I'm sorry for breaking SXSW.
Allow me to explain: Every year, the music end of the festival gets farther from the ideal of a giant stage for new talent and closer to the "well-known acts surrounded by mid-to-lower tier performers" model of stuff like Lollapalooza. SXSW is still a sprawling beast in comparison (Kyle's tweets about last night/this morning's Jane's Addiction show make it sound like Perry Farrel's got it together, but I'd like to see his sparkly ass organize something the size of SXSW.) What is the undiscovered songwriter to do when a performance rights organization like BMI is throwing all its SXSW weight behind Devo? I'm just feeding into the death of the idealized SXSW, because if I had a badge, I might already be in line for Devo. Of the nine bands I saw yesterday—slacker, I know—I was previously aware of five, and intimately familiar with three, to the point that I used to run a blog named after a lyric from one of the band's songs.
That band, Great Lakes Myth Society, could use a little bit of that ol' SXSW "let's get known" magic, though its members are happy enough just to have the opportunity to play. A drinking band with a folk rock problem, Great Lakes was one of three Michigan-based bands represented by the host of yesterday's Quack Media/Found Magazine day party at Red 7. For a small label from a state that's quickly sinking into the current economic swamp, Quack staged a major coup with its day show: placing its showcasing acts in the middle of a bill topped by the band taking SXSW 2009's biggest indie rock victory lap, The Hold Steady.
One of my favorite parts about SXSW is that it brings acts like Great Lakes and its labelmates The Hard Lessons and Javelins (who are technically on the subsidiary label Suburban Sprawl Music), acts that I left behind when I moved from southeastern Michigan to Austin a year-and-a-half ago. I have a terrible nostalgic streak running through me, as do all three songwriters in Great Lakes Myth Society, though you might not catch it when Jamie Monger's growling about how Paul Bunyan created the five Great Lakes in a barroom brawl. Back in 2006, these bands were my life, so when Javelins crushed the crowd inside Red 7 under the shoegazing weight of "Entropy," I couldn't stop smiling. With singing drummer Matt Rickle and bassist Julian Wettlin taking some time off from their other gig, spastic post-punk combo Thunderbirds Are Now!, Javelins has become an insanely tight unit, which came in handy when guitarist Matt Howard blew shit up with tremolo.
Around the time that Thunderbirds Are Now! was a big draw at Mac's Bar in Lansing, Mich., they shared a bill at that dive with a little Brooklyn band called The Hold Steady. Separation Sunday had just been released, and while the Internet wouldn't shut up about it and Mac's was a quick drive from my college apartment, I opted out. Two years later, I popped a promo copy of Boys And Girls In America into my computer and to the beat of the E Street-aping intro of "Stuck Between Stations," I kicked myself almost as hard as I did when I missed Death Cab For Cutie's pre-Transatlanticism stop at the 300-capacity Michigan State University Union Ballroom. And while The Hold Steady are always touring, scheduling conflicts had prevented me from seeing them until yesterday.
Why did I wait so long?
Really, there's not much more I can add to the frothing-mouth praise for The Hold Steady's live show. Craig Finn as fiery rock preacher, Franz Nicolay playing the "Chips Ahoy!" organ solo like he's bored, the band keeps getting better, the thrill of the group sing-along, the hilarity of seeing dude's unironically trade high fives at high points of "Banging Camp." Most likely, I'll continue to make up for lost time and see them tonight at Mohawk.
Ah yes, Mohawk. You and your two stages are my favorite non-Alamo Drafthouse places in all of Austin, and that partially has to do last SXSW's Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar/Dead Oceans showcase. (Another contributing factor is the Beertunie, a cocktail of Miller High Life and two green olives. Mmm.) Last year, it was Jens Lekman who blew my socks off, but at this year's spotlight on the indie label Triforce it was the hippies in Akron/Family, which played an abbreviated in the interest of getting to the evening's headliner—"special guest" and recent Jagjaguwar signee Dinosaur Jr. Akron made the most of its limited time, giving in to drum circles and other shenanigans while showing off songs from their upcoming Dead Oceans release, Set 'Em Wild, Set 'Em Free. The record's bookends served as the set closers—the nervy "Everyone Is Guilty" turned into a brief noise jam that then gave way to an a cappella version of the pastoral "Last Year." I left with a newfound appreciation of Akron/Family.
Ah ha! A discovery! SXSW still works.
-An actual discovery from Thursday: The Magic, who backed up and split a slot with Human Highway at the Quack party. Lo-fi disco from the Great White North, the band's "Mr. Hollywood" gave me flashes of Quincy.
-Singing drummer Matt Rickle doesn't look like Don Henley, but he does make some of the funniest "I'm drumming" faces in the biz.
-Befitting its messy, sub-TV On The Radio sound, BLK JKS is better on record.
-Bishop Allen make tiny, tiny pop. They're my kind of geeky.
-From a discussion with two friends named Matthew: The Black Lips recent trip to India sounds so much like a Monkees episode gone horribly wrong that it should inspire a Monkees-esque sitcom starring the Hotlanta's psych rockers.