So Tuesday was the first day that SXSW Music wristbands were available. I got a ride in the early afternoon and made it through the already-heavy population density into the Austin Convention Center. I scoped out the building while moving through; it was nearly as packed as the sidewalk outside. No water fountains on the first level, either. As former SXSW alum David Byrne wrote and sang so many years ago: same as it ever was.
When I got into the badge/wristband pickup area I was greeted by the usual, inevitable, mile-long lines of festival goers. Such an interesting mass of humanity. You can tell which people are new, which people are ready to make a fashion statement (and thus look totally out of place biding their time in line) and who are the long-term veterans. The veterans are dressed for movement and heat; lots of shorts and baseball caps. They don’t look as good as some of the others, but they definitely won’t ruin their nice clothes with sweat and exhaustion later in the afternoon.
It was something of a comedy of misunderstandings, as the press table told me to go through the general line and the people at the end of the general told me to go to the cashier. While waiting in the pileup at the cashier’s station, it became clear that multiple people had gone through the same haphazard process as me. Special attention from SXSW managers was the only thing that got me and these other people their badges/wristbands. While it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, it all eventually worked out.
The worst part of it was the overweight angry guy who was loudly yelling at the poor SXSW volunteers when he saw this waiting line fuzziness. Jeez, guy, everyone is going through the same thing as you. No one likes standing around. It’s not all about you.
I walked out of the Convention Center and made a streak down Sixth Street. At one intersection, a policeman was busy dismantling a impromptu setup of half-naked mannequins. Nudity would be a recurring event.
While there were numerous events surrounding me, I had decided to head all the way to Lamar for the free Delta Spirit show at Waterloo Records. The keg of free Shiner beer promised in the advert didn’t hurt, either. This won’t be a surprise, but Waterloo Records is one of my favorite shopping spots. It was super-crowded, but I still got in some good browsing. It was hard not to pick up something with the great deals I found; but I had to be strong – I’d need all my money this week for SXSW. Eventually announcements were made and a very stoked Delta Spirit started to perform their smooth-sailing Americana. They’ve actually got a few songs I’m familiar with (“California,” which is more notable than its oft-used title would imply). They moved through their numbers with a goodwill brought on by the somewhat cramped Waterloo stage. Check out that stage! I was lucky enough to find the beer line before too many people realized the keg was out, so overall I got the most out of this event.
As will happen at these vast, overflowing festivals, I ran into a good friend after the Delta Spirit show and we headed over to Lavaca Street Bar for discounted Tecates. We took a window seat and watched the partiers walk past. Some were dressed so provocatively it seemed impossible they weren’t from some featured act. On a more serious note, we also saw one person taken away on a EMS stretcher. But, true to the age we live in, he was working away on his iPhone while being loaded into the ambulance.
Also, these folks came by handing out flyers:
After that we headed down to Sixth again in an attempt to catch any of the free shows that were going on in the bars. We found an electronica showcase at one of the upstairs lounges (not a show listed in the SXSW 2012 Pocket Guide), but between the first band’s punishing beats and loops, the fact that I wasn’t enjoying my Miller Lite very much and the delayed wait time between bands the momentum of that day’s SXSW gave out. The next group (sorry, I tried but couldn’t find any names) was a bit nicer to the eardrums in their melodic structures, but it didn’t hold my group to the spot. We finished our drinks and went home.
Oh, one last thing: as we were leaving Sixth Street, we spotted a person in full Boba Fett regalia. I can’t imagine it was comfortable or cool under that Mandalorian armor, but the guy looked awesome. My girlfriend told him to “watch out for the Sarlacc!,” to which Mr. Fett responded, with some annoyance, “I got out!” Guy was in character. So Tuesday ended on a pretty cool note, actually.
Wednesday, March 14th
I used the Austin Metroliner for the first time in my life. This is a great way to get downtown, actually, as the ride is peaceful and you get some great views of parts of Austin a lot of people aren’t familiar with. And it’ll take you from Kramer to that stop at Trinity and 4th street in front of the Convention Center. So I’m definitely keeping that in my memory banks for next year.
