As expected, following around two bands and hitting up all of their showcase and day party performances took up almost all of my time at SXSW. Since I didn't have a lot of leeway to wander around and bounce between venues, whenever there was any free time, I just went straight for the self-indulgent favorites that I circled on my itinerary. Because of this fact, I couldn't begin to report a comprehensive overview of this year's festival, but like most, I still came home with a slew of random stories from my time in Austin. For starters, I didn't end up catching a lot of new hype bands like Peter Bjorn & John, Cold War Kids and Midlake but did end up seeing performances by Donovan (yes, that Donovan), John Doe (X) and Perry Farrell (Janes Addiction) with Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme)!?! I also watched Badly Drawn Boy while standing behind the lead singer of Starsailor?!? For a second there, I thought I had been transported to the year 2001...
Wednesday - Day One
I caught a blurb on Brooklyn Vegan (sorry, can't the specific post now) saying that everyone was crabby on Wednesday and I couldn't agree more. I didn't notice it so much with other people, but I sure as hell was dragging ass and could not snap out of it. Lack of sleep (6:30a flight), insane humidity and a rotating trifecta of cheap beers (PBR, Lone Star, Shiner) did not mix well. Despite the stupidly early flight, I still wasn't able to get all checked in and over to the Metro 25th Anniversary party until after 2p. In addition to probably feeling a little stress from already being behind schedule, Emo's was also not the most comfortable of venues to get settled in at. The perpetual misty rain turned the half indoor/half outdoor venue into a stanky shithole that was obnoxiously stuffy inside and obnoxiously wet and muddy outside. Obviously I caught the set from Office, and later caught Catfish Haven, but that was about it...just couldn't get into anything for more than a song or two because the poor conditions (well, that and I can't stand The M's or The Redwalls).
However, I was able to later briefly find salvation at the local Presbyterian Church, which for some reason was tapped as a venue this year (did they actually run out of bars?). Donovan kicked things off here, and as if seeing a psychedelic icon from the 60s perform at a new music festival wasn't weird enough, seeing him play in a church with a giant cross as a backdrop made it all the more bizarre. It turned out to be a great show though, Donovan still sounds great and he played all the hits..."Sunshine Superman," "Hurdy Gurdy Man," "Mellow Yellow," "Season of the Witch" and more.
Thursday - Day Two
Amazing what a little sun, sleep and Whataburger can do for your spirits...felt like a completely different person on Thursday and was finally able to really enjoy myself. It also was probably the least weird of the days as well. Things kicked off at the Schubas day party across the river (or is it a lake??) on South Congress. Besides having an amazing line-up, it was also at this great outdoor space where bands played in a small festival tent. It wasn't a real venue, or hardly even a "space" at all. It was essentially just a tent in a back alley behind a storefront. Weird yes, but quintessential Austin, and I ended up having a great time here. (of course the unlimited free beer and energy drinks didn't hurt matters either) Even did a little shopping for Western wear with the 1900s up the street at Allens boots.
I later darted back downtown for a little backstage quality time with Office before their soundcheck at The Ritz and then caught El-P at Buffalo Billiards for a live radio set and interview for 89.3 The Current. I know they manage to mix in a decent amount of underground hip-hop on The Current (though I swear 9 times of 10 it turns out to be Atmosphere), but I was still rather surprised to see El-P on their schedule; at the very least for the fact that probably 90% of his songs are nowhere near FCC friendly. Before they went live, he did get a reminder from a Current staffer to keep things radio friendly and, like any good hip-hop artist, Producto mockingly repeated the warning to the audience. I think he edited himself during the first song, but during the first part of the interview he totally left an F-bomb fly accidentally. It was hilarious because he made such a big deal about it beforehand, and because it really was a sincere accident. As soon as he said it, he made a Homer Simpson "doh" face and repeatedly hit his forehead against the microphone. I can't imagine with an El-P live performance that they wouldn't have someone back in the Minneapolis studio with their finger firmly planted on the delay button, so I'm guessing it didn't actually get on the air though. However, it was still rather amusing.
