South By Southwest 2008, Austin, TX: March 10th–14th By Federico

At this point in my life, I guess, I am mostly over music festivals. There are still some that I wouldn’t mind checking out, but, generally speaking, these days I find three bands on a bill to be plenty. Thus even though I knew there were going to be loads of good bands playing in Austin for SXSW, I wasn’t super keen on going. Also, I assumed there would be a lot of music industry people there, which wouldn’t definitely or always be a bad thing, but it is not something I’m terribly interested in. I am happy when bands can forge good relationships with labels and I wouldn’t assume that’s impossible with major ones, but I still feel more comfy with and more supportive of more DIY endeavors.

However, that being said, I thought about going to SXSW because I’d never been before (and I’m down for trying many things at least once, preferring to forge my opinions via first hand experience when possible).My old roommate has a place in Austin now; so, I had a free place to stay. My good Kiwi friend, who currently lives in London (so I don’t see her very often), was going to be there, and I could use miles to get there (can’t beat a flight that comes to a grand total of $25). Plus, I love warm weather. Finally, at the end of February, I decided to go.

The actual SXSW festival (http://sxsw.com/)— which I should mention here also has a film aspect to it, although I didn’t experience any of that at all—runs from March 13th–16th, but I arrived on the 10th. Austin is a city known for its music, regardless of the festival. I figured there would probably be something of interest happening the two days before the real start of the festival that I might want to check out, that I could use the opportunity to catch up with my friends, or see the legendary bat colony of Austin. As it tuned out, there was a Black Flag cover / tribute band called Nervous Breakdown (one of my all time favorite Black Flag songs) playing on the 10th. The flyer said the band would be made up of Zach Blair from Rise Against (guitar), Frank Carter from Gallows (vocals), Mike Herrera from MXPX (bass), and Luke Abbey from Gorilla Biscuits (drums). Unfortunately, it turned out that Frank Carter from the Gallows wasn’t there, which was a bummer because my friend and I love the Gallows and were psyched to see him, but that’s the way it goes. Vocal duties were thus shared by numerous different guys. My favorite was probably the first guy, who apparently does not even normally sing, but plays bass. He had the most Keith Morris-y type of voice, and I was down with that. I thought he did a really good job. I also liked the guy who sang “My War,” as that was a tough one and apparently he’d only been asked to do it about fifteen minutes prior to getting on stage. I’m sorry to say that I don’t know any of the singers’ names. I was disappointed (but not surprised) that there weren’t any women in the band (and this would actually often be the case with much of the music I saw while I was there).

Regardless, the band played all the (non)hits and it was pretty fun. Of course, it wasn’t the same as seeing Black Flag, but it was still a good time and, I thought, a smashing way to start the week.

Oh, there were three other bands that played with Nervous Breakdown— Tumbledown, True Widow, and the Mag Seven but none of them turned my crank too much. I liked the Mag Seven (http://www.myspace.com/themagseven) the best. They played punkish instrumentals that tended towards surf. They were good, especially after they got warmed up. I might like True Widow ((http://www.myspace.com/truewidow) as some background music at home. They weren’t bad, just kind of long and slow. Sometimes the vocals and the guitar reminded me of The Jesus And Mary Chain, but it didn’t get as weird or distorted. For me, it was sleepy. Tumbledown (http://www.myspace.com/tumbledowncountry) played acoustic songs that were kinda country-ish. I have to say that the singer, although someone who seems very nice, talked alot in between songs. Maybe he could ease up on that a bit. Perhaps he was nervous, or maybe he’s just a talkative guy.

The next day I didn’t have much on the agenda. I should mention here that there are literally hundreds and hundreds of bands that play in Austin for SXSW, from all over the world and in all different genres. Before heading to Austin, I’d checked out the list of bands that they had on the SXSW website and I didn’t know who probably 99% of them were. Okay, maybe 98%. Anyway, I’d tried to do a little bit of research about bands that were listed in the punk, hardcore, and experimental genres (although I was quite open to checking out bands from other genres as well), and even just about bands that I thought had interesting-sounding names, but I didn’t dedicate much time to that. I barely scratched the surface in terms of what was actually available. I’d say, for that reason, I didn’t see as many new (to me) bands as it might have been cool to.

