Noise: SXSW, too many bands

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Dennis Cabuco of the Guardian and Harold Ray Live in Concert!, signing in for a final SXSW posting. I had a blast during the final days of SXSW, so here's a quick account of my wanderings through Austin, Texas:

Friday afternoon

The North Loop Block Party took place in North Austin with three stages set up in parking lots between vintage shops, a record store, and a kink boutique. I had a few beers with friends and saw the following bands:

The Time Flys -- I see these guys often, but they definitely have tightened up since the time we all got drunk for a Cereal Factory show together.

The Cuts -- I also see these guys often. Gotta say, they still remind me a lot of the Cars. Yeah, I could see these guys and the Time Flys in SF, but there were a lot of other good bands (whose names I didn’t get) at the block party as well, and with three stages, there was no wait between bands. The audience was composed of nice, well-dressed people. I took some time out to check out all the cool shops and relax from the frantic urgency of seeing bands downtown.

The Nice Boys -- I didn’t know they were from Portland, and I didn’t know that one of the guys was in the Exploding Hearts either.

Dazzling King Solomon -- This band has a couple of members from the Nervous Exits. Awesome '60s rock. Crunchy.

I had lunch at Stubbs where I saw We Are Scientists, a threepiece that sounds a lot like the Killers.

Friday night

Ponderosa Stomp --- I went to the Continental Club, which was packed, to see Barbara Lynn tearing it up on guitar, playing a leftie strat. She is amazing player, and sings with a soul-stirring voice. I was very moved by her performance. Afterward, I saw Eddie Bo. I say again, Eddie Bo! No, he didn’t do “Check Your Bucket” or “the Thang”, perhaps because they didn’t have the original band to do it, but it was cool to hear him backed bt Little Band of Gold anyway. Archie Bell came up to school us on how to do the “Tighten Up”, which I never know how to do.

OK Go -- I watched most of their set on the big screen from outside of the Dirty Dog. It was at capacity, and they weren’t letting anyone else in. If only the industry dorks drinking by the window would leave so the fans could get in. They were oblivious to the amazing show taking place right behind them. I got in just before the last song and the “encore,” the "Million Ways" dance. If you wanna know what that is, you can watch the video on the OK Go website.

On my way up to the Fox and Hound to see Animal Collective, I took Fourth Street, which was blocked off for a St. Patty’s spring-break meat-market hoedown -- a block party packed with homogenous, drunken college folks. The good that came of that jaunt: I found out Brandi Carlile was playing at Cedar St. Courtyard, an outdoor patio with good sound. I’ll get back to that.

I made it to the Fox and Hound, which had a long line for Animal Collective. I was still in line when they started their set. The first number lasted about 10 minutes and went nowhere. It was the kind of music I’d hear at a club -- a beat, some record scratching, and no discernable melody. I just couldn’t get into it, so I took off in the middle of their second song, out to seek something with melody and harmony.

I fought the St. Patty’s revelers once more to get to the patio where Carlile was playing. She was getting a lot of praise from a pop music station in Austin, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. With a new album just out, she kicks off her first major tour with SXSW in Austin, and if the crowd was any indication of the response she’ll get on tour, it will be a success. It took a while to get the sound worked out as the crowd grew anxious, but we were rewarded with a professional show, and the sound was the best anywhere that evening. She did a couple of songs with a cello player. The bass and guitar players are twins. Brandi is a natural on stage and sings with a sweet sincerity that you can’t help but love. Her songs have universal themes with broad appeal, and it’s a pleasure to watch her perform.

When I left the Courtyard at about 2:00 a.m., the college crew had disappeared, leaving only the canopies, bad leprechaun decorations, and plastic cups littering the street. I walked along Sixth Street to find that the spring-breakers had spilled out to mix with the SXSW crowd, and it was mayhem. People were yelling into their cell phones looking for parties. I witnessed some groping, some drama, and a girl sporting red flashing LEDs on her nips, highlighting her 38D bustline. She should meet up with the guy who had a scrolling LED belt buckle.

