SXSW DAY ONE & TWO: PLUSES, MINUSES, AND CLAPPING ALONG

SXSW DAY ONE & TWO: PLUSES, MINUSES, AND CLAPPING ALONG

People love to complain about SXSW–the long lines, the countless shitty bands, the long lines, the industry people who are only interested in moving units (the action, not the band), the long lines–but every year they still make the trek down to Austin in the middle of March. And, according to someone sharing my cab from the airport to the convention center, this year they're expecting three times as many people as last year. Though I didn't attend in 2005, I was at the previous four, and can barely imagine what Texas' capital will look like with three trillion people (give or take) drunkenly traversing Sixth Street.

For the record, I love SXSW, and though I've been known to complain about all the aforementioned things, I look forward to it and enjoy it with the same energy I devoted to Christmas when I was a kid. More than a thousand bands playing on or near one street? It's the most wonderful time of the year…

Wednesday

10:16 p.m.: I decide to open SXSW 2006 with something familiar–my friends in Bound Stems are playing the Flameshovel showcase at Lava Lounge Patio, but when I arrive it's obvious that there's something in the air that's not quite right. As I get closer to the stage, I notice a mysterious pool of water, and am informed by the guy standing next to me that it's raw sewage. Way to put your best foot forward on opening night. Bound Stems play a solid set of fractured, arty rock, and don't appear to be too concerned by the stench. When I talk to the band after the set, they admit it smelled twice as bad onstage as it did where I was standing. True pros.

11:59 p.m.: My love for '90s indie stalwarts Versus is undying, so I jump at any chance to see their offshoots. +/- is fronted by James Baluyut and Pat Ramos –Versus' guitarist and drummer, respectively–and its records feature a wondrously claustrophobic pop sound that has a few things in common with Pinback. However, the band's fleshed-out live sound can be explosive, and near the end of the set I think of earplugs for the first time in years.

1:35 a.m.: Though I've promised myself that I'll check out a healthy amount of bands I've never seen before, I decide to close out night one with more familiar faces: Brighton's finest musical cheerleaders, The Go! Team. Though the venue is beyond packed and the band takes what seems like a million years to start, its short-but-sweet set sends the crowd into jubilant hysterics, and reminds me why Thunder, Lightning, Strike was my favorite record of 2005.

Thursday

11:37 a.m.: I swing by the fourth floor of the convention center to see if a line has begun to form for the Morrissey Q&A; at 1:15 p.m., and am confronted with hundreds of people filing out of the Neil Young keynote. The overflow screen set up outside the room suggests that I probably shouldn't expect to roll into the Moz event right before it starts.

12:05 p.m.: Famished and thirsty, I quickly head over to the little café set up on the fourth floor, and am reminded that "café" is, in fact, short for "cafeteria." But food is food, and soon I'm distracted by Owen, also known as Mike Kinsella (Cap'n Jazz, American Football, Joan Of Arc). It's a little too early to completely absorb his beautifully confessional songs, but he sounds great and, appropriately enough, plays the song that includes the line "I listen to my same old CDs / New Order and Morrissey."

2:32 p.m.: As the Morrissey interview comes to an end, I find myself more than a little bummed that David Fricke spent more time asking about his influences than he did about his past and present relationships with his former Smiths bandmates. Yeah, we know he loved The New York Dolls, so why not skip the obvious stuff and dig a little deeper into the recent online feud with Mike Joyce?

Sometime between the Morrissey Q&A; and the Morrissey show at Austin Music Hall: Islands, featuring former members of The Unicorns, are making a pretty little mess onstage at the Longbranch Inn, both with the cheese popcorn it's tossing around and its worldbeat-tinged indie pop. When rappers Subtitle and Busdriver join the fun, for a few seconds it feels like the place is going to explode.

10:00 p.m.: Morrissey certainly isn't the man he used to be, but his voice still sounds great, and when the band busts into old Smiths tunes like "Still Ill" and "How Soon Is Now?," I get the feeling that what I'm hearing probably isn't too far removed from what it all sounded like back in the '80s. I'm certainly appreciative of the four Morrissey/Marr songs on the setlist, but I'm still not sure why he completed avoided all of his early solo material.

1:59 a.m.: After the "Special Guest" slotted to follow Morrissey never shows up (apparently it was supposed to be Ray Davies), I decide that I have to end my night with a bang, and head straight to Eternal to experience the fuss that is Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. It turns out that the Brooklyn band–which plays earnestly quirky indie pop that brings to mind Talking Heads, The Velvet Underground, and Violent Femmes but is too inspired to sound derivative–is worth every drop of the ink that's been spilled in its name.

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