SXSW Marathon Finish
Two years ago, I set a personal record for number of acts to catch in a day at SXSW. I’d seen 19 bands when I got shut out of Shonen Knife at 1:50 a.m. The band didn’t stop playing for 15 minutes, and my friends were all inside listening to Japan’s female answer to The Ramones, and I was trying to coerce a 5’6”, 350-pound tattooed bouncer that the bar wasn’t closing for another 10 minutes. But I wasn’t done, and by 2:30, I had stumbled upon a talented singer/songwriter we’d just covered in the magazine busking to a crowd in the street. I sat for four or five songs, threw a buck in her guitar case and checked off number 20.
This year, I spent Friday almost exclusively at Paste-sponsored events. I saw some great music. At our day party at Maggie Mae’s, I got to hear the haunting sibling harmonies of Eisley; see the line stretching across 6th Street as fans poured in for Cold War Kids; discover a talented, young singer/songwriter Andy Zipf; and catch some personal favorites—Sondre Lerche, Badly Drawn Boy, Rosie Thomas and Denison Witmer. After a celebratory dinner that stretched into our evening showcase (and caused me to miss Danny Flowers), I saw Brandi Carlile (possibly my favorite act at SXSW), Pigeon John (by far, my favorite hip-hop performance—he surprised us by bringing Gift of Gab and Lyrics Born on stage, and they weren’t even playing SXSW), the Southern rock of moe. (and a bit of Aqualung, who was playing next door) and the glorious spectacle that is Polyphonic Spree.
On Saturday, we had two more events, but with 10 Paste folks at SXSW (as Pigeon John’s manager put it, we “roll deep”), I felt the freedom to leave after catching Acute and Silver Lakes at The Belmont. As I looked at pages of party invite information, I decided to throw planning out the window and fish for a little serendipity. I walked clear across town to The Mohawk for Page France and then made my way down Red River and back across 6th, walking into any club that looked the least bit interesting and staying for at least a song. Here’s the fruit of my travels…
Page France – The Mohawk (indoor) – A
I pushed for this band’s inclusion on our 2006 “best of” list, so I was predisposed to like the band live, but they didn’t disappoint. I only wished I’d arrived early enough to see more than a song.
The Ponys – The Mohawk (outdoor) – C
Land of Talk – Club DeVille – B
Serendipity strikes early as I didn’t know this upcoming “4 to watch” band was playing today. Elizabeth Powell from Montreal fronts this very rockin’ trio and puts on a good live show.
Ghostface & guests – Stubbs – C-
Maybe it was high expectations, maybe it was seeing Pigeon John the night before, but I left when they started singing “Pretty Bitches.” Pretty uninspired.
Dolly Partners – Jaime’s – B-
Household Names – Red Eyed Fly – C
Oh, c’mon. I’m trying not to say it, but I just can’t help myself. Not anytime soon. There. You made me say it.
Goodnight Lovin’ – Beer Land – C+
They sounded exactly what you’d expect a band called Goodnight Lovin’ playing a venue called Beer Land to sound like.
Silent Years – Habana Calle (Annex) – B+
Note to self. Check out this band on CD.
Peter Elken – Habana Calle (Annex) – C+
He played the Nick Drake stage and looked like he was having a miserable time and asked the industry crowd to give him the attention people used to give Nick Drake.
Takka Takka – Habana Calle (Inside) – A-
Giving New York hipsters a good name.
The Fratellis – Habana Calle (Outside) – A+
Blame the crisp sound, the fact that they were sitting on a ground-level stage or the free vodka and grapefruit juice, but the British buzz band was more than a song in before I realized they weren’t playing a CD. I did think it was a little odd that they’d play a Fratellis CD before a Fratellis show, but they were just that tight. They were one of the buzzier acts of SXSW (along with Amy Winehouse, The Black Lips, Peter Bjorn & John, Cold War Kids and Lily Allen), but they quickly became my new favorite band. If you don’t have the CD, you’ve at least heard them on the latest iPod ads.
10-year-old* busking bagpipe player – 6th Street – A
She was amazing.
*I’m only guessing she was 10. My 8-year-old daughter is about as tall. But then my 8-year-old daughter is tall. But then it doesn’t matter if she was 12 or 48, the music was beautiful. And even if it’s not St. Angus’ Day, March 17 has to count for something.
Leo – A bar that had a bathroom – F
Terrible. But the bar had a bathroom, and I really had to use it. So I’m going to pass them with a D.
Lil Brick and The Buckaroos – another bar on 6th – B
Five guys with 300 years between them, covering “Johnny Be Good” on St. Patrick’s Day. Hell, make it an A.
Another band – another bar on 6th – C-
OK, I’m getting sloppy. I wasn’t going to go in until I heard them say from the stage that KCRW was their favorite radio station. And then the barkeep gave me crap for not wearing green. But I’m a Jackson, dammit. I’ve traced my lineage back to Longshanks, the asshole king from Braveheart. It’s my duty today to keep Jason down (OK, he’s a Killingworth, so not any more Irish than me, despite the giant tattoo). But I remember thinking all of this more than I remember this band.
Spin Alley – Dizzy Rooster – C-
Spontaneity is starting to let me down.
Green Mountain Grass – Sidewalk in front of the Driskoll – B+
Everything you could ask for in a local bluegrass band. They gave me a CD.
No Age – Fader Fort – F
The worst, least interesting, non-bathroom-related stop on my tour. They somehow got billed between The Good, The Bad & The Queen and Ladyhawk (who one of the Fader editors turned me onto two nights prior). I might not have made it through the first song had it not been for running into one of our freelancers and chatting through three more.
Mew – Cedar St. Courtyard – A
I left them off my buzz band list, but the fact that I couldn’t even get to the gate at the Filter party attests to their popularity. Fortunately, the sidewalk offered a great view and the Danes were indeed great.
So Mew put me over the top with 21. And I still got back in time for Kate Havnevik, James Walsh of Starsailor, Love Drug and Apollo Sunshine back at the Paste/Militia Group party at The Belmont. We were all in such a good mood we stayed for the venues change-over into Yuppie cocktail bar and talked while a house band did an admirable job with Buena Vista Social Club songs.
At the official portion of SXSW that night, I saw Midlake, Dash Rip Rock (mostly hoping to hear “Take the Bowheads Fishing), Antibalas and Girl Party. Thirty acts in one day, and the only one I’d ever seen before was Dash Rip Rock. A lot of walking, a few free drinks and some fun discoveries. It was a great way to end SXSW.