March 19th, 2010 5:33 pm | by Local Cut Music | Posted In: Columns, Live Cuts

LocalCut at South By Southwest: Wednesday and Thursday

QuasiIt's that time of year again: Time for tacos, sunburns, deafness and lots of beers they don't sell back home. That's right, it's SXSW, America's zaniest music festival! And your WW music staff—Casey Jarman and Michael Mannheimer—are right in the shit-storm middle of it, trying to find time to blog between the free drinks and loud bands. Boo-hoo, we know. So without further ado, here's what we've been up to in Austin thus far.

Best band Casey saw: Sleepy Sun
Best band Michael saw: Princeton

12 pm @ Denver Int'l Airport
The best part about flying on Frontier Airlines? Every plane has a different cute, cuddly animal on its wing. On the flight from PDX we were guided by Snow and Klondike, two small polar bear cubs. For some reason this totally puts me at ease. During our layover we guess which creature we'll get to fly on next. Elk? Dolphin? (no way, everyone knows dolphins can't fly). We board to find that it's Otto the owl, then spend the rest of the time before takeoff make jokes about how you should be required to know the sound each animal makes before boarding. Don't know what sound an elk makes? TERRORIST!!! -MM

4 pm @ Denver Int'l Airport
South by Southwest is just an abstraction until we see our first sign of it in the boarding line: Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell. The ticket-checker takes one look at his tight black attire and knows he's in a band, asking him the name of his group. He answers sweetly and boards. Later I hear her asking the drummer “Are you in Wild Horses, too?” In 48 hours these guys will have a thousand screaming fans in front of them. Right now they're Wild Horses. -CJ

7:30 pm @ Taco truck near former WW music editor Amy McCullough's house
Sweet tacos, where have you been the last two years? Oh, that's right, Portland just doesn't have Mexican food like this. We devour our food and then hop on the bus to downtown Austin. I'm already lost. -MM


9:30 pm @ 6th St.
A friend and I sit on the sidewalk devouring pulled pork sandwiches, but a gross sewage smell keeps drifting in. We notice the huge, open sidewalk vent, one of many in Austin. A drunk girl in a mini skirt and heels attempts to step up the curb, but she slips and falls hard and spread-eagle, one entire leg sliding into the gutter as her ass hits the concrete. She recovers nicely and stumbles away with her friends. She probably won't remember how she got that bruise tomorrow. My friend and I decide that there has to be a pervert somewhere for whom this fall would have been the ultimate turn-on. “Especially while he is eating pork,” she says. We both laugh real hard. -CJ

10 pm @ Wave Rooftop
After stopping by the convention center to pick up my badge and trying to find my bearings on 6th street between all the people here for the music (drunk) and the dudes in green shirts who keep on trying to pinch random girls (drunker), I finally make it to see my first show. And it's on a roof! My buds Princeton—who are named after a street in Santa Monica where they grew up, not the Ivy League school—are in top form, playing songs from the band's latest record, Cocoon of Love. They close the set with a cover of Yo La Tengo's unfuckwithable "Sugarcube" and a dancey new song that sounds like Whitest Boy Alive. I don't have time to navigate through the crowd to tell singers and twins Jesse and Matt Kivel that "Sugarcube" is one of my favorite songs every written. -MM

10:10 pm @ On top of a building
I don't really know where I am, but it's magic. Sleepy Sun is killing it with some psychedelic rock that wafts from the speakers so nice it's like smelling bread back home at the Franz Factory. Frontman looks like he just crawled out of a trailer park and found a patch of magic mushrooms in his backyard, but I forgive him that because he sings quite well and his female co-vocalist is doing something that looks like Job's chicken dance in Arrested Development. This is the first band I've seen in Austin—hell, I'm not even drunk yet—and they're just perfect. -CJ

10:45 pm @ 6th St.
A quick perusal of iPhone applications reveals that my fantasy basketball team is fucking killing it. Now I can listen to bands without distraction. -CJ

11 pm @ Buffalo Billiards
After watching about half of buzz band Javelin's set, which pretty much just consists of one dude singing off-key while the other one bangs and electronic drum set and triggers video game blips from a sequencer—I realize that I've made my first real mishap of SXSW: the band that just came on is Japanther, not JAPANDROIDS. Such a rookie mistake. I guess I entered the wrong information in my iPhone, but it's okay, because after only a few hours I'm already realizing that you really can't head into this music festival with any sort of expectation. It's really just too crowded and too much of a clusterfuck to try to see every band that I want to. Instead I make a plan to pick a few can't misses every day and spend the rest of my time wandering and flying by the seat of my pants. -MM

