Mar 292012
 

I have a confession to make. I missed many of the official SXSW events on March 17th because I was participating in GXGJ at Genuine Joe’s Coffee. Josh Brown’s unofficial, annual showcase is timed to coincide with SXSW and is a great showing for the newest, most up-and-coming acts in Austin. The coffee house setting makes for smaller, quieter gigs, but it’s a prime starting ground for many of Austin’s newer acts. My band, Motion Planet, was headlining this year’s GXGJ. Thus, I didn’t get downtown ’til well after 10 PM.

Spencer Davenport (R) and Michael Dieter (L), AKA Marfa Lights

Because I was on a deadline, I dropped $20 on parking and ran over to a nearby food trailer for a quick grub. I had to get to Haven on Colorado to see GZA at the Babygrande Records’ Showcase. The Wu-Tang legend was performing with Grupo Fantasma and Brownout (who share members) for an unprecedented hip-hop/Latin combo. This was my only backstage pass during the festival, but it more than made up for my late arrival to SXSW festivities.

GZA didn’t go on until Midnight, and I had gotten there early, so I got to enjoy the ramshackle performance by hip-hop newcomer Marz Lovejoy. Her music involved a lot of call-and-response melodies and the performance featured a contingent of dancing women who all sported large hairdos very much like the 20year old Ms. Lovejoy herself. Honestly, the performers seemed a little loose on the stage, and while it wasn’t a sloppy show there was definite a sense of stage partying going on.

The Haven stage was similarly filled for Jet Life, a rap collective that includes Curren$y, Trademark Da Skydiver, Young Roddy and several others. This was a much more aggressive and controlled show than the previous act. Multiple MCs replaced one another on the stage between songs and sometimes even between verses. You got the sense that Jet Life was trying to make as strong an impression as possible in their limited time; maybe they’re a new commodity to rap audiences and need to place their punches for maximum impact. While the stage presentation was forceful, the material was up-and-down based on whoever was onstage at the time. Some MCs had impressive flow, while others had more conventional set-ups that paled in comparison.

That's just three of Jet Life's members.

At some point in the middle of Jet Life’s performance, GZA arrived. The mass of people moving around him as he got to his place backstage impossible to miss. People adore him. However, it was clear that he had to prepare for the upcoming show, so by the time he sat down he was largely left alone. This series of events led to the telling sight of Babygrande founder Chuck Wilson informing members of Jet Life of the time left in their set from the back entrance to the stage. He gave them one more song and then cut them off.

GZA’s performance was, of course, awesome. Maybe America’s most purely intellectual rapper (if not the world’s), GZA is an artist who doesn’t have to continue to push his art but does so anyway. The backing Grupo Fantasma was the first live band I had seen that night at Haven, and it changed the whole dynamic. To read a full-on account of this amazing concert (maybe the best I saw during the entire SXSW festival), go here.

Afterwards, the crowd moved out but I stayed behind as press swirled. GZA wasn’t giving any interviews, but I did manage a fist-pump or two and thanked him for coming to Austin. The guy is pretty quiet and unassuming in person, actually. “What are you doing now?” one backstage member asked. “Going home,” GZA said with exhaustion in his voice. According to Wilson, the rapper had to be traveling at 4 AM the next morning. Er, that morning.

Outside, the streets were still full despite the bars being closed. I searched in vain for an after party, but it just wasn’t happening. I got home at 4 in the morning (right around when GZA was boarding his plane). And I’ll make another confession: I was a little burnt out, so I didn’t attend anything on Sunday. I figured it wasn’t going to get better than what I was part of Saturday night/Sunday morning.

Ya’ll should share your personal SXSW memories with AME! Send a message to editor@austinme.com and we’ll put up your stories next week! It was a much easier-going SXSW than last year, and despite a few technical difficulties and the usual traveling complications (which are to be expected), it revealed as many pleasures and surprises as ever. See ya’ll on the streets next year?

Mar 282012
 

I hit Sixth Street in the later afternoon on Friday. At this point the bar crawl was totally packed with revelers and performers. The things that caught my attention: hard rock band And So I Watch You From Afar absolutely tearing it up at BD Riley’s. A large crowd had gathered outside the bar to hear the crushing chords and dervish drum spectacle. There were no words in the song I saw, but the action was so full-bore that lyrics may have overwhelmed the composition. The Irish trio put up their gear after that monstrous performance, and the crowd was giddy with “do you know the name of this band?” syndrome. Some people even got the name wrong as “Watching from Afar.”

