Now that almost two weeks have passed since South by Southwest blew through town, and now that almost everyone is tired of reading about it, I present to you my SXSW report. Aside from a free Dirtbombs day show a few years ago and the Guided by Voices hoot night last year, I haven't attended the festival in all its horrible, wonderful glory since 2001 (an endurance odyssey). Much to my chagrin and/or dismay, wristbands are way more expensive now, and there sure are a lot more industry fuckos clogging the lines into the venues. Most of them have soul patches and reek of entitlement. My putdown of them is a cliche, yes, but one that is unfortunately one hundred percent accurate. Anyway, since wristbands were so expensive and, if you showed up too late, essentially worthless, I was a little conservative with my choices. Most of the bands I waited in line to see were bands I had already seen before. But I knew they could deliver the goods, baby! The rock goods!
Stubb's Matador showcase
What the hell is Matador up to in the '06? First on the bill was Jennifer O'Connor. I wanted to like her because she was nice and didn't look like a rock jerk, but her music was bland, singer/songwriter, coffeehouse rock. All the songs were about how her boyfriend broke up with her, or she broke up with him. She was followed by Brightblack Morning Light, a sort of ambient jam band. It was the musical equivalent of a bong cleaning. This is what the label that brought you Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Guided by Voices, Silkworm, and The Fall's nineties albums is bringing you now. Baffling. Thankfully, The New Pornographers kicked it up eighty notches. They have it all: A.C. Newman, Neko Case, Dan Bejar (who wasn't there, unfortunately), great songs, pop hooks for days, high energy, sensible shoes, and that special Canadian je ne sais quois. They were the start of a curiously enjoyable trend for me, one that would continue with each band I was seeing for the second or third or fourth or tenth time: bettering the last performance of theirs I saw. I left the showcase after the New Pornos, because the crowd kept getting thicker, and I don't like Belle and Sebastian and Mogwai enough to suffocate in the musk of thousands of pasty white indie rockers. I had no other promising leads, so I walked down to the Exodus to try to catch The Go Team's set. I like one of their songs a lot. It's the only song of theirs I've heard. The line was ridiculous, and after waiting in it for ten minutes, I got antsy and wandered the streets for thirty minutes before going home and getting a full night's sleep. It served me well.
Back to Stubb's to see the Fiery Furnaces. The line is horrendous. Since the headliners are Gomez and Nickel Creek, I'm baffled. It seems like a show that will accumulate a crowd slowly, not explode from the get-go. I ask the guy in line behind me who the hell got so popular on the bill. He stares at me incredulously. "You don't know?" he asks me patronizingly, like I just farted in his creme brulee. "No," I say. "You mean you really don't know?" he says. I want to strangle the fucker, grab him by the tendons in his neck, and say, "Listen, rock jerk, I worked all day. I didn't have access to the rock jerk grapevine. I asked you a simple question. Give me a simple answer or I will lay waste to you. I will eat your soul. I will put your soul in a taco and eat it. Then I will shit it out. It will pass through a system of pipes before being devoured by flies. You are a puny little man." He finally deigns to humor me with a response. Apparently, the Beastie Boys are playing a (not-so) surprise show, first on the bill. I decide to stick it out in line. I may get to see the Beastie Boys, and if not, I will still have no problem seeing Fiery Furnaces. Turns out, I hear the entirety of the Beastie Boys show, and finally get in to see their last two songs. Accidentally seeing the Beastie Boys is a nice little thing, isn't it? When they finish, Stubb's looks like the last scene in Woodstock. It is decimated. The crowd clears out, leaving much litter in its wake. Deadboy & The Elephantmen follow. They have a lot of energy, but are a little too enamored of the White Stripes band model. It's almost like they was created by an accounting firm. Noisettes follow. Again, I applaud the energy, but I can't recall even eight seconds of their set. The Fiery Furnaces follow. Nice alliteration! They are probably my favorite new band of the last couple of years. They destroy Stubb's. They raze it to the ground. Whoo! I like this band! I skip out and head to Friends, where I attempt to get into the Twilight Singers. No dice! This club is sold out! Douchebag admittance only! I walk over to Exodus to catch Eagles of Death Metal instead. I have a weird disconnected experience watching a band called The Lovemakers. I find their performance fun and their energy highly contagious, but I have a powerful hunch that their records suck some shit. Eagles of Death Metal are enjoyable, and I love the two-drummer novelty, but there is something a little too paint-by-numbers about their performance, though a couple of songs really take off. I still like the album.
Finally, I don't have to worry about getting up and going to work the next day. I do have to worry about having to piss like a madman and the clubs not being open for another thirty minutes. I start to wander around, just to keep moving and to keep my mind off my bladder. I realize after about ten minutes that I'm wandering where I probably shouldn't be wandering. This is immediately reinforced after I nearly collide with a couple shooting up between a couple of parked cars. Head down, nose to the grindstone, on the alert for more crouching junkies and hidden dragons, I trudge back downtown and find Side Bar open and not hosting live music. I take a piss, drink a pre-rock beer, and then go to Club DeVille to see Bottomless Pit, the new band from the surviving members of Silkworm. First up is The Color Scheme. What a collection of assholes. The singer is a pampered pretty boy who whines about the smallness of the crowd, and their songs are boring. What a rock jerk. Bottomless Pit, however, are fucking awesome. I'm extremely pleased. Next, I head to Antone's for Neko Case. First, I stand through Over the Rhine (I don't remember one thing about this band), Marah (total douchebags, though they do have some great riffs), and Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings (awesome, awesome, awesome). Neko Case is great, as usual, though I wish she'd shuffle some of the older songs in her set list. Also, like Meryl Streep, she's a little too professional, so reliable that at times she seems almost cold. She's a Swiss watch. This is a minor complaint, however, because I love her songs to death, and when she sings harmony with Kelly Hogan and Rachel Flotard, the hair stands up on my arms.
I'm going to wrap this up quickly. I need to go to bed, damn it.
Irving: Don't remember them.
Silversun Pickups: Boring.
Head of Femur: I worked in a record store in college with a couple of the guys in this band. I like a lot of their songs. However, I was disappointed with their live show, which was more generically indie-rock than the albums, though this isn't really their fault. They weren't able to bring their horn and string section with them on the tour, so they didn't play any of the pretty, orchestral, harmonic stuff that I like.
Antone's Merge showcase
White Whale: Pleasant, occasionally dull, however their last song was so good that I have some hope for this band.
Annie Hayden: Snooze.
The Essex Green: Likable, catchy. I like the pop hooks. Doesn't quite do enough for me, though.
Superchunk: These cats were on fire. Great set, and totally redeeming the mediocre show they put on the last time I saw them, though the poor sound at that show had a lot to do with it. This time, great set, great sound.
Camera Obscura: Cute as hell. Americans are very receptive to Scottish accents. They just make us feel good. What can I say? I don't get the hype otherwise. Pleasant, but nothing special.
Robert Pollard: The greatest man in rock. He's not a rock jerk. He's written more classic songs today than any rock jerk ever will. Though he seemed a bit unhealthy and incoherent in between songs, while he performed he was a rock and roll dynamo. This incoherence might have had something to do with Day Four, Hour 5000 of SXSW. I felt unhealthy and incoherent myself. His new band is great. His stage banter was curiously subdued, though he did have one great line after laughing at his own dance moves: "I look like fucking Leo Sayer out here."