Jeff Smith 12:01 p.m., March 29
Austin, Texas Will Congest and Digest You (If You Can Hang)
South by Southwest has already proven itself to be the strange bacchanal that most of us have come to expect. Negotiating one’s way around the blissful mess is a whirlwind of fate, tentative scheduling, and a generous amount of whimsy.
As such, here are a handful of clips from a Minneapolis-heavy showcase from Tuesday.
Twin Cities heroes Rouge Valley played a fantastic set to a crowd of maybe 20 with all the passion of their First Avenue gig last Saturday when they opened for the Honeydogs.
My transient (aren’t we all?) troubadour pal Luke Redfield organized the show and played this gem from his new LP, Tusen Takk.
SLC rads The Devil Whale were also entirely enjoyable.
I strolled downtown afterwards with my buddy Ryan Blue. Sixth Street was teeming with endless food carts, buskers, and music enthusiasts aplenty, darting in and out of downtown clubs into the busied evening streets. We ended up hopping a pedicab to a showcase at the Scoot Inn on the east side of town.
Here’s a picture of who I assume is Thee Oh Sees. The sound was remarkable - a warm psychedelic punk folk thing - but absolutely everyone I asked couldn’t pinpoint the band.
Yes, this picture is fuzzy. But perhaps that's the point?.
“Hold on, I can look it up,” each invariably said as they got to work on an iPhone and then got lost on an (anti-?) social media network.
I’m not kidding. Everyone was oblivious, their discounted Sailor Jerry cocktails soaking in quick.
I realized then something that many of us have instinctively known to be true all along. SXSW really is just a prolonged excuse to party recklessly for a solid week with an insane and senseless orgy of live music somehow swirling around the whole debacle.
The spirits ran thick, but luckily we found a cab to an outskirts hotel and got a few hours sleep before getting at it anew.
Ok, so, sure, the California burrito is hands-down the greatest breakfast on the planet. But Austin has a keen sense for morning fare, and the locally famous Torchy’s Tacos did right with a toothsome fried avocado taco.
Luke Redfield rocking the Chronicle, which features Alejandro Escovedo, brother of Mario from San Diego's Requiemme Records and The Dragons.
SD proggy-arty-something rockers A Scribe Amidst the Lions (I can never properly explain these guys. One of our most underappreciated bands who find a sound like… Sunny Day Real Estate forecloses on Radiohead in bed with Coheed and Cambria?) did it up at Cedar Street for a mellow daytime crowd.
Blue and I made our way across town to Plush, mostly on accident, and sipped rum to a soundtrack of drum n bass in a venue which is exactly what an electronic music joint should be – dark, dreary, altogether dungeonly, and serving cheap, cold cocktails in a climate that makes me regret giving up deodorant as an optimistic teen.
As mentioned, there are lots of great ways to enjoy SXSW without splurging on a badge or wristband, and one of them is to take a seat on the grassy knoll across the creek from Stubbs, where, last night, Fiona Apple played lusty, discordant, sideshow jazz too-late love anthems. Maybe 50 of us sat there, talking softly, breathing the pollen rich breeze, and all was right in the expansive, humbum Austin spring twilight.
APD ultimately rolled in with a legion of horses and passively evicted us all as their equine whips grazed on the hillside.
After a long night of Jacuzziing with the Scribe boys at a hotel, we cruised over to the Sahara Lounge in east Austin, where Blue had booked a handful of San Diego and touring bands to play a day party.
The sign is a recent addition from Abilene, Texas.
The irony (or whatever) was not lost on any of us as we rocked out to San Diego bands in the outskirts dive, 1,300 miles away from home. Sure, most of the crowd were hometown friends already, but the occasion emphasized the whole awkward conundrum of South by Southwest to begin with, which is to say, what’s the point of this hysterical mess? Did anyone really come here to “make it”? Or is this simply a ritual of karmic penance – a heartfelt, gracious nod at the fates for some sort of arrival, or at least continuation, of the lifestyle of music, art, and road?
Whatever the case, we had a great time of it, maybe 30 of us at the bar, drinking budget whiskey and Lone Stars to the sounds of whale vag reps Dead Feather Moon, The Heavy Guilt, A Scribe Amidst the Lions, and Mexico City killers Sour Soul (who recently put out a split 7” vinyl with Scribe on San Diego’s La Escalera Records.)
Eileen and her husband, Ibrahim, own the Sahara Lounge. Ibrahim is from Nigeria and the bar puts on a weekly African music night. This is just one more reason why Austin locals should fret over Californian’s flocking for good to their sweet ass town, which might be up there with Berlin for the greatest places to be young and creative on God’s good Earth in the year of the dragon.
Who knows? Maybe this is all just a cheap excuse to drink shitty beer in a new climate, but one thing is certain – South by Southwest lends a sweeping vitality to a city that has long known it’s central and insatiable chutzpah, and to be here in the thick of the human stink, pollen clouds, and roadside tacos has been worth every sleepless, frenzied second.