, mics, and anything else that wasn't bolted down proceeded to crash and careen all over the stage and into the crowd as these Minneapolis via Japan transplants bashed through a devastating set of their patented brand of garage/hardcore crossover.
The Baseball Furies were scheduled to play next, and as much as I wanted to see them in order to give 'em another shot, Mark and I opted to bail over to Waterloo Records to try and catch the Coachwhips in-store as their night show conflicted with the In the Red showcase. This meant that we would also miss the Spits, but I've seen 'em so many times it was no big deal, and we were likely going to get to see them tonight anyway.
After walking over to Waterloo, we caught the awkward end to a set of another rapper, but nearing the scheduled time for the Coachwhips, they were still a no-show. We spent the time hanging out with the swell chaps from Sweet JAP who are all huge Coachwhips fans, and some dedicated punks who drove from Oxford, Mississippi just to check out the free day shows. After an hour or so, just as we were about to bail and after we had already cursed ourselves for missing the Furies and Spits for nothing, up pulled a snazzy, silver mini-van and out crawled the very un-snazzy looking Coachwhips who had driven close to 12 hours to make it. They proceeded to set up in a small back corner of the store, nowhere near the stage, which I guess is their "thing" (a "thing" that a lot of bands would be wise to follow I might add). Hell, they could have set up in a closet if they wanted to and still fit. The drummer had a beat to shit, 3 piece set, the keyboard could fit in my back pocket, and the guitar plugged into a tiny combo amp which also amplified the "mic" which for the Coachwhips is a telephone receiver that singer (and Hospitals member) John Dwyer essentially swallows and yells into. They proceeded to blast through a scorching set of stompin' punk with accompanying buzzsaw snyth sounds with most of the songs coming from their excellent "Bangers vs. Fuckers" LP. They even got into the spirit of breaking things when Dwyer jumped up onto the CD racks and smashed his head along the ceiling lights. The owner lookin' dude didn't seem too impressed with the shattered jewel cases and CD racks, but the uniformed cop with gun in tow just chuckled a bit and enjoyed the rest of the show.
After a quick break for supper and a stop at the local liquor store (damn, beer's cheap in Texas) it was off to the Punk Rock Fight Club, a show which got moved last minute from a real venue to a house a few miles from downtown. We arrived shortly after the scheduled start time of 8 o'clock but soon realized that the time slots listed were very loose. Most people there at first seemed pretty uptight and not overly friendly to random strangers, but as the night progressed less of those people were around and most everyone we met was great. As the booze continued to flow the party moved to the backyard where numerous drunken conversations were had with numerous drunken people. As the token Canadians at the event Mark and I were pelted with questions from bands looking to gain any advice on how to best cross the border into Canada. (I was glad to recently find out that our advice paid off as both The Black Lips and The Fuse! have just recently managed to play a Toronto gig. If the The Black Lips can get across the border, then anyone can. Tell that to poor Jared from The Ponys though, who was honest enough to let everyone know that the reason they weren't let in to play their Vancouver show was due to his checkered criminal past - stealing cable!)
The show started with The Black Lips playing in a tiny little bombshelter type room which suited them perfectly. People were packed in tight and the sound was great, echoing off everything to produce a huge, full wail while the band played a fun set that completely reversed my opinion of their live show based upon the night before. The spontaneous heckling/chanting leading the band into every song gave them something to build off of and they pounded out hit after hit of their 60s inspired sludge. Hell, I was even impressed that the bassist seemed coherent. His head was bandaged and his bass was now red instead of white based upon last night's cut and ensuing trip to the hospital (turns out that poor Alix from the Lids, the band's self described "baby sitter" was the only one willing to take him to the emergency room).
The Mistreaters played next and once again got the crowd going with their overly enthusiastic stage presence and killer songs. Shortly after they finished, I bumped into Mark who was freaking out that we had to jet as we needed to be back downtown by midnight to catch the Polysics. I was kind of pissed to be missing the Baseball Furies and The Spits for the second time in one day, but the Polysics are from Tokyo and were essentially a can't miss band. After catching the cab downtown and entering the club we were surprised to see some horseshit band taking the stage, instead of the Polysics. A quick couple of questions later and I realized that drunk-ass Mark had totally shit the bed and misread his watch ("It doesn't have numbers on it. You can't blame me!") and it was actually only 11 o'clock instead of 12. A few swift kicks to Mark's nuts later, and I was off to the streets looking for something to do.
I tried to get into the Briefs show at Emo's, but it was the same line as the NOFX/Dillinger Four show, and there was no way in hell I was getting in. Instead, I decided to check out The Fever at some huge outdoor venue. I was pretty stumbly at this point and vaguely remember walking around annoying some poor sober girls, but don't remember much about the show. The drunken notes which I scribbled down after I got back at night say "Fever - shitty ass shit" so that probably tells you all you need to know.