Thursday night brought another Office performance, their official slot on the Scratchie/New Line showcase. The plan was just to hang out all night and observe any post-show Office hijinks with their new label mates, but the venue had this awful L.A. rock club vibe and Robbers On High Street (who followed Office) were boring as hell. So, I bailed and went for another self-indulgent pick, Sparklehorse headlining the Astralwerks showcase. The show was great and at the time it seemed like a great decision over staying at the Ritz to watch Albert Hammond, Jr., though it appears that I did, in fact, miss some of those post-show hijinks that I had hoped to document.
Friday - Day Three
I did sneak over to watch Peter Buck and Robyn Hitchcock at the Yep Roc day showcase, but otherwise Friday pretty much consisted of hanging out at the Fader Fort during the day and Stubb's at night. This was where the aforementioned Starsailor spotting took place, which amused me purely for the randomness of it. Yeah, there was also Har Mar Superstar walking around in his underwear and countless other artists and industry big wigs lurking about, but I totally wanted my picture taken with Starsailor guy. Unfortunately, much like the recent El-P and Diddy pic controversy, I didn't think anyone would actually understand that I wanted it purely for mocking purposes. I did end up seeing Amy Winehouse here, who was probably the only artist that I saw during the whole festival that had any real current hype value. She did more of a daytime-friendly low key set with just an acoustic guitar accompaniment, but even considering the setting, her performance seemed a bit robotic. The voice was there, but I wasn't feeling much else.
After the Fader party closed up, most of 1900s crew were heading over to see Andrew Bird at Stubb's so I decided to join them since I was going there later anyway to see The Good The Bad And The Queen. Sometimes with local bands at a festival like SXSW, it seems silly to make a point to see them because you can catch them anytime back home. However, I was glad I checked out Bird at Stubb's because the sound was amazing and it was a welcome anecdote to the stale Winehouse performance. Things got decidedly weird after this though. Following Bird was Perry Farrell with yet another post-Jane's band project, Perry Farrell's Satellite Party. All I can say is that it was awesomely bad...I honestly don't know how else to describe it. The music was pretty mediocre, but with Nuno Bettencourt rocking the guitar in front of two giant Marshall stacks and Perry bombastically working the crowd and strutting around in his glittery silver pants, it was amusing to watch at least.
Up next was the second unintended Badly Drawn Boy viewing of the day. Oddly enough, I would almost describe it as the weirdest performance I saw during the festival. Since I last saw Damon Gough about 6-7 years ago, he seems to have turned into a complete diva. Throughout the entire set he seemed to be bitching about one inaudible sound problem or another back to the sound guys and at one point he even pulled a Chan Marshall and started and stopped a song about 3 or 4 times before finishing. He even did the cliched rock star moves of reaching out to shake the hands of audience members and climbing on top of the PA speakers while singing.
Now here's the really weird part...I was on a balcony to the right of the stage so when he climbed on the one side of the PA, I got out my camera to take his picture because he was so close. I was shooting with my old 35mm and since I was rushing to get the shot before he jumped off, I forgot to wind the film. It seemed like he was looking right at me, but as soon I hit the shutter and it didn't go I thought for sure that I had missed my chance. However, he didn't budge and kept looking into the camera! I did a quick wind, snapped a picture and then he turned away to work the crowd some more. It was so weird...I think he actually waited for me to get his picture! He turned right after the flash went off. What a diva! I don't know what happened to this guy. The Hour of the Bewilderbeast was amazing, but since then he's turned into a lame pop-singing arsehole.
The night did end off normal though, with The Good The Bad And the Queen putting together a tight performance as expected. However, to add to one last random note from the night, apparently at some point during all of this Tom Morello played solo downstairs on a small stage in the back of the restaurant?!? I have no clue...but Rory did get his picture.