The way it’s set up is that they have day shows and night shows. Day shows usually ran from around 11 AM – 6 PM (although there were sometimes “breakfasts” that would start even earlier). Night shows would start around 6:30 PM and go to 1 or so in the morning. The bands never played very long sets, usually only about thirty or forty minutes. I have to remark that I was quite impressed with how closely the shows I went to stuck to their schedules. The time between bands (breaking down and setting up) was really short.

There are zillions of clubs / bars there that probably always have live music, and many that I assumed made room for bands to play just for the occasion. A lot of the action seemed to be taking place on 6th Street, which was (along with some of the streets around it) closed to car traffic during the festival. (I actually learned later that 6th Street is closed down every weekend because there is a big university population in Austin and I guess lots of college students head over to that area to get crazy on the weekends.) I thought it was pretty cool that the streets were closed to cars (although the pedestrian traffic got ridiculously crowded at times), but I figured it might have been quite a pain for some of the bands that were playing multiple shows right in a row at different venues, which many bands were, to get their equipment moved around. A disgruntled friend of mine who played a couple shows in the festival did tell me that traffic cops were being pretty generous with the parking tickets, which was apparently a big headache for his band.

So, you could basically just walk down 6th Street and hear lots of different bands playing at the same time. If you didn’t have anywhere you wanted to be, you could actually just stroll around with your ear cocked until you heard something that struck your fancy, and then go check it out. Generally speaking, I would say that I didn’t run into too many instances where one band playing was interrupted by another band playing very nearby, but I wouldn’t say it never happened. I know that at the New Zealand Party, which was happening at the same time as the Japan Party and was right next to it, two bands were kind of backed up against each other (with only make-shift staging in between them, no real walls). I am sure that the singer from one of the Kiwi bands could not hear herself very well because of the band playing behind her. That was unfortunate (not to mention kind of silly). It was perhaps an indication that someone (who, exactly?) could have taken it easy a bit and not felt the need to smoosh so many bands into the course of just a few days.

Fortunately for me, it seemed like most of the bands I wanted to see were at clubs (Emo’s, Red Seven, Red Eyed Fly, Beerland, Beauty Bar, Stubbs, etc.) that were very close to each other (a couple of blocks apart), although it seemed that, in general, nothing was terribly far away. I did a lot of walking back and forth there. Also, a lot of the clubs / bars had inside / outside stages so you could check out one band outside and then go in for the next one. The trick was to try to figure out your schedule in the morning (or at least a general idea of a schedule), because, of course, a lot of cool bands played at the same time and you had to decide who you wanted to see the most. Also, I noticed that in many cases the bands on a specific bill might not seem like bands that would be playing together in a different setting. Like at the Nervous Breakdown show, as I mentioned, the second band was pretty slow and droney. It didn’t seem to make sense that they were playing with a band doing Black Flag covers, but a lot of the shows I saw ended up being like that. You couldn’t go, “Oh, Paint It Black is playing. The rest of the bands at that show must be hardcore or somewhere close to it,” because that would not be the case. I thought that actually made things a bit more interesting.

I would also like to mention here that there are badges and wristbands that you can buy for SXSW, but, luckily, my old roommate had informed me that was totally unnecessary. I wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t learned that because the badges cost hundreds of dollars. Sure, it allows you to get into anything, but pretty much every show I wanted to see was free and totally unconcerned with whether or not you had a badge or wristband to begin with. In fact, a few of the bars were actually pretty anti-SXSW (Beerland, for example) and specifically had signs at the door saying that you didn’t have to have a badge or wristband to get in. While I was in Austin, there were only two shows that I wanted to see that claimed to be badge / wristband only, but actually you could still pay to get in; so, it was pretty much just like going to a regular show back home. Those two shows were the Marked Men and the Mint Chicks. It was just very necessary for me to see them both (could I love Marked Men any more, really?). The only other show I paid for was the Nervous Breakdown one on the 10th, and that was only 5 dollars. I think that may have been because SXSW hadn’t officially started yet. If it had, it probably would have been free like every other show I saw there – including big bands like Motörhead and X (Yes! Total coup.).

