All words/pictures by ace contributor Suzanne Wnek
Kevin here. Yesterday we heard all about the planning, today it's on to the MUSIC. And by the looks of it, there was a metric sh!@-ton to be had. So lets hop back on Suzanne's wild ride through 2012's SXSW and let's see where it takes us.
More NPR, at the The Parish. I loved La Vida Boheme and Sugar Tongue Slim. The first band was super lively and irresistible. Sugar Tongue Slim was smart and humorous and filled with hip-hop pageantry. I was again disappointed in Polica. She is beautiful and all that, but there’s not a lot of differentiation from song to song (to me) and her moves were very repetitious. I was also disappointed in Lower Dens. I thought I'd just missed the "good" stuff the night before, but all they played was the same, and nothing stood out to me at all. Must all be new. Next up was the legendary Magnetic Fields who made you laugh, cry, cheer, and sing with songs about death and weddings (according to them) and it was a great way to end the first portion of the day.
Thursday night ended up being only a two-venue night highlighted by a handshake from Mr. Peter Buck, who was as gracious as you would expect. Per rock star code, he asked my name, as if he’d remember it and I let him go back into the night to the Big Star documentary screening. Then I met with friends at Club deVille, to catch Sarah Jaffe, Fanfarlo, White Rabbits and Youth Lagoon.
Sarah was engaging but a bit more rough than I anticipated, meaning I’d see her show again, but probably not buy her music. Fanfarlo was a disappointment, with their music never quite catching with me. And did they use that cowbell? I don’t know. I dashed over to Red Eyed Fly to the see a Nada Surf acoustic set and ended up mouthing back all the words of the new record back at the band (didn’t even know I knew them!). And the drummer? Ira? How charming is he!
Also I met a guy in the crowd because he had the same camera bag as I did, but that will become vaguely more relevant later. Back at the Club DeVille, White Rabbits blew away the audience as they did in DC.Then b came out and played some electronic tunes, leaving us sort of tired and grumpy, so I called it a night.
I headed back to South Congress, looking through the thrift stores and trying to catch Dry the River, Hospitality and Milo Greene. Dry the River played at SXSJ, at the historic hotel, and simply won over the crowd’s skeptical daytime hearts. Beer was not free, but the show as great. Milo Greene was also good but not life changing the way Dry the River was. And of course I missed most of Hospitality…again.
Dry The River @ SXSJ
Back to the convention center, to see Heartless Bastards, who do well what they do, and took a detour to the StyleX show. A few vendors there, including American Apparel, attempted to make the crowd dress better, but it’s SXSW people, so good luck.
My Friday night was centered around the Merge showcase, Dinosaur Jr, and Lost in the Trees . Most Merge bands I’ve seen before, so I tried to be there just for the bands I hadn’t seen. This put me in the St Davids church, trying to see Ben Howard. The church is such a weird place to be in Austin. I saw the Staves, some lovely harmonizing English sisters and Ben Howard, who broke our hearts, then brought us back with a rousing sing-along with all the night’s artists. Back to the Merge show at Frank, I spotted the Nada Surf guys and couldn’t resist a quick thank you for the previous night’s show. I turned around and there was Mike Mills. An R.E.M. double shot. Poor guy, I had to say something to him, too. And In true rock star form, he asked me my name.
After rock star encounter number TWO I was able to catch Crooked Fingers who melted me, and Imperial Teen. I saw the camera bag guy again, who was running a showcase for St Louis public radio at Jovita’s the next day and I should go. Then it was time to leave the Merge mini-fest to try to see Dinosaur Jr.
The Dinosaur Jr show was the only place I ever felt unsafe. Every not-so-young guy was there, pressed up against each other, ready to relive their college years by losing even more of their hearing. Bodies were uncomfortably pressed together and I could not last more than one song (I didn’t even get a picture), my undying love for Lou Barlow not withstanding. Once my escape was made I headed to Antone’s to see Lost in the Trees, which was a huge pay off in barely crowded room. I swooned, and then called it a night.
11 am found me in Laura Gibson’s hotel room. Well, her label’s suite. For about 30 people, she played a lovely, quiet, moving set, and we watched in awe. It was a perfect setting for her voice, too. By noon, I was on my way to Waterloo Records for another Nada Surf set. I can’t get enough of them. I’m just a Jangle-guitar-pop junkie, I guess.
Decided that I’d give the KDHX TwangFest showcase at Jovita’s a try, and got there in time to catch a Nikka Costa set followed closely by another Crooked Fingers set. Nikka Costa was a dynamic whirl on the indoors stage, bringing a day-time crowd to its feet. Crooked Fingers had the same intensity during the day, in the sun on the deck, as they had the night before, but the venue created a sense of intimacy that allowed the band to smile and interact with the crowd more. This showcase was one of my favorites, and thanks to the photo-bag twin guy who helped put it together!
Ambling back to downtown, I started talking to a girl who was also walking in the same direction when we narrowly avoided death by pedi-cab. We talked about the bats and how Austin has changed in the 8 years since she’s been gone. Looking up, I spotted Jon Wurster (of Superchunk fame), who was all smiles. When he asked my name, I gave him my twitter handle. The girl was all, “That’s so random!” Austin was just like that though. Random conversations with random people as random musicians walk by.
Saturday night was my worst for planning. I went to a low-key venue, the Pearl Dive, to see Canada’s Great Lake Swimmers, who remind me of Matt Pond PA (is it just the aquatic name?). I enjoyed them, and the band that followed, Lost Landers, but the next band drove me away: Dark Dark Dark. I don’t get them. I missed Jukebox the Ghost and had no real back up except Beach Fossils, and I’d seen them soI drifted in and out of venues, ending back at the HYPE MOTEL for some hip-hop, then called it a night.
Sunday offered one more showcase at the Lomography shop by Proxart. All of the bands played with so much energy and enthusiasm that you almost forgot that it was the last stop at the end of a five-day festival. I caught the band Conveyor, from New York. They boasted matching turquoise guitars and enough charm to melt any fan’s heart. The music itself was catchy and easily accessible and I felt like I had a new “find” for the festival. I stayed all day, enjoying the last of the free beer (Lone Star and Shiner). The Stone Foxes followed Conveyor, giving an energetic show that left my eardrums bruised even with earplugs. They had a more straightforward style of rock that was contagious, but not something I’d add to my iTunes.
New York band Conveyor rocking the Lomography shop
Later, the band Mysteries of Modern Science took the stage with a standing bass, fiddle and mandolin. This is another band I plan on checking out more, and would see again if they came to DC. A bit on the indie side, but transformed with the variety of musical instruments. Another more straightforward threesome, Cains & Abels took the stage after, but I was distracted by the Lomography cameras during their set. California singer and guitarist Julie Belle closed my SXSW experience, quietly and tunefully.
And that's it folks! SXSW in a nutshell. And remember you can see all of Suzanne's shots from the week right here, so take a look and let her know what you think.
All thanks to all of the hard working musicians who make this still growing conference/festival possible, and of course to Suzanne who saved us from utter SXSW FAIL whose hard work and keen eye were there to fill you in on everything you might have missed otherwise.
Until next year....