Check. Check. Check one. Can I get a little more writing skill in the monitors? No? Guess we’ll run with what we have.
So, South By Southwest was a thing that I did this year. And because you can volunteer 60 hours with SXSW to earn a music badge, that’s exactly what I did. Because who has an extra $800 lying around? Not me.
The first half of my SXSW experience was spent volunteering at the trade show, which took up two full exhibit halls and included booths from over 300 companies – big and small, local and not-so-local, real and fake. On a side note, I know my way around the first floor of the Austin Convention Center pretty stinking well by now.
The second half was spent going to as many shows as possible – traversing the whole of downtown Austin on foot, avoiding mobs of drunks stumbling between Charli XCX and Snoop Lion (which often proved difficult). I realized quickly that it’s logistically and physically impossible to see EVERY BAND EVERRR, so I gave up that notion and settled for going to a crap ton of cool shows for free. Which wasn’t half bad.
Things: there were a lot of them. It was an insanely busy week full of SO MANY THINGS that I’m splitting my recap into a couple of posts. And I’m including my own photos whenever possible, but I was “shooting” on an iPhone 3GS and it’s impossible to be front row for everything. So, with all that said:
LOCALS AND CALIFORNIA TRANSPLANTS, I GIVE YOU SXSW 2013.
I began my voluntary servitude on the first Friday of SXSW (3/8) and wrapped up on Wednesday (3/12). Most of my time was spent at the trade show, although I had a couple shifts in the “holding pool” which apparently is SXSW-ese for “Ummm, I guess you guys can go stand in the rain and eat tacos.”
Although my trade show duties officially involved escorting vendors to their booths, answering questions, and checking the credentials of all trying to pass through my door, about 99% of my time amounted to this.
Also, Shaq was there.
There were other celebrity sightings, too: I shook hands with SXSW founder Louis Black, creeped on Lupe Fiasco from a short distance, watched Fitz of Fitz and the Tantrums pass by on two separate days, alerted two other volunteers to Owen Wilson’s presence (they immediately ran in giggling and scared him off), and resisted the strong urge to approach Will Arnett with a chicken dance.
My last two days of volunteering were also the first two days of the music leg of the festival. So I became a crazy person on Tuesday and Wednesday, eschewing the idea of rest, sacrificing my body and health to cram in as many poorly-soundchecked, Pitchfork-endorsed acts as possible after my shift ended. The results varied.
Despite the fact that I worked from 10AM to 7PM and spent the rest of my night at local venue Mohawk, Tuesday was probably my favorite day of music. Thanks to the privileges associated with the Badged Elite tier of the SXSW caste system, I waited in zero lines and got to the indoor stage seconds before Night Beds began their set. Lead singer Winston Yellen’s natural tenor was the perfect way to usher me into the rest of the week, and I really enjoyed this group. Must-listen: Ramona.
Torres followed Night Beds on the indoor stage. I was really pumped to see these guys since their incredible debut dropped a few weeks prior, but Mackenzie Scott’s vocals were tragically buried too far down in the mix to give a proportionally wonderful live representation of a wonderful vocals-driven band. That said, I really enjoyed the set, and I’m looking forward to seeing what this young Nashville crew has in store for them. Must listen: November Baby.
From Torres I made my way to the outdoor stage to get early position for Cloud Nothings, who would be going on in a couple hours. On the way, I happened to see that DIIV and Local Natives had been added to the lineup as well, reaffirming my decision to stay planted at Mohawk for the rest of the night. But first came IO Echo and Marnie Stern, both acts I had never heard of. IO Echo was a massively pleasant surprise – think <vaguely Oriental aesthetic> meets <wispy lead singer a la The Naked and Famous> meets <dark ’80s pop>. Marnie Stern was a less pleasant surprise, exchanging prog-metal-bubblegum-girl-pop (what?) with gimmicky tapping techniques and jokes about stretching her body parts across the stage. Must listen: IO Echo’s Shanghai Girls.
DIIV was phenomenal; off the charts stage presence and professionalism. Even though half the band looks like they are actively interested in hurting you, I liked their album and loved their show. Probably my favorite Brooklyn-based scuzzy surf rock band (yes that’s a thing shut up). Must listen: (Druun)/Past Lives.
Cloud Nothings was one of the bands I was looking forward to the most, and they didn’t disappoint. Their 2012 album Attack on Memory was one of my favorites of the year and their show was jaw-dropping. The 15+ minute rendition of “Wasted Days” was one of the most impressive things I saw all week. You could tell the crowd knew they were witnessing something special as the Cleveland band put on a menacing persona and proceeded to methodically tear our senses apart. Also, drummer Jayson Gerycz is from another planet. As soon as the guys left the stage after closing with crowd favorite “Fall In,” the moshing ceased and the couple from East Austin whom I had befriended somewhere back around Marnie Stern told me they were officially won over. Must listen: Our Plans.
As much as I’ve tried over the last year or two, I don’t necessarily get Local Natives, per se, but they drew quite an enthusiastic crowd. Gang vocals were had, bassist hips were thrust, guitarist mustaches were grown, everybody played some drums. It was a Local Natives show.
The evening ended with John Talabot, Spanish DJ of ƒIN fame. Unfortunately for him, it was after 1 in the morning and I was tired. When you’re exhausted, a stellar DJ is just a guy pushing buttons on a stage. I followed the Local Natives fanboys out into the night.
Wednesday was another day of running to Mohawk as soon as my shift ended, this time to catch Japandroids and Iggy & the Stooges. Unfortunately the venue was packed to capacity and I was unable to get in, so I had to settle for all my hopes and dreams slipping away into the ether as I listened to Japandroids’ entire set from the other side of the wall. But they sounded phenomenal. So close… and yet so far. A fellow I was talking to in line had never heard of them and expressed astonishment when I told him they were only a 2-piece group. Also obtained this gem while waiting in line:
Knowing that if I couldn’t get in for Japandroids there was no way I’d be able to behold the wrinkly majesty of Iggy and/or his Stooges, I made the tough decision to bail on the Mohawk and walked a mile across downtown to the ACL Live Moody Theater. I’m completely fine with this decision because it netted me air conditioning and a front row position for some stellar acts.
I caught the tail end of Family of the Year’s set, which was decent, but certainly nothing to blog home about. Lord Huron followed and put on another one of the best shows I saw all week. For a band that only has one LP under their belt, the LA band was slick, polished, and passionate. Rhythm and instrumentation blended effortlessly as the young talents painted soundscapes of near and distant shores and the adventures to be found in between. Not a single shred of pretension with these guys either, and when the first chorus kicked in on “Ends of the Earth,” I got very literal chills. Must listen: Ends of the Earth.
Natalie Maines, of Shut Up and Sing fame (which I may or may not own), and also some band called the “Dixie Chicks,” was next. Sporting the same haircut I had in 7th grade but a much more talented backing band, Maines tore through a set that included several covers and a couple original songs that will be on her upcoming solo album. The excellent “Take it on Faith” rounded out the set, with Lloyd Maines (Natalie’s father) and Ben Harper trading steel/slide guitar solos into the night. Must listen: Take it on Faith, when the album drops.
I stuck around for a few Iron & Wine songs, and Sam Beam was wonderful as always, but I jetted early to secure a place at the Paramore show next door because my night hadn’t already jumped the shark enough. Paramore was everything 18-year-old me hoped they would be, and Hayley Williams even pulled a lucky fan up on stage to help sing the end of “Misery Business”.
There’s somehow more! Check out Part 2 of my recap here.