So, the moral of the story (so far) is, if you feel like going to SXSW in the future, skip buying a badge or a wristband. It’s totally not worth it unless you’re planning to go to the Convention Center where all the booths and stuff like that are set up. If you are there just to see shows, it’s not necessary. Plus, I think that if you’re playing a show, you automatically get a badge. Handy! (Oh! My friend also told me that if you’re housing a band that’s playing a show (i.e., they’re crashing in your living room or whatever) there’s some benefit as well… maybe you get a wristband for that also. Can’t remember exactly.)

So okay, let’s get back to it. Tuesday the 11th, I went to meet my friends at some bar on 6th Street and as I was crossing the street, I saw this guy playing guitar on the sidewalk about half a block down. He looked familiar. He sounded familiar! I headed over there to check it out and, sure enough, it was Mr. FranciscoFernandez, a man that I recognized from the many times I have seen him play guitar at the 16th Street Mission BART  Station in San Francisco. What a coincidence! He is one of my all-time favorite metro musicians. I just love his voice! It is so loud and gorgeous! He plays guitar and sings in kind of a rock/rockabilly style, with maybe a bit of blues in there as well. Lots of fierce strumming going on. He’s in a band called The Ferocious Few (http://www.myspace.com/ferociousfew) that I’ve been wanting to check out for awhile but have yet to see. Anyway, I thought it was funny to see him there (out of all the people, and loads of street musicians). If you ever see him playing in San Francisco, you should stop to check him out (and give him a buck or two)!

Later that day, my friend and I went and checked out the Cancer Bats (http://www.cancerbats.com/) from Toronto, Ontario, and Municipal Waste from Richmond, Virginia. Very fun. I’d only heard a few Cancer Bats songs before seeing them; so, I wasn’t very familiar with their stuff, but my friend, who super loves them right now, said that they sounded a bit different than they did on their recordings. She didn’t think it was bad, just different. They’re a heavy band and seemed to me more metal than punk/hardcore, although they do mix the two up pretty frequently.

Municipal Waste (http://www.facethewaste.com/) was just a ridiculous good time. I actually didn’t even know they were still together. The show was a surprise to me. Maybe they’re doing a reunion thing? Anyway, I was expecting a big pit and a bit of craziness, and I wasn’t disappointed. The crowd was very excited and enthusiastic, and Municipal Waste played great, fast thrash songs with absurd names like “Beer Pressure.” People hung from the rafters and dropped into the crowd, and one guy kept sailing off the stage into the crowd on a boogie board (kind of funny the first time, not so much after that). The band took a volunteer from the crowd and brought him on stage to see if he could drink faster than Municipal Waste could (a beer bong helped). Totally absurd. It was super fun.

After Municipal Waste finished, I popped inside to check out Naked Raygun, as I really like their record Basement Screams and I’d recently seen a cool documentary called: You Weren’t There: A History of Chicago Punk 1977-1984, where they were prominently featured (you should check out that film if you get a chance!) and thus re-piqued my interest. Unfortunately, after Municipal Waste, they just weren’t doing it for me. They were too slow and not very animated. I may have come in at a low point (I only watched them for a short while), and perhaps I should have tried to see them again later in the week (not after Municipal Waste), but it didn’t happen.

On the 12th, things started picking up a bit. My Austin friend is a bit (okay, a lot) more indie than me; so, we started off the day by checking out this indie band called the Evangelicals. They weren’t, however, who she thought they were; so, we only stayed for one song. From there, we rolled over to see A Placeto Bury Strangers (aplacetoburystrangers.com) from New York. I’d checked them out online before going to Austin and thought they sounded interesting. They played in this cramped room at the Mohawk. I was pressed up against the wall next to a speaker. They were a bassist, drummer, and guitarist/vocalist. I loved watching the drummer get sweaty and ditch his sunglasses after just a few songs. They didn’t sound much like what I’d remembered from before (if you listen to them online, there is a lot of old Cure/ mid-Joy Division / early New Order / Jesus and Mary Chain-sounding guitar, and lots of effects and stuff), and that could have been because of where I was standing or the sound in general, but the third song really got me; it was excellent, great rhythm. We didn’t stay very long because my friend wanted to go back to Emo’s to check out These New Puritans. I didn’t mind leaving because I’d gotten a taste of a new band and that was what I wanted. If they’d been really killing me (and who knows, maybe if I’d stayed a bit longer they would have), I would have stayed through the end of the set.

