Saturday, March 24, 2012

SXSW 2012 - A Gathering of Vibes

To sum up the SXSW experience – we saw 50 performances over 4 days and that wasn’t nearly enough. By breaking the SXSW cardinal rule, we still (if only slightly) fretted because we still didn’t get to see another 50 – those we missed included Alejandro Escovedo, Amanda Shires, American Aquarium, Archie Powell & The Exports, Beaver Nelson,  Billy Joe Shaver,  Brendan Benson, Buxton, Cloud Nothings,  Cuff the Duke, David Mayfield Parade, Delta Spirit, Dum Dum Girls, Ed Sheeran, Erik & The Happy Thoughts,  Frank Turner, Free Energy, fun.,  Girls, Horse Feathers,  Imagine Dragons, Jack White, James McMurtry, Jimmy Cliff, Joe “King” Carrasco, John Doe,  Kelly Willis, Lee Fields & The Expressions, Lissy Trullie, Luluc, Mumford & Sons, Nada Surf, Nick Waterhouse,  Nikki Lane, Of Monsters and Men,  Ruthie Foster, Sleigh Bells,  Strange Boys, The Bellefuries,  The Gourds,  The Honeydogs,  The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Kopecky Family Band, The Lumineers,  The Staves, The War on Drugs, The Weeks, Todd Snider, Tristen and Two Gallants.

The best thing about SXSW – music is everywhere - just like Elvis. And I mean everywhere  - in pizza joints, in parking lots, on patios, in hotel lobbies, in upscale bars, in crappy dives, in houses turned venues, in an old Spaghetti Warehouse, on the street and even on top of bus cruising downtown Austin – any possible space you can cram a band, they cram a band. For you Philly folks, imagine sealing off South St and 2nd St in Old City and jamming a band into every nook and cranny available. Plus add in all the venues in Fishtown and University City, simmer with some Greek Week and Spring Break hoopla, and you start to get a feel of SXSW mania. Couple that with warm weather and a beer in your hand for 12 hours a day and you reach a state of suspended fanimation – the only buzzkill was that we had to stop to sleep and eat.  Not to mention the March Madness bonus – which featured a brutally quick exit for Michael’s Missouri Tigers but a wonderful 48 hours for the Lehigh Mountain Hawks.

As I stated earlier, a SXSW cardinal rule is don’t worry about what you are not seeing. But it’s almost impossible as it seeps out of every crevice, with every 10 steps bringing a new, fleeting sound.  Two years ago, my SXSW traveling bud (let’s call him V as he either craves anonymity or is ashamed to be associated with me… probably the former) were strolling home from an afternoon party when we passed a tiny, darkened bar on San Jacinto and heard someone banging away on electric guitar that sounded a lot like Billy Bragg. And with good reason – it was Billy Bragg himself playing an industry invite-only shindig to a barely interested room of journalists and scenesters. Nothing quite that serendipitous this year, but we definitely stumbled onto a few nice surprises.  Here are some highlights and lowlights from the week:
Highlights – Even though we missed them for the Consequence of Sound day party, Brooklyn’s noise punk ravers The Men pulverized the crowd with a breathless aural assault of a thousand jackhammers. Unfortunately the vocals were a cacophonic, ear bleeding din, but the guitar blitzkrieg was blinding and exhilarating. England’s Dry the River stately, grandiose “big” music sounded like what Radiohead might sound like if they were still a rock band instead of an art project and then mated with Fleet Foxes.  Ben Kweller’s Texas pop was an afternoon delight and we ended the night with the mighty Titus Andronicus, who tore up Bar 96, validating their current King of Rock standing and nodding to their classic rock roots with an amped up cover of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town”. Bonus points to Bar 96 for being a block from our crash pad.
Lowlights – the generic, anthemic rock of The Apache Relay provided swells but no swell songs and Phosphorescent’s main man Matthew Houck seemed unprepared and unironically prophetic when he began his solo set by saying he “wasn’t exactly going to get this party started”. Also, after 5 minutes of whistling and fiddling about, we decided to fly the coop for (from?) Andrew Bird.
Moments to savor – Ben Kweller’s sublime “Penny on the Train Track” and Titus Andronicus’s majestic “A More Perfect Union”, still the leader in the clubhouse for song of the decade.
Also Got to See - the charming indie girl pop of Tennis, the angular Britpop of New Cassettes and the alt country lilt of husband and wife led The Mastersons.

Titus Andronicus - "A More Perfect Union" (from The Monitor)
The Men - "Candy" (from Open Your Heart)
Ben Kweller - "Penny on The Train Track" (from Ben Kweller)

Up Next... Day Two.

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