Further down Sixth was an even bigger surprise: Say Anything playing a free show. At first the band’s sweet pop-punk made me think it was a Say Anything knock-off, because a national act would be unlikely to be playing a free show in the middle of the afternoon, but as people around me started singing along I realized it was the real deal. This is an example of one of the great surprises you can find at SXSW if you’re in the right place at the right time. You could see the excitement on people’s faces as they also realized that a major band was giving an unexpected free show. Obviously the bar was too crowded to get into, but there was no mistaking the band from the street.

Continuing further down, I ran into San Antonio’s heavy metal group Immortal Guardian, who were performing outside. They were performing a firebrand instrumental, the second I had heard in 20 minutes, but it was totally different from And So I Watch You From Afar. Although Immortal Guardian is listed as a quintet, only guitarist/keyboardist Gabriel Guardian and drummer Cody Gilliand were present on Sixth. It didn’t matter. It was eight minutes of deeply technical, virtuoso performing by both men. Especially impressive was Guardian’s ability to switch between his shred guitar tricks and lightning-fast keyboard runs without missing a beat. At times he played both the guitar and keys at the same time. I’m not a heavy metal guy but it’s impossible not to be affected by this. I’d love to see them in the full lineup.

Check out the street scene here. Also, there was this guy:

I had reached the end of the bar run at this point and figured I might as well visit the Austin Convention Center one last time before SXSW ended. It was a practical ghost town inside, although I did walk through a swanky fashion showcase that seemed to just be getting underway. I bought a personal pizza for lunch, finally found a water fountain upstairs (where it was even more deserted), ate my meal and headed out. The final few days of SXSW are not the most active times at the Convention Center, which is probably a “duh.”

I had one more drink on the roof of Shakespeare’s, and looked over the roof awning onto a street scene filled with one of those classic SXSW scenes: a jam circle in direct conflict with an Asian drumline. The things you can catch if you stick around, eh?

I headed off to see the first official show of my Friday. I have never been inside The Moody Theater (aka ACL Live @ The Moody Theater) before, but it’s a beautiful stage room! Deep and cool, with both stadium seating and a general assembly area, it was a totally appropriate venue for baroque, alternative pop legends The Magnetic Fields.

I have no idea what the instrument Stephin Merritt is playing is called.

Before Stephin Merritt and his crew came on, though, I bought a fantastic mixed drink that had Jack Daniels “honey” flavor injected in it. Probably the single most delicious beverage of the entire week. At $9 that was pretty steep, but I would gladly have paid $7 and felt I got my money’s worth.

The War on Drugs was actually the next band. Their 2011 release, Slave Ambient, was championed by many as one of the best records of the year. So it was a great chance to see what the fuss is about. The impression I got is that The War on Drugs is a soulful, reverb-heavy quartet that relies on Adam Granduciel’s syncopated, endlessly arpeggio-laden guitar parts. The songs drifted together to a certain extent, but the sound was so pleasurable that it didn’t really matter. I bet if I picked up the record the tracks I heard would distinguish themselves better.

But The Magnetic Fields were still the main attraction. They just released Love at the Bottom of the Sea, their ninth proper album, so SXSW was probably nothing more to the band than a glorified tour stop. Stephin Merritt was his usual prickly self on stage, trading good-natured barbs with second-in-command Claudia Gonson after a false start. “That was a variation on a theme by Claudia Gonson,” he intoned with his trademark basso-profound voice.

Also, the continual chatter of the audience didn’t jibe well with The Magnetic Fields largely acoustic, drum-less setup. “I once wouldn’t stop talking at a show…and that’s why I’m so short,” Merritt deadpanned. When Gonson introduced a song from the new record by saying the band had just shot a music video for it, Merritt added “speaking of video production, could you please stop filming me with your phones?” iPhone use was at a high during the show, obviously, but after Merritt’s comments one of the Moody’s security guys managed to cut through the crowd with great ease to make sure the front man’s wishes were upheld.

