SXSW Day 2: Second day in. I can’t see so clearly in the morning but at least the rain is gone. Thank God.
The morning starts off with a breezy walk to the Mayor’s Office. Yep. The Mayor’s Office.
I’m not sure how, but we were invited to join a number of other media folks for a Bloody Mary Breakfast Burrito gathering on the balcony of Austin’s Mayor, who greeting everyone with a wide smile as he discussed just how much the city loved music.
I can see why. SXSW brings millions to this city every year, and looking back at what this week long festival/conference was just a few years back, his smile has more than doubled or even tripled.
The one thing that went off in my mind was, “Denver has a growing and thriving music scene. We need our Mayor to belly up the Bloody Mary bar and throw down some support for our musicians as well.” I’m talking access to health insurance and other services offered for melody making artists.
The invite actually came from Elaine Garza, who is handling the Spin party plans this year. It was no coincidence that the entertainment for us this sunny morning was David Garza, a Irving, TX native, who sparked his career with the debut single, “Discoball World” back in 1998. I’ve never caught his live performance, and would have never expect to in this kind of scenario.
So yea, it was a great start to the day: Awesome Bloody Marys (made with this Zing Zang mix, definitely recommend that), served by an amazingly gorgeous man who also was quite witty, actual food instead of just coffee, and some inspiration to rally our hometown to take Austin’s lead in their support of our music scene. Oh, and the gift bag that had a very nice bottle of vodka and a shaker.
Austin’s 2nd Street District
On our way back to the hotel we strolled through 2nd Street and Lavaca, realizing that we were in a new development called 2nd Street District (www.2ndstreetdistrict.com), designed with modern styled shops and a new loft project, the perfect carrot to pull in those urban couples looking to buy cool.
We found a streetwear/toy shop Gomi (www.gomikitti.com) that reminded us of Denver’s Plastic Castle, Fabric Lab and Frakture shops back home. The guy that worked there had even heard of Plastic Castle, telling us how toy shops in general were not only growing in Austin, but across the country as well.
While these shops were cool and had the symbol of urban modernism, Design Within Reach, this development seemed to be going against the local mantra of “Keep Austin Weird.” After talking to a few locals, this trend is not only growing substantially, but it is here to stay.
Day Planning, or Attempts at Day Planning
The next stop was to assemble our schedule for the day, plugging in my musical hopes and wishes into Outlook so I can synch them to my cell phone. I bought this MDA thing for that reason, and I was very proud that I had actually learned how to work it.
Unfortunately this process takes some time, as does catching up our KB readers on SXSW happenings, so I missed a few gigs at the Filter Party, reminding myself that Midnight Movies and the Prototypes will probably play again before Sunday. Or at least I hoped so.
The Melvins – VICE/Scion Party – Stubb’s
The first show of the day was The Melvins, compliments of Vice and Scion. Scion’s gift bag? Eh. I’m tired of XL T-shirts. They should dump that idea since we’re not all males that weigh over 200 pounds, and just get a cool hat. Not the generic hard bill hat. Okay, enough about the bag.
The Melvins simply rocked. I know I could throw in all kinds of lovely quips and such, but I’ll leave that to Anneliese’s review. I can say that it was a great experience to see such legends still throwing down with an electrifying connection to the crowd of all ages: the very young (as you can see in one of the pics) to those that were thrashing to them at the beginning of The Melvins’ career.
I left before that set was over to catch The Oohlas’ set at Red 7.
Unfortunately, there was a misprint on the schedule and they were an hour off. But I did get to meet Ollie Stone to gush over their fall album from 2006, Best Stop Pop, exchanging email addresses so we could meet up later. Thankfully, they were playing a midnight showcase gig later, so all was not lost.
It’s a given that bands don’t go play on time and schedules get mixed up. But this year it seems to be rampant. I wouldn’t realize just how much this pattern would take place until later in the night.
Les Savy Fav – CMJ Party
Dumping most of what I had in my Scion bag, except for the magazine, I headed back to Stubbs to meet up with Anneliese so we could catch Les Savy Fav at the CMJ party, then follow that with the AP Party upstairs at the Speakeasy.
At first Anneliese wasn’t sure it was Les Savy Fav, because she couldn’t see the unmistakable frontman, Tim Harrington, and because of the above mentioned mix up with set times we had experienced. But he soon took the stage, performing serving duty with a full tray of drinks and shots, “Who had the Purple Hooter? Who had the Sex on the Beach?”
The instruments blasted off, raging with a finely tuned level of chaos. This was complemented by the crowds obvious infatuation with the group, one that was rightly deserved. I hadn’t seen their live show before, which consisted of Harrington running up the balcony and hanging over the crowd as he sang, throwing a couch pillow around instead of beach ball, and not just spitting water into the crowd, but into some other man’s mouth, who then returned the favor. But Anneliese pointed out that it was tame compared to what Les Savy Fav can do in a bigger venue.
