At this point SXSW is already kind of a blur, but let me try to remember what happened….
One thing that sticks out when you peruse everybody’s SXSW coverage is the herd mentality that afflicts both the mainstream press and the bloggers. It’s a little pathetic and it becomes evident when you’re there. Out of the 1,600 or so bands that performed, only about 25 of them get much coverage coming out of the festival. Every day there are three or so day parties and about three showcases that every hype maven tries to get into. You shouldn’t let that get in your way of having a good time, like I did on Thursday.
First off, I don’t recommend staying out late and getting drunk on Wednesday night before your 8:30 AM flight out of Ontario (especially when you don’t sleep well on planes). After picking up my rental car, I headed downtown for the LA Independent party at the Lucky Lounge. Seemed like a good place to at least run into some friends and hopefully catch the Henry Clay People. When I got there, the Mae Shi were on stage. It was one of their well publicized 18 shows at SXSW. They were pretty much playing to a group of friends, but it didn’t make them any less energetic. No costume changes though. As much as I liked the lineup, they were all LA bands who I can see anytime, so I split in hopes of seeing Okkervil River at Yard Dog.
After experiencing a certain hell in trying to find parking at the Lucky Lounge, I decided to hoof it to Yard Dog. I moved away from Austin in 2002 but I remembered it being pretty damn far. But the doorman assured me that I should just walk it. Bad idea. It’s both far and uphill. Not a good idea when you’re tired, hungover and haven’t had lunch yet. It did give me the chance to see how developed South Congress has gotten. For as long as I can remember, South Congress was hippie central. As I passed by brand new buildings filled with chichi restaurants and boutiques I was a little disgusted. I mean, I’m a capitalist pig and all, but does South Congress really need overpriced restaurants, condos and Starbucks?
I finally arrived at Yard Dog, where I’ve been attending SXSW day parties since at least 2000. It was predictably packed, but you could still move around and hear and see the band and get free beer. It was first time seeing Okkervil River and I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve heard mixed things about their live show, but it was great. Plenty of energy from Will Sheff and the band sounded great. I only caught the last four songs, but they were good ones: “A Girl in Port,” “Our Life Is Not a Movie or Maybe,” “Unless It’s Kicks” and “For Real” (if my memory serves correct).
I was with an old and a new friend and we took a break to grab a burrito and try to get into the Levi’s/Fader party for the Lou Reed tribute. The line was ridiculous. After a half-hearted attempt to get in, we gave up and decided to rest for the evening shows. Those guys wanted to see Islands at Cedar Street. Since they had badges and I didn’t, I opted out deciding that I’d rather take my chances trying to get into the Jagjaguwar/Secretly Canadian showcase at the Mohawk. I got there around 8:10 PM and the line for losers like me without badges and wristbands was long, but the SXSW people assured us we’d get in (“The capacity of the club is 700 and there are only 300 people inside.”). I waited patiently and since you can hear the outside stage perfectly from the line, I figured what the hell. I liked what I heard of Phosphorescent until they decided to do an extended, dissonant jam at the end. Then Bodies of Water started. They’ve admittedly gotten a lot better than when they first started. Around 9:30 I finally got to the front of the line. They checked my ID and said I was in, and then about 400 people with badges showed up. I was out.
I didn’t really have a backup at this point. I needed to get the key for the place I was staying, so I met up with some friends at Lovejoy’s. We decided to walk around and see if anything grabbed us. We (accidentally) listened to Anavan from upstairs at Habana Calle 6. It looked pretty empty downstairs. A couple of my friends had to work on Friday so they left. Another friend and I argued about whether to see Times New Viking or No Age at the Habana Annex Backyard. I whined a bunch and No Age won.
The cover was $10 and there were only about 40 people inside. We decided to just stand outside in the alley (about 15 feet from the stage and with perfect sightlines). I thought seeing them would make me like them more, but it seemed to have the opposite effect. I watched a lot of people filter in and out, so I know I’m not alone. When I listened to a lot punk and hardcore back in junior high I preferred bands like Minor Threat, the Dead Kennedys and the Circle Jerks who wrote provocative, political songs. No Age has good energy, but their lyrics aren’t compelling like those bands. They sport Crass shirts on stage and list a bunch of avant-garde visual artists on their Myspace page under influences, but it’s just not that lyrically, musically or visually innovative.
This is a quote from their Sub Pop bio: “Elsewhere, No Age's members have impacted multiple mediums in a way that tastefully denies rampant cynicism.” Congratulations, but when you put something like that in your bio, you should be careful not to sound so negative and cynical in between song banter. On a more positive note, I do love how they use their new popularity to bring attention to their friends’ bands. And by no means, are they a bad band. They’re way, way better than most of the stuff out there. Just try to avoid reading their interviews.