Saturday, March 28, 2009

i went to South By Southwest 2009...part one

i will keep this brief, as i can assume that one might be starting to tire of reading so numerous a collection of tales on the same subject.

MARCH 17th
*************
STUFF I SAW
- Daniel Francis Doyle
- Expensive Shit
- Dikes of Holland
- White Denim


me w/ cool dog that hangs out outside some diner in north texas

i left for Austin @ 4:45am on March 17th with Nick, and after stopping to pick up Ian and Alison
*ZIP* ZING* ZOOOM*
13 hours later, we're in Austin. the weather is amazing. a bit traffic-y though.
so we decide to head downtown first to register and give the traffic a chance to go home and leave us alone. to our surprise we actually got badges instead of wristbands, which seemed like a really big deal at the time and i got pretty excited at the anticipation of the new universes of SXSW that would be open to me.
so upon retrieving these status-boosting badges, we promptly headed to the free "Tejas Means Friends" local band showcase across 35 highway @ Ms. Bea's to catch the end of that show.
we walked straight to the patio behind the venue and came upon a gentleman in glasses, surrounded by a heavy load of equipment, vigorously playing the drums and singing his sweaty heart out over several layers of angular guitar loops. it was an explosive wash of noisy-experimental pop. it was awesome. it was Daniel Francis Doyle. geez! what a great way to start off SXSW!
after Daniel was finished and the next band had set up, a small child stepped up to the microphone and declared "this band is Expensive Shit." srsly.

Expensive Shit @ Ms. Bea's
Expensive Shit was a great noise band...well, if you are into noise bands. which i am. and i loved it. lots of churning sine waves and feedback manipulation and non-tempo drums. sweeeet!
Expensive Shit was followed quickly by Dikes from Holland, whom i had been told by my local homies were great. it's true, they were. a noisy-punk band with lots of energy and driving rhythms. they were really solid live, considerably less intense than Expensive Shit, but i still really dug it.
the last band that night was White Denim. this was the only band that i had heard before, maybe that was why i wasn't very impressed with the way they sounded live. it was alright, but it kind of sounded like a jam band covering songs by White Denim. idunno. whatever. after that we jetted to our hotel to fall asleep watching cartoons. i shared a king size bed with Nick. he's cuddly.

*heart*,
- sean

Thursday, March 26, 2009

SXSW Day Last: or how Yelle is way better than Little Boots and I almost cried when Daniel Johnston played

On Saturday night, I wrapped up my South by Southwest experience at Emo's at a pretty strange show. French electro-pop girl Yelle was booked to play with two Austin bands unworthy of naming, along with a night ender of Daniel Johnston. After splitting my day time activities between Four Square Punk Day 3 and Ms. Bea's yet again, I stumbled to a sandwich shop to get some late evening energy before finding Emo's, which I hadn't visited yet.

Because it's a freakin' giant venue, of course Emo's had a giant line leading up to it. Luckily, with my badge the wait wasn't too long and soon enough I was in and saw the Octopus Project playing before me. My only observations about them are that their girl theremin player (I assume she does other things, also), has the most impossibly tiny waist I've ever seen, and they had someone in a big rectangular cartoonish character suit swaying back and forth during their show.

I was there just in time to excitedly move in for the stage standing space to get ready to see Yelle when the Octopus Project fans left. The Emo's staff rushed in to load out Octopus Project's stuff and one guy handed the theremin to a mover, cautioning him, "If you break this you're in deep shit."

So I had my front row spot to see Yelle. They took their time setting everything up. Of course she brought a French live drummer and dj with her--without them she would just be singing along to her own tracks. At last when everything was set up the two guys started playing music and Yelle popped out from stage left in a strange, glittery skin tight bodysuit. The crowd went wild. The sleazy guys standing next to me who had said their had no idea who Yelle is went wild. How could you not? She's an irresistable French hottie and live the music was boss.

I was pretty amused that Yelle spoke to the audience between songs in French with numerous "Merci beaucoup"s, although somehow at one point she proved she knew English. The girls around me were melting in the presence of the "French hotties" Yelle imported to play with her. I'm not gonna lie, it was a great show! Yelle pulls live music off really well. As if her music wasn't a bit dancable already, the dj added even more killer beats and the packed house couldn't keep still. I was in some sort of euphoria during the whole set, and I can't really explain why. It was just awesome. I dare to add Yelle to my list of top three favorite live acts of SXSW 2009.

