My fifth SXSW just ended. Tomorrow I go back to work and take a break from festivals until Chaos in Tejas rolls around in June. That won’t be it for rock shows- Devo is playing the Moody Theater next week and I will be in attendance shaking my shit in a manner acceptable to the music in the GA floor section. But, SXSW is a thing unto itself, and as an Austin local now, for a little over four years, I’m still enjoying that little spring break.
I have not blogged in the recent past very much. I’ve hd other things on my mind and on my plate for awhile and airing all of that over the internet seems self indulgent and unneccessary. The short of the long story is that I stopped drinking in November 2009. And I’ve been fine. It’s been great. But, as a result of that, I am just aro not around boozing, spectacle boozing, spring break boozing, and St. Patrick’s Day boozing all at the same time very often. Only during SXSW. Last year was my first dry SXSW. It went fine, though I did get nervous often. I had similar experiences this year. Not a big deal though. If I wasn’t cool with a place I didn’t stay in it longer than I needed to. Anyway, that’s not what I want to really talk about at all. That’s just background information.
There’s way more to SXSW than drinking yourself to the gills. It happens to combine a lot of my favorite activities. Walking, seeing bands play, successfully attending sold out shows, eat food out of trailers, comradery with friends, and no responsibilities except having a good time for a few days. I’ve been doing Wednesday-Saturday the past few years and have seen a lot of great stuff. This year was no exception.
I started Wednesday off early with Keef. We went and got in line at Plush for the Topshelf Records showcase. Plush is a tiny little dump that holds about 120 people. We got in and got free merch and stayed for two bands: The Clippers and the World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am Not Afraid To Die. The Clippers were a pop punk band and a fun start to the festivities. The World is…(I am not typing that fucking name over and over again, even if complaining about it takes up more space) were a post-rock outfit. I did not care for their sung vocal parts. When they got loud or gruffer they killed.
We left after that for a show with less of a line and headed to the Brooklyn Vegan party at Emo’s. There we met up with our friend Erin and her boyfriend Adam, who were in town from New York for the festival. We saw Annamanguchi and Turbo Fruits, and stood around and chatted for a bit in the court yard while A Place To Bury Strangers played. Growing bored and hungry we headed over to the trailer court food court at the East Side Drive and got lunch. I ate at Bits & Druther’s and had Fish & Chips. It was delicious.
SXSW schedules being what they are, we all ended up going our seperate ways. I decided to wander around for awhile and found myself wandering to the Can’t Stop Bleeding party at Beerland. I like that club. I enjoy a lot of the bands that play there. I caught one act: Population 1280 and didn’t dig it and left. As Beerland is a cave and I was then out in the sun again, I decided that the sun felt good and hiked my way across I35 to go see what was happening at the French Legation Museum.
I like the French Legation Musuem because I like being able to sit down occasionally and cool my heels when I’m walking around all day. It’s a good spot for doing that. There are plenty of places to sit around in. I saw Still Corners, who were kind of folky, kind of boring, but killed time wonderfully. Once my feet felt like moving again I wandered back to Emo’s and into the same day party I’d been at earlier during the day.
There was a band on stage. I thought they were boring. I thought the singer was trying too hard to sound like Bono or Morrissey or both of them. It turned out that band was Surfer Blood. I had experienced similar feelings of dislike when I saw them open for Superchunk last year. So, there we have it: I don’t like Surfer Blood. Keep that in mind.
As soon as the day show ended, they kicked everyone out of Emo’s, I went and got a slice of pizza, and then went back to Emo’s to stand in a two hour line so I could get into the Bad Brains show (sponsored by Vans) later on.
Let’s talk about what standing in a 2 hour line on Sixth Street is like. It starts sucking five minutes into. It keeps sucking because you end up checking the time awhole lot and that makes it seem even longer. You constantly get hit up for change. And when the venue decides to move the line off the curb and into the street. You have pockets of people walking past you every few seconds like the current in a river. It’s hell, if you didn’t pick up on that already. Your legs tighten up. Your back gets sore. You don’t really move a whole lot. But I did it this year. And I’ll do it again in the future. I got into the show and got to see Trash Talk, OFF! (whom I dislike), and Bad Brains. Trash Talk were pretty by-the-numbers-hardcore, but I did like the way they made my friend Barb sing over their music. It was incredible. OFF! I don’t like after having seen them at Fun Fun Fun Fest in November. Keith Morris’ stage demeanor is a little irritating. Bad Brains on the other hand- HOLY SHIT. That was great. Dr. Know shreds still. They played hardcore and reggae songs. They played “Pay to Cum” and “Sailin’ On”. I never expected to see them.