As for the performance itself, it was focused on the lighter side of the Fields’ repertoire. Few songs from the loud, rangy Distortion were played, and the focus was on slower, more melodic tracks and many songs from Bottom of the Sea. No “Papa Was a Rodeo,” but we did get “Smoke and Mirrors” and “A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off.” Merritt has never been an effusive or braggadocio performer, so his modest stage stance and salutation at the end of the show was expected. However, The Magnetic Fields are a totally unique brand of American music, and The Moody Theater show was probably everything fans could expect, while providing a good intro for new fans.

After that show closed down, I went over to Stubb’s in an attempt to see fun. a second time. The band’s profile has grown considerably in recent months, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that this was the longest line of the festival. For about 45 minutes there was no movement at all, and it was unclear whether or not I would even be able to get in. When I heard “Walking the Dog,” one of my favorite tracks off fun.’s 2009 debut Aim and Ignite, from outside the venue I thought I was a goner. But, lo and behold, the line started to move and I got through the gate.

Thank God I did, because fun. made everyone forget Wednesday’s abortive showcase with as rousing and spectacular a performance as you could hope for. The way that Nate Ruess was emoting in his singing, you could tell they were trying to make up for the technical difficulties 48 hours before. When “We Are Young” came up, the entire crowd burst out during the chorus. It was a moment where the energy between the crowd and the performers could be felt like rain on your skin; in many ways I think fun. was taken aback by how popular they suddenly are. It was really nice to hear them with their full set-up, as well. Despite the inevitable walkouts after the big hit, enough people were sewn to the spot to see the rest of the show. Show closer “Some Nights” (the title track from the new album) is every bit the song “We Are Young” is, if not even better. I wanted an encore afterwards, but we’ve gotta move things along! fun. exited the stage with most of the Stubb’s audience converted to fans.

The Drums, from Brooklyn, were up next. I stuck around to pick up one last drink and take in the leftover good vibes . I didn’t envy the quintet; they had to follow a ridiculously good Ugg boots on Sale show. But they stuck to their guns and played their vaguely New Wave-throwback set with professionalism and aplomb. Singer Jonathan Pierce’s onstage manner reminded me of Morrisey, and the band’s trimmed-down, somewhat dour stage attire was simultaneously eye-catching and slightly creepy. As the set went along more of the crowd got our of their fun. hangover, and it turned out The Drums are pretty damn good.

I listened to one last song (sorry, I’m not familiar enough with the group to know the title) and left Stubb’s. It was well into Saturday morning at this point, so I called it a night. But there were still many, many partiers littering Red River and downtown in general. They had two more days to enjoy!

Mar 272012
 

Thursday was, at first, a time to rectify the mistakes from a previous day. I had shown up to La Zona Rosa Wednesday much too early to see anything (because I mis-read the SXSW booklet) so that club was my first destination when I hit downtown on March 15th. I was lucky this time, as The Warner Sound Showcase had started around 1:30 PM. I had missed Kimbra, but when I got inside it was just in time to see Crystal Fighters, a British/Spanish electonic band that is getting heavy buzz on account of its soon-to-be-released debut album, Star of Love (it’s already out overseas) and enthusiastic, catchy performance. When I say they’re an “electronic” band, it’s more because that’s the generic term for it. In reality, this is a fascinating melting pot of sounds that includes Basque instruments and transcendental touches. They’re a wild, rangy-looking group and their boundary-pushing music fit them to a tee.

Also at La Zona Rosa was a very cool update to Guitar Hero that allowed you to play with an actual guitar. I took a whirl on The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” – a song I already knew how to play – and it was actually pretty cool to hear a real guitar sound that you can manipulate during the song playback. Honestly, though, I don’t know how many people will want to get this update of the popular video game. While everyone wants to play the guitar, fewer people actually have the drive and work ethic to learn the instrument to the level that would make this game worthwhile. For real guitar players it makes Guitar Hero palatable, but it’s going to be hard to convince casual video game fans to buy and learn a musical instrument when a plastic controller is right there.

The Staves were up next, and while I didn’t watch their entire set they also impressed me. It was a totally different sound, and the the British group was much closer to indie-pop than electro-rock. There were some sweet-and-lovely harmonies to boot and the group was cute as a button onstage. Check out some of The Staves’ particular SXSW memories here.

