Words & Images By Chris Pacifico
South by Southwest Music Conference :: 03.15 - 03.17 :: Austin, TX
Okay, we know, we know, SXSW is old news. But listen up: There's so much going on down there, shit you ain't even heard of yet, we figured it couldn't hurt to take one last look at Austin's annual industry throw down. I mean, you do like music right? Well, that's what we're here for, to help you get your fill. Drink up.
DAY I :: WEDNESDAY :: 3.15.06
Ever since I was a kid, I used to love to watch the film Pee Wee's Big Adventure, so it just comes natural to me that whenever I set foot in the state of Texas I have to sing aloud, "The stars at night are big and bright!" followed by five rapid handclaps as I wait for those around me to respond with "...deep in the heart of Texas!" I usually get at least three people to shoot back, but this time I just got a crowd of folks that stared back at me like I was an asshole. Maybe I was, or maybe these people had lost their sense of civic pride, or perhaps a little of both. Either way, I recommend you try it.
Every year, for four days in March, the entire music industry from all around the world descends on Austin, Texas for the South by Southwest Music Festival. While the great bulk of these bands aiming to be "discovered," land a record deal, or find a better deal, the cold hard truth is that 90 percent of them won't move one inch beyond their current status. Nonetheless, they still manage to haul ass down here every year and give it their best, and in a way, that is what makes Austin worth visiting this time of the year.
The Sun :: SXSW
The Austin Convention Center was poorly understaffed on this particular Wednesday as journalists, publicists, and other music industry folk, which constituted 60 percent of the festival's attendees, all crammed in to obtain their badges. At times, the lines were so long and the faces were so grim and pissed, it seemed like one of those Life Magazine pictures of soup lines from the Great Depression.
After sleeping off my jetlag for about three hours, I was off to The Velvet Spade. At 8 p.m., Columbus, Ohio's own The Sun took the stage to a packed house where they ignited the crowd with their brand of catchy, witty, and mildly psychedelic power pop. Halfway through their set, their lead singer/guitarist Chris Burney offered free "sweaty hugs" to anyone who came by their merch table after their set. I was crammed in the third or fourth row where I couldn't seem to get away from a massively rotund individual standing in front of me who had a horrible case of gas. Normally, such odors wouldn't have offended me as much because of all the cigarette smoke that's normally wafting through the air at a Texas bar, but a lot of attendees were pissed to learn that the City of Austin had passed a smoking ban in all indoor venues that went into effect in September of '05 with the exception of fraternity houses and nursing homes. Following The Sun, Dallas' The Strange Boys took the stage with their bluesy, punk-fueled ruckus as they showed no mercy on the tambourine.
From there, it was off to Emo's where I saw none other than Wiley Wiggins (a.k.a. the dude who played the scrawny Mitch Kramer in Dazed and Confused). Serena Maneesh took the stage at 11 p.m. Like most people, I had never heard them, but I was aware of all the online buzz that has been brewing about this Norwegian band over the last three months. It wasn't until they belted out their first note that I was sure that this was a band that lived up to their hype and not just some mediocre crew that all the hipster newswires (i.e. NME) get boners over. Half of this sextet looked like they just stepped off of a commune of Nordic gypsies for the first time in their lives as their swirling, angelic harmonies and drowned-out viola stunned the crowd with fuzzy shoe-gazer guitar licks. Bassist Hilma Nikolaisen was swerving around the stage with her Nico good looks and big kaleidoscopic eyes, which managed to zap even those who where standing towards the back, while guitarist Sondre Tristan was running a butter knife up and down the neck of his guitar at one point while plucking the strings. Serena Maneesh was the highlight of the night as well as the perfect band for those who cry themselves to sleep each night knowing that My Bloody Valentine is never coming back.