Back at Emo’s, however, These New Puritans (thesenewpuritans.com) went on outside. They’re a British band, with a guitarist/singer, bassist/weird keyboard or sample or drum machine thing player, drummer, and keyboardist. The guys had clean school boy haircuts. The singer wore a weird shirt that seemed to be made up of gold leaves that made me think of a bird. The keyboardist was barely moving and did not display any outward signs of enthusiasm. I thought she was sleepwalking. They had what I tend to think of as a “British” sound (totally ridiculous classification, I’m aware) with a clear guitar that reminded me of Bloc Party. Not new wave exactly, not indie exactly. What do you call that? I’m not sure. Anyway, although I wasn’t blown away, I thought they were pretty good, but my friend, who’d up until that point been quite excited to see them, was disappointed by what she perceived as a lack of enthusiasm on stage. It caused her to put forth the theory that British bands are often times much less passionate and zealous on stage than say, U.S. bands, but I couldn’t really agree with her. I just feel like it really depends upon the band. I could think of a lot of British punk bands who get pretty excited about things while performing. Besides, I think that everyone is different and maybe people who are more shy or reserved don’t feel as comfortable really letting go on stage. Of course, it can be more fun, from an audience perspective, when the band is very animated, but I’ve got to give bands credit for just getting up there in the first place. If they don’t want to jump around, that’s their prerogative. Besides, I thought that out of These New Puritans, the only one who was super zombie-like was the keyboardist. The bassist was certainly moving and the drummer was working. I ended up liking them more than my friend.

From there, it was off to somewhere (getting a bit confused about the venues now – maybe Red 7?) to see Die! Die! Die! (diediedie.net) and some other bands. When we arrived this band Restaurant(http://www.myspace.com/restaurantmusic) from Victoria, Texas, was playing (by the way, the songs on their myspace page do not do them justice). I totally loved them! They were just two guys— one playing guitar and harmonica and singing, and the other playing drums and occasionally poking around on some kind of keyboard. The drum set was not made up of anything you’d find in your standard music store. The cymbals were made out of license plates. There was a cardboard box full of clothes that was mic-ed for the bass drum. A shiny metal wheel made a gorgeous, clear, piano-like sound when it was hit. The majority of other drum parts seemed to be some kind of wooden table. Not even the drumsticks were run of the mill! I thought that was fucking excellent. Seriously! It really went to show that you don’t need a bunch of money to go buy fancy equipment if you want to start a band. And they were rocking! Yes! Punk. They sounded kind of rock and kind of country and kind of rockabilly, and it seemed like they should be from Louisiana or something. Loved ‘em.

After Restaurant, we went outside to check out White Denim (whitedenimmusic.com), also from Texas. There was a big crowd and they put on a good show, but I wasn’t really into their style. It was interesting to me how different than Restaurant they were. I was not into the singer’s voice. I am trying hard to think of what it sounds like to no avail. Lenny Kravitz keeps popping into my head, although that may be an inaccurate comparison. Anyway, not my style. The guitar was sometimes kinda psychedelic and drew upon eastern influences and late ‘60s early ‘70s rock bands. I saw David Dondero (http://www.myspace.com/davedondero), an acquaintance, and talked to him for a minute. He’d played a show earlier in the day and said it went well. I enjoyed the sun beating warm on my face. I looked at a child on his dad’s shoulders and thought he should have been wearing ear plugs. I availed myself of some free “flavored water” (so ridiculous). When White Denim was done, we went back inside to see Die! Die! Die!.

They’re a band from New Zealand that I’ve seen a couple of times in the past. They seem to be constantly touring! They played a good show; the singer/guitarist jumped around and came out into the crowd and ran around a bit. Nobody tripped on the mic chord—always an achievement. To me, they sound kind of post-punk. I love their bass and drums, which usually seem more prominent than the guitar. I wasn’t surprised when I heard that they worked with Steve Albini on one their albums.