I left La Zona Rosa and headed over to the Triangle. No, there wasn’t any event going on in the trendy restaurant/apartment complex, but the bus stop to head to Auditorium Shores was. Yes, even though I had a press badge I went to the free show at the Shores, because the headlining act was The Shins, who haven’t toured in close to five years. Their excellent new album, Port of Morrow, was going to receive a lot of play and they’re one of the great American rock bands, so it was really the only choice, as I saw it.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get there in time to see M. Ward. This was a big disappointment for me, as I believe Ward is one of the best singers, songwriters and guitarists working right now. His new album, A Wasteland Companion, comes out soon and I really wanted to hear the new stuff (as well as some of his older tracks like “Chinese Translation”), but when I finally got inside the park he had closed out his set. Oh, well…he might be at ACL (that’s the battle cry for any artist you miss at SXSW, by the way).

There’s been some controversy about “The Shins” name being used. I can see some of the hesitation; lead singer and songwriter James Mercer is the only remaining member of the group that put out the oo’s classics Oh, Inverted World, Chutes Too Narrow and (underrated) Wincing the Night Away. But seeing them in action kinda puts any worries in that regard to rest. Mercer has always been The Shins, and his new backing buds are better than the earlier crew.

Jessica Dobson, the group’s lead guitarist and main back-up vocalist, is the ace in the hole. While the beginning of the show (“Kissing the Lipless,” “Mine’s Not a High Horse” and “Simple Song”) showed Mercer and crew getting into the swing of things and measuring the crowd, the gig gained in excitement and intensity as it went by. The Shins were never this hot onstage when Marty Crandall and Dave Hernandez were there. The turning point was “Caring is Creepy,” the beloved opening track off Inverted World. That swirling, icy composition got the crowd involved and the band hit their momentum switch.

“New Slang” was another older song totally transformed. Dobson now guests with Mercer on the song’s iconic chorus (“and if you took/to me like/a gull takes to the wind…”); it adds a whole new dimension to a composition that I never realized could be there. If anything, the new “New Slang” is better than the recorded version. Dobson’s guitar work is more mature and emotive than Hernandez’, as well. “Australia,” “Phantom Limb,” “So Says I” and a psychedelic, almost-out-of-control break down of “One By One All Day” followed one after another. This band has a ton of great songs! And the new stuff from Port of Morrow works perfectly in the set list. I think my personal favorite might be the eerie title track, which kicked off the show’s two-song encore and sounds for the world like Mercer trying to write a David Bowie song. “Sleeping Lessons,” the mercurial opening track from Wincing, closed the night with everyone in the Shores audience dancing. I thought for a moment The Shins would do a second encore – they had more than enough enthusiasm for the crowd, as well as a few songs they hadn’t played yet – but the night was over.

SXSW was smart to schedule a group like The Shins after last year’s scary stage rush for The Strokes. While Mercer’s band is arguably just as good as the New York quintet, they were never as rapturously popular and haven’t grabbed the zeitgeist in the same way. There were no incidents, and the indie rock pillars still entertained the crowd well beyond expectation. I think The Shins picked up many new fans Thursday night.

That show was so satisfying that my group of friends went over to Aussie’s afterward to hang out and drink a few pitchers. The good vibes hung over downtown for hours afterward, and it was a shame to have to head home. Of course, all that beer doesn’t do you good if you have to wait for the bus, but I was able to get into a club (wristband power go!) to use the men’s room right before mass transit made its way to our stop.

THE CROWD!

Also, on the way home I caught another glimpse of Boba Fett! I called out and he nodded, cool as when he was in Jabba’s palace.

Hint for all the people I saw waiting vainly at bus stops: if you try to get on near campus, all the SXSW transit is going to be far too crowded for you to get on. There’s no trouble like that at the Triangle.

So far, Thursday March 15th was the best SXSW night I had experienced in 2012. Let’s see how the last few days stack up.

Mar 272012
 

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:

Volunteers of America.

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.

He's gotta get back to the Slave 1

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?

Mar 212012
 

My SXSW 2012 started before the official music festival got underway. As a native Austinite, I felt that was somewhat mandatory. On March 10th I made my first trip downtown for what would be a thrilling, jam-packed, leg-taxing, ear-rewarding week.