Yelle was polar opposite of blonde-haired English singer/electro music maker, Little Boots, who I took great pains to see a day or two before and was pretty much disappointed in. Little Boots actually sings, so that might be part of the difference. She also messes around with this square Japanese electronic instrument called the Tenori-on. Little Boots came off as a sort of Christina Aguilera who could play this weird instrument. Even though I had read numerous dance music blogs raving about her, I was not particularly impressed. Maybe the writers of those blogs had never seen her live. Yelle, Yelle, Yelle, Yelle, Yelle.
video
After my contemplative Yelle experience, I preceded to stand through two Austin bands who I had never heard of and honestly didn't give a crap about. Meanwhile, my legs turned to rubber and Emo's grew more and more crowded. I proceeded to stake out a spot nearish to the stage when the band before Daniel Johnston, a sort of Latin reggae dance band played, and I nearly fell asleep standing up I was so exhausted. This band didn't finish until almost 1 am, when Daniel Johnston was supposed to be doing on. The staff fiddled around with setting up until about 1:15 and I started to get anxious that I would have to leave earlier than I liked to to meet up with everyone at the car at 2. Finally, Daniel Johnston went on stage. He walked up to the mic and said "What sad songs do you guys want to hear tonight?" and almost immediately I was on the verge of tears. It may have been an emotional reaction to my physical fatigue, but really I have no idea why. Maybe the suggestion that every song would be sad seeped unconsciously into my weakened brain. I'm not even a giant Daniel Johnston fan or anything, I just knew I wanted to see him live when I got the chance. Oh course it was great. I stood the whole time gasping and sniffling, embarrassed that the people around me might ask what was wrong. Waiting through those two whatever bands was still totally worth it.

As it neared 2 I tore myself away from Emo's to go back to the car. When we all assembled we decided to attend a bridge show, but upon arriving it seemed it wouldn't be starting for a while, and it was 2:30 in the morning. I drank a Red Bull while we wandered around the pedestrian bridge crowded with bands setting up and drunk people tripping everywhere, but eventually we decided to just go home. We didn't even go to Taco Cabana. That was alright. We had had our four days of fun.

Thanks to Nick and Ian for driving so I could be a backseat bum and do some homework and Sean for letting me hang out with his friends so I wasn't by myself for four days straight. I'll be spending this weekend transcribing some interviews. Over and out.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Knee Deep at SXSW: Day Four - This Boy is Exhausted

It's ironic that on the day I thought my feet could travel no further (again, if you go to SXSW wear shoes that are MADE FOR WALKING) I ended up doing the most hiking around. But overall, it was worth it as this might have been the most idyllic, pretty awesome day of SXSW for the most part because I pretty much threw my schedule and itinerary out the window. I was sick of seeing bands! Or so I thought. I just needed to find the right place to be.

Given that I think both Nick and I wanted to find a place in the shade to just sit, it worked really well that the Mess With Texas party at Waterloo Park was happening on Saturday. We hiked out there early and found a spot on the dirty ground to sit and watch some shitty band play on the main stage. Then the sun came out and we were hungry and there were NO CORN DOG VENDORS like last year so we hiked all the way out to Opal's Divine Freehouse for hamburgers. We took a detour by the capital building where, wouldn't you know it, there was an anti-war protest a-goin' on.


Look at this beautiful happy dog!

In fear of being tazed, or something like that, we made our way to hamburgers, which like I said, was a hike. A LONG hike, but worth it because I must say, the hamburger I had was one of the best ever. And not only did I get to eat a delicious burger topped with coleslaw, grilled onions, and BBQ sauce. And on top of that, we got to listen to some great tunes courtesy of Kepi Ghoulie and Kevin Seconds playing on the outside porch. I drank many iced teas and was completely relaxed.

Then we hiked back to the convention center which might have been a bad idea given that there was a record sale going on upstairs and I um, ended up spending too much money because the vendors from Euclid Records in St. Louis had pretty much every record I'd been waiting to come into Love Garden forever. And reasonably priced. I blew $75 bucks, but could have easily blown more had Nick not talked me down and helped me to limit my picks. I have a bad habit.

After that, again wanting to stay away from clubs and venues, I went with Nick to the Four Square Punk show Sean and Alison had been raving about the last couple days. It was a hike, but I cannot express how much it was worth the walk. We walked into this vacant lot with four little stages set up adorned with four punk bands. In the corner, a roller skating rink and in the back free Budweiser tall boys. And best of all, undercrowded. Just the right amount and the right kind of people: People looking to throw down. Team Robespierre are by far the highlight given that they played a tune shortly after we walked in that involved everyone rolling around in the dirt, getting sprayed with free beer, and bodies throwing themselves everywhere. Cerebral Ballzy were pretty fucking cool too, but not so much when it came to Golden Arrows and She Rides, who were both pretty boring. But man, when Team Robespierre played it was fucking insane. Eventually they started talking shit on the people sitting on the bleachers and at one point, went INTO the bleachers where I saw one of the dudes chuck not-quite-empty beercan at the back of a kids head (I don't know if it was on purpose or not) and the look on that kids face was a look of "WHAT THE FUCK MAN." Had it been me, I'd have gone on the attack or something but man, that kid just sat there and I think he started bleeding. Kind of a dick move on Team Robespierre's part but they had a point: This was a punk show, no one should have been sitting (although I sat when the shitty bands played, but hey, they sucked). Especially not during Team Robespierre and Cerebral Ballzy where crowd involvement was kind of mandatory. Yeah, check out Alison's write-up on the Four Square Punk event, that pretty much nails it. For now, I'll say the rest with pictures:









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So it was awesome. And after the round robin punk thing was over Valiant Thorr played and that was pretty sick.

