SXSW 2011 opinions

March 26, 2011

Last weekend, I made the trek to Austin for the first time in two years and for four days, I tuned in and dropped out thanks to good music, shitty beer and some special brownies. I wasn’t planning on doing any interviews, writing any show reviews or trying to keep up with the latest Twitter fodder while there, but upon my return, everyone wanted to know how it was. And as I rambled on about the lack of free parties and how much I hate vegan Kerby Lane waiters, I realized that despite my best efforts to NOT analyze what just happened, I couldn’t help but overanalyze it. Below, a cursory roundup of the SXSW weekend that may be my last.

Highlight of SXSW: Gonna call out my 16 year-old self here and say Gatsby’s American Dream at Peckerheads on Friday night. Without getting too gushy, I have always thought that the band’s off-beat time signatures and snarky lyrics were too forward for the pop-punk/emo scene of the early 2000s, so I was really excited to hear that they were playing their first show in five years at Southby. As the only free show we could find at midnight on Friday night, attendance was a no-brainer and I got all sore and sweaty dancing alongside fellow 20-somethings to one of the few bands I can still tolerate from my days of loving whiny music. We even offered to buy singer Nic Newsham a drink afterwards, but he looked like he needed water and a bed instead.

Favorite new band: Jeremy (motherfucking) Messersmith. We snuck into the back room at Shakespeare’s Ale House (the only place with any craft beer–Victory Hop Wollop) and found Jeremy Messersmith sound checking to be so melodic and beautiful that we decided to stay and wait for their set at 7pm. Turns out that he was opening for an official showcase, but our early arrival secured us seats for this Belle and Sebastian-meets-The Beatles musician and his band of merry string players. Found a video of the set we watched [via freecreditreport lulz]:

Other bands I saw, in order: Ted Leo (no pharmacists), Dum Dum Girls (are they fembots or what?), Daedelus (at “Bro”celona), Shannon and the Clams (her last show before she got too sick to perform), The Growlers (in a furniture store), FM Belfast (from the roof next to where they were playing), some band who was playing their third show ever and had a black bass player with an ironic mohawk, Candy Claws (love you, Jax!), The Dodos (only MWTX set I caught), Baths (his up-teenth performance of the weekend), Thao with the Get Down Stay Down (it was her birthday), Strange Boys (hometown hotties), Ty Segall (was drunk by this point), JEFF the Brotherhood (don’t remember, but am in a photo from the show so I must have stayed) and countless other singer-songwriter and bluegrass street band hopefuls that crowded the streets with their tunes.

Bands I wanted to see play, but didn’t: Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Puro Instinct, Nite Jewel, Odd Future, Stamps, Free Moral Agents and more that I can’t remember (clearly I’m bummed).

What was different?: In addition to the entire festival shifting up a day (now it’s Tuesday-Saturday), the cops were cracking down on the unofficial shit pretty hard so there were definitely less off-the-grid parties to attend (Burger’s house party got broken up at 10:30!). There was no late-night secret show on the Lamar Avenue pedestrian bridge and definitely no bands playing off of car batteries underneath it. Smaller bands that ordinarily would have played these unofficial events seemed to have been absorbed into the greater number of official SXSW showcases, which either required a badge or cost money. If you did manage to find a show that didn’t charge, purses were checked for illicit liquids and the overpriced drinks once inside were poured into little cups from the dentist. I think it’s safe to say that the “free concerts, free beer” awesomeness that has ruled the festival in the past is close to extinction. But at least more trashy locals came out to rage in the streets–or maybe they were mocking us.

What was the same?: Music permeated every inch of Downtown’s central core and everyone was drinking Lone Star.

Will I go back?: Maybe. As with many other festivals (coughcoachellacough), it feels as though the anything-goes, music fan-focused aspect of SXSW’s music festival is on its way out and in its place is a series of government-regulated events that leave the real music experience in the hands of badge-holders, ie. deep-industry people who would rather attend panel discussions about how to promote bands than see the music in real life. I also sensed a lot more hostility from the locals than in previous years which made me feel guilty since anyone who lives in Long Beach knows how horrible Grand Prix gets with all the race fans vying for more Tecate. Do I really want to be one of 40,000 assholes that Austin-ites (Austonians?) spew bad vibes on? Not really. But the urge for more breakfast tacos might be too much to bear.

You can check out all of my pictures from this year’s SXSW on Flickr. 

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