Immediately one is thrust into the maw of “where do we park?!” no matter where you go. If you’re south of 45th street, you’re gonna be looking. The first intended destination actually had little to do with any official SXSW business and more with taking advantage of the many specials available throughout Austin’s bars and clubs. I was off to Molotov Lounge to take part in a special offer put together on behalf of iPhone app TabbedOut. I was aware of the whole thing through AME’s good friends at Do512. Although the prices at Molotov aren’t exactly the best I was most worried that the app offer wouldn’t actually work. So many people were trying to use it (even in the mid-afternoon!) that it was hard to connect. I was relieved (and impressed) to finally pay my tab without having to step up to the uber-crowded bar. With five bucks off, let’s-party dance music pounding and conversation from friendly outside-ATX visitors, it was a choice start to the festivities.

Then I met some colleagues at Bikini’s (no special SXSW event there, just dinner; I never have gone inside so I didn’t realize the staff wore such incredibly skimpy outfits) and we headed to the Driskill Hotel. The main entry room and bar were already filled with media professionals. There was no time to look around for celebrities, of course, because I was back to playing parking space roulette. The revised parking meter times on Saturday make sure someone on a day-long SXSW sojourn will have to make at least two return trips to his/her vehicle to feed the meter. Because you don’t want to risk not having a parking place again.

When I got back to the Hotel, I didn’t even get to have a drink at the bustling Driskill bar. It would’ve taken 10 minutes, anyway, and I wanted to get over to the other free party I had RSVPed to. Trover‘s multi-day graffiti party at the East Side Drive-In was the place to be for the artistically inclined on these early SXSW days. I arrived just as the place was shutting down, but I still managed to see the finished results of Trover’s event: an entire Volkswagen Beetle covered in that thick, eye-popping graffiti paint, finished, multi-artist murals and graffiti slingers so multi-colored from their work that they looked, in their damaged artist’s digs, like the living dead. The next few days at Trover would feature other crazy sights like an entire graffiti-festooned bus and fire eaters. Honestly I wish I had spent more time at the event.

After a quick drink at Shangri-La, I got a text from a colleague that Quiet Company was playing Stubb’s. It was a free show (one of the last before the proper festival was under way), officially called the Girl + Guy Party, so plans to go home we scrapped. Sadly, we missed Austin’s indie anthem-rockers, but after getting some more drinks we were able to see The Tontons. The Houston rock quartet is noticeable for its sensuous rhythms and punchy delivery, but lead singer Asli Omar is what makes the band special. She moves around the stage like David Bowie and sings with a vocal incantation that recalls PJ Harvey. Members of the crowd could be forgiven for not being able to recognize the other three members, because The Tontons’ first impression is all Asli. Check this band out here.

I was further saddened to realize I’d also missed Wild Moccasins on the same all-Texas artist bill. SXSW was already proving one of its oldest adages: you can’t see everything you want. Austin’s noisy Ume was the closer at Stubb’s, but the group I was with had already decided to hightail it back to the Driskill. We paid $10 for parking and got in to see a line leading out of the Driskill’s bar trailing into the main lobby. So we changed our plan and went to Sixth Street’s Recess Arcade Bar. I had never been inside here, either. Frankly, the events from arrival at the bar on out are a little hazy, but major plans were made for the upcoming week (more on that later) and some nasty aliens were shot down in cheesy first-person classic Area 51. I would’ve gotten further, but one of the guns was out of order! They better get that fixed.

I didn’t get back to SXSW until next Tuesday. I had to make festival preparations/recommendations and tell ya’ll about them on here! Things start for real then.

Mar 202012
 

It’s obvious that GZA/The Genius would find an adoring crowd in Austin. After all, his heady, intellectual rhymes and complex subject matter make a good fit for Austin’s brainy, intellectual approach to pop culture. But when he performed at Haven on Saturday, March 17th for Babygrande Records’ SXSW showcase, he upped his Austin cultural ante by adding in Grammy-winning, Latin superstars Grupo Fantasma as his backing band.

The addition of Grupo’s intense, tightly-wound instrumentation (not to mention their hardcore funk incarnation Brownout, who were also credited on the bill) to GZA’s set list emboldened both his classic tracks and new material from the forthcoming Dark Matter (release date TBA through Babygrande Records). The new record is apparently steeped in GZA’s interest in quantum physics and astronomy (I think The Genius is probably Christopher Nolan’s favorite Wu-Tang member), and the white-hot earthiness of Fantasma blended with the iconic MC’s metaphysical flow. A pounding, svelte rendition of “Shadowboxing,” from GZAs’s classic Liquid Swords, was the apotheosis of GZA’s modern updating of his back catalog.