I’ve found myself saying that over and over again ever since I moved to Austin.
After Bad Brains I headed over to the Dirty Dog Bar to meet up with my friend Thad and see a band he was into called Fake Problems. I’d never heard them before. They’re from Gainesville, Florida and they don’t sound like Less Than Jake or Hot Water Music. They played almost kinda Springsteenish pop punk. They were fun. I saw two other bands there early on, one I didn’t even get the name of because I didn’t need to know. The other was White Arrows, who were electronic mostly, and fairly interesting.
Then I went home and went to bed. There was more to see in the next few days still.
Thursday was St. Patrick’s Day. I slept until 11 and didn’t get downtown until around 1:30 when they sun had come out. I was not looking forward to the St. Patrick’s Day crowd. That during SXSW just adds a certain nastiness to the drunkeness level of the people who are out. And St. Paddy’s Day was no different this year. I went to the Trophy Room for the SXCHI Chicago Invades Austin showcase. It seemed a fitting choice to do that for St. Patrick’s Day, at least.
I saw The Bears of Blue River, The Hounds Below, In Tall Buildings, True Womanhood, Wave Array, Bob Nanna, and Smoking Popes. I only was really there for the openers to make sure I got to see Bob Nanna and Smoking Popes. My favorites of the early bands were In Tall Buildings and True Womanhood. In Tall Buildings were more mathy art rock and True Womanhood were largely electronic. I would’ve loved to have seen Braid instead- especially with them working on new material- but Bob Nanna solo was awesome too. He played covers of Lifter Puller’s “Secret Santa Cruz” and Dexy’s Midnight Runner’s “Come On Eileen”. I had a good spot for the set too. Smoking Popes played “Rubella” and “Need You Around”. They were a lot of fun. I’d seen Duvall when I lived in Iowa City, but never had seen the Caterer Brothers as the Popes before. After their set, I walked out onto Sixth Street, observed that everyone was stinking drunk and walked home. I didn’t go out again until later.
When I went out again, I checked out the Burger City Records showcase at Spiderhouse Ballroom with my friend Thad. I saw Apache, Fleshlights, John Wesley Coleman, Personal & The Pizzas, OBNIIIS, White Wires, Barerracudas, and Mean Jeans. The best acts were Fleshlights, Personal & The Pizzas, White Wires, and Mean Jeans. Personal & The Pizzas were great! Hilarious. I enjoyed their banter immensely. It was a good show.
St. Patrick’s Day was pretty low key in contrast to the day before. That was intentional. I made the decision to be lazy when I got home on Wednesday night. I was on vacation afer all. No reason to not relax. Relaxing through SXSW became my mission from here on out.
I slept in until noon and didn’t head out until 1:30. I went to the High Tea for Nitwits at the Dog & Duck Pub for lunch and saw Sally Crewe and the Sudden Moves, Ethan Azarian and Doug Gillard. I ate Fish & Chips there too. Delicious. Ethan Azarian is a local folk musician and painter. I would make small children listen to his records to scare them. That’s what I would do. I’m trying to find out where to buy them. He had a singin’ saw player who sang back up vocals through a telephone receiver they’d mic’ed that provided an eerie contrast to the music. Doug Gillard’s set was awesome too. I love Guided by Voices and I love getting to see their related projects.
From there I walked downtown and got coffee. And then met up my friends Erin & Adam, and then met up with our friends Barb and Keef and their collected ensemble at Cafe Crepe for crepes. The crepes hit the spot. Fueled and ready for more rock and roll, I headed off to the Hilton to meet up with my friend Thad so we could walk to the Screeching Weasel show at Scoot Inn.
We went to the Fat Wreck Chords showcase. We saw The Biters, Banner Pilot, Dead to Me, The Flatliners, and Screeching Weasel. There was a $20 cover. I dug Banner Pilot & The Flatliners. I was excited to see Screeching Weasel. But, as life would have it, something incredibly awful happened during their set:
“Screeching Weasel singer Ben Weasel was involved in an on-stage altercation Friday evening (March 18) at Austin’s Scoot Inn as part of SXSW.
