Warning: This is going to be a long post. Sorry.
My buddy Derrick hooked me up with a free South-By-Southwest (SXSW) wristband. I'd never done this interactive gaming/film/music festival properly before, and neither had he, so we decided to go balls out. Boy, did we.
First, a little bit about how Southby works. Basically, a shitload of entertainment industry folks and their fans swarm Austin for 2 weeks each March. The 1st weekend is the interactive portion, where computer folk show off new innovations. The rest of the 1st week is the film festival. From my perspective the film portion has lost a little bit of it's luster because the main dudes responsible for Austin's film scene (Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, and Mike Judge) have kind of faded out in the last couple of years. Another reason I think the film festival isn't what it once was is because I think people realize that it will never overtake Sundance or Cannes as the premier film festival in the US/World, so you're almost never going to get the heaviest hitters to attend. Anyway, I didn't attend any of the 1st week (and never have before), but I heard the highlights were that Bill Murray was in town and that McLovin' had a film he premiered.
The 2nd week of SXSW is the music festival. There are literally hundreds (thousands?) of bands/venues during this time. TONS of bands get their big break at SXSW, and it's a significant milestone for any up-and-coming band to book a gig there. Hanson, Semisonic, Toadies, Collective Soul, and Beck are just a few of the artists I know of that got a big break during SXSW. Anyway, Derrick had a girlfriend who was a grizzled SX veteran, and she kind of gave him some pointers on how to maximize the fun. A bunch of companies (Miller Lite, Red Bull, Levi's, Taco Bell among many others) sponsor day parties where all you have to do is have a wristband (only a few thousand are sold, another few thousand are given to industry people and volunteers) and RSVP, and you get free booze and food all day. It's pretty sweet. We RSVP'ed for both the Taco Bell and Levi's parties, but ended up only attending the Taco Bell one. It was called "The Pure Volume Lounge". Anyway, after picking up my wristband on Tuesday night (and forgoing the opportunity to see Jakob Dylan due to the line and my fatigue), I took off of work Wed-Fri and did it right. Here's a day-by-day account of my experience. edit: I've placed songs from many of the acts I saw in the upper right hand corner of this blog. I'd be interested in what you think of them.
I went over to Derrick's apartment, dropped off my car and we got a cab downtown. It dropped us off near the Levi's party, which I had read had free Budweiser. The line was brutal, so we continued to the Taco Bell party, which was at the old Coppertank bar. The line there was brutal, but I lucked into getting to cut to the front because my name started with 'S'; I sweet talked the girl into letting me pick up D's too. We were in. We got inside around 4pm and immediately started downing free beer (the featured free booze was Miller Lite and Sweet Tea Vodka, and Sweet Tea Vodka is horrible). We had kind of flipped through the SXSW pamphlet and picked out which bands we both wanted to see. We had settled on Nas/Damian Marley for Wednesday night, Stone Temple Pilots for Thursday, Muse for Friday. No one playing on Saturday seemed all the worthwhile. So we stayed at the free beer place for 4 hours, in which time we saw 4 bands; here's a review of each:
Miniature Tigers: This was an alt-rock band who (to me) sounded like Modest Mouse, only not quite as good. Not offensive, just nothing worth writing home about.
Choir of Young Believers: This was a noise pop band from Amsterdam. Lots of like, moaning and keyboards. It wasn't bad, and I would probably rate them higher than Miniature Tigers, but still nothing spectacular. Instead of a bass player they had this hot blond with nice cans playing a cello who looked like my brother's HS girlfriend. The lead singer looked EXACTLY like Oates from Hall & Oates.
Meiko: A pop folk chick like Lisa Loeb, only saccharin. She didn't have a very good set; she had to start 2 songs over because her capo was misplaced and it was throwing her band off. Her lyrics were pretty trite. IMO, to be what she was trying to be have one of 3 qualities: a smoking hot body and face, really really skilled songwriting, or a fantastic singing voice. She was attractive, but not hot, and her voice was just above average. Tough break.
