Urban Tulsa Weekly graciously sent me to South by Southwest, a colossal music festival in Austin, Texas, with quite literally countless number of shows. I met a mate from England there, loved it, and have already forgotten a lot of what we saw. Sorry, but with shows from noon to 2am for five days straight, you're bound to forget a few. But, don't worry. I remembered the good ones. And I took notes. So here are my highlights:
Top 5 Shows (in no particular order)
Richard Terfry might be the most unusual "hip-hop" act ever. I say "hip-hop" in quotes because I'm not sure it is hip-hop. I mean, it's hippish, and hoppish. But he's so ... happy. He's having fun, he likes people, he raps with humor, and he wiggles on stage (a lot). Sure his rhymes are solid, clever, and very intriguing. But, he's a nice, white, near-40, grey-haired everyman. And since I love people that swim upstream, what's not to like?!
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
Sure, they're an "old" band and they've played SXSW a time or two before. And yeah, they played seven gigs this year; most relatively docile (e.g., day shows at Brooklyn Vegan and Blind Pig). But, the one show that did me in was their official showcase gig at the Palm Door. They opened with some new material during which band members switched instruments and the crowd got greased for the climax. Then the musicians delivered it with a set of timeless fury-inducers that spun the energy into a web and by the end, the tables had turned. Over. The band thrashed about and their equipment paid the price as they, the audience, and even the roadies pounced forward like an ogre-faced spider on the kit, stands and microphones. Yeah. Somewhat disorderly. And it ended with one of my most memorable moments (see below).
As different from Trail of Dead as possible. These four lads appear rather common; no pretense, no flash. But their "it" factor is that they create and play uncommon music. And like wine there are a lot of flavors blending together: jazz, indie, pop, folk, calypso. It's all in there. And unlike many SXSW bands whose live shows outshine their studio work (e.g., Trail of Dead, Pulled Apart by Horses), Jonquil is incredibly good on and off stage. So, if you never visit Oxford, England, to see them live, that's certainly understandable. But if you don't check them out on iTunes, it really isn't.
Holy crap, what happened to the piano!? This talented trio ain't your father's experimental jazz ensemble and that moniker has never been more reckless or less avant garde. Not snooty; not snobby, just good, solid, upbeat and enjoyable music from three highlyskilled musicians. And they don't spend half their set doing solos. Refreshing! I'd re-see them in a minute.
Being a fan of Emery and waiting years to see them live, I was eager. But, I knew they'd just played a Friday night gig in San Antonio and would be arriving in Austin less than a day before their gig at the Bat Bar. So, I was worried that I wouldn't get their A game. Oh, baby. The band kicked it off like a freight train with an opening volley that thrashed me. And then launched into a driving... umm, acoustic set? Really? Yes. Two quick acoustic songs. But during them the crowd expressed not unity or bliss, but tension and energy. Actually, quite a lot. More so than most bands can summon for a closing. And then came the storm. A final assault that built, dropped, built, dropped, and rebuilt again leaving everyone exhausted and very, very grateful. And Emery was grateful, too, staying after the show to high every five. It was my final show, and quite a way to end the week.
5 Most Memorable Moments (not all good)
Street Food = Happy Energy. But kimchi fries? Never heard of such a thing, but yes please and thank you very much! Hot, spicy, cheesy French fries with kimchi. Best Wurst was good but the kimchi fries van provided much happy and much energy. Well worth the sizable wait.
Before Wagons left the stage at the Aussie BBQ event, front man Henry Wagons smeared nacho cheese all over his face, pants and microphone. I'm not sure what he was thinking, but I still can't shake the image. Perhaps that was the point. Is that a good memory?
Little Drummer Boy
At the end of Trail of Dead's midnight set, one stage-storming ruffian found himself on stage with drumsticks and a ceiling-mounted light fixture hanging in front of him. Pah-rup-a-pum-pum!
"Rock and Roll Barbeque"
Pop four-piece Wonfu from Taiwan (NOT part of China) is as genuine as a cherry-flavored Jolly Rancher. But with sweet faces, sweet lyrics and sweet, matching outfits, they were cuter than Alvin and the Chipmunks. And when they squirted out "Rock and Roll Barbeque," the timing was perfect. We demanded an encore. Immediately. And they encored. Immediately. (Only faster). I think they said, "We play fun song for you happy time!"
I thought this power-pop act from Provo, Utah, would be fun to see, but every note they played was upstaged by Tyler Glenn. He's the most self-indulgent, sycophantic toady I've ever seen. He pouted, posed, puckered and pandered about like a pathetic princess prior to prom. I left to see Emery.
A Dozen Quick Picks & Pans
• OK Sweetheart -- They done Tulsa proud down there.
• Depedro - Traditional Spanish folk with heart and great paella.
• Pulled Apart by Horses -- Thrashing screamers from (Dirty) Leeds.
• Wagons -- Western fur and Aussie gristle wrapped in a tortilla.
• We Are Enfant Terrible -- And they were.
• Yuck -- And they were, too.
• Glasser -- I'm calling it: The emperor has no clothes. But they had nifty jumpsuits!
• The Kills -- OK, we get it, but was the entire set the same song over and over?
• Lychee Wasabi and Bacardi -- Like a little prick on your tongue.
• Russian Red -- Music from the Ozarks of Madrid ... with kazoo.
• James Blake -- Leveling base and (as Hugo Manuel of Jonquil put it) "I'm baffled."
• Hey Rosetta! -- Happy music for happy Canadians.
So that's it. SXSW was magnificent; five glorious days of filthy shoes, ringing earn and noon breakfasts (OK, noon at the earliest). But it was also frustrating because of the sheer scale: 1,600 artists, 80 "official" venues and uncounted "unofficial" events. Overwhelming doesn't begin to describe it. What a great problem to have.
That said, next time, I'll do it differently. First, I'll bring a band. Everyone in Austin appears to be in a band. So, I'm starting one called "Cupcake Whores." Second, I'll create 79 clones so that I can attend every official SXSW showcase. Then, I'll only miss the day parties. And the unofficial shows. And the pop-ups. Oh, and the film festival! Dang.
Is there a cloning limit?
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