Alternative Press Party – Speakeasy
Tromping upstairs, I was greeted with a big hug from my bud Dawn Burns from Alternative Press, who throws the best “get away from it all” parties at SXSW every year. This year it was an “ahhh” moment to be outside in the warm breeze, listen to the dance tunes of Tommie Sunshine, have a bit of cheese and vodka/soda, and simply hang out for a change.
Plus, their gift bags always blow everyone else’s away. But, you snooze you loose, and I wasn’t able to get my hands on a bag that still contained the Logitech iPod docking station. Dawn managed to get me a Guitar Hero, but when I wasn’t looking it was jacked. And you could tell others were going a bit overboard as one guy was walking out with five or six of them. It was kind of a bummer to see people’s true nature come out in a cool outing like this, but whatever.
I was happy, and got to talk to Tommie Sunshine a bit, who told me he has a new album coming out.
He also admitted that he loves to play the smaller parties with people who get into the dance-rock sets that built his reputation, as opposed the generic trance crap he is paid to play at the larger dance venues. This explains why I hated his set when he played The Church last year, but loved what he crafted at the Milk Bar a few years back, or even the Beauty Bar party at last year’s SXSW.
The KBC – Karma Lounge
The clock struck 7pm and it was time to regroup back at the hotel, making our plans for the night and allowing our throbbing feet to get a bit of rest.
Realizing that I wouldn’t be able to make the 8pm showcases I had circled (The Shys, Panda & Angel, Protokoll) unless the time fell backward again, Randy Kasper (fellow Denverite and SXSW roommate) and I headed over to Karma Lounge to check out The KBC from Preston, UK.
Randy, now a Denver resident for the past year, is a Texas native and former resident of Austin, so he had some stories about the club and its red glowing pillars. I guess this Houston chick with money came to town with some cash to spend and bought the venue, promoting her club in inappropriate ways by throwing her flyers around at adjacent bars and clubs.
Not the best marketing ploy. Some animosity grew a bit as local residents were encouraged to avoid the venue. Thursday night was pretty full for this band, but I guess karma leaves the night spot a bit empty when its not hosting a SXSW showcase.
The KBC came on and the first thing I noticed was the lead singer’s guitar, which Randy pointed out looked like a toy guitar he got from his dad when he was a kid. To me, it was a dumpster dive item, complete with MacGyver duct tape.
But it did the job, as did the rest of their instruments while they wailed, “I ain’t got no soul,” an ironic rant that rallied the dead to dance. The band sported dual horn players, pulling out some musical chair action as they bounced between trumpet and keyboard, and sax and guitar, with well rehearsed perfection. This followed with a chug a long ditty, one that would fit in well with a High Fidelity House Martins mix tape as the band’s guitarist threw down his stick (had to use that reference ‘cause it’s so rock and roll) in lieu for banging a large drum pulled separately from the main kit.
Spod – Elysium
Next was Spod over at Elysium where I had seen iamx the night before. Randy said this particular club was known for more electro, alternative and industrial dance music, which made sense considering the bands I had seen there in years past (including the best SXSW show for 2005, LCD Soundsystem).
Elysium is also known for padding bar bills when you use a credit card, so buyer beware.
Spod basically took the formula for laptop music and threw it into a blender with some nitrous oxide and vodka…and gin, and maybe some uppers. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, considering I’d only heard a few of their songs and not much more. But I was pleasantly surprised by the ingenuity of their electronic ensemble, complete with a vintage handheld Gameboy for sound effects.
Spod and his drummer/guitarist were using every inch of the stage, running between the laptop and their instruments while throwing around glitter confetti and making balloon animals. Well, maybe balloon batons or, at the late hour, a phallic symbol of some sort.
It was magically delicious.
As was their interaction with the crowd. We also witnessed a unique performance stunt as the lead singer ran through the crowd, grabbing random people, hugging them, and then holding his digital camera for a buddy shot. This happened several times, much to the delight of everyone one there.
Yes, Spod was quite the marathon rocker.
The Lines, and not thewhite, Fun Kind
As we made our way from one venue to the next, Randy and I had to deal with many more lines than what I had experienced in the past. And we are badge holders. He also recalled being able to pick and choose just about any show and get in for about $5 bucks.
This was before there were logos, banners, and branded vehicles at every turn.
SXSW has continued to grow substantially each year, but in the last few years, after what seems to be a worldwide recognition of the event after MTV’s Real World Austin, the ability for a badge holder to hop from one venue to the next and make each show may be something of the past.
This caused us to miss MuteMath and Shout Out Out Out, and the people standing in line all had the “this sucks” look on their face, knowing that the best they could do was to listen from outside.
Not to be all, “back in the day,” but there was a time when Anneliese and I actually hit seven different shows at seven different venues all in one night. Granted, it’s not something that I encourage, because it has been known to cause heart palpitations, but now things are a bit ridiculous.
Throwing off set times, i.e. the Albert Hammond, Jr. show I’ll muse about in a bit, just makes it that much harder.
