So a bit of introduction before I start divulging my first day at SXSW Music 2009: My name is Erik Michael Adams. I'm a 23-year-old Caucasian male. I'm also the assistant editor for Decider in Austin, and enjoy shoehorning Arrested Development references into music columns. And I guess that's it.
This is my second SXSW, and despite the fact that I couldn't get to bed Tuesday night, I was at The Onion's Sixth StreetHQ drinking coffee and checking tweets at 9:30am. Heading down to the Mohawk for Austinist's “Gonna Gonna Get Down” day party, Sixth was mostly barren, but it felt like everyone not loading truckloads of beer into the bars was eagerly bouncing on their heels, champing at the bit like they were Chicago A.V. Club editors on a flight delayed for four hours. Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" played from the window of Roppolo's Pizza, whoever put it on oblivious to the fact that the only musical choice for representing the impending arrival of a massive, unstoppable force is "Ride Of The Valkyries." (Right, Zack Snyder?)
My main goal for Gonna Gonna Get Down was to gonna gonna get fed, but I was intrigued enough by the bill's first two acts, Telekinesis and Here We Go Magic, to stick around after I sticking three kinds of barbecued meats in my face.
We received a copy of Telekinesis' self-titled LP in the office a few weeks back, and while its released-by-Merge-Records and produced-by-Chris-Walla pedigrees inspired an immediate rip to my hard drive, I didn't listen to it until Tuesday night, while scrolling through iTunes and realizing it was a record by Seattle power pop band Telekinesis and not Brooklyn dance act Telepathe. So I knew I was in for some catchy tunes, which singing drummer Michael Benjamin Lerner and his band more than capably delivered. Telekinesis won't be the "new Cars" breakout of SXSW—WTF supergroup Tinted Windows already has that title locked up—but lean rockers like "Imaginary Friend" and "Rust" are worthy of your head-bobbing.
(Two quandaries: Does Lerner look like a young Don Henley because he's a singing drummer? Similarly, does his voice sound like Ben Gibbard's because Death Cab For Cutie's guitarist worked on Telekinesis' record.)
If Telekinesis was the kick in the ass to start the day, Here We Go Magic were the come down to accompany a 1pm High Life buzz. (Those who sampled the free absinthe cocktails in the VIP area probably have a different opinion.) Singer-songwriter Luke Temple sings in a falsetto that's halfway between Neil Young and Grizzly Bear's Ed Droste, and his band's woozy avant-folk would work better in a year where Grizzly Bear wasn't all over SXSW and poised to release a fucking fantastic record. The band's back beat is positively hypnotizing, and it temporarily lulled Sean O'Neal into thinking "Fangela" was a Pink Floyd cover.
After the members of TV/TV took the Mohawk stage to Girl Talk's "Play Your Part (Pt. 1)," I decided it was time to split for the Terrorbird Media/Force Field PR show at Red 7. I could wait three hours for The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, but I could't stand more than a minute of TV/TV's "We're pop punks that discovered dance beats" shtick. Grabbed a swag bag on the way out, looked in, and released audible groan at discovering Fearless Critic's guide to Austin restaurants, a book on which I recently spent the remaining balance of a Barnes And Noble gift card. Guess that's what I get for jumping ship from Austinist to Decider.
Red 7 was packed, because a) The party is one of the only good things happening on SXSW's first day b) the lineup included super-buzzy acts like the aforementioned Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, as well as Vivian Girls and Wavves. The Thermals were setting up as Sean and I arrived on the patio—I'll reserve comment on them, as they're playing our day party (it's apparently pronounced par-TAY), but I can say that bassist Kathy Foster has the perfect haircut for keeping time. It bounces on the beat.
Terrorbird and Force Field put out a much more visibly stimulating spread than Gonna Gonna Get Down. I spotted my first semi-celebrity of the week (MTV News' John Norris, in black skull cap, yellow Titus Andronicus t-shirt, and sunglasses), a dude pairing a hunting cap with shop-class safety glasses, and not one, but two Dead Milkmen shirts, one worn by Vivian Girls guitarist Cassie Ramone. There was also a young lady wearing a children's Pokémon costume in lieu of shirt, but I'm not sure if that's any more pathetic than me recognizing individual Pokémon at 23. (It was Marill, nerds.)
The wait for Pains meant seeing Why's Yoni Wolf (Where's his band? In Berlin, the Florida Panhandle and the Taliban, according to Wolf), and the deconstructed funk of Fol Chen, who offered up a rather sincere take on Mariah Carey's "Emotions," but otherwise sounded like Prince, if Prince stopped giving a fuck.
So, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart: A whallop of a debut record, and one of my most anticipated bands of SXSW 2009. It may be derivative of any band that's ever married sugar-sweet melodies with walls of distorted guitar, but "Young Adult Fiction" goes in my ear and has a pleasant stay in my brain for days. But frontman Kip Berman's "don't check me out"s sounded much less confident live, and befitting the band's shoegazer influences, it's members aren't much to look at on stage. Keyboardist Peggy Wang seemed to be actively avoiding the "shoegazer" tag by training her eyes on the ceiling. The set was The Pains Of Being Of Good, But Not Great.
Vivian Girls closed with a shambolic set that drove a passing crowd member to yell "They suck" at me as I took notes. (INSTANT COMMENT!) When a band's most-winning quality is its perpetually off-key harmonies, those kinds of critiques are warranted. Lucky for that guy, he had 17 more chances to pull the same trick on journalists watching Vivian Girls.
Being lower in the A.V. Club totem pole than my colleagues and therefore without a badge, my options for nighttime showcases are limited to a handful of venues that weren't offering much to whet my appetite Wednesday night. Radio Room had The Phenomenal Handclap Band, who would be amazing if they turned down the prog and turned up the icy female vocals. Working from the band's "You'll Disappear," I sold the band to my friends as working in a Tom Tom Club/Eno-era Talking Heads vein, but when I saw the guitarist that looks like an extra from Yacht Rock, I realized I was wrong. We tried seeing Anathallo at Mohawk, but a mass of bodies and lack of air conditioning had turned the inside bar and stage area into a phenomenal sweatbox. Then, for a few, fleeting seconds, it looked like a tangential connection (a bartender at Stubb's who's the current boyfriend of a friend's ex-girlfriend) could get me into The Decemberists, but that fell through. Faced with the choice of sleeping in my bed or sleeping because of Phosphorescent's Willie Nelson covers, I chose sleeping in my bed. Sleep: A precious commodity in the coming days.