Monday, March 26, 2007

SXSW - Day 1

I had been warned to take my vitamins while attending SXSW, since the toll it takes on a body can leave one susceptible to the germy nastiness that often thrives in large groups. I heeded the advice...faithfully popping Airborne until I ran out, yet I still found myself with a cold by Saturday afternoon. Thankfully, I didn't develop symptoms until an hour or so into the 13 hour drive home. It would have sucked to miss out because of some silly virus. SXSW was exhausting enough for a healthy body with all the walking, staying up until 5 am almost every night, and diet consisting of barbecue, pizza, and pancakes. Sometimes it felt like we were running on pure adrenaline and Starbucks coffee (in Greg Slamen's case) and walking with cement blocks on our feet. Despite our aching arches, SXSW was a music lovers' promised land...a place where musicians are playing at almost every available space in the city including barber shops, pizza places, and chain clothing stores. It's a place where bands are tagged with bright orange artist wristbands and set loose to freely roam the urban landscape and the game of Guess Which Band That Guy/Girl Wearing the Extremely Tight Jeans Is In (otherwise known as the "Did I just bump into the lead singer of Bloc Party at the bar?" game) is a welcome diversion in between sets.

I don't know how people manage to live blog the conference without missing out on shows or sleep. Perhaps the skill of live blogging is taught in Advanced South by Southwest while I'm still mastering the basics of SXSW 101. I can't even get a blog up a week after the conference ended! In my defense, I did have to write something for the blog. (

I had an impossible list of 50 bands I wanted to see but I did manage to fit listening to 27 bands into 3 days with Wednesday being the most productive. Some sets were highly anticipated while others I ended up listening to inadvertently, which led to a few discoveries.

Headlights, Stars of Track & Field, Apes and Androids, Architecture in Helsinki, The Pipettes, Oh No! Oh My!, Through the Sparks, Fink, Tunng, Peter Bjorn & John

Our first day began around noon with a trip to the conference center so that Leah and the Through the Sparks boys could pick up their badges and wristbands. The line was pretty long so Katy and I decided to go ahead to the Austinist/Gorilla vs. Bear party since I already had my wristband and Katy had arrangements to pick one up the next morning. The Forms were playing when we entered but I was still getting my bearings so I didn't pay very much attention to them. A friendly guy that works for Austinist gave us VIP guest passes (as Katy said, "sometimes it pays to be a girl") and we headed up to the VIP area to grab some food and drinks. Despite hearing the name before, I had never listened to Headlights. They proved to be an enjoyable surprise and I hope to hear more from them in the future (possibly at Bottletree since Katy also liked what she heard and is interested in booking them for a show). We then headed to the indoor stage to hear Stars of Track and Field. They weren't bad but I almost broke into giggles several times while they were playing. They were just so...earnest and melodramatic with their facial expressions. I thought the drummer was going to break into tears at any moment.

The music moves us so much, we have to sing with our eyes closed.

Stars of Track and Field's that the glisten of a tear I spy?

Apes & Androids

Apes & Androids' dancing monster

By the time we went back outside, Apes & Androids were playing. The nice Austinist guy had told us they were a "don't-miss" and we were glad that we took his advice after witnessing the makeup-covered, glittery halter-clad band play their electrorockopera while dancing with a big inflatable monster. After Apes & Androids finished, we stayed outside to get a good position for Architecture in Helsinki.

Architecture in Helsinki

Architecture in Helsinki is a band I've wanted to see for a long time but location and logistics prevented it until the moment this Australian collective played on this rainy Wednesday. Their high energy was infectious...the lead singer danced from drum pad to guitar to keyboards to bongos without missing a beat and sometimes while adopting a singing voice straight out of the Muppets. Definitely one of my favorites of the whole conference.

Katy and I then met up with Leah and a few others at Slacker's, a futuristic Miami-type bar that seemed out of place when compared to the surrounding venues. It turned out that they had just caught Robbers on High Street and Jesse Sykes as part of a secret show. We rested on the banquettes briefly before heading out into the melee again. Leah and I decided to walk the thirteen blocks to La Zona Rosa for The Pipettes and find a place to eat on the way. Once we got to La Zona Rosa, we were surprised to see a long line but it moved pretty quickly and we only missed a couple of songs from the Pipettes' set. I know they're a novelty act, but they're cute in their semi-matching dresses and their songs are catchy. Plus, the lyrics of their songs are subversive enough to make them more than just a retro thowback.

The Pipettes

Next we grabbed a taxi to head back across town to catch Through the Sparks. We arrived a little early, so we headed into the Flamingo Cantina to listen to Nashville band Oh No! Oh My! for a while. I like a few of their songs but Leah deemed them "silly" and wanted to leave after about 4 songs (I think the spastic K. Fed wannabe waving his hands in her face may have had more to do with her desire to leave than the actual band.) so we went back to wait for Through the Sparks.

Through the Sparks

Leah wrote a good review of the performance and I can't really add anything of note so I'm just going to quote her (All this typing is making me tired, maybe giving a detailed account of each day wasn't a great idea. Only a few hours to go. Yay, copy and paste!)

"Through the Sparks had a great performance. They sounded well rehearsed and played songs from all three of their releases. One of the complaints I have about SXSW overall is that when you see so many bands in one place, the sounds start to run together to form ill-defined indie rock band X. I told our group riding home that this wasn't really the case with TTS. They've got unique instrumentation, among other key factors, and Jody is just not your typical frontman. Self-deprecating and ironic, he speaks softly and doesn't seem to care whether anyone hears his banter or not. I know listeners' demands and expectations vary and that some like lead singers who command attention, but all around, artists who don't try to pander to their audience seem more genuine. That's true with this band, anyway."

As soon as TTS finished, we raced back across town in a taxi to catch Tungg and Peter Bjorn & John because we expected long lines after our Pipettes experience at La Zona Rosa. To our surprise, we walked right in. The band playing might have had something to do with that...Fink was Snooze City. Things picked up with Tunng, a British folktronica group that Leah was pretty excited about seeing. The singer Mike Lindsay was working the whole modern Jesus look. I liked the percussionist's wide array of noisemakers and the girl singer's swishy dress and red star-shaped tambourine. (This blog entry is about to devolve to "Dress pretty. Funny drums, yay!" I know you're probably thinking that this account of SXSW day 1 will never end, which is a pretty accurate picture of the actual day while we were living it.) On to the last act of the night, Peter Bjorn & John!

Peter Bjorn & John had my top pick for favorite album of 2006 with Writer's Block and it was also high on Leah's list, so we had high hopes for their late night performance and they didn't disappoint us. Their set featured all the catchy pop for which they're known plus crowd-pleasing antics like rawker scissor kicks and Peter throwing his guitar down to dance a jig on it.

PB&J's set ended and we were excited about sitting down during the 15 minute cab ride back to the hotel. But a rest for our poor feet would have to wait because everyone in Austin needed a cab. We walked around for about an hour before Katy and John finally rescued us from no cab Hades. Ah, La Quinta. You've never looked more beautiful in all your fake terracotta glory.



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