With the dawning of another SXSW, so many questions come to mind: Is Kanye West going to make any of his rumored appearances? Is the bad economy going to mean less people and thus make for a more manageable week, kind of like what happened in 2002? 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? 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? Will my bosses actually force me to walk down that deep, dark tunnel that is Twitter? Is Third Eye Blind’s performance on Saturday really going to include Joanna Newsom and the RZA? 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? Will my NCAA tournament bracket be completely busted by the time I get back to San Francisco? And how many hours will it take for me to have my first slice of pizza?
As Bob Mould once sang, “Listen, there’s music in the air,” and that’s all I can think of as I walk through the airport and, later, down Lavaca toward this mayor’s media welcome event. Austin is in a constant state of construction, and as I pass a few spaces that once held unofficial SXSW day and night parties and are now legitimate businesses, I’m also reminded of that episode of Seinfeld where George parties with those models, and when he later shows Jerry the venue, it turns out to be an empty warehouse space. Or maybe I’m thinking of that Gossip Girl where Chuck goes back to that room where his father’s secret society congregated the night before. Or maybe I just didn’t get enough sleep last night. With no idea what the mayor of Austin actually looks like, I get to the party and find more people paying attention to the free drinks than whoever’s performing on the outdoor stage, and I find myself wondering if I can actually turn down a free bottle of tequila, which is located in my free portable Red Bull cooler (Sean says organizers have been calling it a “media kit,” which is kind of genius). I just don’t want to have to lug anything around tonight, and really, when was the last time a bottle of tequila in my back pocket turned out to be a good idea?
This year’s Levi’s/Fader Fort is out in the sticks (the old venue is now a real business), which takes me past a church that apparently doubles as a dental clinic and lots of locals who presumably have no idea what English electro-rocker Micachu looks like. Neither do I, since the line to get wristbands is out of control, though I do see a poster of last December’s issue of Fader with Kanye on the cover, pretty much confirming to me that he’s going to show on Saturday night. Finally inside, I catch three songs from Atlanta rapper B.O.B., who plays a rock song, then a rap song, and finally a rap-rock song. The songs are fine, but the real highlight is watching the drummer stand, spin, and take off his shirt without missing a beat. I’m also distracted by a new game I just came up with, which involves trying to decide if these ridiculously dressed people around me are ironic hipsters or just foreigners.
Two of my questions are already answered before I attend my first official SXSW showcase: Yes, this wristband is going to be trouble, just judging from the fact that it doesn’t come with one of those handy pocket guides replete with schedule and map. I’m told to just tear out the schedule in The Austin Chronicle, but without any addresses or maps on it, I feel like I’m about to compete in the SXSW version of The Amazing Race. Or something like that. Sorry for all of these bad TV references. Oh, and first pizza is had at 8:30 p.m., which is five hours after I landed. Austin pizza is usually pretty shitty, but this stuff (which I believe was touted as featuring beer crust) is actually very tasty. Or maybe I’m just famished. And exhausted from last night’s three hours of sleep.
It’s 10 minutes before Cut Off Your Hands takes the stage at Vice, and there’s already quite a line outside, so I make the executive decision to spend my entire night here. The other bands on the bill are The Von Bondies (who, weirdly enough, I’ve never seen before), Peter Bjorn & John, and Glasvegas, so I figure there could be worse places to be.
This international lineup is brought us by Rock Band, which is being played upstairs and downstairs by people who would rather pretend to make music rather than watch the experts do it for real. Though it doesn’t have nearly as much of it in its sound as tonight’s headliners, New Zealand’s Cut Off Your Hands has some Phil Spector-ish moments mixed in with its catchy post-punk. Next up are Detroit’s Von Bondies, whose “C’mon C’mon” still sounds great at baseball games, but if Jason Stollsteimer (who should really take off the sunglasses at night, unless of course Jack White beat the shit out of him again) really thinks his band is going to return to glory this year, come on, come on. The hit actually sounds excellent at the end of the set, but the rest just sounds like the kind of ’90s alt-rock that I thought we’ve all agreed only the Foo Fighters are allowed to still rehash.
The Von Bondies are done before 10:15 p.m., and then over the next two hours we are treated to what amounts to an extended soundcheck/technical-difficulties jam from Sweden’s Peter Bjorn & John, who clear the floor and then piss off everyone who’s left by not playing the hit. There’s a pretty significant electro vibe to the set, which I presume features a lot of songs from their forthcoming Living Thing. They’ll get eaten alive on that Depeche Mode tour if they do this in amphitheaters, but they clearly have no remorse for what just transpired, and put a stamp on it by closing with Living Thing’s first single, “Nothing To Worry About.”
Spector’s wall of sound has nothing on the one being built by Glasvegas, the unfortunately named (even if it’s a funny local reference, it’s still a bad name) Scottish outfit that looks like a bunch of greasers (and a post-goth female drummer). The crowd has noticeably thinned, but those who are left near the front of the stage start a modest mosh pit during “Go Square Go!”
I didn’t think I’d be trying my luck at finding Sabrina so soon, but it’s 2:35 a.m. and I’m at the Red Bull Moon Tower, which not only doesn’t look anything like the place from Dazed And Confused, I don’t see a moon tower anywhere. I do see this ridiculous “tattoo” that the woman at the door made all of us put on with sponges, and I also see Shepard Fairey concentrating way too hard on a DJ set that looks preprogrammed. Apparently he’s also doing the visuals, which aren’t doing it for me. An hour or so later, Monotonix begins its band-on-floor chaos, but my ride is leaving, and it’s time to go to sleep.