How’s this for an auspicious start? Newly badged, I walk toward the convention center on the hunt for Pete Townshend‘s keynote address, when I see a familiar-looking person exit the convention center, walk to a bicycle and begin unchaining it. Naturally, it’s David Byrne, who proceeds to don a helmet and pedal past me on the sidewalk. Somewhat awestruck, I can’t muster up the will to strike up a conversation. (At that particular moment, it may have been something like this: “Remember when you were in the Talking Heads?!? Man, that was awesome.") As you can see, though, I did have enough of my wits about me to squeeze off a quick pic of this carbon-neutral good citizen. (Of course, just a few moments later I thought of all kinds of non-fanboy things I could have said, like how much I loved the Tom Zé record his label put out. Argh.)
Believe it or not, this is the first year I’ve actually caught the keynote address. I want to be an interviewer like VH1s Bill Flanagan when I grow up. The conversation covered a lot of ground and Pete held nothing back. The most lively and interesting parts, to me, were about Townshend’s assessment of what the Internet and online culture brings to music. (He related a hilarious story about checking out someone’s shared iTunes library in his hotel.) Memorable quote: “A SXSW festival built upon a solid Internet is different from a SXSW based on the fact that people in Austin really like to drink beer and listen to live music.” Also (and completely non-related): “If a rock band is a mirror of its audience then Gene Simmons… phew.”
After greeting industry friends (and lingering too long) I walked in just as up-and-coming UK band Bat For Lashes was finishing. Argh. But I’ll have another chance to see ‘em live. (Word on the street is “Kate Bush meets Joanna Newsom… playing an autoharp.” Thom Yorke is a fan.) But I ran into eMusic’s J. Edward Keyes and with some uncommitted time, I went with him to see the immensely satisfying rock trio Call Me Lightning at Red Eyed Fly. (Think The Police, since they’re a nimble trio who seem to know their instruments well, but about ten times more loud and aggressive.)
Call Me Lightning:
Then I quickly slipped out of the room to get to Emo’s Main early for Beirut, who’ve quickly turned into a must-see live band. Frontman/mastermind Zach Condon had just turned 21, and was celebrating with a beer and (oddly enough) having a pile of magnetic tape dumped on his head.
I left the crazy-crowded Emo’s Main after Beirut’s cover of “Brazil,” an older song you may know if you’ve ever seen Terry Gilliam’s film of the same name. At this point I was wavering between Ruthie Foster and the neuvo-Brazilian sounds of NYC’s Forro In the Dark, but after hearing the song I took it as a sign, and took a long walk down to Club One 15 to get my Brazil on. Unfortunately the room was running way late and Forro didn’t take the stage until 11:30, after a seeminly endless soundcheck (which effectively continued through the first two songs—note the emphatic gestures to get the flute higher in the mix in the video below.)
Forro In The Dark:
On my way to Club One 15, I had passed Ari Hest and a pal from Columbia Records, so after Forro’ing for 20 minutes or so I walked up a few blocks to the Rio Grande (home of, er, amazingly potent margaritas) and caught the set by this rising singer/songwriter with the powerfully resonant voice. I also ran into Paste pal and Hotel Café Tour kingpin Cary Brothers. I had been hoping to get around to see amazing Danish band Slaraffenland, but they were way up Red River at Mohawk and so I had to bag it. Hopefully they won’t skip Atlanta like almost every other Scandinavian act.
Finally, I chose to close the evening with San Diego’s Softlightes, led by Ron Fountenberry. The show, in the reverberent space of Central Presbyterian Church, was a true highlight, with artsy vids accompanying each song and everything sounding close to perfect. I couldn’t believe there weren’t more than 25 or so other people there. Come on, people! (The disc by Fountenberry’s previous band, The Incredible Moses Leroy, is one of the most-played things at the Paste office, particularly by our illustrious design director, José Reyes.)
What then? Nothing. It was 2 a.m.; time to go to bed and get ready to do this three more times. Viva SXSW!
Reid Davis, managing ed.