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SXSW 2011: Thursday

18 Mar

In Which We Get Parades, Get Quotes, Get Gravy & Get Strokes

Every day should start off with a parade, and Thursday at SXSW did. As we stepped out of the hotel, the Second Line marching band was making their way down Sixth Street as part of the “HBO presents Treme” event, a showcase of New Orleans music and jazz. The party may have been branded, but the enthusiasm of the band and marchers was organic- according to Wikipedia (words of doom, and we welcome any updates of further knowledge) the phrase “second line” refers to those who are out to follow the band (the “first line”) for the enjoyment of music, which we in downtown Austin certainly were.

To enjoy some more music and get even more heavily into branded territory, our first stop on the day party rounds sent us to the MTV Garage, a two story parking lot taken over by the cable network that used to be about music. With promises of free food and drink (which there were) there was a huge number of RSVPs to the event, which really, in the end, meant absolutely nothing. Badge-holders and wristbands got in on a much shorter line, leaving many with printed RSVP tickets in their hands waiting in the line around the block for a chance to get in, which for most, probably did not happen. Once inside, the bands appropriately cable ready- Hell & Lula had an easily anthemic and catchy sound, with a well-packaged pop-punk look down to the eye-linered bass player and frontman Michael Alan Kolb’s rangy falsetto and stage presence taking from Steven Tyler. The Los Angelenos did have a serious plea, though, they were all wearing whistles as part of the Falling Whistles campaign, an effort to provide rehabilitation and education to former child soldiers in the Congo.

Foster the People did their thing on the second stage- the garage rooftop had two stages set up next to eachother so that one band could be setting up while the other played, and yet they still managed to run behind schedule- as we checked out the free barbeque from Stubb’s, so in my mind, Foster the People has a tangy sweetness, but that doesn’t really tell you about their music. Because the were running behind, Locksley, the pride of Madison, WI, was stuck with a three song set, but the throwback rockers made the most of it. With their crisp look as much as homage to Buddy Holly as their sound, the quartet was a blast of jittery energy and their bag of stage tricks included swinging their guitars around eachother’s backs to play the other’s riffs, which got roars of approval from the camera-ready crowd.

After the MTV Garage, the Beauty Bar was the nicest place to be, as it was filled with Canadians for the Hollerado Nacho Party/Pop Montreal Day Party. As we rolled in, rapper Cadence Weapon was cuing up his set with a band; himself with a phase adjuster, a DJ on MPC and a live drummer. Cadence Weapon cut a great version of Thom Yorke’s “Eraser” when that remix project was going on and it was great to see him do his own backpack and headphone material live, including the grinding and smart “Jukebox”, which could have come from a hipster version of Kill The Vultures. He was also circumspect about the swag given out to official SXSW showcasing artists, saying, “Canadians like value, we like practical things. I got a hat and a bag. Everything else is fucking gravy.”

Inside the bar, alt-rocking quartet Hollerado were setting up for their own gravy show and it was some of the best fun of the festival yet. Hollerado have swung through the Twin Cities on tours with Free Energy and Gang of Four, and they totally deserved those billings and more, with their mid-90s “fuck it, were doing this and having fun” sound. Starting off with the folk-harmonizing-into-thrashing “What’s Everybody Running For (Part II)” and jumping out into the crowd, shooting off confetti cannons and giggling all the while, it was like a high-school basement party. Frontman Menno Versteeg channeled the 90s even more when he beamed out at the audience mid-set and exclaimed, “We told you to be excellent to eachother and everyone is abiding in the best possible way!” right before breaking into “Americanarama”, which won a best video prize at SXSW. The boys are also on track to pick up a Juno Prize for best new Canadian band, a well-deserved accolade for a shouldn’t-miss band.

Outside at the Beauty bar directly after Hollerado was another chance to see everyone’s favorite SXSW nice guy, Michael Cera and Mister Heavenly. In 20 minutes the patio had gone from passably full to packed, with iPhones and Flips in the air. Regardless of Cera’s appeal, it needs to be said again that Mister Heavenly put on a great rock show- it’s like making a movie with Sean Penn, Benicio del Toro and Leo DiCaprio and everyone getting hung up on Jack White making a cameo. This time around, their set felt less influenced by the 50s “doom-wop” and more in the vein Man Man’s crashing stage show and Modest Mouse’s jangling guitars and rhythms, hopefully that mix makes it onto the record due out on Sub Pop later this year.

