Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

SXSW DAY ONE: The Lines, My God, The Lines

Welcome to South By Southwest: Be prepared to wait. The annual music festival swamps Austin's Sixth Street and the surrounding areas with people, and that means it takes forever to do stuff like eat, get into shows, buy ear plugs, etc. I spent much of my first day in Austin in various lines, devising schemes to get around them, and changing my plans because of them. Here's a view from behind that guy in the hoodie with the thing on it:

Line 1: Badges, Austin Convention Center, 6:12pm
Where everyone's SXSW journey begins: the Austin Convention Center and its massive, multipart line to get your badge. David Cross stands behind us briefly, saying he's not really sure what he's supposed to do at the "comedy panel" he's on with Patton Oswalt and Zach Galifianakis Thursday. As a panelist, though, he gets to skip to a much shorter line. Also spotted: a fit-looking David Byrne, Eef Barzalay of Clem Snide, and a dozen roller-skating girls in hot pants, karate outfits, and Karate Kid-style Japanese head wraps over their foreheads.

Line 2: Free Yr Radio Party with Pipettes and The Rapture, 7:28pm
Much to the consternation of SXSW's organizers, it's entirely possible to see most of the bands playing the festival without actually attending it. Each day offers a few dozen day parties sponsored by everyone from Toyota to Levi's to publicity companies to labels to publications like ours. (It's Thursday at Emo's.) These parties often feature some nice perks: free food and alcohol. As I'm continually broke, these are especially attractive assets for a day party. Hey, I'll suffer through The Rapture if I can get some food and Shiner Bock out of the deal. The line into the party/show moves quickly, and soon Josh and I are stuffing our faces with beans, cornbread, these weird mini wieners, and chicken wings. A little after 8pm, neo-'60s-girl-group The Pipettes take the stage. The comely British trio–backed by a rock combo–plays the kind of harmony-laden pop Berry Gordy Jr. used to peddle at Hitsville, U.S.A. (a.k.a. Motown). The ladies even wear semi-matching, black-and-white polka-dotted dresses and do little choreographed dances to songs like "Guess Who Ran Off With The Milk Man?". The music is fun, but after sounds repetitious after awhile. I've no plans to stay for The Rapture, so it's time to leave.

Line 3: ATM, 208 W. Fourth St., 9:59pm
Ah, nothing says "tourist area" like paying a $4.85 service charge for cash.

Line 4: Fado, 10:03pm
You know what has a small, quickly moving line? A chain Irish bar. But I stop off to see Locksley, a Kinks-esque Britpop group from Brooklyn (by way of Wisconsin). The band played Kimmel the other night–a feat, considering they're unsigned–and landed in Alternative Press's "100 bands you need to know" issue this month. This performance, their manager says, is just a quick warm-up before some bigger gigs later in the week. Nevertheless, the band pours a lot of energy into what would otherwise be an anonymous gig–and they're endlessly better than the Led Zeppelin wannabes that follow.

Line 5: Sub Pop showcase, Emo's, 11:03pm
I've forgotten the rule of SXSW: If you're not in a big showcase by 10pm, you're screwed, badge or no badge. And I don't even have a badge–just a "media wristband" that's only marginally better than being a member of the general public. The line in front of Emo's–where Loney, Dear has just finished before Oxford Collapse takes the stage–goes down the block. Thrown into the Joe Schmoe line, I text Josh, who's already inside: There's no way I'm making it in. My co-worker Lizz has an in at the Lily Allen show at nearby Stubb's, so I opt for that.

Line 6: Lily Allen, Stubb's, 11:35pm
Speaking of epic lines, the ones to get in Stubb's dwarf Emo's. Allen hasn't taken the stage yet–Razorlight and The Bravery follow her, zzzzzzzz–so I wait around. Turns out Lizz's hookup isn't really hooking us up. We stand in the crowded bar and scheme our way onto the VIP area, only to be rebuffed by Stubb's formidable security staff. We watch Allen from the closed-circuit TV in the bar, and it confirms what we learned when she played Chicago a month ago: She's not terribly exciting live. Eventually, we secure passage outside just as Allen sings her next-to-last song. There's a band dude standing by us dressed head-to-toe in irony: red satin jacket, big afro hair, giant white sunglasses, a stars-and-stripes bandanna tucked beneath his equally ironic shirt. The tight pants probably aren't ironic, but considering the rest of the ensemble, I say they are. Ironic Guy is trying his best to make out with a woman who doesn't seem too into it. Later, he sits at a table by himself. Struck out, apparently.

Line 7: The Continental Club, 12:30am
After making the not-so-wise decision to hop on the Austin city bus to get to the out-of-the-way Continental, we end up in some random part of the city, but are assured the bus will take us back to where we want to go. It's so charming here: A bus ride only costs 50 cents, and the driver looks like a kindly TA who'd play hackeysack with you after class. Quite a change from Chicago, where I've had a woman throwing up on the floor next to me on the bus. Anyway, the line at the Continental is short, but the doorman basically scoffs at my wristband. "You need a badge, too. The other guys in your band have those." He's unfazed when I tell him I'm media, and they don't give you badges with these. After some finagling and $10–despite the "guarantees no cover" written on my wristband–we get in as Eli Paperboy & The True Loves are finishing their set. The Boston band plays a old-school rhythm & blues. The sound's vaguely reminiscent of the neo-swing era, not to diss them. They're certainly good at what they do, but it doesn't do much for me. I spot Rob Miller co-owner of Bloodshot Records, who's at the club to see Scott H. Biram, the one-man blues band. Biram's ultra-raw, obscenity-laced music is best experienced live, as it loses much of its power on record. Biram hits the stage around 1am, takes a seat, sets up his two microphones, and kick-drum thing, then tears into it with his usual gusto. He's something to behold when he gets going. Speaking of getting going, I'm beat by 1:45 or so, so we walk outside to find a line for cabs. Naturally.