I didn't want to leave, but there was down time and I got a text from Christine at Pirate! saying that the Dirty Projectors were playing at the French Legation Museum at 7PM. This place had amazing shows last year and amazing shows this year but a.) I could never find them listed online and b.) I had no clue where it was. Nick said it was pretty close to where we were so we hiked in search of it...about 9 blocks away. Seriously, my feet, but whatever, Dirty Projectors were playing and they were in my top ten of bands I haven't seen that I need to see at SXSW. Eventually, we stumbled upon it and I must say it is the most beautiful place that I have seen in Austin. Like, this amazing patch of green and beauty in the middle of dust and drunks.

When we got there Melissa Auf Der Maur of Hole was playing a solo set and it sucked really bad so we decided to go back to the Four Square Punk thing and then return around 7 for Dirty Projectors. Hiked the 9 blocks back and checked out the new crop of bands on the stages. I basically just wanted to see These Are Powers again, Ponytail, and DD/MM/YYY. These are Powers have grown SO much since I saw them in Lawrence last year when they were just a screamy weird punk band. Now they have discovered dance beats and there's a whole aura of cool that surrounds them (they look so cool). However, more people had shown up and they were all acting like a typical bored SXSW crowd unlike the first round. At one point during a Ponytail song they had one of the little kids that had been running around all day in Saucony t-shirts on stage and he was rocking out with these huge headphones on. It was pretty much the most adorable thing ever. And it was all pretty cool, but man, after being to the French Legation Museum I wanted to go back immediately, sit in some grass, drink some beer and watch a cool avant-indie band. So we hiked back.

These Are Powers

Ponytail

DD/MM/YYYY
We got back just as Laura Marling (who I love, but didn't really care for seeing that much) and were pointed in the direction of free ice cream! Not like ice cream cone ice cream but like ice cream truck ice cream on sticks from when you're a kid. I got the Ninja Turtles ice cream stick thing and oh man, childhood. It was perfect and wonderful. Then we randomly ran into Hector from AAM and Mona from Domino and I got to feel like I was doing work and hobnobbing with promoters and such, which was nice. I was then alerted to the $1 cans of Lone Star which pretty much made me freak out and I bought two, as evidenced here:


Finally ran into Christine and Dan and that was cool, and all as the sun was setting and the breeze was kicking up on this beautiful piece of land. Next year I'm coming to everything here. Hands down the greatest venue in Austin. Eventually Dirty Projectors played and I sat down in some grass underneath a beautiful tree and just listened to tracks from their new record Bella Orca, which, based on what I heard, is going to be astounding.


I wanted to stay there all night. I'd walked around all day and finally found the Shangri-La of Austin (ironically, we passed a bar called Shangri-La on the way there). But we had to go, and just went back to Ms. Bea's since there wasn't anything else going on and Blank Dogs were supposed to be playing, followed by Eat Skull. I'm not sure who played though, given that I'm not that familiar with Blank Dogs (I've really dug the few tracks I've heard) but I know for a fact that Eat Skull didn't play after then because I've seen Eat Skull and the band that was playing was very definitely NOT Eat Skull. But whatever, it was a great place to rest and drink more Lone Star.

I'd read in the guidebook that Immaculate Machine was playing at 10PM and, having nothing better to do, Nick and I headed to Habana Calle 6 to check them out. Here is where things got more weird, because I was searching around for the band (er, searching for Kathryn Calder) and could not find her. There was a band setting up inside, where they were supposed to play, but it did not look like Immaculate Machine. There were five people fronted by a dude with a mustache that kind of looked like one of the Immaculate Machine dudes. But they are a three piece, so I was skeptical. And neither of the ladies on stage were Kathryn Calder. And then they were introduced as Immaculate Machine and they played songs that sounded nothing like them. Then they played "C'mon Sea Legs," my favorite track from their latest record and the dude sung it and it sucked really bad. Actually, everything they played sucked...well, the three songs we stuck around for before I got really bitchy and realized it would be better to talk shit outside where I didn't have to listen to the shitty band instead of talking shit and having to listen to that garbage.