Drink Up Buttercup: I'm a sucker for high energy bands whose music is easy on the ears, and this band had it. They were far better than any of the previous 3 bands I'd seen thus far. They were good, and had some gimmicks that surprisingly worked, like banging on trashcans and shit. I really liked them. Their lead singer was this slightly overweight southern-homeless looking dude with a severely chipped front tooth. I can totally see that end up being how they get described if they get popular ("You know, that band with the dude with the chipped tooth"). Nobody has chipped teeth anymore.
So, Nas went on at Emo's at 11, so we left Coppertank about 8 (being about 8 beers deep each). Luckily, the line for folks with wristbands was short, so we only waited about 10 minutes to get in. (This is a good time to mention that without a wristband, you're pretty much screwed if you are trying to see any big name act.) Emo's has 2 stages (actually 3, but one was temporary and across the street), so we went back and forth between the 2. We saw 5 acts. Here's the review:
The Strange Boys: Going into SXSW, I hoped to just personally discover one band that I would REALLY REALLY like and start following. This is that band. First, we walked in, and the place was jam-ass packed, so you were like "wtf? why are all these people in here?". After listening and watching for less than 5 minutes, I'd made up my mind that these were some bad mf'ers. They have a kind of Bright Eyes/Weary Boys sound to them. They had this innocent looking chick playing a saxophone, which they used sort of how you hear a harmonica used. It was sweet. They were playing really really tight, they all had great stage presence. They were money. Their recordings do not do them justice.
Year Long Disaster: I don't really remember anything about this band; I do know they played harder edged rock. This was right after Strange Boys, so all I was doing was raving about them and reminding myself to quit drinking so fast now that beers had gone from free to $5 each. This is a good time to mention that, while I did get a free wristband (which I think has a face value of like $160), SXSW was f'n EXPENSIVE. I spent well over $300 over the 4 days I was there, even though I didn't have to pay any covers and drank free beer the first half of each day. Getting a buzz was cheap, but getting wasted enough to force a hangover of Leaving Los Vegas proportions was expensive.
Mariachi El Bronx: So, evidently there's this legendary punk band called The Bronx. Well, they decided to stop playing punk and form a mariachi band. Weird, I know. It was weird, and it kind of sucked. This fat, bald, rough-looking dude all tatted up dressed up in a full-blown mariachi gear singing spanish love songs in a raspy heavy metal 10,000 cigarette voice. To each their own, I guess.
The Dillinger Escape Plan: Let me start by saying that heavy metal/scream rock is NOT my thing. Next to techno, it's my least favorite kind of music. That said, these dudes were f'n AWESOME. They were completely, utterly, totally f'n insane. 3 different band members were, at one point or another, hanging from the rafters above the stage or jumping off of 10 ft high speaker stacks into an unsuspecting crowd. At one point, both me and Derrick were pretty sure we saw a dude die. The guitarist hung upside down from 15' above the crowd, and just dropped. Head first. Like I said, it was crazy. I was worried. Listen to the song I have linked. That's what it was like.
Nas with Damian Marley: I'd been wanting to attend a hip-hop show for a long time, and this was a good one. The only other proper hiphop show I'd ever been to was a Jurassic 5 concert about 8 years ago. Both these guys were really good, and I was pleased with how Damian Marley incorporated his pops' music without overdoing it. Hip hop shows are hard to describe; they're just a different animal all together. One thing is, I DEFINITELY put them in a higher class than DJ shows, which I'll get to later.
We left Emo's after the Nas show and headed over to Dirty Dog pub, where a band called Black and White Years was scheduled to play at 1am. I was pretty drunk by this point. I was surprised that there wasn't a line for this show, even though it was 1am on a Wednesday. B&W Yrs have a pretty big hit on the radio right now, a song called "Power to Change" (listen at right). It's a really good song, but overall, this band wasn't my cup of tea. First of all, they just kind of looked like posuers. (Now's a good time to mention the inordinate amount of posuers in Austin during SXSW. It's like nobody goes out without putting on skinny jeans, danish shoes, and a sportcoat over a graphic tee. It pissed me off and was hard not to call people out. Being in a band doesn't make you cool. Being cool makes you cool. You're not cool.) Anyway, the lead singer looked too much like a mustache-having caricature of Jason Biggs for me to like them. And their lead guitarist was a flaming homo and kept looking at people (including me) all creepy. But they did do a good job on their hit.
