*Note: I have videos and stuff and I will post them as soon as I can find a place to host them that will actually upload them and not mess up!*
After running out of steam at the end of Wednesday night, I woke up Thursday morning quite refreshed and excited. I was also excited that, that afternoon, Daniel Johnston and the Wrens were playing back to back at the Paste Magazine/ Brooklyn Vegan party at the Radio Room. While I absolutely despite Paste magazine, I will say that they know how to organize a hell of a show (they did the same thing last year too). That and free Magic Hat beer, which was quite tasty and SUPER refreshing given it was something like a million degrees outside.
The Radio Room is a really cool venue, and was kind of the place to be this year. Every time I walked past it there was a huge line and this was one of the few times I waited in line all SXSW (I'm incredibly impatient, and I would rather see a band playing than wait in a line to see another band, it depends really) because fuck, it's Daniel Johnston and the Wrens! Both were in my list of Top 5 Bands I NEED TO SEE AT SXSW, Johnston being numero uno. And it's a good thing that the venue is large, with a big inside area, a patio with vendors (can you say SWEET POTATO QUESIDILLAS!) and free beer is always a big plus. So yeah, then there was some music.
First up was the New York electro-duo New Villager. Maybe I was just in a good mood from the summery sun and the free beer, but I really, really dug these guys. Drum machines and synthesizers over one of the dudes singing in a kind of cheesy falsetto that really worked for the music.
After that I went inside to catch the Donkeys. I'd seen them twice before in Lawrence and they have a reputation of being one of those bands I never heard opening for a band I loved (Casiotone for the Painfully Alone) and were one of the most pleasant surprises I can think of in recent memory. They opened with the alt-country twinged "Come on Virginia," the jam from their self-titled debut LP, which was a good sign. Of course their show was fantastic. How could it not be? I was in Austin, Texas, the sun was shining and their breed of breezy, laid back California (they're from San Diego) pop was exactly what I needed. And all of the new stuff they played was great (and they even broke out a sitar at one point!). I seriously cannot recommend this band enough, and I'm kind of bummed that I didn't know where they were playing the rest of the fest. Afterwards I went up and talked to Anthony, their keyboardist and he was easily the nicest musician I've ever met. Actually, all of these guys are because every time I see them I always go up and tell them thank you and they're always just the sweetest dudes. I really love that, bands that like it when people like their band. It was also kind of cool because Owen Ashworth AKA Casiotone for the Painfully Alone was there rocking out, mirroring the Donkeys showing up at his show the night before and rocking out. It was really cute. I got a super cool t-shirt and then went to see what was going on outside.
It was Bishop Allen. Despite the fact that I thought their latest record Grrr... was pretty good, their live show was incredibly boring. Well, the seven or so minutes I watched of it. I feel like I can judge the show based on that because if those were the first seven or so minutes I would have left because it was boring. It's poppy, sure, but none of the hooks are worth ten cents. So, I went to nom on a sweet potato quesidilla, which was way better than Bishop Allen. Seriously, that quesidilla ruled, one of the highlights of the trip.
After Bishop Allen left, it was time for Daniel Johnston (backed by a band called the Hymns). Of course the tent on the patio was jam packed and fortunately, one of the sponsors was a company called Alternative Apparel, who were giving away free cheap sunglasses! It was so sunny I broke my own rule of never wearing sunglasses over my regular glasses and yeah, it helped. The Hymns played two of their own songs before Johnston came on stage and they sucked. Like, I mean, they were incredibly bad almost bordering on cock rock. Like indie cock rock or something like that, just completely bland without a single interesting thing to say. But then Daniel Johnston came out and they played "Rock This Town" and that was OK. The best part though, was when they left and a dude came out with an acoustic guitar to play while Daniel sang. He played "Living Life" and my life was pretty much complete after that happened. It's easily my favorite Daniel Johnston song, and perfect for that day and the whole SXSW experience. "This is life, and everything's alright/ Livin livin livin livin livin life," he sang. The one drawback was that this was SXSW, and of course no one really gives a shit so it was a little hard to hear over people chatting all around me. Something I realized though, is that after seeing Daniel Johnston, I don't need to see him again. It's like an experience that I needed to have, but I decided that I didn't need to see him again on Saturday night (which I had been planning). I was satisfied.
