Monday, March 17, 2008

SXSW '08: Day 4

[Music Festing] I decided to wrap up my SXSW experience at Waterloo Park Saturday for the second annual Mess With Texas party, a free event open to the public featuring three stages of music, comedy and musical comedy. I stood, unwisely sunscreen-free, for three hours at the Super Deluxe stage to laugh my ass off with comedians Eugene Mirman, Brian Posehn (who lost his voice and had Mirman translate his set), Human Giant, Paul F. Tompkins, Leo Allen (whose vegan jokes received an icy reception. Come on! Baby Sauce is funny), Hard N' Phirm (who reminded us in a stirring power ballad that "anything is possible ... unless you're a girl") and others.

At Waterloo, I also caught Grand Ole Party, a San Diego trio with a killer female vocalist/drummer whose soul-punk delivery got half of the hungover, heat-stroked crowd to at least attempt to boogie. Atlas Sound followed shortly thereafter and though I was never a fan of Bradford Cox's former project Deerhunter (seeing him throw a hissy fit at last year's SXSW soured any interest I might have had in the experimental indie rockers), they absolutely entranced with cool atmospheric compositions that tempered the blazing afternoon sun.

I later ditched the windy Waterloo dustbowl, passing up a chance to see The Breeders (who are coming to The Depot May 27) and Thurston Moore to watch a deceased legend on the big screen. I joined SLUG's Angela Brown and Rebecca Vernon for a screening of the Joy Division documentary Closer at the Alamo Ritz, a former concert venue turned pool hall turned cinema pub (sort of a cross between Brewvies and The Tower). Angela's SXSW buddy Chase recounted stories of getting maced in the pit now outfitted with cushy front tier seats. Things change, he said with a shrug. At least it didn't meet the fate of another Austin venue which now operates as a credit union. And at least it's not just rotting like our dead Zephyr.

Closer helped put SXSW into perspective. "One of the last true stories in pop," the journey of Joy Division is absolutely rooted in context. Without the bleak, economically depressed confines of 70s-80s Manchester, the boys to men who formed the band might have simply ended up selling life insurance--or working at a credit union. Instead, they did the only thing that brought them any kind of vibrancy. They made music. At first badly, then well, then ground-breaking. Their sound enjoyed a completely organic evolution free of today's pressure to sell out and conform. Toward the end of Closer, the filmmakers toss in images of Joy Division's posthumous branding: the iconic cover art of Unknown Pleasures, for example, now affixed to skateboards for mass distribution.

At SXSW, no surface is safe from sponsorship logos. And the communities that informed featured acts' sounds are largely forgotten in the crazy kaleidescope of Sixth Street. Watching 1,500 groups perform at foreign venues lends a disjointed quality to the festival. Most of the time you walk into a bar not knowing the band's history. What's their hometown like? Is it industrial and depressed like Manchester? Wide open like the cornfields of Nebraska? Does each member play in five other bands like a typical Salt Lake City group? It might not seem important, but sometimes it helps to understand what a band is going for. It helps to read between the lines. Consider the fact the Joy Division's bi-polar, epileptic lead singer left pretty obvious clues about his clinical depression in his dark lyrics before he hung himself in May 1980.

Imagine seeing Joy Division as an unknown at SXSW. Would you stay or walk away (in silence) to catch the next group over?

Of course, like speed dating, there's something exhilarating about seeing 30-40 bands in four days. You get a good idea of what's out there. And who knows what might have become of Joy Division if they'd made their first U.S. tour and maybe heard something that changed the way they thought about music.

My night ended on a bittersweet note when a bartender gave my debit card to a woman named "Janine," which I suppose sounds very similar to "Jamie" in a loud, crowded bar. Sadly, "Janine" apparently skipped town. But I still had my ID and a coveted badge so I went across the street to see Jason Collett at the Parish. The Broken Social Scene guitarist did not disappoint. Turns out his band is equally talented, especially the lead guitar player. Wouldn't be surprised if he came out with his own project any day now. You can read my review of Collett's latest album

Oh, and I found this footage from the Muncipal Waste show on Day 3. Now you know what a Wall of Death looks like.

(Jamie Gadette)

1 comment:

  1. The comedy part of the night was a great break (air conditioning / sitting) in the fest. "Baby Sauce" was funny. Does anyone happen to know the name of the comic who hosted that section of the night? I've been trying to find out his name (he's the one that had mostly curly hair and did the fierce Owls routine) so I can search out YouTube for some material.


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