It kind of pissed me off, but whatever. Eventually I made my way to Emos Jr at 11 to see Voxtrot. Now, here's how Voxtrot works: They put out three really excellent EPs a few years ago and then, pressured by hype, put out a full length that was pretty terrible and were never heard from again. Until SXSW, when they announced they were playing a couple of shows. So I figured it would be great, getting to see them play to a hometown audience and all, and that maybe their new stuff would be a return to form. I was wrong. Very very very very wrong. This was easily one of the worst shows I saw at SXSW. Well, one of the worst shows by a band that should have been so much better. For one, they failed completely to engage the audience who, for the most part, stood motionless. And maybe it's because they played all of their old songs a little too slow (to the point where I was having a hard time singing along to them). They sounded like a band with their balls removed, and they were posturing like they were hot shit, and like their new songs were so so great which they absolutely weren't. The worst thing was that I regretted coming to the show. During, I had a text message exchange with my little brother, who I got into Voxtrot. He loves them too, and he was jealous until I told him what was going on. Maybe they were just rusty, maybe those new songs will sound better on record but based on what I saw and the new track they leaked (which sucked), I'm not getting my hopes up. I feel like they're destined to be one of those tragic bands who had three amazing EPs and then just couldn't get their shit together after flirting with maybe getting big.

By this point in the night, the last two hours of SXSW, my feet could take no more so I made a quick decision that I would go see Titus Andronicus again at Club Deville, a decision made mostly because Ponytail was playing there at midnight and I thought it would be neat to see them on a proper stage. Instead, I got there and crashed in one of the myriad chairs they have lying around all over the place. Ended up having a good SXSW conversation with a girl who worked the American Apparel sale on 4th & Brazos and eventually, Titus Andronicus played and they played pretty much the same set I saw them play before but I didn't care. I love this band right now, and the show was fucking engaging AND they played their cover of Spider Bags "Waking Up Drunk," which was a nice way to cap-off the routinely booze-fueled SXSW.

And while I planned on being exhausted and getting to go back to the hotel at 2AM, I was fucking jazzed and once at the car we traveled out to the Lamar Pedestrian Bridge for an alleged bridge show (last year's with No Age was the highlight of the fest for me). We found a random punk band under the bridge, who were actually really good but I have no clue who they were. On the bridge proper Psychedelic Horseshit was allegedly playing soon but by this time we were all tired and lazy and had to leave at noon the next day so we left. And that was it. I crashed hard and then we spent 14 hours in the car the next day because Texas is a horrible horrible state to drive in (THREE HOURS OF GRIDLOCK! Imagine, if you will, going 150 miles on the highway in 4 hours. That is not right). AND THAT WAS IT!

Ian Hrabe
KJHK Music Director

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

This post is about how awesome Four Square Punk was

On Friday the 20th I attended Four Square Punk Day 2 from 2-6pm, featuring Mika Miko, Finally Punk, Tyvek, the Death Set, and the Mae Shi. In my head I had been planning to attend this "Roller Rink Show." It turns out that the show was not really at/in/on a roller rink, but in an empty lot surrounded by chain-link fences, where they had built a day or two before, a small perhaps 40x40 ft wooden roller rink, along with four stages and some bleachers.

I was supposed to interview all girl Austin band Finally Punk after their show here, so Sean and I headed down to the area only to discover, this was going to be five times more awesome than we thought. It wasn't advertised on the flyer or internet, but Four Square Punk had free, pretty much unlimited Bud tall boys all three days. This was now an unexpected paradise for any 21+ attendee. Note: water was not free, but unfortunately a bit necessary while suffering in 85 degree direct sunlight for a few hours.

After sitting on the convenient bleachers that completed the circle of four stages, the show started. When all the bands set up at the same time and stood ready to play while the first band started, I knew something interesting was happening. Mika Miko played one song, then as soon as their song ended, Finally Punk started another, and after them, Tyvek, and then the Death Set. The crowd wandered like sad puppies a few feet from stage to stage in between songs, while the lazies sat on the bleachers taking in the whole scene and frying in the sun. Actually, I take that back, everyone was frying in the sun, but I had learned early on at SXSW that it was necessary to carry sunscreen. Somehow this show never got really crowded, which was awesome, and there was always a place to sit down. More beer for the attendees.

This round robin of sorts went on for a while, though I lost track of time. Each band at least played five songs by the time they had finished taking turns around the circle.

As for the bands, if you don't know about them--Mika Miko are LA venue the Smell's darling girl punk band with a phone mic. One of the girls was wearing a Germs shirt. It was a pleasent set as always. Post SXSW I have now seen them four times.

Finally Punk is an Austin all girl band. They all switch instruments every song, so I think they're pretty talented. I interviewed them after they played by the porta-potties as about ten oogles and their scruffy dogs looked on. They're some nice girls! Nicest band I talked to at SXSW.

Tyvek from Michigan was one of the bands, too. They were the only band I didn't recognize at first, because they didn't have one of their members who had quit to pursue a solo project. I had to go up and ask them inbetween songs. They're songs were ok, at least I got to hear some songs I knew! A lot of people's opinion is that they've gone down hill since their member left.