Oh, and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart were supposed to play but didn't show, which was kind of a bummer, but it was kind of OK since I know they probably would have played the same show they did the day before. After Daniel Johnston it was time for the Wrens. This is a band I've had with me for a good five years and a handful of bad break-ups and I can easily say that The Meadowlands is among the top five greatest break-up records of all time. This summer Luke from Baby Birds and I had a ritual of listening to that record late at night when we were feeling miserable and getting to see them live was kind of well, god, well, let's just say their live show is not what I expected. Because they were fucking ON! You know, I expected some kind of sad older dudes and no, no they were fucking jazzed. Bassist Kevin Whelan played the role of ringleader, baiting the crowd and at one point, standing on top of an amp and jumping off of it. I swear, these guys have to be in their late 40s/early 50s and they rocked harder than bands half their age. It was an amazing show and, amongst quite a bit of new stuff were jams like "This Boy is Exhausted," "Everyone Choose Sides" (which fucking slayed), "Faster Gun," and Meadowlands closer, the sole desparate piano/voice track "This is Not What You Have Planned" which pretty much (in my head) brought the house down. There's a little video of it on here. I was sad when it ended, and I really kind of regret not seeing them when they played later on in the week becuase seriously, when am I gonna get to see the Wrens again? Like the Hold Steady, they're a band I could see a million times and never, ever, ever get sick of.
After having my mind severly blown by the Wrens, I thought it would be best to head across the street to the Team Clermont party at the Flamingo Cantina and see Mirah. I found my TC rep, Steve, and we quietly gushed about our Mirah love. Her set was lovely, exactly what I wanted at that moment (and with Tara Jane O'Neill on guitar!). While I thought "Jerusalem" was going to be my highlight, when she broke into "Cold Cold Water" at the very end I literally went weak at the knees. SERIOUSLY. I felt them turn to putty and I almost dropped my Tecate and melted onto the tile floor.
After my knee-melting Mirah experience I headed to Room 710 to say hi to Christine from Pirate! and Dan from Spectre, but told them that I could not stay because somewhere in Austin, the Hold Steady were going to play and I needed to be there. I don't know if they understood, but I hope they did as I used one of their drink tickets to down a whiskycoke and barreled out of the place to Red 7.
Now, here is how I approach SXSW. The bands I love, I love more than anyone else there and I will do anything to see them. So when I saw the Red 7, I pulled a hardcore cutsy (the same thing I did last year for Los Campesinos!) in which I pretended to know someone up front and just snuck in because no one in those lines is ever paying attention. After sneaking in, I headed to the back patio where the Hold Steady were waiting for me and noticed that No Age was setting up inside! Seriously, this is SXSW for you, where I have to decide between two amazing bands. But, alas, the Hold Steady beats all cards. And wouldn't you know it, some motherfuckers were saying we couldn't go out to the back patio because it was at capacity EVEN THOUGH PEOPLE KEPT LEAVING. Fuck them, I have never been more frustrated in my life (ok, maybe that's hyperbole) but yeah, I didn't know what to do. They were clearly not letting anyone in. Since the guy didn't see me, I went to the bar and got a beer and then went back in which I pulled maybe the greatest feat ever, in which I just acted like I was supposed to be in there and then convinced the door guy that I had just come in to use the restroom and that I needed to get back out there. He relented and I went out to an absolutely packed back patio...clearly at capacity. Ha. But whatever, the Hold Steady played and anything bad I'd been feeling was washed away when Craig Finn hollered out the chorus of "Your Little Hoodrat Friend." I wanted to make my way up front to the linke minded people with their fists in the air, but it was just too packed. Seriously, who goes to a Hold Steady show to stand around... oh wait, this is SXSW where people go to see bands for the sake of having said they'd seen certain bands. I just don't understand people at Hold Steady shows who do not freak out (or at least rock out) becuase to me, this is the music that most inspires rocking out. Anyway, the set put me in a great mood regardless.