Finally, the real 12 o'clock came and Mark and I were front row center for the Polysics who were absolutely, positively, fucking unbelievably great live. Devo's the main point of reference for sound but Polysics speed it up numerous times and add huge layers of synthesized, tweaked-out noise on top of the drums, guitar and bass. The cute little keyboard player had a vocoder hooked up to one of her synthesizers, which allowed her to produce some of the most beastly sounds I've ever heard coming out of such a tiny frame. Their live show is a hyper kinetic, complete overload to the senses. Add in some between song banter in incredibly broken English ("Polysics!!! Tokyo!!! Rock'n'Roll!!!"), matching Devo-esque costumes, a manic roadie who was just as active as the band members tweaking shit all over the place, plus the most demented cover of "My Sharona" I've ever heard and missing the end of the house party (which apparently degenerated into a drunken brawl) didn't seem like such a big deal.
At 1 o'clock we were in no state to continue going, but we obviously continued going anyway and ended up back at the Jackalope for the Fatal Flying Guilloteens one more time. Even in my incredibly inebriated state, I was astutely aware that whatever was great, and spontaneous, and exhilarating about their 4 song freakout on Thursday was completely missing from this performance. It felt forced, contrived, and pretentious, and I felt drunk.
The ride home, although spotty in my mind, does have some highlights. First off, tonight Mark wasn't obsessed with toilets, this time he wanted to head to the grocery store and buy some melons (apparently watermelons and honeydew work best), fill them up with milk and throw them at all the hipsters downtown because "they make such a great sound when they hit the ground and splatter". Huh? Luckily, the cabbie distracted him enough that he forgot all about it, when she started flipping out on him for being such a weirdo after I told her that Mark teaches elementary school children for a living.
Day 4 - Saturday
We dragged our ugly mugs outta bed and summoned whatever help we could as we were gonna need a lot of it to make it through Saturday in one piece. Everyone downtown looked to be in the same state, and I wouldn't be surprised if at that moment, Austin had the world's highest per capita rate of hangovers. We tried to get rid of ours by pounding back giant burgers and massive quantities of iced tea at Casino el Camino and then caught a few minutes of the completely forgettable, wank-tastic rock put on by Last Vegas out back on the patio.
The Ponys were up next and the intimate, outdoor setting that they were playing in was a nice contrast to their show on Friday at Beerland. Once again, they decided against using the organ, but still delivered a short, tight set with a song selection quite different from their first show. This time it was "Little Friends" which proceeded to totally blow me away, as did the freakout ending to "The Only One". If ever there was a band to prove that you don't need to do anything flashy or even completely original to succeed, The Ponys are it. There are never any really complex parts to their songs, most of them are pretty repetitive, yet I still hear a sense of urgency coming from them more than any other band going today.
Following the Ponys, it was back to Beerland to catch the last few songs of The Cool Jerks who seemed to be doing a good job of getting the crowd into their thing, but as stated earlier, they're not really for me. The extreme exhaustion of the past two weeks had pretty much caught up to me by this point, so the next few hours were mostly spent sitting in air conditioned bars trying to refrain from passing out. Punctuating this were quick runs over to Casino el Camino to see parts of sets by The Bloody Hollies who put on a decent sounding, scream filled, high energy show, White Heat who sucked total bag, and The Bloody Tears who were also absolute horseshit. Somewhere in all of that, we also managed to see two or so songs of the incredibly ass-licking set by the (International) Noise Conspiracy who have gone from a once manic, chaotic live band to sounding like Gen-X radio's next darlings. Who the fuck needs another Matchbox 20?
The only reason we were stopping by Casino so often was to catch The Spits, but once we found out that they had cancelled, we were off to Beerland to catch the tail end of The Black Lips one last time. Their set was the most subdued of the three that they played, as this time they let the songs speak for themselves and their hooligan antics were nowhere to be seen. Once again they impressed me, which completely wiped out any bad taste I had in my mouth from their first show on Thursday.
Mark, Bryce and myself hit up some sweet Mexican food following the day shows and proceeded to shit our pants over all of the possibilities for the nighttime shows. I had a feeling that the In the Red showcase was going to be full, so I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I'd be staying there all night and wouldn't risk leaving only to find out that I couldn't get back in. We headed down to Beerland not too long before The Fuse! started to play and it was already getting full. 8pm is probably not the best slot for The Fuse! - they're more of a 1am, let's play when everyone's already drunk band, so their aggressive set was lost on a lot of people, myself included. Their on stage freakouts seemed forced and the songs were quite sloppy compared to their blistering set a day earlier. I thought we were in for a fight at the end as the drummer grabbed his bass drum and did a pretty good job of making everyone think that he was going to smash it down on top of someone's head up front, but he pulled back at the last second and mayhem was avoided.
