Alright, everyone, we’re back, after a whirlwind four-day trip to Austin for this year’s South By Southwest, and it was a success on many levels: Lauren saw the Dodos 50 times, I was able to watch the St. John’s game in its entirety, and we only just barely, from afar, were forced to see Rachael Ray. There are some other things we’d like to talk about, too, so let’s get to those.
The Efficiency With Which SXSW Runs Shit is Truly Astonishing
For all the talk you hear, and all the Tweets you read, about just how crazy everything at SXSW is, you’ve really got to tip your hat to the festival’s organizers for running such an impossibly tight ship. Their headquarters, at the Austin Convention Center, is run with militaristic precision, but is at the same time staffed by some of the most ridiculously pleasant people you’ll ever meet. It seriously doesn’t even make sense. In addition to that, walking the streets, you never really hear people complaining about the things that typically wreak havoc on such events—as far as official showcases go anyway, set times rarely change at the last minute, getting into things generally isn’t too much of a problem, and the volunteers stationed at each venue are helpful and not at all asshole-ish, a minor miracle considering the amount of assholes roaming the streets. (MC)
But, All That Said… It’s Just too Fucking Crowded
Prior to this year, the last time I attended SXSW was in 2007, and while the general idea is of course still the same, it’s seems to have grown by a solid 50% in that time. This has created some significant problems. For one, it is nearly impossible to get a cab, unless you find one very nice driver who will give you his card and come pick you up whenever you call. Second, though it’s long been joked about that SXSW is like spring break for the music industry, the vibe has shifted in a pretty serious way. Taking a stroll down Sixth Street, there’s basically no indication that you’re even at a music festival, as opposed to say, what I imagine Mardi Gras looks like. It seems like we’re fast approaching a point where the city of Austin just isn’t equipped to handle it. One has to wonder what they’re going to do about it. (MC)
And Really, the Unofficial Parties Might be Making Things Worse
It’s no secret at this point that you could easily take a trip to SXSW with neither a badge nor even a wristband, and still manage to have a very good time, and to have seen probably 90% of the most talked-about shows of the week. You’ll have a hard time arguing that things like Mess With Texas or the Pitchfork’s #Offline festival didn’t provide some great moments, and it seems like a certain amount of unofficial parties will always be allowed, but it also seems entirely possible that we’re coming up on a time when SXSW will begin to crack down on them a bit. It’s tricky, though, because even if SXSW as an organization stands to benefit by keeping all the best shows official, the city as a whole benefits regardless of whose banners are on the wall. You don’t need a badge to buy one million tacos, after all. (MC)
Is It Worth It for a Band to Play Nine Shows in Four Days?
The Dodos (along with Yuck and the Smith Westerns) probably played more shows than anyone during this year’s festival. Fresh off the release of their new album, No Color, they played 1pm slots and 1am slots; they played at churches, courtyards and everywhere in between—it was up to eight or nine gigs the last time I counted. Having caught one of their first shows, another somewhere in the middle, and then their very last, I can’t help but wonder if they had played, say, only five. Would all five have been as good as that middle one—the one where singer-guitarist Meric Long and drummer Logan Kroeber exerted every once of energy in a dark, tiny, sweaty venue, and a line formed around the stage at the end so people could them how much they loved it? Did they benefit all that much from playing three more? Are we at the point where bands are playing too much at SXSW? Is it really fair to them? Or to us? (LB)
Also, Why Does Everyone Just Goes to See All the Bands They Already Know?