And what a world I live in where I can stumble out of a killer rock show and into another killer rock show. No Age had about three songs left in their set and the SECOND I walked in the door they were busting into "Eraser." I ran quickly to the front and waited for that point in the song where everything comes crashing down. It was intense. A nice awesome little surprise that set me up for the dinnertime lull.
After a taste sandwich at the Austin Picnic Company (I think that's the place) at 6th & Sabine (easily my favorite part of downtown Austin, where the river runs through and it's loaded with beautiful trees and always cool and breezy) I took some downtime to plan the rest of the day and at about 7:30 decided it was time to hike down to the Mohawk (my favorite venue in Austin!) to catch the Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguar/Dead Oceans party. Why? Because these are three of the best record labels around right now and the early part of the line-up had some bands I really wanted to see!
I got there as Richard Swift started his set, and his set was really really boring. Although, that was to be expected. I hoped he'd play "Buildings in America," the sole jam on his record Dressed up for the Letdown which was, of course, a letdown. And yeah, another letdown when he didn't play that song but whatever, I went inside to see Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band because I liked their debut LP on Dead Oceans. However, I just liked it and their live show didn't really do much for me. Actually, I take that back, it made me realize something. It made me realize that there are some bands who have It and some bands who don't, and that Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band doesn't have It. You see, this band is technically very deft, they are all very good at what they do, playing their instruments, putting it all together, etc, but at the same time their songs don't have that certain quality that makes something great or lasting. This is a band no one will ever remember. It's great that they are doing what they're doing and having a good time but musically, I don't think they're going anywhere.
After that, I went outside to sit in the cool breeze and rehydrate and guess who was playing again! Bishop Allen! And guess what! THEY WERE STILL FUCKING BORING. I'm sorry, but here's another band that doesn't have It. Maybe other people like it, I don't know, but I watched about four songs and none of them did anything for me. Fortunately, Julie Doiron was playing inside!
Before leaving for Austin, I promised my Julie Doiron obsessed girlfriend that I would see her (and when I told her she was playing back to back with Phosphorescent she punched me out of jealousy). It was a good call. I'm a huge Eric's Trip fan and her new record (which features her former bandmate/lover Rick White on Bass) is really, really really good. That and Heart and Crime is one of my top 5 all time nap records (and has been in heavy rotation this winter). She played mostly new stuff, but more stripped down as she was only accompanied by drummer Fred Squire. The set was really quite wonderful. Really relaxed, and she just has one of those perfect voices. A voice that's so human, so heartfelt that you can't help but feel what she's singing. The highlight was the stripped down performance of "Consolation Prize," the clear-cut jam from her new record I Can Wonder What You Did With Your Day. An excellent set from one of my all-time indie rock crushes.
After Julie it was time for Phosphorescent on the outside stage. I saw them play on this stage last year and it might have been the best show I saw all SXSW, so I figured I needed to see them again. That and Matthew Houck, like the Donkeys, is one of the sweetest musicians I've ever met and I don't know why I think that's odd because his music is so beautiful and human (again, human, the word I use for bands who come off as being real, ordinary people). They opened with "A Picture of Our Torn Up Praise" and proceeded to play a mix of tracks from their latest proper LP Pride and older stuff, and I don't think I heard any Willie Nelson songs (as featured on their tribute to Willie To Willie, out on Dead Oceans). Actually, there may have been a couple, but it wasn't overbearing and it all sounded really nice. It was exactly after I needed after a hard afternoon of rocking. The highlight though, was when Houck stated that "This next song is called 'I am a Full Grown Man'" and I yelled "FUCK!" really loud and the girl next to me asked if I was OK. I told her that it was just my favorite song. The live version was slowed down, lovely, gorgeous, as all of Phosphorescent's music is. I still can't figure out how this band is THIS good.
