Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Rock and Roll Spring Break, or My First Time at SXSW (Day 1)

As I mentioned before, I recently returned from the yearly music portion of SXSW 2008 in Austin, TX. The plan to go had been in the works for a few years now (it isn't a cheap couple of days) but this year, I'm happy to say I finally got my ass on a plane.

As there's day parties and night performances I saw A LOT of music over the 6 days I was there. But as you'll read, it was well worth it.

So we fly into lovely Austin International, get ourselves a cab from the LONGEST CAB LINE IN THE WORLD because everyone and his mom had flown into Austin at 11:20 am CMT. I flew in with my two guy friends, Sean and John. John has been attending SX for like 12 years now, Sean, the last 3, and I was the newbie. And we were splitting a room. Potential recipe for disaster? Perhaps, but it all worked out surprisingly great. (And get your head outta the gutter mate, it would be like kissing my brother ewwww). Especially as said room ran $240 + tax a night, splitting costs 3 ways was a godsend.

John was itching to go see Matthew Ryan’s only performance at SX, a very early day show (1 pm). So we checked into the hotel, picked up our badges at the Convention Center, John took off, and Sean and I tried to get settled into the room some. I was ready to take it all in, after 3 years of false starts, I’d FINALLY MADE IT TO SX. Sean and I headed off for a quick lunch. Sure, I was missing Chip Robinson and Eric Ambel at the Guitartown party right then, but eh, I figured I’d seen Chip with the Backsliders enough in Raleigh, it was ok. And all of our mutual friends who’d attended SX with John before kept reminding me: don’t feel like you have to go non-stop like him and see every. Little. thing, he just goes and goes and rarely even stops to eat. So we settled down to some “faux-cajun” (because it wasn’t that good) and a couple of Shiner Boks each on E. 6th St. to start things off right and I could collect my geographical bearings.

After that, with band schedule and notebook in hand, I set off…

First stop: Guitartownday party
My first lesson in proper map analysis when planning your appointed SXSW venues. Mother Eagan’s is a decent bar but at 715 W. 6th St. My starting point was roughly 500 E. 6th St. And like I mentioned earlier you walk everywhere pretty much when at SX. But it was a good way to get acclimated to what was where.

Guitartown’s party happens every year though it’s not really a “sanctioned” SXSW day party (whatever that means…). This year, it was operating as a day party and benefit for musicians without insurance in the name of Drew Glackin, who knew and played with a lot of the North Carolina people there.

1. Chris Stamey
Oh man, NOT the way to start off one’s first time at SXSW. I wanted to hit the show because I knew an old friend, Matt McMichaels of the Mayflies USA was playing with Stamey awhile back. He wasn’t thank goodness because I’d feel bad saying what I’m about to say otherwise. If Chris Stamey’s band is playing right outside your door, check him out. Cause you know, he’s Chris Stamey of the dbs and excellent producer and stuff. But only do it once because this band he was with isn’t worth seeing twice or the 6 block walk it took me to get there. Think wanna-be noodle rock ala, the Grateful Dead. Blech. I didn’t even have eye candy there to keep me occupied because as I texted to Sean, “Holy crap, the average age at the Guitartown thing is like 110. Unless I can get a seat, I can’t see me staying here for long, blech!”

I didn’t get a seat.

2. Bela Fleck, Abigail Washburn, and the Sparrow Quartet
Patty Hurst Shifter, friends of mine from Raleigh and always known for a solid show, were supposed to go on at 7:30 pm, so I returned to the Guitartown party around 7:00 or so. Things weren’t quite on schedule so I inadvertently caught Bela Fleck playing a sit-down set with Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet. They played some great Appalachian-style music, really amazing. But being an outdoor thing, the crowd was a bit too loud to take something like that in properly (especially when they started in with a Chinese folk ballad in the Chinese dialect. Yeah, that’s what I said too). But I always appreciate a good bit of fiddle playing so it was enjoyable.

I then ran into a bunch of the Patty Hurst Shifter guys and wives, all folks I knew from Raleigh, so I spent the rest of Bela Fleck’s set chatting (not where the band was of course heh). It was here, I found that I should have skipped the faux-cajun meal and Shiner Boks earlier and gotten myself up to see the Chip Robinson set, as Patty Hurst Shifter drummer Skillet Gilmore had sat in. If you’ve ever seen Skillet play (with PHS or with his previous band, Whiskeytown), he’s a skillful drummer who brings a big sound that always complements the melody perfectly. Drag…

3.Patty Hurst Shifter
PHS finally got on around 8:30 pm, and as I remembered, always provides a welcome wash of sound o’er me. The only problem was of course, that I could only stay for a few songs so I could make it back to meet the guys for the 9pm band we were all excited about, The Red Romance. But I knew PHS was playing SX about as much as the Ravonettes this year (that is, 9878767856 times), so I made a note to catch their full set later. And hopefully in a place with better sound (a tad muddy there I’m afraid).

4. The Red Romance
Caught up with the boys a tad late and out of breath from my 6-block race walk. But the Red Romance was well worth it. I had been looking forward to them as their mp3 had been one of the better things I’d heard. Three of the members had been in Ambulance Ltd and formed RR when Ltd broke up. Me likey…full of poppy beauty. I thought Death Cab-cum-New Order perhaps. I made a note though to go back and check out the lyrics as the mix there too was muddy (WTF SXSW venues??) The playing was tight, you could tell they’d put the time in at practice. And they had great fashion style. One thing that appeared to be a new addition (?) was a female lead guitarist. And if you like the Office, Dwight Shrute’s twin plays some mean drums.

Don't Cry-The Red Romance (MP3)

5. Longwave
I only caught like 2 songs but put it this way, they caught my attention from the street. Their lead singer has this ethereal voice backed with a hard driving sound. But more on them in a few days.

6. Pinstripe
The comparisons to New Order for this synth pop group out of Bristol UK were obvious but they were harder in terms of sound and WAY more energized than Bernard Sumner for sure. Kind of like the Cribs meets Franz Ferdinand. The lead singer struck me like Clay Aiken strikes me: how does that voice come out of the body exactly? The band was pretty thrilled with being in America and on Myspace, which is understandable for such a young band. Keep your ears open, there’s potential here.

Closest Thing to Heaven-Pinstripe (mp3)

2nd half of Day 1 tomorrow....

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