I suppose it depends on how often you’ve taken advantage of the free booze and the 4 a.m. parties the previous three nights, but Saturday is always a pretty rough day at SXSW. Faces that once glowed with enthusiasm and anticipation now look strung out and beat down (basically, everyone looks like a 30-year-old L.A. female who does too much coke and does too little sleeping), and day parties tend to find a lot of people sitting in parts of clubs they would probably want sterilized under normal circumstances.
The we’re-all-hungover vibe is in effect at the Rachael Ray party at Maggie Mae’s, where at 1:20 p.m. I’m currently attempting to navigate the clusterfuck feed trough, which thankfully includes a vegetarian option (a not-bad-at-all jalapeño mac and cheese). Having missed Rach’s party last year, I’m excited to finally get my chance to offer her that bear hug I’ve always wanted to give her, but I ultimately miss my chance when she stands near me for 30 seconds and then bolts as Josh and I waste precious time talking about him taking a photo of us on his iPhone. (I do, however, end up sitting in a windowsill next to Seymour Stein, who, despite being surrounded by free food, appears to be eating snacks out of his pocket. I try to get a sense of whether he’s enjoying this John Legend-if-he-played-bluesy-guitar dude—some sort of local celebrity according to the stranger who just fist-bumped me for no reason—who’s playing the chill-out room, but I’m too scared to make eye contact.) I end up catching three bands on the upstairs stage: The Cringe—Rach’s husband’s group that looks and sounds like the kind of bar band that, if you saw them in a movie, you’d assume they were too cliché to be a real band—glam-punk pioneers the New York Dolls—led by Buster-er, David Johanson, who looks as old as dirt but is also impressively fit—and The Hold Steady, who high-five Rachael on their way to the stage and then tear things apart with great renditions of songs like “Sequestered In Memphis” and “Chips Ahoy!” Hopefully The Cringe took some notes on how to be a good bar band. The Hold Steady is simply one of the best live bands in the business, the kind that makes people point at their friends while singing all of the lyrics.
With the party over just after 5, I figure it’s now or never if I’m going to make it into the Levi’s/Fader Fort to see Kanye West. He’s not supposed to go on until 8, but I can only imagine the place is already a zoo. Which it is, but I get in pretty quickly around 5:30, which seems like a good thing until we jump ahead to 8:30 p.m., at which point major fatigue is kicking in and there’s still no sign of Kanye. After about an hour of setting up, I notice a guy show up onstage and pull a laptop out of a FedEx box, which makes me think that we could be waiting for at least another hour. But finally at 9, hip-hop’s most famous college dropout, sporting a “Sons Of Thor Idaho” sleeveless jean jacket, kicks things off with “Amazing” from his new emo-vocoder disc 808s & Heartbreak. Almost immediately I realize I’m in over my head with regard to properly covering this event, since I don’t know much about Kanye and I certainly don’t recognize most of these other rappers he keeps trotting out. The two-hour gig turns out to be a talent show for Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music, which, considering how many cooks are in this kitchen and how bad live hip-hop can be sometimes, is a surprisingly excellent label showcase. And kudos to Kanye for showing up and using his star power to shine a light on G.O.O.D.’s up-and-coming roster—this is exactly what SXSW is all about. Judging from the lack of rapping along around me, I guess I’m not the only one who’s hearing a lot of this stuff for the first time, but the place goes nuts during Kid Cudi’s “Day ’N’ Nite,” not to mention what happens when Common and Erykah Badu show up. I’ve had a pretty big boner for John Legend lately, and I get myself excited thinking that he’s going to magically appear and play “It’s Over” with Kanye, but it turns out that English white boy Mr. Hudson is the only one-of-these-kids-is-doing-his-own-thing dude on the bill. The show ends with four Kanye jams in a row, including a blown-up version of “Love Lockdown” with the entire cast onstage.
I promised myself that I wouldn’t miss Third Eye Blind’s set at Stubb’s tonight at 12:30 a.m. (see yesterday’s blog for more about that), and as I get closer to Red River around 11:15, I get scared that all of those people at the convention center yesterday plus Indigo Girls fans are going to leave me and my wristband out in the cold, but it turns out to be super easy to get in. The Gals open with “Closer To Fine,” and 20 years later, it’s still sounds great. 3EB finally goes on close to 1, kicking off with what sounds like a Bravery-esque dance-rock instrumental and then moving on “Non-Dairy Creamer,” whose line about “young gay Republicans” doesn’t seem to be going over so well with the meatheads standing in front of me. As I noticed at the convention center yesterday, I have even less in common with the average Third Eye Blind fan than Metallica fans, but I’ve got a couple of friends in tow right now who are making me feel better about the whole situation, and I have a feeling my young, closeted 3EB fan (who might actually be pissed if I printed his name here) and I are going to be doing some of that pointing-and-singing thing mentioned earlier during the Hold Steady set. Stephan Jenkins and the band have decided to use tonight to test-run a ton of new material, which is fine, but it really wouldn’t hurt to mix in more old stuff so we could sing along. The place goes crazy during “Jumper,” but the crowd gets restless during the new stuff, which includes a Jenkins-solo take on his love letter to Rachel Maddow, “One In Ten.” Also, the RZA and Joanna Newsom never show up, which makes me think that Jenkins was just fucking with me when he said that, and finds me searching for “gullible” in the dictionary.
It’s past 2 a.m. and I’m clearly running on empty, so I make the logical SXSW choice: head to the Spin party where …And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead are supposed to go on at 2:50 a.m. I’m forced to deal with Superdrag before TOD comes on, but by this point I could be watching The Smiths and still only muster a tame bobbing of the head. And with that, I’m done with you, SXSW ’09, but before I go, let’s go back to those original questions posed on day one:
1-Is Kanye West going to make any of his rumored appearances? Yes, and he apparently played the Perez Hilton party as well.
2-Is the bad economy going to mean less people and thus make for a more manageable week, kind of like what happened in 2002? Pretty much no, though it seemed like more shows were selling tickets at the door, which may be a sign that fewer people attended this year.
3-Will I be able to survive with just a wristband, which doesn’t carry nearly as much power at club doors as the badges I’ve always had in the past? Yes, I wasn’t turned away at any of the shows I waited in line for, and even got into Metallica in less than 30 minutes.
4-Will I be able to find the Red Bull Moon Tower and make out with a girl who looks like Sabrina from Dazed And Confused, or perhaps Christin Hinojosa herself? Yeah, thankfully Sean drove us out there and back on Wednesday, but the whole thing was kind of a letdown and had absolutely nothing to do with the Dazed And Confused place.
5-Will my bosses actually force me to walk down that deep, dark tunnel that is Twitter? Yay, I’m still a Twitter virgin!
6-Is Third Eye Blind’s performance on Saturday really going to include Joanna Newsom and the RZA? As noted above, no.
7-Will last year’s unrequited love for Rachael Ray blossom into a full-blown romance this year at her party on Saturday, thanks to this special media badge I need to remember to pick up on Friday? No, and I’m still kind of kicking myself for not throwing myself at her when I had the chance. And man, she looked good!
8-Will my NCAA tournament bracket be completely busted by the time I get back to San Francisco? Shit, I still have to check on that.
9-And how many hours will it take for me to have my first slice of pizza? Dealt with this the other day, but the answer is five. And I think I ended up eating six pieces over the week, ending with the worst one as I headed to the 3EB show.