The collaboration is the brainchild of Babygrande founder Chuck Wilson and Nat Geo Music Vice President Jeff Clyburn. The two are lifelong friends, and both represent sides of the team-up (GZA is on Babygrande, while Grupo releases on Nat Geo). “We were brainstorming about how to stay on the cutting edge at SXSW 2012,” Wilson says. “SXSW means so many things to so many people now. I think for Jeff and I it really is about exposing people to different kinds of music and bringing people together in the spirit of great music. That is what this epic collaboration between GZA and Grupo Fantasma means to us.”

Throughout the performance, GZA stepped across the stage and seemed to be in conversation with each member of the intimate venue’s appreciative crowd. While he’s far from serene while spitting, Wu-Tang’s spiritual head carries an enlightened countenance onstage. He’s a magnanimous and inclusive hip-hop legend, and the formidable nature of his artistry is obvious.

The rap/Latin live combo really was something new to my ears. Like all great ideas, it seems like an obvious choice once you hear how well it works. I don’t know if this approach is reflective of Dark Matter‘s sound, but after a night of electronic loop-based hip-hop acts (who were all admittedly striking) it was a welcome revelation. It fit that an artist who has been at the forefront of the rap genre for so long would be at the head of its live act innovation.

GZA quietly exited Haven after his set ended at 2 AM. He had to get back on the lecture tour (GZA appears at the MIT Civic Media Lab, NYU’s EMP Pop Conference at the Clive Davis Institute and Cornell University in the next three weeks), so there was probably no crazy SXSW after-party in store. But if the new record is anywhere as explosive as Saturday’s performance, get ready for the best GZA album since Grandmasters. This was the SXSW show of Saturday night.

Get more info on GZA, Dark Matter and fellow progressive artists at http://babygrande.com/

Check out Grupo Fantasma, Brownout (who have a new album, Oozy, dropping on April 24th) and other great artists at http://worldmusic.nationalgeographic.com/view/page.basic/label/en_US.

Mar 162012
 

MOVIES

21 Jump Street - A strong comedy showing at this year’s SXSW Film Festival, with this Jonah Hill/Channing Tatum comedic revamp leading the charge.

Casa de mi Padre - Will Ferrell speaks Spanish in this comedy adventure, another SXSW premiere.

Jeff, Who Lives at Home - The latest from the Duplass Brothers, who continue to grow as filmmakers. This film stars Jason Segal as a shiftless man set on an absurd, surreal journey. Ed Helms, Susan Sarandon and Judy Greer co-star.

MUSIC/OTHER (AKA A Whole Bunch of SXSW Showcases!)

FRIDAY

Auditorium Shores – The SXSW free concerts continue with Americana rock veterans Counting Crows. Nashville’s Diamond Rugs and San Francisco’s Tender Mercies back the show up. Starts at 5:45 – 6 PM.

Red Eyed Fly – The Sounds from Spain Showcase. Vetusta Morla, Guadalupe Plata, Za! and more, starting at 7:30 pm.

Continental Club – Austin’s Edison Chair opens the Rajiworld showcase, and Austin’s Akina Adderly & The Vintage Playboys close it down. Other artists on the bill: Peter Case & Paul Collins, Billy Harvey and Triple Cobra. Starts at 8 PM.

Stubb’s – Fans of New York’s fun. will get another chance to see them for real after that near-disastrous technical meltdown at 1100 Warehouse. The Time Out North America showcase will also feature Delta Spirit, The Drums and The Ting Tings. Starts at 8 PM with Ed Sheeran.

La Zona Rosa – Talib Kweli at the Blacksmith Duck Down showcase. Among others, Smif N Wessun, Buckshot and Bad Rabbits (who are also playing at Palm Door at 11 PM!) will play. Starts at 9 PM.

SATURDAY

LBJ Lawn at University of Texas Austin (2313 Red River St. Austin, TX 78705) – Special performances by Mumford and Sons and Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeroes will accompany a screening of their tour documentary Big Easy Express. Venue change reported here! Doors at 6:30 PM.