The Death Set was the last addition to the circle. In the two times I saw them I was astounded how they had upped their punk sound by more than half. I don't know if this was just for live shows or what but both times I saw them everyone loved it. Pretty much the whole crowd was singing along. They sure didn't have a drummer when I saw them a few years ago in Lawrence at the Lawrence Zoo.
video
Oh, but the biggest treat was yet to come. After the round robin was finished, I interviewed Finally Punk(expect a transcript of this sometime after the weekend) and then Sean, Jackie (another visitor from Lawrence), and I all embarrassingly attempted to rollerskate. I'm really glad no one broke anything, but the Austin Roller Derby Girls majorly showed us up. Funnily enough, the roller rink was sponsored by Saucony shoes, and somehow Sean and Jackie managed to win free shoes. Good job guys.

The Mae Shi finished setting up--by themselves for some reason. I was excited to simply see them live after I had loved their album HLLLYH when it came out last year. The Mae Shi do a really bad job of staying on stage. There was a lot of rolling around in the dust with guitars and mics. Even better was that at the end of their set their pulled out a rainbow parachute for attendees to hold over the perfectly shaped dusty circle space in the middle of the stages. In the least it was magical to have something like this from your childhood used almost ritualistically in a show-setting. It was so much fun. I saw the Mae Shi the next day at Ms. Bea's as well and they pulled the parachute trick again, but it didn't work nearly as well in a rectangle shaped space.

By the time the Mae Shi had finished it was nearly six and we were going to be late for dinner. What a great afternoon.

Four Square Punk for Lawrence, please...

Knee Deep at SXSW: Day 3 - Killer Parties Almost Killed Me

This is the day that SXSW almost killed me and, if it wasn't for the Hold Steady I wouldn't have made it to 2 AM. The night before I remember getting up after checking e-mail and trying to walk to the bathroom at the hotel and barely being able to do it. It's my own damn fault really, and I realized it was time for my stupid low-top Chucks phase to end. Word to the wise: PLEASE WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES WITH ARCH SUPPORT TO SXSW. IT IS WAY MORE IMPORTANT THAN TRYING TO LOOK COOL. Anyway, so I didn't know if I was going to make it through the day.

As usual, we got to 6th and Red River at 11:30, about a half hour before everything started up. We stopped by the Planetary promotions party because they had free swag and we got these sweet-ass Fidel Castro-esque hats that would become fixtures on me, Alison, and Sean's head for the next couple of days. But the party kind of sucked. There were a couple of bands I wanted to see (I forget who though) but they weren't playing until later AND it was at Maggie Mae's (which is a fucking shitty venue) AND the band playing when we got there was easily the worst band I have ever seen playing songs in a live setting in my entire life. I don't even want to know what they were called, it was probably something really stupid. But anyway, I split.

After that we all wound up at the AAM day party for the last bit Parenthetical Girls. Again, I love this band but of course, like almost all bands at SXSW, they were playing the same set as the other night...only no one was there and they just looked kinda tired or maybe bummed. The music was still great though, in particular that point in the Orchestral Manoeuveres in the Dark cover they do where it ends with all four of them beating on the drum kit. That was pretty awesome.



Had there been seating anywhere, I probably wouldn't have left the AAM party because the line-up was so super solid. Even the bands playing first were solid, including That Ghost, who I never would have seen had they not been on such a solid bill. I checked them out inside mainly because their latest record got voted into rotation so it must have been decent...and there was nowhere to sit. But I was glad I went inside because they were pretty good! Of course, they weren't that good, given that I can't remember what they sound like at all (indie____) . Like, seriously. I cannot even remember so, you know. But I do remember it wasn't bad.



Fortunately, HEALTH started playing outside soon after and that really picked me up a bit. I'd never listened to HEALTH. I thought they were another one of those myriad electronica bands that all the kids love right now but man was I fucking wrong because these guys slayed. But of course, I was lame and only watched 60% of their set because my feet were about to fall off and I found a chair inside where I sat. God, how lame is that! I started wishing that some of the downtown shops would sell insoles at ridiculous prices because they could make a bunch of money in that racket I think. Anyway, HEALTH was one of the myriad bands I caught at SXSW that made me want to check out their record when I got home.

