So, I had this brilliant idea that I would harass everyone (and I mean everyone) I knew who went to SXSW 2007 and get a little report from them about the best part of the experience. A few people seem to still be recovering and totally MIA (*ahem*, but this afternoon I received two prompt and wonderfully lively reports from Howard Draper (left) and Jonathan Meiburg (right) of Shearwater.
(Photo courtesy of Kathryn Yu.)
At the hottest of hells in Austin, Spiro's, I saw the band Oxbow, at midnight on Friday night. The music was almost indescribably gnarled and massive, with Eugene Robinson's screaming/whispering pithy vocals narrating stories I'm afraid to know. Eugene stripped to his briefs and tank top, double pentagram tattoos spraying terror in all forward directions. The bouncers at Spiro's became more and more aware of their masculine inadequacies, and just prior to the last song, the head bouncer visibly expressed to the band that Eugene must put pants back on. Eugene said "this is our last song", and he maintained his modest level of costume. Power to amplifiers was cut, the PA was shut off, the venue light cord was torn from its socket. The drummer was physically removed from the drums. The floor screamed as the wall of bouncers descended and pushed, until the six linebackers focused a fierce beat down on one attendee, barely visible on the floor beneath all the cocked biceps and boots. Finally, some police came. For my SXSW experience, nothing was bigger than Oxbow. Nothing.
SXSW is really more of a trade show than a music festival, but music does still happen at it now and again. I made a vow, a couple of years back, that since I'm playing (this year, at 5 shows, was mild) I'm not going to try too hard to knock myself out running around and getting in lines - but I do somehow always manage to see some neat stuff. I didn't have any real WTF moments this year, where something I wasn't expecting floored me, but it's my fault for being a wuss. Thor won that prize for seeing Yo Majesty at Chain Drive and Howard nearly got his clock cleaned in a near-riot at the Oxbow show (the freaked-out staff pulled the plug when Eugene Robinson refused to put his pants back on).
Wed night I braved Emo's and the 4AD showcase, mostly because I wanted to see Blonde Redhead, but was surprised to see The Mountain Goats put on the best of their shows I think I've ever seen (and we've toured with them). All the more remarkable as, minutes before showtime, poor John was cowering in a corner of Emo's' pretty poor excuse for a green room, pretty clearly wishing he was anywhere else, while the 47 members of Beirut's entourage covered every available inch of floor space. [ed note: Emo's green room -- a/k/a The Doublemint Lounge, is like, literally 10x10 and contains two nasty sofas, a leaky toilet, and a convenience store display "cooler."] In the midst of this, Miwa (from Beggars) managed to smuggle in a cake for John's 40th birthday - with candles - and, after a little bow, he good-naturedly took a huge bite out of the side of it.
Thursday night was Shearwater's showcase at Central Presbyterian, and I don't think I've ever been as nervous before a show - forgot to take my glasses off until about two songs in when I realized I could see the audience a little too well. But as we got going I started to feel really good - Central Pres is the opposite of most SXSW venues and I think I never want to play anywhere else again. Everything sounds like an epic in there, and instead of the music being sucked away from the stage (as it is in most clubs), every sound you make just blooms on its way to the back wall. I made a vow to take a grand piano on tour with us from now on. And there wasn't an overpriced beer or surly bouncer to be found in the place - just friendly church volunteers who said things like "the restroom is down the hall to your left" and "good luck!" and "I make my own honey!"
People I "met": besides the very entertaining Matador crew, who got so blitzed doing karaoke on Friday night (apparently Gerard sang "Breaking the Law") that some of them hadn't even left their hotel by 5pm on Saturday, I was pretty stoked to meet Vashti Bunyan and Jim White during our showcase. Also Stephen Thompson from NPR, who had astonished me by plugging our show on the air on Thursday morning. I was in the UT communications building at the same time as the Stooges, and kept hoping/fearing that Iggy would leap out of the elevator, but to no avail.
Friday night I went home early, watched You Can Count On Me, and fell asleep instantly.
Saturday I went back to the church to see Jandek (who was, to my surprise, genuinely frightening, funny, and kind of awesome). At one point, during yet another maelstrom of detuned-guitar, keening harmonium, and thundering drums, he yelled "I DON'T LIKE MYSELF!" and then, a little sheepishly, "SORRY, BUT I DON'T!" Bill Callahan's set, afterward, was sedate in comparison, but very beautiful - new songs "Sycamore" and the lovely/unsettling "Honeymoon Child" in particular. The audience howled when he announced his last song (already?) but Bill was unrepentant. "They gave us half an hour," he said. "It takes Columbo twice as long to solve a crime."