SXSW — Thursday Recap

After a late start yesterday, I decided to make up for lost time by checking out the Black Lips-curated Speed Sets at the Austin Convention Center. At these shows, bands each get 10 minutes on shared equipment, much of it provided by the gear-heads scattered about the exhibit hall. “Welcome to Guitar Center”, uttered by Natural Child’s frontman, pretty much summed up the vibe. If that wasn’t enough, a faux-Roman feel was in effect, with oversized beanbag-like lounging devices scattered around the performance area, their occupants lulled by (or in many cases, put to sleep by) the free beer being poured just feet away. Caligula would’ve been proud.

Somehow though, in spite of it all, the cherry-picked bands managed to keep their own energy up, if not the crowd’s. Tehran’s (by way of Brooklyn) The Yellow Dogs were the standouts, with their syncopated rhythms and intricate guitars managing to rouse at least a few of the surrounding sleepyheads.

From the convention center, I began the long trek over to Austin’s east side for the Deli Mag Party at The Hotel Vegas. I’d underestimated distances ever since arriving here, and this journey was no exception. (That said, if you’re able and have the time, walking is THE best way to get around SXSW. Your feet won’t thank you, but the street scene is really something to take in at a slow pace.) Aside from Tuesday night’s show at the Scoot Inn, this was my first real foray to the east side, and certainly my first with the sun still shining.

Countless street musicians, break-dancers and food vendors lined 6th St for as far as I could see. Cross under I-35, and you’re pretty much in clandestine territory: with SXSW-sanctioned events in the minority, this felt like Austin’s festival. I got a healthy dose of beer and BBQ at The Hotel Vegas, and caught another set by The Vandelles before heading back downtown.

While I spent the majority of the evening at Red 7 to catch another Panache showcase, I ran over to La Zona Rosa to meet up with (schmooru curator) Annie Woods, who had been filming and editing interviews nonstop since arriving in Austin. We took a quick peak at the super-exclusive Atlantic Records showcase, and I was more than a little shocked. The line for this event was wrapped around the block, and entrance was upwards of nearly $200 (this was a badge/wristband-only party) … but sadly, the conservative crowd inside showed little-to-no enthusiasm, while the real fans (outside) were prohibited entrance and the chance to really heat things up. Still, with so much else going on around town I had little sympathy for anyone who would wait in line for hours.

Janka Nabay had just gone on when I got back to Red 7 by way of Pedicab (my feet were ready to fall off at this point in the evening). And good thing I saved my soles, too: Janka and company were burning up the patio stage (think Maximum Joy-infused garifuna music). This was by far the most fun, impromptu dance party I was party to at SXSW (oh, and did I mention it wasn’t $200 to get in?).

Thee Oh Sees closed out the night with a giant kaboom! of (very) danceable, reverb-thick garage rock. Brigid Dawson and John Dwyer’s vocal interplay was a real treat, as always, and their rhythm section made thunderous intensity seem effortless. Amazing following fun following amazing: I want to do this day all over again, exactly the same.

Austin, TX — 3/18/11

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