Inside, Titus Andronicus played and this brought me back to life. Titus Andronicus are one of my absolute favorite bands right now, and I only realized this in February when I saw them open for Los Campesinos! I realized that their debut LP The Airing Of Grievances, which I initially panned, was fucking brilliant and that Patrick Stickles is one of the most interesting songwriters of right now. They kind of remind me of a less polarizing Hold Steady. Very wordy with lots of old-school rock and roll influence played by dudes that play it because it's fun to play old school rock and roll and bust out guitar solos. At the same time, they sound nothing like the Hold Steady. They sound exactly like Titus Andronicus though, and the set killed. I secretly hoped they'd bust out the 7-minute jam "No Future Part 1" but it was OK that they didn't, I don't think I could have handled it anyway. What I COULD handle though was finding that as soon as they started up with "Titus Andronicus" my feet were suddenly fine and I could rock out and sing along as much as I wanted without dying. Other jams included "My Time Outside the Womb," monster jam "Upon Viewing Brueghel's 'Landscape with The Fall of Icarus,'" "Joset of Nazareth's Blues," and closing with "Fear and Loathing in Mahwah, NJ." I watched patiently on "Fear and Loathing," watched the quiet build up and then watched all of the band members' faces when they all shouted "FUCK YOU" and that was really transcendent. These guys give a fuck. They all kind of seem to hate life a little bit but this is how they're fighting back, or something.


And man, for a rock triumvirate, The Mae Shi played outside next. I wanted to catch them in Austin so they could give me a reason to listen to their records and they did a hell of a job of that. I could only stick around for about half of the set (as my feet started quitting again) but from what I saw I could easily see myself getting obsessed with this band within the next couple of weeks. What I want to happen is that I fall in love with them and then call myself a big baby for not seeing their whole set (I really wish I caught them at the Four Square Punk thing where Alison and Sean raved about the whole elementary school parachute thing they did, that would have sealed the deal). "Oh, my feet hurt, boo fucking hoo." But yeah, I'm an idiot. Always get arch support, otherwise you watch half of the Mae Shi's set and then realize if you don't sit down you're going to fall over.

So I got a sandwich at that same sandwich shop from the night before, and the rest of the day is kind of fuzzy. I don't remember what I did at all, but I'm sure it involved a lot of sitting and a lot of drinking water. OH, you know what I did! I remember now. I walked around and waited in lines. That's actually the opposite of sitting, come to think of it. But I walked to Club DeVille to try to get in to see the Thermals and the Hold Steady but the line was ridiculous, then to Emos Jr to see the Dirty Projectors, where the line was also ridiculous. So I went around the side of Emos and went in there, where there was no line. Why did I go to Emos? Was it because Wavves was about to play? No, because I knew I could sit somewhere. And then somehow I ended up back at Club DeVille an hour later and the line was much shorter and I got right in. This is where the day started looking up.

So, I get into the place and they're selling "unlimited beer" wristbands for two-dollars. It's pretty late, and I regret not getting here earlier and taking advantage of this sweet deal, but given that I'm about to see the Hold Steady, where it is improper to see them without a beer in your hand to raise on lines like "Gonna walk around and drink some more," I figured I'd better do it. The place was packed with people who, again, probably didn't give a shit about the Hold Steady so I moved my way as close as I could to the edge of people who were into it. I figured if someone gave me shit for getting in front of them I would ask why they weren't rocking out and to shut up or something. This band does things to me, I swear. Surprisingly, their set is different from the day before and I don't know why I think this is surprising, given that the Hold Steady are pretty much the greatest band ever and of course they would switch it up. Of course, the monster jams like "Sequestered in Memphis," "Your Little Hoodrat Friend," "Stuck Between Stations," and "Stevie Nix" are there, but they're mixed in with some deeper cuts from the first record that I hadn't heard them play live, including "Barfruit Blues," "Hornets Hornets," and my all-time favorite Hold Steady jam "How a Ressurection Really Feels." Hearing that opening riff I completely lost my shit and sang along with the people singing around me. It was a transcendent moment. I realized that during their whole set my feet didn't hurt at all, and that it was going to be absolutely necessary for me to see them at midnight next door at the Mohawk. This was decided. This was how I was going to get through SXSW. And then they eventually broke into "Stay Positive," and when I was chanting along the chorus "Whoa OH oh, Whoa OH oh, we've gotta stay positive" I knew that is exactly what I needed.

Again, at 6 PM I stumbled back to meet the crew for dinner in a euphoric post-Hold Steady daze.
Dinner involved hiking, but it also meant eating at a fancy-ass Thai restaurant where we, us grungy sweaty t-shirted kids, dined amongst fancy folk wearing ties and shit. But whatever, it was good. HERE IS A PICTURE OF IT. Here is also a picture of my little bowl of rice that came with a carrot heart. SO CUTE!

