SXSW Day 1 – tag team

Seeing as Pat and I mostly saw the same bands yesterday I’ve let him handle the fine details in the post that follows. Delegation: it’s one of the marvels of being an editor. Suffice to say that SXSW is every bit as rad as I remember from last year assuming you have a badge and not a wrist-band.

I should explain. The festival basically has two tiers (well three if you count the people who come down here strictly for the free/unofficial showcases of which there are more than enough to keep even someone with the most miniscule attention span in a state of permanent glee) — there are badges and then there are wristbands. Folks with badges get to flit about from venue to venue spreading buzz and good vibes like pollin-crazed butterflies to sexy musical stamen (to abuse a metaphor). Folks with wristbands seem to spend much of their time standing outside venues in block-spanning lines since no one wristbands get in until everyone with a badge does.

The system works in that it gives people without $600 of petty cash kicking around a chance to see some pretty decent bils but it also means there are two entirely different festival experiences going on at any time. Wristbands are why SXSW has a reputation for long lines and frustration with tales of people standing around for hours hoping to spot their favourite band only to have a venue turn "badge only" at the last second. Badges are why the festival has a rep as a place where all your dreams come true — heck I’ve managed to see Akron/Family Jarvis Cocker M. Ward and School of Seven Bells and it’s only been a day.

It’s about time to run off and see Calgary’s own Women play at an Urban Outfitters down the street (since day parties are unofficial the badge/wristband divide disappears and lineups become a very real possibility) so I’ll leave you with Pat’s rundown. Hard to believe there’s still three more days of this to go:

Pat’s Obscenely Long Summary:

Note: You can follow my progress in real-time at

http://www.twitter.com/pmjboyle (I admit it–twitter is a lot less

lame than I had myself convinced it was…)

The day began with the killrockstars party Club Deville where the free

breakfast tacos disappeared altogether too fast. Fortunately our

clutch of Calgarians arrived early enough to snag a few; appetites

were sated. Then we watched a band called Explode Into Color a trio

of ladies performing churning rhythmic rock songs with vocals that

were mostly shrieks and warbles. The day’s first pleasant surprise!

Our next stop was Red 7 for the Terrorbird party but along the way I

ducked in at Red Eyed Fly drawn by the rocking Malkmus-esque riffs

of the Upside-Down. Unfortunately when they launched into their next

track the vocals were… awful? Hits and misses dear readers hits

and misses. So it was on to Terrorbird.

First up on that bill was Wavves one of the most buzz-addled bands du

jour on the market. Slated to play some ridiculous number of shows

this week (I’ve heard 16?) the indie world’s next superstar is a wiry

teenager with a floppy haircut slamming through riffs on his

seemingly brand-new baby blue Strat. While the show was nothing short

of a condensed cranked-to-the-max romp I can’t say I was terribly

impressed music-wise. Fortunately chances are very high that I’ll be

able to report back at some point later on in the week.

After watching another couple sets by Shout Out Out Out Out (awesome

as always but what happened to Nik’s ponytail!?) and Loney Dear (meh

to the max) we trekked back to the convention centre for a very

special lecture from fake-professor Jarvis Cocker (Univ. of Common

People) on the importance of lyrics in music. The talk which ran a

slightly-uncomfortable 100 minutes interspersed notes from the

speaker with examples of the principles mostly in the form of videos

but with a few live performances thrown in for good measure. The

cheeky brit tore apart lyrics by hacks like James Blunt while heaping

praise upon classic talents like Gordon Lightfoot Leonard Cohen

and… Eminem? Two high points:

– Jarvis’s performance of his first ever song about a girlfriend who

only speaks in lines from Shakespeare. "Shakespeare Rock" indeed!

– A karaoke version of "Life" by Des’ree which was presented as an

example of the pitfalls of excessive rhyming. Look it up: she rhymes

"ghost" with "most" then "toast". Yikes.

After the lecture we skipped the Canadian Blast BBQ (no time!) and

beat a path to Mohawk to catch psych-hippie demons Akron/Family. As

promised they were crazy loud and crazy energetic. They weren’t

necessarily as tight as I would have hoped but they made up for it

with intensity. The first few songs were mellow but morphed into a

monster jam with a pair of hirsute redheads (Peter tells me they’re

the band Megafaun) brought on stage to thicken up the tribal

vibrations along with a pristine nordic specimen named Thor on the

floor tom and a feather-garbed tambourine-smashing dancer urging the

crowd to come along for the ride. As the set powered on well beyond

its designated end time we could hear the sound guy screaming at the

band through the monitors to get off the stage even as they tore

through an abbreviated version of their new single "Everyone Is

Guilty"–sublime even without its epic bridge. Watch for them in

later posts this week and at the Calgary Folk Fest this summer!

A quick interlude between day and evening shows allowed for dinner

with the boys from Azeda Booth and a trip back to the hotel to change

into more forgiving footwear. Then it was across the street to the

Central Presbyterian Church for Anni Rossi M. Ward and possibly

more. A huge line had formed at the doors but our badges allowed us

immediate entrance. Score!

Rossi’s style on the viola is a unique blend of pizzicato and

lightning-fast bow strokes with percussive slaps and taps. Somehow

she manages to out-tricky Andrew Bird and Final Fantasy both of whom

are working with the advantage of a loop pedal which she eschews.

Definitely worth checking out–an extremely compelling live performer.

Then it was M. Ward… What to say? To see him play is to see

something absurdly good. His skill in the ways of folk guitar are

otherworldly; it is straight-up guitar porn. His stage presence is a

singularity writhing around a mic stand slapping his guitar with

such vigor drawing out each vocal segment just-so. And the

church–what a great setting!

My next stop was at Elysium–the city’s best dance club according to

their marquee–to see Germany’s Boyz Noize. He was pretty rad for a DJ

and there was plenty of enthusiasm but there was more head-bobbing

than straight-up dancing and I was disappointed not to hear his hit

single. Dang Dang Dang!

After that I returned to the Red Eyed Fly this time at their awesome

outdoor stage to see Canadians Nick Thorburn (of Islands fame) and

Jim Guthrie (of Jim Guthrie fame) in their Human Highway project. It

sounded pretty awesome especially with the addition of a keyboard

player formerly of the Barmitzvah Bros. according to Peter who was

really into the show. The whole experience was somewhat soured by the

fact that good old Nicky Diamonds appeared to be in an impenetrably

pissy mood but he was nicely counterbalanced by consummate friendly

man Guthrie who was dressed exactly as he was on the album cover.


One more stop at Central Presbyterian to see Camera Obscura was

short-lived (disapointed with band church was sleepy-inducing hot

etc.) and sent me towards 6th Street in search of delicious street

meat. I was not disappointed! My italian sausage was an exquisite

messy treat and while I waited I was treated to the sounds of Angry

vs. the Bear (I think?) washing out the doors of a nearby bar.

The night’s final stop was at Headhunters where the Black Diamond

Heavies churned through a jaw-dropping set. Matching a tight drummer

with a shirtless lunatic growling Waits-meets-Motorhead vocals over a

heavily distorted Rhodes piano. I don’t have enough words (or time) to

describe how good it was. Best surprise of the day! Go find them on

Myspace–they must be heard.