We left the club after they finished, and as we were walking past Beerland, we decided to pop in. It seemed like they had loads of garage shows happening during the week. Shortly after we arrived, the band the Black Hollies (theblackhollies.com), apparently from New Jersey, came on. At first I liked them—they had a nice garage sound and sometimes reminded me a little bit of the Kinks—but shortly after they began they seemed to diverge a little bit into something perhaps more jam or psychedelic, and they lost me. We didn’t stay long.  

Later that night, my friend and I ventured a bit outside the 6th Street mayhem over to the Longbranch Inn to see Easy Action (easyaction.org) and Dicky Moist and the OTC. John Brannon from Negative Approach and the Laughing Hyenas sings for Easy Action; so, if you’re familiar with them, you know there’s going to be some deep, commanding vocals. The music is relatively slow or mid tempo (way slower than Negative Approach but not as slow as Laughing Hyenas) and leans more heavily on rock than punk. Very bass-y. Dicky Moist is made up of guys from Queens Of The Stone Age, Kyuss, Butthole Surfers, and the Dwarves (I think that’s everybody!). Not sure if them playing in Austin was just a one-off or what (can’t find much info about them online). I thought they were sure to be interesting, but the first song didn’t thrill me. Things got a little better on the second song, but the friend I was with started feeling quite unwell, and, as I was a little tired at that point and not super into the band, we decided to call it a night.

On Thursday I think we started off the day with the Shout Out Louds(http://www.shoutoutlouds.com/). They’re from Stockholm (and it occurred to me at the time that I do love me some bands from Sweden, although the ones I like are usually quite a bit heavier), and they sounded really nice and pretty. Indie. Not my style too much, or at least not at that particular moment. I thought they sounded sweet, but I only watched a song or two before checking with my friend to see if she wanted to head out for something else.

She was down to do so, and suggested we try the Motörhead(http://www.imotorhead.com/) show. I’d had it on my radar, but figured that we wouldn’t be able to get in because it would be badges/wristbands only or because it would be too packed. She kind of felt the same, but suggested that it wouldn’t hurt to try; so, we headed over to Stubb’s to check it out. Although there was a long line, it moved pretty quickly, and before we knew it, we were happily ensconced inside the back area with Motörhead blaring away at the front. Stubb’s has a big outside space, and because we were at the back, we weren’t too overwhelmed with the voluminous wall of sound that can be a Motörhead show. My friend and I were both quite tickled that we’d made it in without any trouble— a free Motörhead show, out in the sunshine, drinking a beer. What could be better? Of course, the crowd went crazy when they played “Ace of Spades,” and I was delighted to see all the thumb, forefinger, and pinky symbols of metal around the world thrust into the air and pumping along with aggressive glee. Good one!

After Motörhead, we wandered down the street without having a specific destination in mind for that particular time. We stopped in a bar that we’d heard playing some heavy music previously and stayed for awhile to check out Pack of Wolves (http://www.myspace.com/packofwolvesband) from Texas. They seemed proficient, playing thrashy metal-type stuff, but they weren’t doing anything (original) for me, and we left after a few songs.

We continued to wander a bit and found ourselves on 6th Street at a bar that was giving out free corn on the cob. Delicious! Tall Corn Music (http://www.tallcornmusic.com/) was having a showcase and giving away corn, whiskey, T-shirts, and CDs. I love corn! We went in to get some, catching the very, very tail end of a set by Killroy( http://www.kilroyrock.com/). We weren’t there in time for me to even report back on what they sound like, although I would assume they fall somewhere in the “rock” category (helpful, right?!).

From there, we needed to head over to the New Zealand Showcase, as my friend had to manage the stage stuff. While I was there, I saw two songs by Pig Out! (http://www.myspace.com/pigoutfanclub) and a few by The Ruby Suns. Pig Out! has a couple of keyboard-type things and is dancey. They didn’t play long enough for me to say more.

The Ruby Suns (http://www.lilchiefrecords.com/therubysuns/s sounded to me kind of indie, with some world influence, but I only saw a few songs. I would be curious to hear more. This was the band (mentioned above) that had trouble hearing due to the band playing at the same time behind them. My friend said that they are usually much better (than how they played that day), and I wondered if it might have had something to do with the competing music.