After the bar closed at 2, we were so drunk and exhausted we decided to just head home instead of going back to the Taco Bell party (where they serve free beer until 4am). We had to walk like 3 miles before a cab picked us up.
.Surprisingly, I didn't feel very hungover when I woke up at 11am Thursday morning, I guess because I had wisely been mixing in water and coca cola for the 2nd half of the previous night. I met Derrick at his place at 3, waited an hour for a cab, and got downtown around 4:30. We had planned to go back to the Taco Bell place, but realized when we got there that there was no free booze due to Thursday being "All-Ages" day. So, our plan became to grab a couple of beers somewhere, see Citizen Cope at the Driskill at 7, then head over to Austin Music Hall at 8 to get in line to (hopefully) see Stone Temple Pilots.
We ended up at Logan's because it was next to the Driskill, had a couple of 3 beers. We headed over to the Driskill 45 minutes before the Citizen Cope show to find a line which gave us no hope of getting in, so we just decided to head over to the Austin Music Hall to see what was what over there. By this time we had met up with my friend Smitty.
When we got to Austin Music Hall we unexpectedly found that there was almost no line for wristbands to get into STP, so we went across the street to this tiny bar and had a 3 beers. This pathetic kid was playing in there. To me, he looked EXACTLY like Chris Kattan from his "Azrael" SNL skit. After he was done, he came up to us and tried to give us a cd, saying he sounded "EXACTLY like an early pink floyd". No you don't.
After that we went into AMH. We saw 2 bands open for STP. They were both fairly unmemorable, but for the sake of being thorough, they were The Color Turning and TAB The Band. Both sounded late 90's rock style to me, although TAB The Band was more my style.
I'm just going to go ahead and say it: the Stone Temple Pilots concert on March 18th, 2010 was the best concert I've ever been to. A lot of things have to come together to make a great concert, and they all did for me this night. First, I was with 2 of my best friends in the world, and they are guys I tend to always have fun around. Second, my buzz was peaking right as STP took the stage. Finally, STP just put on an amazing show.
Going in, I knew I liked STP's music, I just had no idea how much. As they played hit after hit after hit, all the memories of shooting baskets in my driveway in high school with my older brother while Core jammed on the Sony boombox came rushing back. I realized that Core now firmly holds a spot in my "Top 5 albums in terms of total listens in my formative years" list, right behind August and Everything After, Imagine, Madman Across The Water, and Recovering the Satellites. And STP played EVERY SINGLE SONG I had wanted to hear, despite the fact that the whole reason they were playing was because they are promoting a new album. It was the 1st time I've ever been "that dude" at a concert. You know, the one who looks like he's having a 90 minute orgasm, thrashing around in an otherwise still crowd and singing every lyric at the top of his lungs. I got lost in it. It was truly awesome. Of course, being the grizzled veterans that they are, they played flawlessly tight. And Scott Weiland was MUCH cooler than I expected. I expected this jaded asshole drudging his way through the show, but he totally kicked ass. He did a lot of Mick Jagger strutting, but he did it well. There's tons of video of the show up on YouTube if you're interested. Even the light show and trippy video sequence, something I usually abhor, totally added to the experience. Adding the cherry was Roger Krieger, the lead guitarist from The Doors, coming out during the encore to play Roadhouse Blues. Like I said, it was the best concert I've ever been to. Afterward, in a complete daze, we went for a celebratory beer at La Zona Rosa. We all 3 totally agreed that we had just gotten our collective faces melted off. I headed home with a permagrin.