Austin Music Hall – Timbaland will headline Perez Hilton’s One Night in Austin. Also playing, with many others: DEV, The Ting Tings (again!), Cher Lloyd and Kreayshawn. Doors at 7:15 PM.

18TH Floor at Hilton Garden Inn – Mississippi Development showcase. Charlie Mars, Shannon McNally, Eden Brent, Johnny Rawls among others. Doors at 8 PM.

The Tap Room at Six – A night of Austin artists for SXSW 2012′s penultimate night. Danny Malone, Suzanna Choffel, David Ramirez and David Garza, with a few others, at 8 PM.

Chevrole Sound Garage – Quiet Company, playing one of the last of their nine shows. Guards, GIVERS and the Secret Walls Final Battle hosted by Reeps One. Starts at 8 PM.

The Jacked Stage by Doritos – Check out White Denim, Run DMT and !!!, with guests, starting at 8 PM.

Antone’s – An interesting lineup headed by Candlebox. Austin’s The Canvas Waiting will also play, and there will be a special guest. Starts at 8:25 PM.

Empire Automotive – The Warp Records/Brainfeeder showcase. Daedelus, TNGHT (Hudson Mohawke & Lunice) and TOKiMONSTA head the wild night. Doors at 8 PM.

Clive Bar – The last chance to see The Belle Brigade. Graffiti 6 closes it out, as well. Doors at 9 PM.

SUNDAY

The Jr – Close it out with the SXSW Music Free Closing Party. Lederhosen Lucil, DJ Jester the Filipino Fist and Fort Worth’s Best Fwends. At 1 AM a special, to-be-announced artist will perform. Starts at 8 PM.

Mar 152012
 

K, I gotta run out to the festival again but here’s a quick list of showcases going on today at SXSW. Also, if anyone got to see Bruce Springsteen’s super-secret live show or his Keynote Address at the Convention Center, let us know at editor@austinme.com!

Quantic – 9 PM @ Speakeasy

Diplo at the Turntable.fm DJ showcase @ 1100 Warehouse (get there around 8 PM)

30 tigers – 11 PM @ Cedar Street Courtyard

Patrick Wilson – 12:30 AM @ St. David’s Sanctuary

Guards – 1 AM @ 18th Floor Hilton Garden Inn

See ya’ll M. Ward and Shins fans at the free Auditorium Shores show tonight!

Mar 122012
 

Yesterday (and today) AME brought you a list of local artists playing at SXSW 2012. Now it’s time for the really big names as we list our recommendations for national acts coming through town during this exciting week.

The Belle Brigade

Not sure if you’re aware, but The Belle Brigade’s self-titled debut was one of the best records of 2011. The L.A.-based, brother/sister duo are coming to SXSW 2012 to build off of last year’s momentum. They are playing Mike Galaxy’s 13th Annual Day Party on Thursday, March 15th at 4 PM. See the rest of the lineup here.

Friday, March 16th, 8:20 PM, Home Slice Pizza - A special secret show!

Saturday, March 17th, 10 PM, Clive Bar – The Belle Brigade performs in a lineup that includes Greylag, Kids These Days, Lissy Trullie and Graffiti6.

Of Montreal

Kevin Barnes’ prolific, eclectic, ambitious indie rock institution will also be at Emo’s East for the Polyvinyl Records Party on Thursday, March 15th. They are headlining a line-up that includes Deerhoof, Japandroids with Owen, Les Bonhommes and Dusted. That starts at 8 PM.

Saturday, March 17th, 6 PM, Clive Bar – The band is on at 6 PM as part of S.O.Terik Now.Art! Showcase. You can RSVP here, but beware: RSVP does not guarantee admission. Show up early.

fun.

If I may be terribly pretentious, I knew New York symphonic pop trio fun. was special nearly three years ago when their debut album, Aim and Ignite, contained some of the best music of 2009. Now the band is back with their second record, Some Nights, and a big hit in “We Are Young.” That single signals the sophomore effort’s more electronic, synth-based approach. Looks like fun. is well on its way to stardom, so expect their Friday, March 16 set at Stubb’s (11:00 PM) for the Paradigm Showcase to be pretty packed. They’ll play with a packed lineup: Ed Sheeran, Of Monsters and Men, Avalanche City, Delta Spirit, Elle King, Devin, The Drums, The Pierces and The Ting Tings.