According to a report in the Los Angeles Times on Saturday (March 19), the singer made repeated comments regretting the band performing in Austin before being hit by an ice cube. Weasel confronted the fan who tossed the ice cube — reportedly a woman — and asked them to come on stage to fight before approaching the fan and throwing a punch.”
I paid $20 to see that. He ranted and raved like Charlie Sheen between every song. He was an incredible asshole. He fired his entire staff and rehired them later on in the set. Up until the point he jumped into the crowd and attacked those women, I thought he was just playing a character. There is currently some debate on if that event was staged or not (NOFX member and Fat Wreck Chords President Fat Mike pulled a prank of some notoriety last year during SXSW where he made people think they drank his piss), but it was a pretty intense thing to witness.
I tried to meet friends at the Cedar St Courtyard following that show, but couldn’t get in, and walked home processing the events of the Screeching Weasel show. Crimany.
I woke up early on Saturday. I had to be downtown by 12:45 for the New Granda Day Records showcase at the Ghost Room. Joan of Arc were playing and I wasn’t going to miss that. I love that band a lot. I first saw them play in Iowa City opening for Jets to Brazil in 2000. I’m amazed at how many other bands they’ve outlived. I try to catch them whenever they’re around. The instrumentals were tight. Tim Kinsella’s signature scream came out during their last song. I also saw Versus, whom I really wasn’t paying attention to as I spent most of their set drinking a cup of coffee to wake up.
After Joan of Arc I headed towards the Convention center to meet Keef, Paul & Liz, and headed for the East Side drive in to the Mess With Texas Party. The Dead Milkmen were playing at 7:45 and we were going to spend the entire day there. We only watched a few things. Mostly we just hung out and lazed. Took trips to the food court next day for things. Watched Ted Leo and Mind Eraser. Accidentally caught Surfer Blood while working on making our way up in the crowd. Saw !!! and then the Dead Milkmen.
The Dead Milkmen were great. They opened with Taco Land and the set, ncluded Tiny Town, I Walk The Thinnest Line, Punk Rock Girl, Methodist Coloring Book, Gary Numan’s Cars, Bitchin’ Camaro, Smokin’ Banana Peels, Right Wing Pigeons From Outerspace, VFW, Suart, and Big Lizard in My Backyard. The new tunes were great too and I just purchased their new album this morning.
From the Dead Milkmen show I headed over to Elysium on Sixth Street to try and get into a showcase that I knew Yoko Ono was performing on at 1 AM. I got there right after nine and just in time for the first act. This was the Chimera music showcase and ended up being one of my very favorite things this year. They kept closing and reopening public ticket sales at this showcase. I’d gotten there right when sales were cut off and got in. This put a chink in our plans for getting people to that show, however. I had to text friends and let them know about the line situation.
The first act was If By Yes, who it turns out features Petra Haden (of That Dog, the Rentals, and a lot of other interesting projects) and longtime Mike Watt collobrater Nels Cline. The harmonies were beautiful. The music rootsy and spacey at the same time. I dug it a lot.
Next up was Consortium Musicum, a noise project by Sean Lennon (yes, THAT Sean Lennon) and Greg Saunier of Deerhoof. It reminded me of Lightning Bolt in some ways, but it was totally it’s own beast. The drumming was amazing. The AV display was quite colorful and interesting. I dug their set a lot too.
Following that were two Japanese acts: Fig and Mi-Gu. Fig was spacier music. Mi-Gu was full of noisy rock jams. My friends Dan and Melanie managed to get into the show at this point and we were all reunited to see Yoko Ono. Apparently, sales had been opened and closed again a few times during the night while I had been inside the show. Good information to remember for future reference. Anyway, where was I?
Oh yeah, the last thing I saw for SXSW 2011 was Yoko Ono with her newest incarnation of the Plastic Ono Band (featuring members of Cibo Matto, Mr. Bungle, and John Lennon’s offspring himself, Sean Lennon). They were great. Tons of instruments. Yoko’s signature yowl. The room was loving it. The band was loving it. It was totally different than the Screeching Weasel showcase had been. No drama, just music.
After that we caught the 481 to Kerney Lane, at a late late meal, and I finally went to bed around 4 AM. There you have it. SXSW 2011.