Chris Burney - The Sun :: SXSW
But after all that music that made us say, "Duuuuuuudde..." Of Montreal graced us with their presence to get the asses shaking with their quirky brand of indie pop. Their set was flamboyant to say the least. As one of the last bands standing out of the loosely based Elephant 6 collective, they kept the grooves fresh with heavily skewed pop sensibilities. However, the treble on the soundboard was cranked up way too high, and anybody who was present during their set will testify to that as quite a few concertgoers were inserting ripped-up pieces of cocktail napkins into their ears.
The Black Angels :: SXSW
As 1 a.m. approached, hometown favorites The Black Angels came on with a truly dark, psychedelic, and paranoid set of their signature trippy tunes across the street at Emo's annex. Keyboardist Jennifer Raines was definitely feeling the vibes as she repeatedly closed her eyes while playing the keys, surrendering to their music's transcendental aura. Their new album Passover is an instant gem for 2006.
DAY II :: THURSDAY :: 3.16.06
After sleeping off a belly full of Lone Star Beer, the official elixir for all of the out-of-towners, it was up and at 'em for a few of the day showcases. The first was the Team Clearmont party over at Red 7 where the online buzz stirrers Tapes 'n Tapes from Minneapolis went on with their hip brand of indie baroque. Following them was The Capes, fresh out of South London, who made everyone get super cheeky with their gigantic hooks and Brit-pop musings. The weather was especially hot and sticky on this day, causing bassist Rupert Cresswell to declare halfway through their set, "This weather is way too bloody hot for Englishmen like us to tolerate," while singer Kris Barrett kept taking huge swigs of his Pabst Blue Ribbon pounders between songs as if they were some great delicacy. What, there's no official trailer park beer in England? It should also be noted that Red 7 had quite possibly the cleanest bathrooms of all the venues in Austin that hosted showcases.
The Capes :: SXSW
One thing that got under my skin was how all the ATMs in town charged a service fee between $3.00 and $4.50. I don't know if the banks had that planned just for all of the out-of-towners, but you can bet your boots that shit like this wouldn't fly in Philly. From there, it was off to the private Diesel-U-Music party at Saengerrunde Hall, and by "private," they meant "open bar." Woo-hoo! San Francisco boys Film School emitted a dark haze with their Echo and the Bunnymen style of broody rock and left with a bang in the form of a blast of feedback that almost leveled the building.
Lion Fever :: SXSW
Over at the Blender Bar at the Ritz, Lion Fever put on a powerhouse set with their dark bluesy punk ruckus lightly peppered with foreboding cabaret. For those of you who don't know, Lion Fever is quite possibly the most criminally overlooked American band in this day and age. Anyone and everyone who has worked in music media for the last year should give themselves a giant kick in the ass for letting their phenomenal debut, Haunted Water, slip under the radar in 2005. Front woman Jennifer Pearl showed how someone can be as deadly with a maraca as she is with her sultry and deep voice that made the hair stand up on the back of the crowds' necks before she and fellow member Casey Geisen jumped out on the floor to rock out with the crowd. Also, Blender Bar at the Ritz had the filthiest bathrooms in all of Austin, which made the Trainspotting latrines seem suitable for eating off the floor.
Over at Club de Ville, the Beggars Group threw a shindig while the headmaster of power-pop troubadours The New Pornographers, A.C. Newman, was chillin' and drinking. As I walked on in, Brooklyn's Calla kept a hip ambience in the air. Next was The Double, who managed to stun with their paranoid pop as their stage setup was filled with synths, organs, and effects peddles as far as the eye could see. The perfect band was chosen to top off the night - the cabaret punk trio Celebration, who went on at 1 a.m. Singer Katrina Ford danced like the Holy Ghost was in her and jumped into the crowd with tambourine in hand to assure that all of the asses were shaking. And shaking they were. It was a sight to be seen, causing me to dance so hard and for so long that I needed to soak my body in Epsom salts upon my return to the hotel that night.
Celebration :: SXSW
Continue reading for Day III...