SXSW 2011 | 03.15-20.11

 After I came to terms with the fact that I would not see the Kanye West show, I set out to see Travis Shettel of Piebald play an acoustic show. He encouraged the crowd to sing along so that he would remember the lyrics to his songs.




The Sounds – Photo: Alex Schreiber

Austin, Texas:  Thousands of bands and musicians traveled to Austin, Texas, to perform at the 25th annual South by Southwest Music Festival. Though SXSW also includes interactive and film components along with industry panels and seminars, I was there for one thing: the music. It can be overwhelming deciding where to go and what to see, but anywhere and everywhere has music, so no matter what, you win. Many of the places reached capacity before the headliners performed, so once inside it’s a good idea to stay, because re-entry can be a bitch.

There was a rumor of a secret Kanye West show happening at an undisclosed time and location. Due to the Kanye t-shirt I wore for two days straight, I was approached multiple times by people looking for information on the show. The rumor became truth when he and Jay-Z played a festival-capping performance at a power plant converted into a venue. Supposedly the line to get in was unending; some people waited over six hours to catch the show. I have patience and I dig Kanye West, but there was no way I was missing six hours of music to wait in a line.
I arrived in Austin Wednesday morning and immediately went to Lustre Pearl, not because I knew any of the bands playing in the San Diego showcase, but for the endless amount of free beer. Sondre Lerche was slated to play in the Convention Center, so I headed over, only to find he was, in fact, not there. I went into a different room where Andrew W.K.—sporting his signature long hair and plain white t-shirt and jeans—was giving a motivational speech. He mentioned his love for things different from the norm. His first experience of this was when he saw a man wearing Calvin Klein underwear. Somehow that blew his mind. He said people should have a genuine interest to voice what expresses themselves, to always have a focus, and to be true—even if it’s phony. Before the panel came to a close, he was asked for one party tip. His advice? Party hard.
Outdoor venue Stubb’s had a great lineup, so I stayed there for three shows: Yuck, James Blake, and The Smith Westerns. The young age of each of these bands’ members added to the greatness of the performances. At first, I didn’t really understand what James Blake’s music was all about. His soulful voice was backed by a drummer and guitarist, but the music was mainly waves of synthesizer and the mixings of the dubstep sound. However, when Blake played “Limit to Your Love,” I was nearly moved to tears, and began to grasp just how great and inventive his style really was. The Smith Westerns played some fun and fast hooky songs that brought the energy level up, but the best song, “All Die Young,” slowed it down a tad and felt epic, sad, and beautiful. I left before the headliners, Duran Duran, came on to go catch some hip-hop.
Fresh out of high school, Mac Miller is blowing up the hip-hop scene with his silly sense of humor, his love for weed, and his incredible skill with words. He performed his hits “Knock Knock” and “Nikes on my Feet,” as well as his new track “Donald Trump.” Miller’s talent is astonishing for a 19-year-old. He told the crowd, “I know you guys know I’m good at having fun, but I don’t think you guys know I can actually rap.” The beats stopped and he spit his words into the mike with speed and diction. He can rap. I caught an intense rap performance by P.O.S., as well. I hadn’t heard of him, but his intensity and conviction made me damn sure I wouldn’t forget him.

The Kills – Photo: Alex Schreiber
Snorlaxx, supposedly a Pokemon reference, played an all right rap/rock show. Outer Minds had a fun set that involved a white afro-bearing girl playing the tambourine. The real fun started when I showed up to Emo’s and caught the up-and-coming band Black Light Saints. A worker there snuck us around back so we didn’t have to wait in the long ass line to see The Kills (thanks, dude!). Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hint, aka the Kills, put on an intimate show that consisted of mainly new material. They also played at Stubb’s the next day, which was nowhere near as good as this show. Their concerts should always be played in dank basement-y venues like Emo’s rather than big outdoor ones. The gritty-bluesy music is best when it swarms around you and can’t escape into the sky.
At Cedar Street Courtyard, I saw the last half of The Bangles’ set which ended with “Walk Like an Egyptian.” I never thought I’d see these girls live—hell, I didn’t know they were still making music—but they were a good lead in to The Sounds. Thursday was like a Lilith Fair without all the shitty acts that normally frequent that festival; these girls had balls. Scandalously dressed, Maja Ivarrson fronted the band with energetic ferocity. She chugged beer, smoked cigarettes, and did naughty sex drops on stage—oh, and she sang like a champ. The highlight was when, while singing closing track “Tony the Beat,” Ivarrson flicked her cigarette at a guy in the front row, hitting him right in the chest. That feisty girl got away with everything. 

TV On the Radio – Photo: Alex Schreiber
After crashing on the floor at a random house, the Ornery Little Darlings let me hop in their van—filled with instruments for their 1 p.m. show—to get back downtown for more music. I spent the day at the Spin party at Stubb’s. The event had free Sparks, an alcohol energy drink: the pretty Sparks girls tricked me into drinking a fucking pickle shake for a free Sparks. OFF!, fronted by Circle Jerks’ Keith Morris, played a rowdy and angry set with short and fast songs. Morris got emotional when he sang a song about his best friend who died, and the band even played a song that was “their take on 9/11.” Up next, The Vaccines played a short and boring set. The lead singer came out with a t-shirt tucked into his khakis, which is exactly how I would describe their music. After Young the Giant delivered a solid show inside, TV on the Radio closed the party out with a funky set of songs. Big, weird, alien-robot-looking things came out on stage at the end for some apparent reason. It was a goofy scene, but entertaining.
At Mellow Johnny’s, Fitz and the Tantrums were the headliners. Maritime, Eulogies, The One AM, and The Dears all put on decent performances, but I wished I could fast-forward some of their songs to more quickly get to the soulful Fitz and the Tantrums. They boldly leave guitars out of the band, and they are not missed. The amount of fun they had on stage was infectious and endearing. They closed out the set with their fantastic single, “MoneyGrabber.”
After I came to terms with the fact that I would not see the Kanye West show, I set out to see Travis Shettel of Piebald play an acoustic show. He encouraged the crowd to sing along so that he would remember the lyrics to his songs. His nerdy demeanor and the way he conversed with the crowd added to the greatness of his short set, with a set list decided on the spot. Someone would yell out a song for him to play, and if he could remember how it went, or was able to play the song with just his acoustic guitar, he’d play it. “Stalker” and “King of the Road” sounded great, but sadly he could not play “Grace Kelly With Wings,” which he apologized for. He finished his last song and said he had to leave immediately because he was late for his flight.
After getting my debit card stolen by a shady, broke musician, I ended my freak out and went to the showcase headlined by my fellow Springfield, Mo., boys in Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin. The Norwegian band Casio Kids played an upbeat set that sounded a lot like Phoenix. Asobi Seksu wasn’t anything special and Starfucker was alright. SSLYBY brought their A game and played a lot of songs from their newest album, Let It Sway. Their catchy and inspiring set was just what I needed to end my SXSW experience. | Alex Schreiber


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