By this point in the night, Mark, Lastname and myself were all relatively well behaved, so we decided to start pounding back as many $2 Lonestars as we could. They started to really kick in during The Mystery Girls set but even with the booze flowing through my veins I found myself bored by their show. A few jammy parts to a few songs had me interested but for the most part they seemed lost up there and almost apologetic about how things were going. I think most people around me felt the same way, although I should point out that there were others who were way into it. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
Any bad feelings I had were quickly forgotten though, as The Ponys hit the stage to pummel my senses for a third and final time. Once again, I was disappointed that the organ was a no-show, but tonight's set made up for it as the sound was perfect. Jared's 6-string and Nathan's 12-string guitar both sounded amazing as did Melissa's bass. Nathan's drumming was superb as he pounded the absolute shit out of his kit, as all good drummers should. Thankfully their set was different yet again from either of the first two. The only song they played at all three shows was "Virus Human", my favourite track from "Laced With Romance", which has gotta be the early contender for album of the year. I was only mildly pissed that my favourite song of theirs, "Wicked City", never got played at any of the shows. After seeing The Ponys for a third time, the only question I have is how a band of always smiling, friendly people can write songs that are usually such downers lyrically.
It wouldn't seem like the night could get any better, but it would as the Lost Sounds got up on stage, said hello, and proceeded to rip though a dozen or so song set which allowed them to hold on to their title as the greatest live band on Earth. The set was similar to the shows they played this past summer and featured songs mostly from "Rat's Brains", some from "Demos II", a few from "Black Wave" and a couple of stellar new tracks. Jay and Alicja said practically nothing between songs. They didnít need to as the manic energy they provided with their destructive songs did all the talking for them. The fact that they were playing one of their first shows with a new bass player wasn't an issue as he fit in and played perfectly. This band fucking kills me!
By this point, the crowd was getting pretty drunk and rowdy which made the ensuing set by The Hunches an absolute blast. These crazy Portland fucks drove all the way straight from the west coast to play this single show, so you knew that nothing would be held back. Hart, the singer, was completely dazed out and stumbling around the crowd mumbling to himself a good five minutes before the first note was played and mere seconds after he started wailing like a possessed banshee the first song kicked in and all hell broke loose. The last couple of times I've seen the Hunches, they played mostly new songs that sounded a bit slower and melodic than their usual fare but tonight's show featured most of the scorchers off of "Yes. No. Shut It." and the audience ate it up like flies on shit. By this point I had seen numerous bands do the wild/crazy/fucked up/aggressive/danger thing, but this was the first time that the audience fully returned the aggressiveness rather than just receiving it. The band/audience boundary became blurred and when it was all done people refused to let them leave without playing a couple more. In a complete change of pace, their encore featured two new slower numbers that put a nice, mellow cap on an otherwise ultra aggressive show.
Finally, after seeing 45 bands over 4 days, band number 46, Reigning Sound hit the stage to bust out some tightly played, catchy rock'n'roll which had the crowd bumpin' and grindin' along to all the hits, plus a few new songs off of their forthcoming album. I've never been the world's biggest Reigning Sound fan, but their live show definitely does top their recorded output, methinks. A quick glance at the watch showed that I had to wake up in little over 3 hours to catch my flight back home, so we decided to bail before the band played their likely forthcoming encore. I have vague recollections of stumbling to the airport the next morning before 6am, but don't really remember much until waking up somewhere overtop of the Rocky Mountains. What a fucking trip!
Looking back on the whole thing, I have a pretty positive view of SXSW. I didn't really see much of the music industry wankery that I had been told to expect, and any industry talk that I did overhear was so stupid, it was entertaining. If the lineup is as good next year as it was this year (ie. if the Horizontal Action/Blackout crew book bands again), I'll be back in an instant, assuming that I'm not still broke. My memories of each and every band that I saw are sometimes a bit spotty (stupid booze), but hopefully my report's relatively error free. I wouldn't be too surprised if I did fuck something up though, as every day that goes by since I've been back I seem to remember something new, like how I drunkenly stole two of those really nice silk-screened Horizontal Action day show posters (sorry guys!) from the shelf behind the bar at Beerland. Anyway, thanks to all the fine people I got to meet/hang out with for my two weeks of vacation - fun times were had all around. I'm already bored to tears being back in Vancouver and can hardly wait for next year.
Photos by Alfonso Rabago
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