SXSW Awards 2008: The Mostly-Related-To-Music Edition
Before SXSW becomes another memory etched into the fantasy-meets-reality portion of our brains, we'd like to offer up a few awards to some musical and non-musical entities of the Austin experience this year. Besides, wading through recollections of 85-degree weather and 2 p.m. beers is much more fruitful, than say, catching up on emails.
Best Party: Playboy
Playboy did it right: a huge space where you could get some breathing room if you wanted, outhouses indoors, friendly bartenders that would give you priority if you showed your tip (a $5 bill worked wonders) and the concrete structure made the makeshift venue into a fantastic, ear splitting soundscape. MGMT and Moby delivered great sets, getting those who wanted to dance up and dancing. At the 3:15 hour, there were no signs of letting up and the floors were covered with various liquids spilled over from body moving. Watching Playmates dance on stage to Justice is just kind of funny.
Best Truck Food: Kabobalicious
In Austin, it's imperative that you eat food out of a truck. That's right, a truck. Many different "truckers" make their living setting up shop, catering to the late-night partiers. One stood out amongst the many -- the Middle Eastern leanings of Kabobalicous, in a parking lot on Seventh Street. Three words: Spicy Feta Sauce.
Best CD/Discovery By A Guy Not Playing A Showcase Or Any Of The 3,000 Day Parties:
"Waterless Sky" by Man Man Starter. As Plants & Animals ended their set at Maggie Mae's, a young gentleman commented "that was great," and it was confirmed that indeed, we had just missed the band we'd come for. The dude seized the opportunity to ask where we were from, and immediately (and politely) asked if we could take one of his CDs (he had 30 of them). It's shockingly good. It's dense and atmospheric, like most homemade laptop records, but shifts between some post-rock, eery piano compositions and vocals that remind us a bit of Wolf Parade's Spencer Krug. Fans of Four Tet and Atlas Sound would love this guy. Google searches are turning up nothing. Man Man Starter -- if you're reading this, put your music up on Amie Street and Myspace post-haste!
Lamest Venue: "Smokin' Music"
Cigarette company American Spirits sponsored this thing. Okay, we get that there's a slew of cross-promotional stuff going on, but they went as far as to get smoke machines and put them on the rooftop. Ugh. More ridiculous: for a "natural" company such as that one to be blatantly wasting that much energy is not only lame use of resources, but oxymoronic in the strictest sense of the word in what the company supposedly represents.
Lamest Swag: The SXSW Swag Bag
Everyone who registers for SXSW is entitled to a "swag bag," something that is supposed to contain free stuff. Okay, we see the irony of complaining about free stuff. But in the past it's usually been a nice selection of coupons and promotional items that you might actually use, such as a pen to write with. Or a notepad to take notes on. This year the promotional items included a plastic Army man tacked to an advert, a Post-it note pad and some gum. The rest was 15 pounds of paper, magazines and a ton of fliers. Another waste.
Biggest Unexplainable Line: Rachael Ray's Party
There was a lot of hazing on Miss Ray for setting up shop this year, yet everyone wanted to get in and dip their ears into the musical E.V.O.O. Ray had "assembled." Good for her, maybe.
Curious Trend Alert: Bands Playing Two Official Showcases In One Night
A lot of acts book multiple gigs during the week if they can. But it seemed this year, more than in the past (if at all), bands got to play "official" showcases twice, sometimes in one night. On Thursday, avant-pop band Islands played at 8 p.m. and 12 a.m., at different venues. The midnight set was about three-quarters full. I'm sure there's a band somewhere in Montana that would have driven all night to play a set, but didn't get accepted -- yet already established acts got two opportunities. Don't worry, unnamed band in Montana. We hear your gripe. -- Michael D. Ayers
South By Southwest Day Four: Runnin' On Empty
South by Southwest 2008 is in the books, folks, and we're runnin' on empty. Look for an overall recap of the event from our team on Monday, but before we drop dead, a brief summary of our comings-and-goings on Saturday:
We started the day at Volume for our debut viewing of No Age, whose music was enjoyable but whose singing was definitely not. Can't deny their punk spirit though. We peeked in on Fleet Foxes one last time; the guys looked pretty ragged, and frontman Robin Pecknold was still wearing the same clothes he had on the day before. But their sweet, vocal-driven sound was none the worse for wear, as the booker from a major late-night TV show looked on.