The big “event” of the night was the free concert by The Strokes at the Auditorium Shores, 15 blocks and an adventurous pedicab ride away, pedaled by a man named Austin who had lived in Minneapolis a while back, where he claimed he did a lot of drugs back in the day. He chatted excitedly about the rise of Atmosphere and the joys of cycling and got us down in record time and one piece just in time to catch Twin Shadow again. The sound carried well across the festival crowd, with the pitch shifting synth lines of “At My Heels” getting their groove on, the hair-metalish shredding and George Lewis Jr.’s honeyed declamations keeping the anxious crowd placated and happy in the sun. Between sets, though, the crowd up front by the photo pit area pushed in towards a sectioned-off space that had been set up for ASL-interpretation- an interpreter was up by the stage signing lyrics and performing stylized dances to translate the music, which was quite a sight. As the crowd chanted “Strokes!” like a manic coxswain, the security broke down as Casablancas & Co. took the stage, resulting in a melee that had photogs pushed up against the chainlink fencing and mothers picking up their kids for fear of being trampled. The Strokes moved through some new tunes, as well as “The Modern Age” and “You Only Live Once” in the first couple tunes and they sounded solid, but with the crowd going nuts, the promise of other new acts and certain regard for personal safety, it seemed best to leave and keep the nostalgia intact.

After the Auditorium Shores clusterfuck and some bouncing around between venues trying to find a show to go to where the lines negated the actual probability of seeing the artist in question- such was the case with Glasser at the Pitchfork showcase, but Staciaann caught an Austin City Limits taping of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band where Jim James of My Morning Jacket sat in for five songs- showing up late to an Astronautalis set seemed a better than simply standing out on Sixth and watching the green beer flow. At the moment we walked in, Astronautalis was talking suggestions from the audience for freestyle subjects, which ended up being red plastic party cups, excite bikes, his grandmother Gloria, Virginia Woolf and platypus nipples. What came out was story about his own childhood, whiskey and how even if he is the nerdiest rapper around, he’ll never be nerdcore, which was thrilling and hilarious. His last two tunes were his new single “Midday Moon” and the roaring “Trouble Hunters”, which demanded audience participation. Towards the end of the song, he stepped out into the crowd and prefaced his request that everyone scream along with this brilliant preamble:

“We are all going to do something together, it’s going to be great, we are all going to shout like this, “Raaawr!” Were all going to do it together, there won’t be any pushing, I swear to god if I see anyone pushing I will knock your block off. I’m a skinny motherfucker but I’ve got tiny tough fists. We’re all going to do this together, it’s going to be great. It’s going to be so great, lightening will shoot out of your eyeballs and when you’re watching Kanye high as a bird dick on cocaine, you’ll be like, “There is no lightening shooting out of my eyeballs, why did I wait in line 4 hours for this shit?” Sing along if you know the words.”

Put it on a sticker. “Kanye: High as a bird dick. Astronautalis: Lightening out your eyeballs.”

It wouldn’t seem right to end St. Patrick’s Day without hitting up at least some Irish music and the U2 cover band playing the street festival on Fourth didn’t really count. Since personal appeals go a long way the last stop of the night was to the Friends Bar to catch Sacred Animals at the official Irish music showcase, whose keyboard player we met at the airport on the way into Austin. As the drummer noted after the show, “It probably wasn’t the Irish music you were expecting,” which was to say it stood on it’s own merits. No fiddles or pipes here, but a sweet electro-rock powered by quick-time drums and frontman Darragh Nolan’s breathy high voice, with justifiable comparisons to OK Computer-era Radiohead or a half-tempo Miike Snow. Carrying on the inescapability that apparently is becoming Twin Shadow at SXSW, they covered his “Castles in the Snow”, in the mix with their own tracks like “Chosen Seed” and “Welcome Home”, also the title of their EP. It was a lilting and supple send off into the night, out to the street and to one more band and one more parade.

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