With some great fortune, the Thai place was literally a block away from the Karma Lounge, where I had prepared to start off Friday night seeing one of my favorite new bands the Manhattan Love Suicides at 8:20. Since it was about 7:30 and I had nothing to do, I figured I'd catch openers I am David Sparkle. I got to the place at 7:30 sharp and nothing was happening, they were still setting up their stuff and this went on for about 40 minutes. I didn't mind that much, as I had an ice cold Lone Star in hand and was content to sit on the funky couches that you might expect to find at a place called the Karma Lounge. Eventually one of the SXSW workers says that the technical difficulties are solved and the show starts at about 8:10. I Am David Sparkle are kind of what SXSW is all about, or what I realized it should be about: seeing bands you've never heard of and then, subsequently if you're lucky, really enjoying them. I Am David Sparkle are four dudes from Singapore playing Mogwai/Explosions in the Sky/Do Make Say Think influenced post-rock...and they're really good. I don't even listen to post-rock that much (I have the attention span of a gnat when it comes to music sometimes) but this stuff is really good. Nothing too outstandingly original, but still really solid. At one point the SXSW worker goes to the side of the stage and says they can play as long as they want and don't have to cut their set short since the Manhattan Love Suicides said they'd cut theirs short, or something. In front of me, a British woman gets VERY CRANKY at this and takes the worker aside to complain. "I came to see the Manhattan Love Sucides! I'm on a schedule!" and the worker rightfully gives her a "what is your fucking problem lady?" look and brushes her off. The woman's face is priceless, she pouts and throws a little fit and stands with her arms crossed like a five year old. She's gotta be in her fifties. Anyway, somehow this doesn't bother me, the Manhattan Love Suicides set getting cut short because right now, I am really enjoying I Am David Sparkle.

Do you want to know what the worst feeling in the world is? Well, not worse than like, having your ankles feel like they're about to fall off or heartbreak, but like, hyperbolically? It's when you see a band you love's setlist and you see the ONE song you REALLY REALLY wanted to see crossed out in black sharpie. That's what happened with the Manhattan Love Suicides, crossing out "You'll Never Get That Guy." I sighed, but it didn't matter too much as I saw they were opening with "Keep it Coming," my second favorite jam. Their live set is incredibly short and I regret not seeing them earlier in the week. So, the Manhattan Love Suicides do not come from Manhattan, they come from England. And they play noisy, shoegazey indie-pop loaded with genius pop hooks. I'm sad that they breeze through their set in about 20 minutes and they don't play my favorite song, but at the same time I'm satisfied.

After the show I finish my beer and head outside. I pass a couple of the dudes from I Am David Sparkle and tell them what a great show they put on and I notice there is a dude videotaping me. His name is John, and he is doing a documentary on the band's first trip to America. We had a long conversation about indie music in Singapore and Asia and he told me how hard it is for bands like I Am David Sparkle to get by because there is no local support there, and about how a band like Mogwai will come play and it will cost five times as much to see them there than in America. It made me want to be an ambassador or something, helping bands get to America where their music will stand a chance without being fetishized like Asian music often is here. I thought about the myriad Japanese punk bands I'd seen walking to and from the convention center--all leather with huge mohawks and caked on make-up. It was a good conversation. Then the topic veered to who we'd been seeing at SXSW and he mentioned he'd seen Grizzly Bear at the Central Presbyterian Church the other day and I was a little jealous. Based on his recommendation, I decided that I would try to see them at the Cedar Street Coutryard at 11:45 that night and headed that way when we were done talking.

I got there and it was packed. Not packed in the sense that say, the Bottleneck is packed and people go home when it is sold out. I'm talking inside the tiny courtyard people could barely move and there were at least a few hundred people crammed around outside trying desperately to get in. I managed to find the tiny badge line amidst the sea of people and talked to an older couple about it. They were there to see Dinosaur Jr (playing after Grizzly Bear, what a bill right?) and they expressed their disgust that none of the younger kids they'd talked to even knew who they were. I shared this disgust with them and then we got in. The place was more packed than I thought and made my way to the bathroom where I waited twenty minutes. In this twenty minutes of waiting, I had a revelation. Sure, I could see Grizzly Bear here but I wouldn't enjoy it. I would be seeing Grizzly Bear for the sake of seeing Grizzly Bear and my feet hurt and I would feel miserable afterward. Plus I'd have to suffer through Peter, Bjorn and John, which I absolutely did not want to do. So, after the bathroom I fought my way out of the crowd, offering up my spot in the courtyard to someone willing to tolerate that mess of people.

I realized that it was Friday night and that I wanted to party. I had been such a baby the last day and a half, I needed to shut right the fuck up and get down. So I hiked down 6th street through the mass of people simulating Mardi Gras and onto Red 7 where I hoped Nick was up to something nefarious at a pop-punk show. My pop-punk roots drove me there and when I got there I felt right at home, even more so with a Lone Star tallboy in hand and watching The Girls. They were nothing special, but it was better than forcing myself to watching some hype band for the sake of watching a hype band no matter how much I loved their music. This, you see, was my pre-party because at midnight I would go see the Hold Steady again at the Mohawk and I had a good hour until that started. I drank more beers and hung out with Nick until the Cute Lepers started.