The late afternoon found us parking ourselves at the Fader Fort for a string of acts we hoped would get our posteriors in motion. The South African jam band BLK JKS was a step in the right direction; at first it sounded like they were playing the riff fusillade from "Achilles' Last Stand," but then they careened into deep, dubby breakdowns and Bad Brains-type speed metal. "Don't you cry, we'll all survive," commanded the frontman. If you say so...
The endlessly hyped Santogold followed, and although the music was way too quiet in the house at first, she quickly won the worn-down crowd over with her attitude-laced hip-hop. "You'll Find a Way," "Unstoppable" and "Creator" were too repetitive for our tastes, but at least now we kind of see what the fuss is all about.
Up next, Spank Rock (pictured), who have also done recent tour-of-duties with the blog hype machine, were the real deal. By the time they broke into "Shake It Til My Dick Turns Racist," the audience was going crazy, and Santogold couldn't resist running back on stage for "B.O.O.T.A.Y." The shout-out to "f*ck the Black Eyed Peas" during "Bump" was an easy rallying cry, and "Tell Me What It Looks Like" capped a wide-ranging set (Miami bass, a little grime), teeing it up for ... wait for it ... 2 Live Crew.
Yes, 2 Live Crew. Except, no Luther Campbell. And, 15 minutes of pointless crowd warm-ups, with the requisite ladies plucked from the crowd to dance on stage. "As Nasty As They Wanna Be" was a fun jolt back to the group's heyday (a Van Halen sample! How quaint!), but we were out patience by then and headed back into the night.
As we raced up to St. David's Church for an intimate acoustic performance from M. Ward and My Morning Jacket's Jim James, 2 Live Crew's "We Want Some P*ssy" could be heard reverberating throughout nearby streets. From sex to salvation -- South by Southwest really is all things at once.
Inside the church (elderly members from which were actually selling brownies in the lobby!), Ward played four songs on his own before James joined him for "Chinese Translation," "One Life Away" and "Outta My Head." Flanked by MMJ guitarist Carl Broemel (renamed for the occasion by James as "Snowy Bramble"), the artists sent us to the holy land on MMJ's "Golden" and "I Will Be There When You Die."
But the highlight of the set was a four-song run of new cuts from the "Evil Urges" album, embodying some of MMJ's finest work yet. The soft rock touches of "Sec' Walkin" and "Thank You Too" blossomed in this stripped-down setting, while "Librarian" drew a portrait of repressed sexuality that even the Man Upstairs could handle. "We'd like to thank God for letting us use his house," James said at one point. Amen, and Hallelujah.
That show turned out to be the last music we saw at SXSW; the balance of the night was spent at the Driskill Hotel with friends new and old, sharing hilarious industry tales about sleazy, aging rockers and generous actors, singing along to Marvin Gaye, Rod Stewart and Dr. Dog on the stereo, emptying the mini-bar and giving thanks for a week we won't soon forget. The sun was coming up as we returned to the hotel to throw our stuff back into our bag and return to reality.
J.I.'s big takeaway: Our biz may be in peril, but there was cause for celebration almost everywhere you looked around Austin this week. It's still about the music; you may just have to scavenge a little harder to find the treasure. -- Jonathan Cohen
South By Southwest Day Four: Don't Tell Me This Ain't Got No Heart
Minding our business, we leisurely wandered into Club Deville for the Hot Freaks party. White Rabbits were supposed to be coming up in a few moments, and Kevin Barnes from Of Montreal (pictured) was supposed to be DJing in the meantime. Instead, he was on stage with an electric guitar, treating the hundred or so people to covers of M.I.A.'s "Jimmy" and the Grateful Dead's "Shakedown Street." The Of Montreal tune "Heimdalsgate Like A Promethean Curse" also charmed onlookers.
Later in the evening, up on the real Shakedown Street, alt-countriest Tift Merritt put in an early set at the Parish, running through a handful of songs from the recent "Another Country" for a modest crowd.
As a frontwoman, Merritt is dead on; she bounces back from guitar to keys, and it'd be easy to compare her to older contemporaries such as Lucinda Williams, but her delivery is much more energetic. Her voice is flawless, ranging from sweet to sexy to downright sad at times. Highlights included "Broken" and "I Know What I'm Looking For Now," with Merritt grinning ear to ear like a 16-year old heading to their first prom.
Over at Stubbs, Okkervil River tore up a gorgeous set, drawing heavily from "The Stage Names." The drums were crispy during "A Hand To Take Hold Of The Scene" and the crowd did a bit of fist pumping during "Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe," but it was the creeping ballad "A Girl In Port" that stole the show.