.I woke up Friday morning knowing there was no way that the previous 2 days could be topped. D and I cabbed it downtown and headed into the Taco Bell party around 5. More free beer. To my surprise, a band called The Honey Brothers was setting up right when we walked in. This was special because the drummer for this band is none other than Adrian Grenier, star of Entourage and #4 on my "Top 5 Dudes I want to Be" list behind Tom Brady, Rhett Miller, and Adam Duritz. It was cool because there were only like 50 people in the whole place. The band was pretty much meh (although they were at least easy on the ears), but that didn't matter to me because I was too busy observing Vinny Chase's stage presence and overall demeanor. It was weird, because he kind of came across as awkward and shy. It was obvious that most of the people there were there to check him out, and he and his bandmates knew this, so the onus was kind of on him to make all the rock talk, but you could tell it wasn't something he felt comfortable doing. At one point he was like "Uh, what's up south-by? So, who likes to ride bikes?" Then nothing. After the show, he was really gracious about sticking around and taking pictures and whatnot. He struck me as pretty down-t0-earth.
The highlight of Friday was supposed to be seeing Muse at Stubb's. It was a "surprise" show; I put "surprise" in quotations because everyone knew about it. I say everyone because I saw them already in line when we got to Stubb's 4 hours before Muse was supposed to play. I tried to do an impression of my best friend and just walk in, but I got stopped all 3 times. I tried throug the front gate with the "just avoid eye contact and walk straight" move, but a fat turd volunteer stopped me just before paydirt. I tried the "act like a member of the help" move by going in the roadie entrance, but Spicoli was there to thwart. Finally, I tried the "act like you belong" move through the VIP entrance, which was inside the restaurant, and it worked. The bad thing is, I had to go back out and get my 2 buddies. When we got back, this fat bouncer dude was there.
Anyway, we left Stubb's and decided to check out a hiphop lineup at The Scoot Inn, featuring B-Real from Cypress Hill. As you can imagine, marijuana was absolutely RAMPANT. A contact high was a given. This young Brooklyn-based MC named Ruste Juxx offered me a joint outside of the portopotty, which I thought was pretty nice, considering my friends and I were 3 of the about 12 honkies in the whole place, which was filled with about 1,500 people. This place was crazy, and definitely a brand new experience for me. I'm glad I went. I did, however, end up in Deebo's pigeon coop, sweating like a slave. We ended up leaving pretty early, and only saw 1 1/2 acts, this rap group called Kidz in the Hall, and a part of Ruste Juxx. I was EXHAUSTED and vowed not to go out on Saturday.
We got a late start on Saturday, since it was my 4th straight day of binge drinking. We didn't get downtown until around 8. We started off at this shitty bar called Friends watching this terrible band called Coma and Algers. They were horrible. Hard rock. Next we headed down to MoMo's, one of my favorite bars, to try (again) to check out Citizen Cope. This time we got in. We watched this girl from Wimberley whose name escapes me and left before Citizen Cope went on, because Smitty hates Americana. I have to say that I absolutely love MoMo's. It's in my top 5 small venues f'sho.
After MoMo's we went to the Red Bull party, which was being held in a parking lot on the corner of 4th and Colorado. There were several DJs playing. Now for my rant on DJs. With the advent of digital music, the "art" aspect of DJing has been reduced to choosing the music. Nobody uses analog turntables anymore, so there's no technical skill involved. The computer matches the tempos up for you. So, where's the art in playing CD's? I don't know, who am I to judge, I just don't "get" it.
Which brings me to The Crystal Method. We stayed at the Red Bull party for only about an hour, mostly because it was below 40 degrees outside. We headed over to La Zona Rosa to see Crystal Method. I've always kind of found that, no matter what kind of music, there are reasons that artists gain popularity. So, even when I go see "name" acts whose recorded music I don't care for, I tend to see the value of their performance. Not The Crystal Method. It was the weakest thing I've ever seen. It was one dude and a laptop. That's it. I'm not even going to say anything more about it.
After that, we went to a bar and got shitfaced with a group of girls from my hometown. We all ended up at Smitty's apartment and didn't go to bed until after sunup. So that made 4 days/nights in a row of insane amounts of toxins being ingested into my feeble body. Hence my 101 degree fever today.
So that was my SXSW experience. I'm really, really, glad I went, and if I'm offered a free wristband, I'd do it again. Not sure I'd want to take off of work for 3 days to stand in lines (which is what the folks without wristbands do). But overall, a VERY memorable experience.