There are a lot of other chances to see fun. Here’s the full line-up:

Wednesday March 14th, 2:50 – 3:20 PM, Warner Sound @ La Zona Rosa (More Info: http://thewarnersound.com/sxsw)

5PM – 5:30 PM,  Acoustic Set at Waterloo Records (More Info: http://www.facebook.com/events/327113777326232/)

10PM – 10:40 PM, KROX Showcase at 1100 Warehouse (More Info: http://www.krox.com/Concerts/Details.aspx?ConcertID=160674)

Thursday March 15th, 4PM, Woodies Festival @ Red River & 1st Street (More Info / Stream Online: http://www.mtv.com/ontv/woodieawards/2012/)

M. Ward and The Shins

This one’s easy. The annual free shows at Auditorium Shores are always a treat, and this year there are notable guests on each night. However, the Thursday, March 15th lineup is this editor’s personal favorite. Dirty blues duo Little Hurricane will open the show at 5:45 PM, then it’s on to one of America’s greatest modern singers, songwriters and guitarists. M. Ward has been busy with She & Him and Monsters of Folk for the past few years, but he’ll be playing tracks from his forthcoming, new solo release A Wasteland Companion at the Shores.

And if we’re talking about forthcoming, anticipated releases, The Shins’ long-awaited fourth album Port of Morrow will drop on March 20th. That means James Mercer (speaking of great modern singer/songwriters) has an opportunity five days prior on Thursday to show the new songs. And the new band, as Mercer has effectively re-built The Shins since 2007′s great Wincing The Night Away.

The Beatles Complete on Ukelele

Appropriately, this one’s open for everyone. From noon to 6 PM at Hickory Street on Thursday, March 15th, Ukelele master and record producer Roger Greenawalt is going to play all 185 songs in The Beatles catalog. Holy crap. A backing band/rotating cast of guest musicians (including Kat Edmonson, Suzanna Choffel, Nakia, Lovely Liar, Leah Siegel, Gary Marcus, Lovely Liar and more) will back him up. The public is invited to join (if they can uke it up) for the Uke Mob on the first three songs. Free, no RSVP required.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band

This goes out to Badge and Wristband holders only. And, honestly, even if you have one of those it’s gonna be hard to get in. It is the opinion of your editor that other than Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen is the best rock musician America has ever produced. He’s going to be the keynote speaker for 2012 on March 15th, and that’s going on at the Austin Convention Center. But that night he’ll play one of his legendary, probably 3-hour concerts. The chance to see an “intimate” concert with the E Street Band is not to be missed. Especially as they’re going to be playing material from the recently-released Wrecking Ball, the best album Springsteen has released in a decade. The venue is still being kept under wraps, and tickets must be obtained via entrance into a special raffle drawing. You can read the rules here. Good luck.

But if you don’t get into see Springsteen, don’t fret. Obviously, there’s a plethora of great things to pick from here. Chart your course and rock on.

Stay tuned to AME for more SXSW details.


Mar 122012
 

Start the full SXSW week off early by scooting over to Bernadette’s (2039 Airport Blvd) for a string of up-and-coming Austin bands who start hitting the stage at 1:30 PM. Doors at 1.

First up at 1:30 is shoegaze/minimalist outfit Lay Bac. They just released a new EP, Shortcuts, which you can download here. They’ve got an hour.

At 2:30 is Wound Wound, and following at 3:30 is tiger-masked electronic group Galapagos (who are originally from Phoenix, Arizona). Here Galapagos’ “Actin’ Up” at their Bandcamp.

4:30 brings Agent A & Omae, a young duo that mixes dirty garage guitar work with electronic textures. They seem to be the catalyst around this group of artists playing together. They’ll be onstage again on Saturday, March 17th – again with Lay Bac and Galapagos plus several others – at the Trill azz SXSW Fest at 609 e. 49th st., Austin, Tx.

The day will close with a half-hour set by tropicala artist Party Girl at 5:30 PM.

SPECIAL BONUS LISTING:

The rowdy, acoustic indie of Wild Bill and the Lost Knobs will play Wednesday, March 14th at The Grackle for Grackle Rock II, presented by the Austin Facial Hair Club. Wild Bill and co. go on a bit before 8 PM. The next day, Thursday, March 15th, the band will be at Hot Mama’s at noon. Both shows are free!

Stay tuned to AME for more SXSW updates!