After having my mind blown, I head down to the Stolen Recordings showcase to see Let's Wrestle, another one of my TOP TEN BANDS I MUST SEE. But, on the way I realize that I can catch the last half of the Hello Seahorse set at the Flamingo Cantina, which is right on the way. Of course they start playing my absolute favorite song, the one song I wanted to hear, right as I walk through the door. Background, Hello Seahorse is an indie-pop band from Mexico now signed to the wonderful Magic Marker records and they have this song called "Won't Say Anything" which is a monster pop jam. You should listen to it. It's so good. Anyway, they're playing it slower and it's really cool and slowly, the song starts to build pace until about halfway through when it goes full speed. Awesome awesome awesome awesome. And you know what's more awesome?
Right after that they bust into "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang! Seriously, imagine a Mexican indie-pop band doing hip-hop. Please, do this, actually, you don't need to because here's a video:
Yeah, they were great. And I got to Wave just in time to catch Let's Wrestle, whose noisy, bratty, off-the-cuff Brit-pop-punk has been in heavy rotation for the past few months. They're one of those bands just under the radar that I hope is going to break soon (along with labelmates Pete & the Pirates) because their single, "I Won't Lie To You" is an insanely good jam. When they play it I freak out as best I can on the crowded rooftop which I deem to be one of the worst venues ever. It's completely narrow and the bar takes up half the space. But I'm on a rooftop seeing an amazing band I could never see in Lawrence so everything is OK.
After Let's Wrestle I'm disoriented and aimless and my ankles feel like they're about to fall off from standing forever. I somehow manage to get to El Sol y La Luna, where King Khan & the Shrines are playing at midnight. This is a bad idea for someone who is completely exhausted. Somehow, I weasel my way past some french guys who are idly chatting deciding whether or not to go in and I'm the last badge wearer allowed before they hit capacity. While standing idly I'm pretty sure I see the guy who plays Roy on The Office and I think I creep him out by looking in his direction trying to figure out if it's him. I'm pretty positive it was. King Khan & the Shrines are impossible to describe, but what I will say is that I spend a lot of time trying to determine which drug would be best to be on while seeing this band. Not that I do drugs or anything, or condone that, but really, the show is fucking SURREAL. THERE IS A CHEERLEADER ON STAGE AND A CHUBBY INDIAN DUDE SINGING A HYBRID OF ROCK & ROLL AND SOUL. I don't know how to handle it. I wish I could properly rock out, because this is one of THOSE shows. After saying that he's going to sing a song about welfare (and ripping his shirt off and putting on a sailor hat sort of thing) I see a guy burning a twenty dollar bill. It's weird. The show is awesome, I wish I felt awesome enough to truly appreciate it.
Here's a video, again bathed in red light. I don't think it captures a 1/10th of the insanity:
Despite feeling the need to collapse and my feet telling me that I am a bad, bad person, I somehow make it back to the Stolen Recordings showcase to see Pete & the Pirates. While I never really got into their record Little Death, I kind of just knew they would be one of those bands I'd need to see live to really get and um, I was right. Their set was so great! Jangly indie-rock that has something I really can't put my finger on that makes me love it immediately. I highly recommend seeing these guys live if you get a chance. It was a good way to end a long day where I thought I might collapse at any moment.
Somehow, I managed to make it back to the car (and completely sober!) and I'm pretty sure the second I got into the hotel room I passed out. I don't really remember, but I do remember that I don't think I've ever felt that exhausted before in my life.
That was the second day of SXSW.
Write-ups for the next two days will follow shorty, however, more R&R and maybe a trip to Free State is required to help in my reassimilation to Lawrence after the surreal rock & roll fantasy that was Austin.
KJHK Music Director