Thought I've kind of cut my ties with pop-punk, and modern pop-punk even more so, I really like the Cute Lepers. We had their last record in rotation and it's just a good time. Their stage set-up is really strange and wonderful, too. To the left on bass and guitar are dudes who look like Rudeboys. To the right there are two beautiful back-up singer-type girls. The drummer looks like a punk rock drummer and frontman Steve E. Nix looks totally dapper in a pink button down shirt. It makes sense that I would like the Cute Lepers because I always liked the Briefs between the ages of 16-18. It's a good time, better than waiting on pained feet to see Grizzly Bear and when they wrap up I finish my beer and head to the Mohawk (just a little early) because there is more preparation to be done if I'm going to see the Hold Steady properly.

No more pictures exist between 11:30 and 1:30. Despite the fact that the screen on my camera got broken earlier from rocking out to the Hold Steady (messed up by my lighter or my keys) , despite this I specifically put the camera in my bag because to hell if I was going to interrupt my rocking out with picture-taking. Especially since I was planning on forcing my way to the very front of the stage to sing along with every word.

I got into the Mohawk no problem (thank you to the gods for getting us badges instead of wristbands this year, surprisingly after we got the badges I decided to use the hell out of mine). I doublefisted a doublewhiskycokenoice and a Lone Star and finished them quickly, in time to grab one more Lone Star before they started. This timing worked out perfectly and by the time the Hold Steady took the stage I was absolutely ready. Beer in hand, ready to raise it to St. Joe Strummer and anytime Craig Finn mentioned partying. I realized that this was exactly where I needed to be at this very moment in time, and the crowd seemed a lot better than earlier. A little thinner, more room to move, and I made my way to the front, where I patiently waited until the first song broke open.

And of course, they started with "Positive Jam," because as Craig Finn notes, "You gotta start it with a positive jam." Keyboardist Franz Nicolay, the classy motherfucker he is, is sipping from a bottle of cheap wine at the side of the stage and the crowd is patiently waiting for the signal to lose their shit. I read on some other blog that Hold Steady shows usually have twenty people who are completely obsessed. I am one of those twenty people, and sure enough, there are twenty people here just like me. I spot them right up front and center. As soon as the band lays into the Husker Du inspired buzzsaw guitar riff on "Constructive Summer," I split my way through couples holding hands and photogs holding cameras to join these people. At a Hold Steady show, these people are your friends. There's no arguing about who's the bigger fan because you're ALL the biggest fan because you're all holding beers or drunk (or both, hopefully) and you know all the words and you came to have a good ass time. Here's a video of this pulled from youtube:


This is why I am a music geek. A rock chump. There is something about this that makes me feel amazing, something amazing about bumping into strangers and having some random dude say he hopes they play "Slapped Actress" and me screaming back in his face "I HOPE SO TOO" and when they play it, something about the bond we have in our mutual howls of "OH FUCK YES!" I think we almost hug we're so excited. The whole set is like this, and I dare say it might be the best show I've ever seen, rivaling the first night I saw them back in the last days of 2006 (which has stood as my favorite show of all time since). They play everything I want to hear, or as much as they can play given that I want to hear every song. "Stuck Between Stations" is epic and I almost cry and I REALLY almost cry when they close with "Killer Parties," the same song they closed with at that show back in '06 and the most fitting song for the Hold Steady to close a show to. "Killer parties almost killed me," Craig Finn intones to us. He opens the song with a little off the cuff SXSW banter. "I've seen some old friends, I've met some brand new creeps, and a smarter man than me said 'it's only rock and roll, but I like it,'" he says, quoting the Stones. "And today here's what I say: There is SO much JOY in what we do up here. I want to thank you all for being here tonight to share that joy with us," he finishes as the song comes crashing in. It literally moves me to tears, somehow validating everything in my life and every reason why I love this band and why I saw them three times at SXSW. It may only be rock and roll, but I like it, and I like that a band with this much love for playing music exists and they bring it EVERY SINGLE TIME. Here's some more youtubed video of that:


After the Hold Steady there is no way I'm going to see another band. Crystal Stilts are playing at Emo's Jr but I can't really handle anything else right now but sitting and waiting for 2AM. I run into Nick at one of the little stores while picking up a bottle of water and we head to Emos because I think the Black Lips are playing and well, why not. I'm wrong and it's King Khan & the Shrines and I'm AGAIN too tired to do anything but sit and watch. It's insane, I can't believe that there are so many bands here going insane and playing their hearts out and making me believe that everything is going to be OK and that modern music is a wonderful, wonderful thing and that rock and roll is very much alive and well. Here's me in a post-Hold Steady haze not knowing what else to do but just enjoy it. I think I'm a little surprised that I can still stand after that...

That was the third day of SXSW. Stick around for the electrifying conclusion in which it's darkest before the sun rises.

Ian Hrabe
KJHK Music Director