Saturday afternoon

I went to Cream Vintage for a show in their back parking lot. The fans were undaunted by the rain as petite blonde Annie Kramer played her set. She was joined by A FirJu Well, who backed her up for a few songs. We sang along to “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” as the PA cut out because of the rain. If the Grateful Dead kept playing '60s stuff throughout their career, they might’ve sounded like this. These guys obviously hang out and play music all the time -- they were so comfortable backing others and improvising through technical difficulties.

Saturday night

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I got to Zona Rosa to see Morningwood midset, and they were excellent. See them live if you get a chance. I was convinced to stay and see the Stills by a fan named Rene. She gave me a quick rundown on the band’s background and their songs as they played. They had great energy, keyboards, harmonies, and danceable songs. I couldn’t tell what was old or new, but I liked it all. Emily from Metric made an appearance to do a new song with them, which she had just learned in their tour bus on the way fom Canada.

I took a cab over to the Continental Club to see Andre Williams. It was nice to see him, but most of the good tunes, like "Rib Tips," are practically instumentals. For this, the band makes all the difference. The Continental Club was packed, and it had a party atmosphere, but the music was nothing like what I heard on the recordings. I know Williams is also a good keyboardist, so I was disappointed that he didn’t strut his stuff on organ. I left after about five songs and took a cab back to Red River Road.

I ran into my new friend Rene while at at Emo’s Annex to see a fun indie band called I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness. One song, “Your Worst Is the Best” reminded me a bit of Death Cab for Cutie. I went to the Velvet Spade for a drink and to say hi to the Nervous Exits (whom I had missed at 10 p.m.). I went upstairs to see the stage where my band played our first SXSW two years ago. They had a tent around the outdoor patio this time. I heard some good R&B and looked up to see a guy who looked like he should be in a '70s rock band singing and shaking his head while hammering a Hammond XB2 and a Fender Rhodes. John and the drummer Van make up the Black Diamond Heavies from Nashville belting out some heavy blues rock with no guitarist!

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I left on my way to Stubbs to see the Pretenders, but was distracted by some good music coming from Club DeVille. The doorperson told me it was the Cribs. I walked up to the stage and ended up staying for their whole set, riveted by their performance. Hailing from England, this threepiece reminds me of the Jam and early Green Day. It’s refreshing to see a young band so into their music. They were also tight and well-rehearsed. The guitarist knocked over his Orange amp during their final song, the drummer knocked over his set, and the bassist left his amp oin to feedback as they exited the stage. I missed the Pretenders, but heard it was a great show.

My last hoorah was the super-exclusive, invite only, no-getting-in-without-a-special-pass, Vice Magazine Party, attended by hundreds. I arrived at the Blue Genie in East Austin just in time to see Wolfmother, who were amazing. Where do they get all that energy after playing (at least) four shows at SXSW? I stood right in front of the keyboard player to watch him use all his effects, which were duct-taped to the top of his XB-2, which of course had to be duct-taped to the stand for all that dancing around. This show was way loud, and they ended with the keyboard player leaving his rig sideways, effects looping with his amp on.

Probably the coolest people I met there were Sara Liss from Now magazine http://www.nowtoronto.com/minisites/sxsw/2006/
and her friend Melanie. We compared notes of our SXSW experiences while we sipped mixed drinks made with Phillips vanilla whiskey. Wierd! Yummy though.

My last, last hoorah was Fuzz club for a pcyched out 60’s night at Beerland on Sunday night where the Mojo Filters played a tight set.

Sunday evening, I saw a much more subdued Austin, catching its breath from the biggest party of the year. Besides SXSW, there were also roller derbies and a rodeo. This is the most hectic week Austin experiences, and I’m sure a lot of the natives are glad it’s over. It was raining as a thunderstorm pulled in, but still relatively warm. I will miss Austin and will likely come back next year.

With an overwhelming number of bands playing at the same time, it was inevitable that I would not get to see everyone I wanted to see, so here's a partial list of other bands I wish I saw:

The Noisettes
Mates of State
Of Montreal
Metric
Film School
Allen Toussaint
Rock and Roll Soldiers
Persephone’s Bees
DMBQ
Seventeen Evergreen
The Nervous Exits
Gris Gris
Drunk Horse
Morrisey
the Pretenders
the Charlatans

Thanks, Amy for being such a gracious host, and for taking me to the best Mexican restaurant in Austin.