Monday, March 17, 2008

My South-by-Southwest

I went to SXSW in Austin, TX for the first time this year. Here’s what happened.

My buddy Will and I arrived late. There was supposed to be a dance celebrating spring break at the end of our school day on Friday, and I was going to take off early from school so we could get up to Austin in time to see Basia Bulat at 9 PM, followed by the famed Vampire Weekend at 11. However, at 1:30, the power went out in our school, the dance was canceled, and Mr. Little Gun was stuck in a non-air-conditioned room with 22 13 year olds who haven’t all gotten behind the idea of deodorant just yet.

After being released at 4, we made the best time we could, but didn’t get to Austin until 11. Apparently Vampire Weekend is a popular band, because when we got there, there wasn’t a seat to be had. So we focused our attention on the 12 o’clock shows. At 12 we checked out the White Rabbits. I found the White Rabbits to be very legit. First, they have 2 drummers with full kits on stage, which is usually a positive. They also feature a keyboard, another positive. The band sounds a bit like the Cold War Kids, only with vocals that don’t soar as high as Nathan Willet’s. You can check out their whole album at their website. If you don't have time to listen to the whole album, listen to "While We Go Dancing;" in my opinion it's far and away their best song. If you like the Cold War Kids or The Walkmen, I’m betting you’ll like these guys. (side-note: I always enjoy when random band members walk around stage during songs banging on random percussion instruments…this band does that. 2nd side note: I’m hoping that a lot of you have never heard of the White Rabbits of The Walkmen so that I can sound really edgy by comparing a band you’ve never heard of to another band you’ve never heard of.)

After the White Rabbits, we caught Blitzen Trapper, out of Portland, OR. They were good, but not awesome. Their music was kind of bluegrass/psychadelic/rock/jam-band-leaning-ish, if that makes sense. Requirement for being in the band was that you had to have an unkempt beard; unless you’re the lead singer. The next day we met the bassist downtown, and he was a really cool guy…he was a big fan of my hold steady t-shirt…apparently they’ve opened for them…propers. The title track of their album "Wild Mountain Nation," is ridiculously good.

Before I move on to day two, let me explain SXSW real quick. First of all, its absolutely nuts. Walking down sixth-street at night you’re not sure if there are a lot of people out having fun, or if the world is ending. You can’t walk without knocking into someone. People are banging drums and dancing in the street, and there is loud music emanating from every bar you pass. There were 1,700 (I think) bands in Austin this year, and there is live music in just about every bar in town. Most places will charge a cover, but the max cover is about $15 dollars, so conceivably you can pay $15 dollars to get into a bar at 7 and watch ridiculously good live music by some very legit bands until 2.

On Day 2, that didn’t exactly happen with me. We got up a little too late and missed Paste 4 to Watch artist Lightspeed Champion. However, we did make it to The Whigs show at 1:00 PM (no cover). The Whigs are a power-trio that pretty much play straight rock n’ roll in the same vein as the Replacements. They rocked pretty hard, and I thought they were good, but I don’t see myself buying their album. After The Whigs I took a long hiatus to drive my buddy to the airport, go for a run, take a dip in Barton Springs, and enjoy some Texas craft brews before the big event of the night: M. Ward, followed by Jim James of My Morning Jacket (side note: if you don't own MMJ's Acoustic Citsuoca you's beautiful), playing at St. David’s Church. So excited was I for this show that I got to the church an hour beforehand, so I’d be sure to get in. As it turned out, others had a better idea than I did and I was about an hour too late. By the time I got there, they were only letting you stand in line if you had a wristband (which costs lots of money) or a badge (meaning you were “in the industry.” Apparently my KTTU press credentials didn’t cut it). As a pretty sweet consolation prize, I caught Okkervil River at Stubbs (awesome venue). After that I got turned away from the Dirty Dog (wrist bands and badges) who had the Tokyo Police Club on at 1am, and then Buffalo Billiards (same) who had Sea Wolf on at 1am. So then I caught up with some friends at Latitude, which featured exclusively acts from the United Kingdom. I caught a British band called Scouting For Girls, with hits like “James Bond,” which featured the chorus “I wish I was James Bond/JUST FOR A DAY!” Awesome. After that I wondered over to B.D. Riley’s where through the windows I caught part of the show by a promising sounding band from Chicago called Bound Stems. If you clicked on what I just had you click on, listen to "Excellent News Colonel." It sounds like a Bright Eyes track off of Noise clearly JTR won't be clicking that link. Check out their website, and click on South to get more favorable reviews. Anyway, next time I’m in Chicago I’m definitely going to see if they’re playing; a lot of energy.

And that was my SXSW

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