This makes one contemplate the decision to make the financial investment in a badge or a wristband (see Jef’s and Anneliese’s non-badge tips for SXSW), considering how many parties anyone can get into and see many of the acts that play the official showcases, along with those bands that weren’t accepted. All it takes is a bit of research skills, web savvy and proactive planning to RSVP to said parties. No A List credentials required.
The Photo Atlas – Red Eyed Fly
Although this would be the third time I had missed Mute Math in the past year, getting to see Denver’s The Photo Atlas was a viable alternative. Of course, I ran into some of the hometown gang, like Ricardo Baca from Denver Post, Lisa from ManiaTV, Adam Lancaster from Morning After Records, and photographer Laurie Scavo.
Running into the same people over and over is a tradition at SXSW, as is running into people you may not have seen for 10 or more years.
This year’s small world run-in was with Scott Presant, the owner and editor of Scratch Magazine in Los Angeles. I met Scott years and years ago, and did some writing for him back in ’95 or so and a few years following. It was my sticking badge that he read, which clicked the memory chip as he said, “Kim?”
When I realized who he was it was a big hug moment. What does this have to do with Photo Atlas? Nothing, it was just a happy moment for me, that’s all.
Okay, so anyway…
I was actually telling Randy about the 2006 Pure Volume show, which catapulted the rush to sign Photo Atlas at last year’s SXSW, when Alan Andrews (lead singer, guitarist) popped up, “Last year there was a lot of dancing and spilling beer, and we encourage that again this year.”
Office – Blender Bar at the Ritz
Realizing we could also catch a bit of Office, we ran to Blender and thankfully, got there in time to placate my fixation with this band, which I had seen the day before.
The new digital recorder I bought ex-pecially for this occasion is so not working right now, which really makes me happy, so our interview with them will have to wait until I return home and have time to jack with the damn thing. But I can’t tell you enough about this Chicago troupe.
I predict great things for Office after this year’s SXSW, which is their first. Although they all admit to be homebodies of sorts, I expect that they’ll need to get out of their shells a bit.
The group is just so much damn fun. Just check out their single “The Big Bang Jump” that they feature on their SXSW page. They have a new album coming out in the summertime, which will no doubt create anthems for holiday romps.
I got to talk to Tom Smith (guitars, vocals, letterpress/ink), who seemed to have a permanent smile on his face. “I have so much adrenaline pumping through me right now,” he announced, before running off to the bar for a drink of celebration.
James Iha, or as I refer to him when we’re in Texas, James Yee-Haw, didn’t have as wide a smile on his face, but he has reason to. This was his label’s showcase, and I had to not only take a picture of his “get this fucking picture over with you annoying broad” expression, but also commend him on the fine roster New Line Records has built. Robber’s on High Street, Office, The Sights, Midnight Movies and Albert Hammond, Jr. all call New Line their home.
The Ooohlas – Red Eyed Fly
Running back to Red Eyed Fly, the electricity flew as Ollie Stone smiled bright, completely ripped into tracks off of Best Stop Pop. This album has been on repeat in my player and in my head for some time now. And feeling the live experience of these songs was even better than I had imagined.
Ollie is definitely my new rock heroine.
It’s been a regular discussion as of late—the lack of gutsy, truly rockin’ female musicians. I’m talking about Magnapop, which I recalled when I first heard croon of Ollie’s vocals, to The Breeders, Red , Elastica, Curve, L7.
I feel things are changing, at least with this group. Greg Eklund, ex-Everclear drummer is now on guitar, wrapping seamless harmonies around Ollie’s sneering and sweet vocals. Wailing on her guitar and swooping her legs around, she leaned into the chords with perfect orchestration.
This was the star performance for SXSW’s bevy of Thursday gigs.
Albert Hammond, Jr. – Blender Bar at the Ritz
Thinking we may have missed at least the first song for the 1am gig, we rushed back to Blender only to stand around for at least an hour. Again, SXSW was always an on-the-dot festival, which went against the typical gig format. This year, not so much.
When the band took the stage, not only did the audience convey their dissatisfaction with this waste of time by booing a bit, but a piece of ice went flying and hit Albert Hammond, Jr. in the head.
Hammond took this all in stride, slurring a bit as he responded, “Ice: it can cool your drink or it can hit you in the head.” That piece of wit continued and significantly put the peeps back in a more positive mode, as they swayed to songs from his recent Yours to Keep release.
The popularity of this artist may have been catapulted by his Strokes association, but the album’s solid line of catching, stick-in-your-head tracks is what caused many of us to stick around for the performance.
Having him continue to entertain the late-nighters with his dry sense of humor was definitely icing on the cake. “So how are you guys doing tonight?” he asked. “I’m sure your life could be so much better if you were wearing Guess jeans,” he said slyly, looking up at the huge Guess logo that shined on the wall above the stage.
Tomorrow we’ll be looking forward to the iheartcomix party, thrown by the social king Frankie Chan.
photos by Kim Owens
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