The reason I only saw a few songs by The Ruby Suns is because I had to head over to the Swami Showcase. This was the show I’d be waiting to see all week: Dan Sartain, The Spits, and the Marked Men. I scurried over to Emo’s and became alarmed when I saw a sign on the door that said it was badge/ wristband only, but I talked (anxiously) with the door guy and he said I could go around the corner and buy a ticket. I’d been spoiled getting into so many free shows all week, but I certainly didn’t mind paying to see the Marked Men. (I’m, apparently, still not done with Fix My Brain— how long will I continue to be enamored??)

For those of you who haven’t been to Emo’s in Austin (and it was my first time there during SXSW), there are actually three entrances: Emo’s main, Emo’s lounge and Emo’s Jr. I think they’re all somehow connected, but I’m not absolutely positive about that. It can be confusing to a newcomer! When I went around the corner to get myself a ticket, there was a big line, and I started getting worried about not being able to get in, as this was what I had my heart most set on seeing, and I knew that everyone with a badge would get to get in first, regardless of how long the rest of us had been standing in line. I guess that’s what a person pays heaps of money for (when they purchase a badge), but, to me, it’s kinda gross.

I was also worried because it seemed like some people weren’t exactly sure they were in the right line, and everyone was trying to see different bands. (There were three different shows and lots of bands playing at each.) However, in the end my anxiety was for naught, as I got in soon enough, and in time to hear the Boss Martians, who I didn’t even know were playing.

I thought the Boss Martians (http://www.bossmartians.com/), from WashingtonState, were really fun. I’d never heard them before. They were tight and engaging. They play rock with some garage mixed in, and keyboards. One of the last songs they played was written with Iggy Pop (he performs on their new album). The singer, who I think has a good, natural voice, commented that it was great to work with him, but that he writes “really weird lyrics.” Anyone who’s ever read the liner notes to one of his albums or done a little Iggy karaoke knows that to be a true statement.

Next up was Dan Sartain (www.indian.co.uk/dansartain/) from Birmingham, Alabama. I’d seen Mr. Sartain a few years back and really loved him, and was not disappointed this time around either. He’s a rather slight man with a big guitar and a great voice, and plays kind of a rockabilly style with just a drummer to back him up.

After he finished, Marked Men (www.myspace.com/themarkedmen) came on and, of course, I was super excited. I had a spot just a few feet away from the stage and right in the middle, so I could hear all the love. Even though they didn’t play “Wait Here, Wait for You” or “Going Crazy,” I forgave them ‘cause it was an awesome show (and they’re playing in San Francisco soon enough where I can more easily try to cajole them into playing those songs). For those unfamiliar with Marked Men, they’re a four piece (bassist, drummer, and two guitarist / singers) from Texas. They play punk / power pop that is really pretty fast, with totally gorgeous and catchy rhythms. I think “Going Crazy” is one of the best heartbreak songs ever written. I was really happy that they came back and played two more songs after they’d supposedly finished their set. Lucky me!  

I’m not sure if The Spits played; I left after the Marked Men set. Although I was on that kind of great show high, I was getting kind of tired; so, I decided to call it a night. I should probably have stuck around for The Night Marchers, John Reiss’ (from Rocket From The Crypt) new band, but I will catch them in San Francisco in April.

Friday the 14th was to be my last day in Austin, and I wanted to make it a good one. It didn’t start off as I hoped. I had a little bit of work to do and had to wait (two hour time difference) to hear back from my office in San Francisco before I could head out, thus missing Jay Reatard. Had I not seen him a couple of times recently, I would have been a lot more upset about it, as I think Blood Visions is a totally amazing album. As it was, the first show I saw that day was a free Billy Bragg performance. So, I was happy.

Billy Bragg (http://www.billybragg.co.uk/) did a few songs for the Free Your Radio (http://www.freeyrradio.com/) broadcast, among them: “Old Clash Fan Fight Song,” “The Great Leap Forward,” and “Farm Boy,” which is off his new album, Mr. Love and Justice. I thought he sounded great, even though he was a little hoarse from having already played a few sets that week. He was very funny, cracking jokes with the sound guy as well as with the radio DJ, and, of course, he spoke about political matters (admonishing U.S. citizens about an exceedingly paltry voter turnout rate). Even though he didn’t play for long, I really enjoyed standing on a curb out in the sun (the warmest day I’ve gotten to experience in years!) and listening.

