By the time Patrick Stickles arrived on stage at Club Deville last night, the Titus Andronicus frontman sounded like he had played far more than five shows over the past four days. His voice was hoarse, he acted a few notches below cranky, and he appeared to have aged five years since I saw Titus open for Los Campesinos! in February. Yet, as he signaled the start of the band's set with the first few notes of "Titus Andronicus," he shrugged that all off, bounding about his area of the stage and screaming himself into further hoarseness.
That's the way things go at SXSW: long periods of exhaustion punctuated by brief bursts of euphoria. Want to see Metallica? Well, wait in this line. Then wait in the venue. Then watch DJ Bassnectar. And Silversun Pickups. Now you may rewarded with "Master Of Puppets." Oh, btw, do you mind standing through that whole process?
So on the final real day of SXSW (the fest likes to pretend that it runs through Sunday, but a tribute band marathon at Emo's does not a fifth day make), I opted to pull a switch-up on the whole operation and substitute in some long periods of relaxation at the Press Here Publicity Garden Party at the East Side's gorgeous French Legation Museum. After a couple free treats courtesy of The Ice Cream Man, sets by lesser acts like Wild Beasts and former Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur, I'd get my moment of euphoria for the afternoon thanks to the skewed pop of Dirty Projectors, the final band on my must-see checklist.
It felt great to take a load off for a significant amount of time, but, among the number of things I'd like to do differently with my SXSW next year, I'd like to spend less time waiting through bands I don't want to see, and more time watching bands do things like tear apart the Pure Volume house. Knowing it would become harder to gain access to the party as the day wore on, I arrived at the Legation around 2:30. The schedule had already been pushed back by twenty minutes, and when Dirty Projectors finally showed, the show was 45 minutes behind. (Does anyone know if Projectors singer-keyboardist Angel Deradoorian made it to her showcase at Mohawk on time?) I now know the following: Your mom will love Diane Birch, Wild Beasts is the English Yeasayer no one asked for, and Melissa Auf Der Maur is, at all times, probably five seconds from screaming "I used to be in Hole and Smashing Pumpkins!" Finally—and most importantly—I confirmed that Dirty Projectors is fucking awesome.
Thanks to two SXSW artists, my seasonal music is planned out for the rest of 2009. Grizzly Bear's Vekatimest will rule my fall, while the summer jams will come courtesy of Bitte Orca by Dirty Projectors. Leading candidate for "Most likely Bitte Orca track to blasted in Erik's car with the windows down": single "Stillness Is The Move," a funky, skeletal number where singer-guitarist Amber Coffman comfortably tests her diva range and makes a strong argument for further lead vocal work. (Stereogum has a high-quality version of the song from the band's performance at Thursday's NPR day show.) The band's current lineup is so on-point it's ridiculous, to the point that bassist Nat Baldwin received several verbal confessions of love, echoed from several corners of the crowd.
From there, it was on to the Viva Radio showcase at Club Deville (SXSW 2010 resolution number two: Do more showcase hopping). For those not in the know, Viva Radio is an online radio station that provides the in-store music for all American Apparel locations. So if you're the proud owner of a body suit that goes up your butt, chances are you've listened to Viva Radio.
Despite the station's ties to the nation's finest retailer of non-sweatshop shiny leggings, the crowd was heavy with record-store dudes, one of whom took a particular dislike to between-set comedians Sam Brown and Sean O'Connor. The early part of the lineup was heavy with record- store dude fare like the psych rock of The Warlocks and the extremely annoying bullshit of Colourmusic. (SXSW 2010 resolution number three; stop describing bands as "extremely annoying bullshit.") The latter act feature some jarring avant garde films to complement its druggy vibe, while the latter were men who wore skirts. Like Sebastien Grainger before them, Colourmusic shows the promise of hookiness on record, but a desire to do nothing but bludgeon its audience in concert. But the audience didn't mind being bludgeoned, as they demanded the least-deserved encore I've ever witnessed.
I was personally bludgeoned by Ponytail: After destroying a piñata on stage, lead singer Molly Siegel flung the piñata bat into the audience, which hit my shoulder and flew behind me. No harm, no foul, and it didn't prevent me from halfway enjoying the set, which was fun to watch, if brutal on the ears.
Then came Titus Andronicus, who burned through most of 2008's The Airing Of Grievances and managed to not implode while doing so.
And so ended my SXSW 2009. I had no Perez Hilton or Playboy parties, nor did I make any huge discoveries, but I did enjoy myself, which means criticism hasn't sucked all the fun out of music for me. I came out of it with a newfound respect for some artists (Akron/Family, The Thermals) and a reinforced love for others (Cursive, The Hold Steady, Dirty Projectors). On top of everything, I just have a good feeling about pop music in 2009. It's been a good year so far (a lackluster live performance can't take away the quality of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart) and it's only getting better.