Thursday, March 19, 2009

Austin - Day One

SXSW. Spring break for the music industry? Yea, kinda. A big, musical street party featuring lots of glorious hot dogs and bands. Ultimate club hopping. Major drink swapping. Drunken ballroom moshing (kudos to 'Nay for inventing the term). A good time, in other words! At least, for me it is.

Despite wearing comfy shoes, I somehow got a blister where my squishy sandals didn't even make contact with my skin. Odd.

How did I earn said blister? Perhaps by doing the following:

Recap of Day One: March 18th

I started my day by picking up my badge and bag of swag, dropped it all off, and wandered to the Fader party to pick up the wristband that will be gracing my body for the next 4 days. I waited in line for almost an hour. (This will most likely be one of the few lines I will actually wait in). The wait was full of sunshine and spliff talk. Really. The chubby white Southern boys behind me drawled a fascinating conversation that went a little something like this:

"Dude, he said he was gonna get us in VIP after smoking a sweet spliff."

"I gotta spliff here somewhere, we should smoke that spliff."

"Yea, I rolled a sweet spliff, let's smoke that spliff."

"It's a sweet, sweet spliff! Dude, where's that spliff?"

"I think I lost the spliff! It was a sweet spliff! Look around, maybe I dropped the spliff."

"I don't see the spliff - too bad, that woulda been a sweet spliff."

"Yea, this sucks face."

How else to top such a meaningful exchange than to go see Yelle? Since her album was one of my favorites last year, I was really looking forward to seeing her (and hopefully learning how to properly pronounce her name). By the time the little French hellion took the stage, I knew I would not be disappointed. She rocked the crowd with her fist pumping French disco, demanding that dancing was a must (her bandmates wore "Dance or Die" t-shirts), and threw her stylish self wildly all over the stage, bobbed hair flailing all about her face. Sure, she sings in French so most of us had no idea what she was singing about, but I suspect there was a hell of a lot of attitude in there. Go girl!

Then, somehow, I wound up at City Hall. Turns out the mayor of Austin likes to throw parties too! This one was much more low key than most events - a singer song-writer here, a jazz band there - but I'm not one to turn down free food and booze. And then Gibson gave the dude a guitar. I've never seen a mayor receive a complimentary electric guitar before, but I'm also not one to keep track of these things.

Then on to Stubb's to settle in for a night of... well, all sorts of stuff. We started off with Ladyhawke, a kiwi sensation who has charmed the indie kids with her '80s take on indie pop, and she was just... well... boring. I really wanted to like her, seriously! But all the tunes were like one-hit wonders from B-list bands from an era that produced the glorious Xanadu soundtrack - and her lackluster performance made most of her songs sound like they'd been purposely left off said soundtrack. Oh, well...

We struggled towards the front to catch the Heartless Bastards, which were a stopgap band to the Avett Brothers (my main attraction for the night). They started off well - I like chicks who can do a hearty vocal and blues rock out with the best of 'em. But then they deteriorated into an almost metal jam band... songs got longer, solos got slower, the show felt like forever... and it cut into the next time slot, which is kinda not cool. Especially considering that this Avetts performance was the only one scheduled for SXSW.

Ah, but the Avetts...

But at last, the Avett Brothers hit the stage. With the four of them lined up impressively under the lights - Joe on cello, Bob on stand-up bass, Scott on banjo and Seth on guitar - the boys proceeded to show the crowd why they are one of the best live acts in the nation today. And I absolutely don't say that lightly. The energy poured off the stage and the crowd sang along to songs they had only just heard, with gusto. There was dancing, singing, tears, and screams all within a far too-short set. Nobody does romantic bluegrass punk old-timey music like these young boys from North Carolina. At one point, a woman in the crowd yelled, "Sing it, girl!" To which Scott, then at the drums, interjected into the song in a lovely drawl, "Yea, baby!"

From there, we moved to Emo's to see DD/MM/YYYY. This was the Toronto band's 3rd show of the day, and it was a fucked up, riotous mess. Yet a glorious one! This sweaty, skittering punkish band played with a sense of absolute anarchy - no one stayed on the same instrument for more than two songs, the harpsichord was played using a toe coming through a hole in a sock, unintentional feedback worked, and chaos reigned. They were AWESOME! During the course of the show, the patch chord caused laser like ear ringing, a drum tore, a guitar crapped out, and the singer wailed 'Everything is fucked up" while the drummer shouted "Everything's broken!" repeatedly. Yet it was a vibrant, high voltage performance - I think, if everything was working, they would have killed everyone in the room.

I wandered over to the Beauty Bar to check out Jeremy Jay. I've decided that he is the gay Franz Ferdinand boyfriend I've always wanted. His sweet minimalist disco brought to mind both the Scottish lads as well A Certain Ratio - that '80s white boy groove that was so endearing, and evidently still is. There was also a lot of minimalist disco dancing at the show, which was charming to watch.

And I'll end with a quote from an excitable man standing next to me: "Everything's disco again!" Sort of, kinda of, at least for Day One.