Where were we? Or rather, when were we? Last month. Let’s just cut to the chase.
Between the “Creating a Music Town” panel in the morning and the Jared Mees show, I mostly missed stuff on SXSW’s last full day. I went to the IFC Crossroads House and wrote and just missed Frightened Rabbit. I had lunch with a friend — the first real food sit-down meal I’d had in days — and missed the last showing of the award-winning Tiny Furniture. I went to see Fang Island at the wrong time. And then I made my way to the Portland showcase put on by Riot Act, where the weather, dim and damp and colder by the second, made everything feel maybe just a little too much like home.
Jared Mees and the Grown Children @ Liberty Bar
Jared Mees was singing about “Strong Black Coffee” to a small but dedicated gaggle of folks in the Liberty Bar’s damp backyard. I assume most of them, like me, were kind of wishing the drinks in our hands would transform into cups of coffee.
Jokes were cracked about fingers slowly thawing out. The rain stopped for a little while. I admired the coats on those more prepared for the weather and wondered if anyone could focus on anything but keeping warm. The Grown Children were totally charming and not at all restrained by the weather.
Titus Andronicus @ Scoot Inn
Did I mention it was fucking cold? I think I did. I also mentioned this show a lot in this post, which was about Titus Andronicus’ show a week later at a house in Whiteaker — a show which was a lot louder and a lot warmer. But in Austin, in the cold, in parkas and kneesocks and suffering a truly biting wind, TA were fantastic, ferocious and unexpectedly endearing. And the Fortress of Solitude reference in “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future” just seemed all the more appropriate.
Gwar @ Mess With Texas
Walking back to the main drag, cup of tea in my hands doing the job of a good pair of gloves, I heard this … noise coming from behind the Mess With Texas fence, on which people were precariously perched. On tiptoes, I peered over the fence — and saw Gwar. They don’t even have to do anything. They just stand there, and their costumes say everything. People were watching from the rooftops across the street; one lucky bastard was perched in a tree. I stayed long enough to watch the band spray the adoring crowd with fake blood. It was loud, ridiculous and incredible. And best watched from a safe distance.
Rival Schools @ Red 7 Patio
To my total surprise, this was one of the highlights of SXSW — a show by a band that broke up after one early-oughts record (clearly, they’ve since reformed). I’ve listened to Rival Schools’ 2001 album United by Fate enough to know that there’s one song on it I always think of as “that one really good Rival Schools song.”
Or so I thought. (Keep reading…)
As it turned out, I’ve listend to that record enough to know most of the songs on it — and most of them hold up shockingly well. The crowd at Red 7’s outdoor patio was mostly male, mostly taller than me, and mostly in some state of shaved-headedness. They were also in a state of modest glee; there was no crazy dancing or even pogoing, but there were more smiles than I’d seen on the faces of any audience all week — and the biggest one may have been on the face of singer/guitarist Walter Schreifels, who has a solo album coming out soon. Some bands seem tired of playing their old songs; he seemed delighted by them. “This is the closest you’re going to get to Quicksand,” Schreifels said, referring to his mid-‘90s post-hardcore band, before breaking into a cover of The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?” that worked far better than it should’ve. Schreifels has one of those perpetually hoarse, agonized voices that lends a particular urgency to the band’s every song; if there’s a certain dated, alt-rock feel to some of the guitar tones on United By Fate, that’s just all the more reason to look forward to something new from a band that writes such deliciously terse songs — hardcore past and heart on sleeve.
Joan of Arc @ Galaxy Room
I still don’t get Joan of Arc, and I’m OK with that. Sometimes their music is pretty, sometimes it’s noodlely and proggy, sometimes it veers toward catchy and sometimes it makes me feel inexplicably twitchy. The way people describe it is nothing like how it sounds to me, which is interesting, and a fun experiment in expectations vs. personal perception, but I wasn’t in the mood for arty post-rock (bandleader Tim Kinsella uses “cryptic feyness and poststructuralist lyricism,” according to the Austin AV Club) and was easily lured away by Rumor Fest 2010: Word was that Mos Def was going to be playing at the Mohawk. I hauled ass up the street, only to find that, according to Twitter, Mos Def was currently playing a MySpace show some blocks away. I sulked, watched Death for a little while and then started to fade. Rapidly. I stopped at Japandroids’ show at the Galaxy Room long enough to regiter LOUD GUITARS! SHOUTING WOO FUN TIMES GOOD STUFF HELLO BOYS YOU ARE PUNK ROCK AND I AM TIRED. And then I called it a night, with one last show on the horizon: singer-songwriter Devon Sproule at the Ghost Room the next afternoon, where I sat with a bloody Mary and my laptop and a happy smile; Sproule, a tiny woman with a storytelling, country tinge to her songs, plays like she’s just as lost in her songs as the most deafening rock dude from the night before might’ve been. It was a perfect note on which to end the week.
In closing: Do you know how many bands there are with “bells” in the name? And how many of them I wish I’d seen? To the latter, I can answer, At least two. But SXSW, this first time, is all about the woulda-coulda-shouldas. I shoulda gone to see The xx in a church, Superchunk anywhere, the Dum Dum Girls, Broken Bells, that other band everyone else wrote about (there are about 19 of these). Not that I’m complaining. SXSW was amazing, a learning experience, sensory overload, and I started making rules for next year about two days in:
1: PLAN BETTER.
2: Do not see bands you’ve already seen unless they are really and truly your favorite bands. Go see random shit!
3: Day parties are your best friend. Schedule those like crazycakes.
4: Check in everywhere on Foursquare; that way you have a record, a week later when you think you’ve lost your mind, of where the hell you were. And add notes.
5: There is no try. Just do. You can’t do it wrong, but you can’t do it right, either. There’s just too much. It’s beautiful.