From there, my friend and I met up with our Austin hostess and headed over to see a band she wanted us to check out called Game Rebellion (http://www.myspace.com/gamerebellion) from Brooklyn, NY. They were playing in a small bar slightly outside the regular 6th Street drag, and it was pretty crowded. They had great stage presence and command. Both the singer and the guitarist went from the stage to the top of the bar to prowl around there for awhile. A largely hip hop band, they reminded me a ton of Rage Against The Machine (which they must get all the time). Although, when I was there, they also threw in a few faster parts à la Bad Brains (although not quite as fast). I was not super excited about the gun tattoos on the (extremely fit) singer’s chest, but I think his lyrics were of the progressive, socially aware style. I couldn’t understand everything he was saying and I couldn’t find any actual lyrics (online) afterwards, but cursory searches (along with what I could understand) lead me to believe that is the case. We watched a few songs and then headed back to 6th Street, where we hoped to pop in on the Legendary Shack*Shakers before making our way over to the Hot Water Music show.

I’ve seen the Legendary Shack*Shakers (http://www.cockadoodledont.com/) a couple times before but really wanted my friend to check them out because I think they’re so awesome. From the Tennessee area, they’re a four-piece band— guitarist, singer / harmonica player, (stand up) bass player, and drummer. They play rockabilly, I guess, although it verges into psychobilly and blues sometimes, and occasionally it sounds like some kind of house band at a warped Southern carnival. They can be creepy and weird. But fun! They pretty much just rock. Although I haven’t heard their latest album, in the past I’ve held the opinion that their recordings don’t measure up to their live show because they are just so excellent to see live. I believe Jello Biafra (who played on one of their albums) said that singer Col. J.D. Wilkes (who also does beautiful and amazing artwork for the band— lots of freakshow-type southern gothic stuff) was the best frontman he’s seen in recent times, which I wouldn’t find hard to believe given J.D.’s penchant for stopping fans (the ones that blow air, not the ones that watch shows) with his tongue, pulling chest and pubic hair off himself and flinging it into the crowd, and other such entertaining behaviors. Definitely a band to check out if they come through your neck of the woods!

Although we’d only caught the last two songs by the Shack*Shakers, by the time we made it to the Hot Water Music show, kids were streaming out the door and we knew we’d just missed it. Curses! They did, indeed, finish up a lot earlier than advertised. Oh well. It was a shame, but it was really hard to get to everything when there were so many bands playing.

We then decided to fortify ourselves with some Vietnamese food, and while we were sitting at the table, my friend did some most fortuitous eavesdropping on the people next to us and learned that X was scheduled to play later that night. Brilliant! One of my total favorite bands of all time, and always a good show. I was quite happy that we’d had the luck to hear about that.

Before the X show, we stopped off to see Hank IV(http://www.myspace.com/thehankfour), as they are a San Francisco band and I wanted to pay my respects. I think I’ve mentioned Hank IV in previous writings; they’re, I guess, a rock band, with some nice forays into punk (love the guitar in “I’m Quitting” and “Gotta Get It Straight” and also adore their new song, which I think is called “My Anger”) and occasional trippy kinda stuff. The singer is energetic and I love his jerky dancing, although it unfortunately grounded him recently because of a jump off the stage which left him in a leg brace from thigh to ankle.

Around 9 PM we headed over to the Convention Center and picked up free tickets, then got in line for the X (http://www.xtheband.com/index.html) show. It was a pretty long line, but once it got moving it was fine. They played in some weird, um, I don’t know what it was, really! I guess it was kind of just a big room or studio or something, one of many (I’m sure) in the Convention Center. They had a makeshift bar, and the lights were made to be like a club. We got in there right before they started and found ourselves a spot. Unfortunately, it was by this huge camera that this man constantly swung around in a half circle in order to record it for what I assume must have been some kind of television program or live stream or something (I say this because there was actually one giant camera and then other smaller ones attached to it, and you could look into a small screen at the bottom and see how it was panning across the stage and the audience, and it looked just like a TV show). It was only mildly distracting though, because, once they started playing, they were beautiful and I was just as happy as a clam.