11 pm @ Touche
Cool Nutz, who has successfully plastered the entire city with promotional materials, has a few dozen hip-hop heads jumping up and down. The dancing area is tiny, and the floor bounces like a miniature Crystal Ballroom. The PA, set atop a janky table, is swaying mightily. I look to the sound guy, expecting to read annoyance on his face. He's fucking stoked. Even moreso when the Chicharones take the stage later in the evening and the floor is packed twice as tight. -CJ

12:30 pm, Touche
After meeting my friend old high school Ethan and making fun of his Dwayne Wade obsession, we head over to Touche to meet Casey and see the NW hip-hop showcase. I'd love to see, like, Real Estate or Sleigh Bells, but I'll save that for later and enjoy sets from Cool Nutz, Grayskull, and the Chicharones, who are really bringing their A-game to Texas. Josh Martinez is singing almost as much as he's rhyming, and the live band is tighter than I've ever seen them. -MM


Best band Casey saw: Blunt Mechanic
Best band Michael saw: White Denim

1:30 pm @ Galaxy Room
Our plan to get breakfast tacos at the Kill Rock Stars thwarted, I instead wander into the Paste Magazine showcase looking for a free drink. In the afternoon at SXSW, if you play your cards right, you could almost get away without paying for anything; a lot of the best shows are free showcases or parties, and most offer tacos or free drinks. Sometimes you get a solid beer. Other time's you end up drinking Mike's Hard Lemonade "Pomegranate Punch" and end up with a horrible sugar high. I feel like vomiting, but instead catch parts of the Living Sisters, three girls in cute dresses who sing solid harmonies and look like they walked straight off the set of Me and You and Everyone We Know, and Fanfarlo, a London trio that does folky bluegrass that's fine but way too bland and inoffensive to me. -MM

2:30 pm @ Club de Ville
Now this is what I'm talking about! The InSound showcase has a great lineup (Surfer Blood, Small Black, Vivian Girls), I can cut straight to the front of the line, and $3 gets you a wristband for unlimited High Life. Now I know why everyone has to take a nap in the afternoon after drinking in the sun for hours. I'm still on the fence about most of the "chillwave" bands that blew up this song on the Internet, but Small Black is definitely the best of the bunch. The four dudes in the band couldn't be older than 23, and the drummer looks exactly like a young John Stockon. As long as he doesn't try to trip Terry Porter, I'm fine with that. Small Black still have some work to do on its live show, but its synth-based dream pop sounds pretty heavenly on a sunny afternoon. At the end of the set the band plays its hit "Despicable Dogs," which has got to be the best chillwave jam and one of the best songs of last year. The guy next to me is so into that he spills his drink all over his friend and then makes it up with a big bro-hug. Chillwave: the great bro-uniter. -MM

4 pm @ The Fader Fort
The line to get wristbands—which grant fans access to a free, heavily sponsored showcase called the Levi's Fader Fort…along with all the booze they can drink—looks hellishly long, but it moves briskly and amateur promoters make the best of it by handing out handbills to the captive audience. One guy's giving away cheap plastic sunglasses. I plan for moments like these by not planning at all: The glasses fit like a fucking charm. -CJ

4 pm @ KRS showcase
I arrive hoping to see the start of Quasi's set and am pleasantly surprised that Explode Into Colors are still on. It's a total Portland love fest in here, and I say hi to Rocky and Eric from Wampire, the White Fang (WHT FNG!!!) dudes, and friends Marisa and Rob. The sound system is pretty crappy, and it seems like XIC aren't too happy about it (Claudie complains that she can't hear anything in the monitor) but this band still kills it, no matter the venue. I wish Lisa's drums were louder, but I head up front to mosh a bit and rile up the crowd. -MM


4:25 @ The Fader Fort
The Fader Fort is gigantic, a festival within a festival that has its own string of merch booths and a special area for bloggers. There are DJs, tire-swings and a ping pong table. You could live here, with the face-painted girls with their homemade dresses; the lanky dancing gay guys spilling drinks on one another; the bro-brahs scoping out all the tan female legs on full display on every free patch of grass. The perimeter is built out of corrugated metal and scrap wood: It looks like Broadway's idea of a junkyard, complete with all the singing and dancing and dramatic expressions. Despite the plentiful corporate sponsors, there's something really likeable about the whole thing: It's a free, gigantic party tent. What's not to like? -CJ

5 pm @ Kill Rock Stars' Showcase
The mustachioed kid from Wampire is doing a crazy hippie dance to Explode Into Colors as they open up for Quasi. Rocky from Wampire tells us he's not sure how the band's tour is going to continue, as their van broke down in New Mexico and they had to hitch a ride just to get to Austin. “Everything has been working out at the last second,” he says, reassuring himself. The smell of tacos drifts in and I lose concentration—Rocky's mouth is moving but all I hear is “Tacos tacos tacos! Tacos, tacos?” -CJ