My first stop was The Parish, because venue manager Travis Newman had clued me into a free showcase involving The Frontier Brothers and Shearwater, among others. I missed The Frontier Brothers and Mother Falcon, who were playing earlier than I was able to arrive, but did manage to see What Made Milwaukee Famous and Shearwater. Milkwaukee is a good-time, party band with some great pop hooks. Shearwater, which at least four people told me were awesome before they went on, really surprised me. A sound closer to Radiohead than The Allman Brothers (which is what I expected from their vaguely Americana-name) made Shearwater one of SXSW 2012′s most energizing surprises for me. They’re from Austin, having been founded by members of Okkervil River, but this music doesn’t sound “Austin-regional” in the least. It’s atmospheric while still finding those crushing grooves that prevent the songs from becoming too mannered. Definitely a name to check out further.
After The Parish I walked down Sixth and downtown, seeing the practically-anonymous bands in the bars thrash and kick for a continually-changing sea of faces outside and inside the pubs. I eventually found my way to La Zona Rosa, but realized upon arrival I had pulled a total rookie move and misread my SXSW booklet. So, time for retreat. I headed back to my car and went east, because New York trio fun. was playing a showcase at 1100 Warehouse (a venue I had never been to before).
It was the 101X Showcase at the East Fifth location, right across the street from other, obviously-popular showcases at special, built-for-SXSW-only venues that I didn’t get the chance to go to. Maybe it was the Foursquare outpost, I don’t know. I stood in the line to 1100 Warehouse for about twenty minutes before getting in; no big complaints on that front. I came it right before 9 PM, which was enough time to pick up a $6 Heineken (the best deal available) and get in place for London’s Tribes. Their debut album, Baby, was released earlier this year. But I don’t think I’m gonna go pick it up. While Tribes was fun, good-natured and had a few catchy stretches in their set, overall it was a bit forgettable and same-ish. Those English accents killed in the between-song banter, though.
And now we come to the biggest disappointment of SXSW 2012. Although Tribes’ show went off without a hitch (and the mix sounded quite good), there was inexplicable silence at 10:10, ten minutes after fun. was supposed to start. The crowd figured it was the same kind of unexpected delay that often shows up at a hurried showcase, but everyone started to get restless at 10:30 PM. It got ugly soon after, with widespread boos and chants of “bullshit!” popping over around the crowd. It was apparently a major power outage, as no one seemed to be able to get microphone one to make a blip. It didn’t help that communication was hindered; I’m sure those sound guys on the stage were working hard and probably very stressed out, but to the crowd they looked like they were just walking around the stage with no direction. It would’ve been okay if someone could’ve made an announcement and explained the problem, but that was of course impossible.
Finally, one microphone came to life and a representative of 101X, or maybe 1100 Warehouse, assured the crowd that “fun. will be coming soon!” He could’ve explained why there was such a delay, but no luck there.
Finally, at 10:55, Nate Ruess, Jack Antonoff and Andrew Dost came onstage. Ruess was the definition of apologetic: “I am so sorry, you guys. This is bullshit, I’m not an easily angered person! We promise we’ll play a great show to make up for this.” Even then, the stage only had power to the microphones, so fun.’s whirling, carnivalesque electro-textures were missing. Antonoff and Dost accompanied Ruess on acoustic guitar and electric keyboard, and the result was a shortened, impromptu acoustic show. fun. only played four songs, but managed to get in two extremely strong tracks each from their great 2009 debut Aim and Ignite (“The Gambler” and “At Least I’m Not As Sad (As I Used To Be)”) and this year’s even-better Some Nights (“Carry On” and cathartic hit “We Are Young”). fun. will show up here later, and it’s a great comeback. Still, it was a bittersweet walk back to the car at 11:30. I could’ve stayed out longer, but some people have to work in the morning, you know?