Howdy. (That’s my attempt at being Texan.) The second day at SXSW 2009 began slowly, as my body clock adjusted to the time difference. Not the time-zone difference—there isn’t one—but rather the staying-up-too-late clock. But I shan’t complain, because I am in sunny Austin, where it’s 80 degrees and there are bands playing every ten Goddamn feet.
Before I begin, I'd like to point you to Decider Minneapolis, which is running some photos and video from SXSW. Check it!
So this morning was mostly about getting some business done that we would’ve conquered yesterday had our flight not been delayed—boring stuff like picking up credentials for all the buzzy late-night parties (Perez Hilton, here we come) and the always-fun, always-packed Fader Fort. We stopped off at its new location this year, which is east of I-35 and looks like a big ol’ field with some tin shacks lining the side that’s been turned into a swanky clubhouse. Janelle Monae was playing, and there was en entire Levi’s store built into the grounds. This is supposedly where Kanye West will be making his big surprise appearance on Saturday—I guess we’ll find out then…
We didn’t stay long, though, because we wanted to hit the Found Magazine day party. Found Magazine, in case you’re not familiar, is an excellent lil’ publication that collects weird shit (notes, personal letters, other strange things) that its readers find. It’s turned into quite an empire over the years, releasing great book collections, etc. Anyway, Great Lakes Myth Society was on when we first walked in, but I wandered to the outdoor stage, where The Hard Lessons were tearing shit up. They’re the kind of band I’d probably not give a second listen on CD, but live, front-couple Augie and Korin offered just about the easiest kind of straight-ahead rock you could ask for. A.V. Clubber Jason Heller likes .38 Special, and I would guess these kids do, too.
The band’s final song was a cover of Neil Young’s, “Hey Hey, My My,” which Augie acts like he’s living. He worked some references to Elliott Smith into the lyrics, which was a little strange, but he made up for it by climbing up on to the metal rafters (we’re in a tent, you see) and hanging his guitar up there. Then he swung around for a while. I’ll let Erik tell you about the next two bands, little up-and-comers Lucero and The Hold Steady.
For me, it was lunchtime followed by a quick trip to Brush Square park to check out Graham Coxon. He was running way late, so we caught the Morrissey-meets-EMF stylings of Esser, who were most notable for a) looking like deer in headlights and b) having a drawing of their singer’s face on posters all over town. He would’ve been a huge star 15 years ago. Not sure about now.
I decided to walk the 25 steps to the Convention Center to check out today’s featured speakers, Devo, which was funny but a bit of a letdown. The room in which they were speaking was maybe 1/3 full, and a good bulk of the talk was given over to record-company politics of the early 80s, a.k.a. light years ago. But Gerald Casale is pretty funny—he accused David Byrne of thievery in an entertaining way—and Mark Mothersbaugh is pretty cantankerous. He suggested that rather than a physical CD, the next Devo—they’re about halfway done, apparently—music might be delivered as 12 suppositories, which the listener would have to insert in order to hear anything. Hint to all future panels, though: Questions from the audience are never a good idea. Don’t learn the hard way.
I began the evening portion of day two at the Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar/Dead Oceans showcase, intent to find some mellow times before heading over to the Playboy “Rock The Rabbit” party (and the “secret” Jane’s Addiction show). First up on my hit list was Bishop Allen, or rather Bishop Allen trying to get their instruments to sound right before they started. The Brooklyn band’s cheery pop is actually best in short doses like the one they provided: “Click Click Click Click,” which you might recognize from an HP commercial, is an ace song, and their new record, Grr…, is pretty decent, too.
Then it was next door (actually, a different room in Mohawk) for Julie Doiron, whose music I have long adored, and who I get made fun of (by Kyle) for liking. But somebody needs to give her a million dollars so she can just keep cranking out a record every year or two for eternity. At this showcase, the sensitive young ladies were out in force to hear the melancholy jams. And they weren’t disappointed, or any more disappointed than usual.
Then it was over to Playboy’s Rock The Rabbit party, an annual off-campus event that draws big-name bands, some bunnies, and (in theory) some celebs. We went very early—skipping, in my case anyway, great stuff like Benjy Ferree and The Tallest Man On Earth—in order to wax nostalgic with Jane’s Addiction. When I was a young lad, one of my first “alternative-rock” show was Jane’s at the UW-Milwaukee ballroom, and thinking back (and googling), it turns out that show was almost 20 years ago today. (It was March 11, 1989, for those keeping score.)
All four original members are back together and ready to ride the nostalgia wave of thirtysomethings like me—but it’s going to be a big-ass arena tour. The Playboy party offered a chance to see them in a disused Safeway food store with about 700 people rather than a giant shed with 15,000. So this was one for the old days. And they were pretty great: Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual have some amazing songs, and they tore through “Three Days,” “Ted, Just Admit It,” “Standing In The Shower Thinking,” and a bunch more. (No “Jane Says,” this was pretty much all rock.)
The only strange thing was how happy Perry Farrell seems to be these days. The energy at Jane’s Addiction shows was always slightly perilous and strange, with Perry looking ready to actually break at any moment. Maybe he was just a good actor, because now he looks like he’s doing a victory lap, smiling through even the most twisted songs. (“Whores,” anyone?) Still, it’s a minor complaint, because Jane’s provided exactly the nostalgia trip I was looking for. Tomorrow: new (or at least newer) bands for me, I swear!