Right before they started, the crowd was a little bit quiet, in anticipation I think, and some guy yelled out his request, clear as a bell, “We’re Desperate!” John Doe looked at him and said, “Get used to it,” and everyone laughed and it was great.

They did play “We’re Desperate,” and so many other excellent songs, including “The Hungry Wolf,” “The World’s a Mess It’s in My Kiss,” “White Girl,” “Los Angeles,” and “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene.” Tons of good songs because they have tons of good songs! As usual, Billy Zoom played with a beatific smile on his face, apparently barely even trying as he cruised through his amazing guitar work, and everyone else in the band was stellar as well. John Doe and Exene sounded like heaven together, and his bass playing was as rich and gorgeous as usual. DJ Bonebrake never missed a beat. They are just too good! I was super excited to get to see them again.

From there, like giddy school girls, we made our way over to Beerland to see River City Tanlines and some other bands I wanted to check out. Unfortunately, the place was packed, and they didn’t seem to be letting anybody in. We stood in line ten feet from the door for about twenty minutes, not moving a centimeter, and then decided to go over early to the Beauty Bar to see The Mint Chicks. I’d really wanted to see River City Tanlines, but figured if it was that packed inside it might not have been very fun anyway.

The Mint Chicks(http://www.themintchicks.com/) are formerly of New Zealand but recently became residents of Portland, Oregon. I love this band. They are kind of spazzy / powerpop / punk, and they were one of the other bands that I’d had my heart set on seeing while I was in Austin. It was the second badge-only show that I ran into, but it was fine since I could still buy a ticket to see them. They played behind the club in a parking lot that had been converted into a show area. There were only three of them, which I think is a new line up— I understand that their bassist moved to England when the rest of them moved to Portland. I thought, however, that there wasn’t any guitar; maybe their regular guitarist played bass? Not sure, I could be remembering incorrectly. Anyway, I really liked the singer, who I thought was quite energetic (really enjoyed it when he jumped into a trashcan), especially considering that it must have been at least midnight when they started, there were very few people there, and they had driven straight from Los Angeles, where they’d played a show the previous night. My friend said that he must have been tired or something because he was not nearly as spazzy as usual. Nevertheless, I enjoyed them, although there did seem to be a little something missing. I’m not sure if I’d chalk that up to the lack of guitar, the difficulty anyone would have in following X, or the very small and somewhat unresponsive crowd. While I was watching them, I really felt it very spirited (and kind of daring) of them to have left Auckland, where they had quite a following (they played New Zealand’s Big Day Out in 2004, 2005, and 2007, and at the 2007 New Zealand Music Awards they won five Tui awards, including best rock group, best album, and best rock album), to come to the U.S., where they are relatively unknown. Not knowing them, and thus without having any clue as to why they decided to move here, I still think it’s kind of cool that they decided to give up a good thing and try something new.

After they finished, my friend and I did our best to get to the Lamar Pedestrian Bridge to try to see Fucked Up, but it was a bit farther away than we thought and, as we were walking along in the warm Austin night, it was getting closer and closer to the time (2:40 AM) the last bus departed from downtown to where I was staying with my friend just outside the city proper. So, unfortunately, we didn’t make it. I wasn’t too brokenhearted because I’ve seen them before, but a Fucked Up show outside on a bridge in the middle of the night would surely have been a fun way to wrap up the week!

So, as I finish this very long-winded (sorry!) recount of my time in Austin, I think I can honestly say that there were only a few mild disappointments at missing some shows, including seeing my friend Rose play on the day I left (for those who are fans of alt-country style acoustic songs about love lost and whisky, check her out, she’s got a seriously amazing voice: http://www.rockwithrose.com/), but otherwise lots of really good times. I would have been pleased to see more bands that I’d never heard of before, and I’m sure I could have crammed a few more shows in there, but I’m quite happy with the ones I did get to see. I’ve heard that SXSW was a lot more fun five years ago, and that may be true— like many good things, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people feel that the more popular it gets, the more it strays from its original philosophy and feeling. Nevertheless, to those who might be considering checking out SXSW in the future, I leave you with these words of wisdom: sunscreen, earplugs (!), and “bon courage!!”