Portland Love

5 pm @ KRS Showcase
Every time I see Janet Weiss play the drums, I say the same thing: she's the best drummer I've ever seen. And though the muddy sound isn't helping things, Quasi rips through a set of new tunes, old favorites ("You Fucked Yourself") and a cover of the Who's "Substitute." There are few things in life I like more than to see this band, with Sam Coomes torturing his guitar and Janet on the backup vox, play songs by the Who. So even though it didn't sound as good as the New Year's Eve set, its comforting to know that even thousands of miles across the country Quasi still sound fantastic. Coomes even jumps off his amp like he's playing to a huge Glastonbury crowd, not 100 odd people on a yard next to a taco shop. True rock stars aren't limited by the stage. -MM

6 pm @ The French Legionaires Museum
Guess who the hot shit blog band is? The xx has a line two blocks long and about 300 people deep from the French legionaires museum, an outdoor venue. One can't get within 50 yards of the openers, dum dum girls, and the sound is dampened by all the bodies. The lawn fills an gets trampled, people hop the fence by the dozen, then get to the edge of the crowd, say "this sucks," sand leave to the next sold-out show. -CJ

6:30 pm @ stage by the Fader Fort
The Fader Fort is nuts, and I'm not even inside. The wait to get a free wristband is almost 200 deep, and I have way too many things I want to see the rest of the day. After a few minutes of people watching I begin to walk down to the main drag and find a hidden oasis: two stages on a hill by the Fader Fort, no line to get in, and a few solid bands coming up. This is my first real SXSW moment. I've heard nothing but good things about Austin band White Denim, but was sorta nonplussed about the record and missed the band's Portland show a few months ago. But holy fuck, these guys are good. Like one of the best bands I've ever seen good. White Denim plays mean psychedelic garage rock, but the arrangements never feel too elaborate or gaudy. The guitar player totally rips, switching from bluesy leads to wah-wah pedal mind-fuckery to charging power chords, and the band is tight and messy at the same time. White Denim totally slay, and I know I'm late to the game on this one. But that's what SXSW is all about, finding little discoveries when you least expect them. -MM

White Denim

7 pm @ Near Uncorked
There's so much Mexican food on showcase here but little to no Mexican music. I think I hear a Mariachi band tearing it up at a bar called uncorked. Fool's gold: it's just a stereo turned up too loud. -CJ

7:45 pm @ Barbarella
"My name's Harlan T. Bobo, and I write songs primarily to get laid. It usually works,” the Memphis singer-songwriter tells his crowd. Between each song, he elaborates a little on his story, which gets more fucked-up as it goes. “If I sing this song to her an she doesn't run away screaming, I know I'm dealing with a twisted individual, and I like that.” Soon he's talking about faking terminal illness to avoid his new lady, and explaining that he generally winds up stalking his exes. Upon finishing his story-set, Bobo addresses the crowd again. “If you wanna buy the Harlan T. Bobo How to Get Laid Songbook—you're gonna have to wait because I just thought of it yesterday. And the truth is, if I wanna get laid I have to sing Jonathan Richman songs to my wife. -CJ

8 pm, Stubb's
I've been in Austin a little over 24 hours, and I realize that the only food I've eaten (besides one small clementine back at Amy's house) is tacos. Current count: 11 tacos, which is almost one every two hours. I'm doing this thing right. You know what I have to say about my taco binge? THAT'S HOT!!! -MM

8 pm @ Red Eyed Fly
Ben Barnett of Blunt Mechanic recognizes me in the crowd. “Holy shit, is that Casey?” he asks. I wave and holler “we'll talk later.” “We'll talk later,” he confirms, and proceeds to melt more faces with his increasingly Queen-esque shredding. -CJ

8:45 pm, Stubb's
I'm able to get really close at one of Austin's larger venues, Stubb's, to see the Besnard Lakes. Though I liked their first record, it's the new one, The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night, that totally blew me away earlier this year. Besnard Lakes operate almost entirely in the slow-to-dirge-like range, with lots of slow tempos and epic buildups and searing layers of distorted guitars. Luckily this is a big official show so they brought their smoke machine, and the sun just set and it's gorgeous and I realize why Austin is so great. Watching a band at an outdoor venue in March! Toward the end of the set the band plays "Albatross," which is the best post-Loveless shoegaze song I've ever heard. It's just ear-crushingly loud, and I can't help but smile as all the people without earplugs look a little scared. -MM

