POSTED ON MARCH 27, 2013:
Baptized in Music
Late nights at SXSW reward the faithful
If my first two days of South by Southwest 2013 were a visit to the church of rock and roll and a restoration of my faith in music, the second half of my trip was a matter of being re-baptized in the faith. After Jim James led the worship service on Wednesday night and Dave Grohl delivered the sermon with his keynote address on Thursday morning, the rest of the week was left to study up and immerse myself to rebuild that faith.
While I did continue to take advantage of the conference and feed my mind with musical knowledge, sitting in on interviews with Bootsy Collins and Chuck D, The Zombies, and a discussion on touring with Chuck Ragan, as well as seminars on album release strategies and demographic marketing, the beautiful weather and my need to get a new fix had me out on the streets and checking out as much music as possible on Friday and Saturday night.
The result was a smorgasbord of music. Old mixed with new, familiar with foreign, and the result was a sonic overload, swinging between the extremes. Friday afternoon kicked off with a stop at the Paste magazine party and a set by Ron Sexsmith as well as new band On and On, which formed just after SXSW last year and is already drawing solid attention, although the band could still be a little tighter.
A long trek across 6th Street delivered me to Waterloo Records, a small pilgrimage to the world of old-school record stores and deliverance form Best Buy. The trek also allowed me to stumble upon songwriter Caitlin Rose, as well as get a little funk in with Austin's own party band, Roxy Roca.
The evening's highlight was split, however, between catching on to San Francisco's The Mowgli's, who carried a vibe similar to Grouplove, and an intimate set at The Parish with John Hiatt busting out a single guitar and a handful of songs from his latest album, Mystic Pinball. Or at least that's what I thought. Before the evening was over, however, I found myself at what equated to a large backyard party with Fitz and the Tantrums celebrating the band's last set of the week with a crowd that was ready to dance the night away. The band even unloaded an extended set with a full encore (a rarity for SXSW showcases, which are kept on a tight schedule) that ran well after 1am. Was I ready to hang it up yet on a Friday night, though? Not when I'm in Austin. A quick run back to 6th Street allowed me to balance my pop fix with a little metal to end the night -- simply because I could -- and take in the last half of Lacuna Coil's showcase at The Dirty Dog before rolling out at 2:30am to grab a bite to eat and grab a nap before my final day of the festival.
After taking in a panel discussion on Nick Drake that included Robyn Hitchcock (if you don't know Drake, think Jeff Buckley two decades earlier and go dig up his stuff), I hit the streets without an agenda, simply letting the buzz on the street lead me to the music.
Although there were no huge shows -- at least not that I could get into (Prince's showcase was limited to 300 people, and Justin Timberlake's appearance was an invite only as well) -- I still got a full day and night of tunes.
After kicking things off for the evening at Antone's with songwriter Jillette Johnson, I headed over to the Statesman party with Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights before heading back to 6th Street.
Once back on the strip, I took the time to stop in and see The Ocean Blue, who had a minor hit in '92 with its album Cerulean and just released a new CD. Once there, I couldn't help but take notice of an audience that was almost strictly in its 40s, yet knew all the words, and a band that looked like four early '90s frat boys that had returned to the stage 20 years later, aged but otherwise unscathed.
Finally, a run down to Stubbs let me revisit rising buzz band Haim for a set that saw the band harness current energy with a slightly '80s vibe that kept me intrigued and the audience engaged. The main event for the night, however, was Vampire Weekend. Once the band took the stage, I'll admit that I enjoyed the tunes even though I'm not a big fan of the band.
The weekend's epiphany came to me while standing in the audience, however. With an amphitheater of 20-somethings dancing and enjoying the night, the guys in Vampire Weekend looked like current frat boys, singing tight little pop songs that current fans will remember for years, but will otherwise be forgotten. As I balanced my attention between the band and the audience, I realized I was seeing the front side of the phenomenon I had witnessed earlier. Twenty years from now, when Vampire Weekend is back at SXSW playing a bar behind their comeback album, I'm sure there will be a crowd of 40-somethings singing every word and another kid looking around, bored and wondering what the big deal is. Yes, I was watching the next Ocean Blue. Such is the cycle of life and music.
Although things were winding down, I wasn't ready to retire yet, so one more stop brought me to an appropriate end with Austin's own Quiet Company delivering an even better show than they did last year. As the crowd rolled out and the shows ended, my finale included the requisite pizza by the slice (at my personal favorite, The Onion) as I prepared for my return to the real world. Fortunately, my week in Austin had renewed my spirit and faith in rock and roll for at least one more year, when I can make the pilgrimage once again.
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