Having gone out of our way to see bands like The Dodos, J. Mascis, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Okkervil River, we’re certainly guilty of this too, but it’s troubling that the spirit of discovery has gone missing during SXSW. Rather than trying to be turned on to something new, everyone seems more concerned with aligning themselves with something they’ve already established as cool. It’s worth asking—if the Pitchfork folks were so busy booking their own shows, with all the bands they already liked enough to book, and then sending their writers out to document all the other shows those same bands played, what did they, and in turn their readers, really gain from any of this? Not a whole lot, it would seem. There’s pressure on everyone else to behave similarly, too—at one point, I’d dedicated myself to walking around and simply popping my head in to see some bands I’d never heard of, but after a few duds (which at one point were considered par for the course at events like this), I began to worry if I was doing my job poorly by not standing in line to see James Blake or Odd Future. (MC)
Enough about All That, Though: Wild Flag is Awesome
I already wrote about this once before, but seriously, when these ladies finally get around to releasing a record, it’s going to be a really big deal. The energy is high, the hooks are surprisingly plentiful, and the musicianship is as genuinely affecting as it is technically impressive. (MC)
Sitting Down and Watching Bands Play in a Church Is the Way to Go
To sit down for more than 15 minutes at any point during SXSW is a luxury. To sit and see and bands you care about is almost unfathomable. It makes sense, then, that watching smoky voiced Sharon Van Etten from a balcony pew at Central Presbyterian Church was one of the most powerful experiences of the four days, but the real surprise at the Red Ryder show Saturday night was a Portland-based folk-pop outfit called Typhoon. Eleven members. Group choruses. Dual drummers who, if either one was even the slightest bit off, would ruin the whole song. A track that sounded like it could be the theme to the Olympics. Spiritual, anthemic, life-affirming. I’m listening to their MySpace page now, and it’s not doing their show justice. (LB)
Parts and Labor Deserve to Play on a Stage, but Will Kill, Even Without One
On Saturday afternoon, as the sun beat down on the shadeless patio outside Club Deville, Parts and Labor played a blistering set that put to shame whatever crappy band was playing on the venue’s proper stage out back. If you’re still sleeping on their new record, quit it. (MC)
$3 Tallboys Will Change Your Life, and Not Necessarily for the Better
I really don’t feel well, you guys. (MC)
At Least One, and Probably More, of This Year’s “8 NYC Bands You Need to Hear” Were There.
Just saying. (MC)
Okkervil River’s Will Sheff Has Become a Hell of a Performer
I caught the band’s last performance of the festival, on Saturday afternoon at… oh god, I don’t even remember where, and they had the crowd going bananas, even despite playing mostly songs from their new record, which I don’t even think has leaked yet. Sheff has adopted this new, almost preacher-like charisma, and it’s really working for him. (MC)
The Strange Boys Embody Texan Hospitality
“We live down the street,” was one of the first things out of frontman Ryan Sambol’s mouth when The Strange Boys took the stage at the Mess With Texas mini-fest on Saturday, setting the tone for what was to come. While it makes sense for their albums to be grouped alongside Southern party boys The Black Lips and Harlem—all shambling garage rock, each track irresistibly catchy and seemingly half-drunk—their set proved them as serious musicians, polite as could be. Scaling back on the lo-fi fuzz accented the songs’ bluesy, countrified undertones. They sounded loose, but not as though they were about to fall apart. Sambol addressed the crowd as “ladies and gentlemen,” played the harmonica, and passed around a water bottle to kids in the crowd. They’re good ol’ hometown boys playing good ol’ garage rock—very, very difficult not to like. (LB)
Wise Blood is Apparently a Rapper?
The answer, it would seem, is yes. The more I think about it, the bigger fuss I want to make about Wise Blood. Here’s a kid whose EP is chock-full of samples and dreamy synths, ever so perfectly in tune with current indie trends. Then, out of the blue, he takes the chants on songs like “B.I.G. E.G.O” and “Strt Srns” and goes a step further at the Windish party on Thursday, straight-up rapping like he’s about to combust. We knew that Odd Future would cuss, Deer Tick would sound drunk, and The Vaccines would nonchalantly play their guitars. Here’s a band that threw you for a loop, which was something nearly no one else did. (LB)
When You Play Your Instruments as Loud as Noise-Pop Trio Weekend, You’ll Stick Out
The varying wails that came from Weekend frontman Shaun Durkan at the Filter party on Friday afternoon—some sounding like he’s in pain, others sounding like a drawn-out version of “yaaay,” a few high-pitched and screechy, all of them cloaked in heavy reverb—don’t even begin to hit on the severity of the band’s sound. While the ever-so-quiet James Blake solidified his spot at the Biggest Deal of 2011, the San Francisco-based trio proved that volume and melody can also still cause goosebumps. (LB)