Besnard Lakes

9 pm @ The Hilton
Two people limp into the lounge of the Hilton Hotel—where I'm charging my phone and checking a few emails—at almost exactly the same time. One's a bleached-blonde British woman with a few friends helping her walk. One's an early thirtysomething in a button-up plaid shirt. Both have good humor about their apparently sprained ankles, and neither knows quite what to do next. -CJ

10 pm @ Hilton lobby
If there's one thing you learn on your first time at SXSW, it's that you'll be lucky to have any battery left in your cell phone by the end of the day. Everyone I know is either out of power or at something like 10%, and either scrambling to find a spot to recharge or telling you that they might not be able to reach you anytime soon. Casey stays behind to blog, and I head over to the Merge showcase, hoping that part of the She & Him crowd is gone so I can sneak in to see Wye Oak. -MM

10:20 pm @ Merge showcase
Plan backfired. Big time. As I should have guessed, the venue is way behind schedule, and She & Him haven't gone on yet. The line to get in is around the block, even for people with press badges. Is M. Ward that big of a deal? Or is it that cute actress that everyone has a crush on that's holding things up? -MM

10:30 @ Merge showcase
Damn you Zooey Deschanel! I just want to see one of my favorite bands and you just won't let me. That's it, it's over between us. Your new record is boring anyway. Wye Oak will have to wait 'till another day. -MM

11 pm @ BBQ stand on 7th and Red River
OK, now I'm not sure what to do, and realize that I should probably eat something before I figure out my plans. Waiting in line at the BBQ stand I see a guy who looks EXACTLY like Jacob from Lost, and I consider asking him "are you him?" or seeing if he can touch me and grant me everlasting life on the Island. Instead I mumble something about if he knows how it all ends and he looks at me confused and walks off. At least this brisket sandwich is real tasty. -MM

11:45 pm @Longbranch Inn
Awe man. Fuck this shit. I decided to head up to 11th and some big number address to try and see the Impose Magazine show that has a killer lineup, with the Fresh & Onlys and Woods and Thee Oh Sees. One of the great things about SXSW is that almost everything is conveniently located in a nice little L shape, and you really don't have to walk more than 10 or 15 minutes to get anywhere. But this LongBranch Inn is wayyyyyyy far away from everything, and it has a long ass line, and I'm staring to get a little upset. After waiting for a few minutes I grumble and head back downtown, checking to note that I walked over a mile to stand in another line. SXSW 1, Michael 0. -MM

12:20 am @ Emo's
As Jared Mees would sing, patience did pay off, FIN-ALLLYYYYY! Walking around without a plan I stumble into Emo's and catch most of Centro-Matic's set, and it's great. I've always underestimated these guys, but Will Johnson's country-tinged power-pop songs sound awesome live, especially after I spent over two hours letting SXSW break my heart. Johnson dedicates the last song to Alex Chilton, Mark Linkous, and Vic Chesnutt, a pretty incredible trio of amazing songwriters that have died recently. After the set I try to head back to Stubb's in hopes of seeing Broken Social Scene, but Band of Horses are still on and I catch a few songs from outside the fence. "The Funeral" sounds epic as always, but it's the next song that really sparks my interest. It's not a BOH original, but a cover of "Sugarcube"! Seriously, one of my 10 favorite songs of all time. BOH do a so-so job with it (needs more organ and/or keyboards) but it doesn't change my opinion of the song one bit. -MM

12:30 am @ Aces Lounge
According to the sign outside, Reflection Eternal—the classic Talib Kweli/Hi-Tek combo —is onstage now. But inside, that's not quite how things shape up. Jean Grae is dropping some soulful verses while onstage audience members shimmy left and right at her command. A few songs later, Talib takes the stage and the place goes wild. -CJ

1 am @ Aces Lounge
Kweli's making his way through the hits. He needs a drink, and someone offers him coffee. "I don't fuk with coffee," he says. "All the fellas in the house that don't drink coffee lemme hear ya." I'm a committed coffee-hater, and this is the first shout-out of this nature I have ever received. I let out a wild, instinctual holler. I'm one of about three people in the audience who responds. -CJ

1:15 am @ Galaxy Room
I end the day where I started, outside of Galaxy Room to see the Ruby Suns. I loved their first record for Sub Pop, which was an awesome mix of kiwi-pop and Feels-era Animal Collective, but these new songs just seem flat. They are definitely going for a lo-fi dance thing, but the rhythms all seem a little off and the sound doesn't really fit singer Ryan McPhun's voice. -MM

Follow Michael's SXSW exploits at his Twitter account. Casey doesn't believe in the power of Twitter. He prefers cookies.

Photos by Michael Mannheimer and Casey Jarman
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