Doing a ballad at the enormous, outdoor Stubbs is a bold choice, but Will Sheff's voice was up to the challenge. Over the course of seven-plus minutes, the band slowly built the song into a majestic, epic affair.
After that it was a bit downhill. A few missteps led us back to Club Deville, before we made a U-turn and headed to the Vice party for Z-Trip. $10 later, we were mingling with UT students who could have cared less about some industry conference in town.
Point and case: the crowd-surfing when Z-Trip dropped "Smells Like Teen Spirit" (the extended club remix). Standing there looking on, we liked to think we'd most definitely do that too, had we not spent the last four days beating our bodies up. Yeah, right. -- Michael D. Ayers
South By Southwest Day Four: Wrapping It Up
J.I. started the last day of SXSW emceeing a show for Armed Forces Entertainment, an organization that sends indie bands around the world to play for troops stationed overseas. In between our hungover attempts at stage banter, we watched sets from a handful of bands that are alums of the organization’s tour.
The first, Tripdavon, played solid rock; they stumbled when they did covers (and to be fair, “Billie Jean” is a hard one for anyone to nail), but their original songs were quite enjoyable. Urban Sophisticates followed with swingy, upbeat hip-hop, and Five Star Iris closed the show with some radio friendly rock.
We headed over the Fader Fort afterwards and squirmed through a set by South African reggae act BLK JKS; there was nothing really wrong with them, but we were just dying to see our girl crush Santogold (pictured), who was up next. Santi didn’t disappoint, owning the stage while her backup dancers grooved in perfect time. Much to the delight of the crowd, she brought on Kid Sister to help her close a fantastic set.
J.I. then decided to check out the rest of what Austin has to offer, hoofing over to the UT campus to wander around. Maybe New York has spoiled us, or maybe it’s just because spring break is on, but we were seriously bummed about the lack of open bookstores, boutiques and restaurants. We finally chowed down at Veggie Heaven, a dingy if tasty vegan Asian joint and indulged in some TCBY.
The evening found us enjoying a '90s theme, watching the Breeders throw out a mix of old and new tracks and Simian Mobile Disco leading an old school rave. Thus comes of the end of J.I.’s very first SXSW. There were a few insanity inducing moments, far too many lines, sometimes too many people, but a lot of awesome music and very cool folks. Next year, we’re RSVPing to everything and coming back with power. – Cortney Harding
South By Southwest Day Four: Eatin' Good In The Neighborhood
With a little help from ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, daytime TV host Rachael Ray's Feedback party became one of the hottest affairs at this year's South by Southwest festival. There was already a line that extended fully down the block on Austin's 7th Street as the Saturday afternoon party began at the Beauty Bar.
But things inside hit a fever pitch when Gibbons joined the Cringe -- fronted by Ray's husband, John Cusimano -- for a rendition of John Lennon's "Cold Turkey," taking Cusimano's guitar and embracing him at the end of the song.
Those able to get into the party were met with a buffet of Southern-style dishes, including seven-layer sliders, a special macaroni and cheese dish, skillet barbecue chicken in bourbon-orange sauce and baby back ribs.
The Feedback party was Gibbons' second appearance at this year's SXSW. He joined psychedelic rock pioneer Roky Erickson earlier in the festival at the latter's annual Ice Cream Social event for three songs -- a new song called "The Beast" that Gibbons had to learn backstage, plus older favorites "I Walked With a Zombie" and "You're Gonna Miss Me."
Earlier in the day, Daryl Hall brought a performance element to his South by Southwest interview appearance. Hall and longtime collaborator and bassist T-Bone Wolk performed acoustic renditions of three Hall & Oates songs -- "She's Gone," "Adult Education" and "Rich Girl" -- as Hall explained the intricacies of songwriting to the interviewer, journalist Ann Powers.
Prior to the session he told Billboard.com that "the life of the catalog, my body of work, is a surprise to me. Everything is a surprise to me because you never know what`s gonna happen." While in Austin, Hall also performed for DirectTV's "SXSW Live" series and filmed two episodes for his "Daryl's House" Internet performance series, with San Francisco singer/songwriter Chuck Prophet and the Philadelphia artist Mutlu as guests.
Also on Saturday, Extreme rockers Chiodos treated fans to a surprise during an afternoon appearance for Alternative Press magazine. Frontman Craig Owens grabbed an acoustic guitar and invited Circa Survive singer Anthony Green on stage for a duo rendition of the Lemonheads' "Being Around," which Green told the crowd was "pretty much about our love for each other." The unexpected diversion, which ended with Owens and Green kissing each other's cheeks, went over well with the moshers. -- Gary Graff