Everything I said in my column about SXSW was true. All true. The good and the bad. It really is a nirvana for “new music” lovers, a paradise, a shrine to what’s happening now in music — be it good and new and original, or regressive, derivative, boring. You’ll hear it all here, along a stretch of road that runs a mile beside a dark, flat river surrounded by hotels and restaurants and new condominium construction. On the streets, in the restaurants, in mezzanines, alongside the locked doors of banks and office buildings, on the stairs alongside rows and rows of garbage scows, besides a Jimmy Johns, in clothing stores, outside of convenient marts where the local downtowners stop in to buy a pack of smokes and a $3 vending-machine-quality sandwich wishing it would all go away. You’ll get a chance to see every band that’s been written about in Magnet and Pitchfork three or four times over the course of the week. If you missed them at 1 a.m. at Emo’s don’t worry, they’re probably playing tomorrow afternoon at the Urban Outfitters or in a tent at a day-party booze-and-brats give-away.
We got in at 5. Our hotel — located on the opposite side of the river — is only a $20 cab ride from the airport. We walked to the Convention Center about a half-mile away to get our “credentials” — a large laminated badge with my photo and an imbedded metallic device that acts as a keyfob that magically gets you into all the shows in all the clubs for the duration of the festival. So efficient was our arrival, we had time to catch a full evening of shows. I checked my list and figured why not try Peter Murphy at Elysium? After all, it was only a couple blocks away.
There’s a sense of disorientation upon reaching 6th St., the same blind chaos of Bourbon St. during Mardi Gras. The street is blocked off and every venue is hosting something, but what? After a few minutes you realize that no one else seems to know, either. The reason this festival works is because people aren’t assholes — more people came up to me yesterday asking for directions or advice about bands than any time I can remember, maybe because I look like an undercover cop or a club bouncer or someone’s dad. Certainly not because I look like a local. This would never work in NYC. Everyone’s friendly, maybe because it’s 82 degrees and sunny, and those of us who flew or drove in from northern climes — having suffered through five months of bone-aching cold — are so desperately happy to be able to casually walk around in a T-shirt and shorts and flip-flops.
We made our way down Red River St. to Elysium and ran into an enormous crowd that turned out to be the 7 p.m. “hold out line” for Peter Murphy, though no one was sure if, in fact, it was a line at all. More of a mob/crowd situation. After waiting for about 20 minutes, the guy behind me said “Dude, you got a badge. You should wait in the ‘badge line.'” I was in the non-badge line. In fact every venue has two lines, one for people with badges, one for those with wristbands or nothing. We moved to the other line, but it didn’t really matter. After waiting for 30 minutes, and almost giving up, the cattle began to move. Elysium is billed as a “dance club,” but it’s not much different than, say, The Waiting Room — a large venue with a decent stage and a side room with pool tables and pinball machines.. Murphy already was on stage performing when we got in. I remembered interviewing him years ago — one of the toughest interviews I’ve ever done because of his thick cockney accent — I didn’t understand half of what he said. Murphy speaks quickly and mumbles. I recognized that London mumble telling stories on stage between songs, but I couldn’t decipher a single word. Musically, Murphy sounds as good as ever (solo-wise anyway). He’s still in good voice — that same old deep warble that slides upward into a David Bowie impersonation. “He looks old,” said a gothy-looking girl standing beside me, and he did. His hair has thinned and he’s starting to comb-over a bald spot, his skin looked drawn and grey, his eyes deeper set, but he still had whatever it is that made him famous in the ’80s.
We lasted about 20 minutes before we’d had enough. I wanted to get across the street to what’s known as “Emo’s Annex” — nothing more than a tent set up across the street from the actual Emo’s. I had called Aponik in a panic while waiting for Murphy asking, “Is it going to be like this everywhere? Super long lines?” He assured me that it wasn’t and he was right. There was no line for Micachu — a young UK lady/guy who plays what looks like is either a tiny guitar or a big ukulele, pounding out arch, dissonant pop songs sung in an angry chirp. Her music will either entice you or drive you away. I loved it. Teresa was confused by it. The crowd of around 75 seemed interested but not terribly drawn in.
We left and got a slice of pizza from one of the countless pizza windows located about every 40 yards down the street. Everyone’s eating pizza, probably because that’s all you notice on the street. Pizza is quick and easy. No one wants to sit down for a normal meal. I wanted to catch The Warlocks, but somehow misread my pocket guide and wound up at Stubbs, an enormous outdoor venue located behind a famous barbecue joint. The stage was large, topped by a huge tent-like canopy.The feature attraction — The Meat Puppets. I’ve never been a fan of the band, though like everyone else in America, I enjoyed their guest spot during Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged gig. It was so loud that I wondered what the diners were hearing inside the restaurant while they crushed their ribs. Meat Puppets sounded pretty dead-on in front of a crowd of at least 500, maybe more. Teresa thought they sounded Brookes and Dunn. I thought they sounded like gritty swamp rock.
It was 10 when we left and Teresa had had enough and I was beginning to fade after too many Shiners. Sixth St. had turned into a drunk noise carnival, exactly as you would imagine it — noise (mostly drums) echoing out of every venue. Street crazies and people on bicycles mixed in with the badge-wearing crowd and locals trying to get into free shows. Everywhere, all the time, an ambulance was either parked in front of a venue — cherries ablaze — or rushing through an intersection. Odd. Despite cops at every corner, I walked Teresa back to Congress and headed over to Emo’s where I spent the rest of the evening. Like Slowdown (but really, not like Slowdown at all) Emo’s has a main stage and “Emo’s Jr.” The diff from Slowdown is that both go at the same time, divided by an outdoor passageway that makes up most of Emo’s excess capacity. I wasn’t sure what I was watching and then found an order sheet taped to the wall. On stage was Wild Light from Manchester, NH, a commercial-sounding indie band that reminded me of shit like Dexy’s Midnight Runners (for no reason, really). Meanwhile, over at Emo’s Jr., The Homosexuals were doing their thing. Formed in 1972 as The Rejects, the trio is the read deal, like a slice of Brittany when the barricades were still in the streets, and they looked like they lived through it.
Back in at Emo’s was Cut Off Your Hands, who I originally was drawn in to see. They played in Omaha just a few weeks ago and I missed them. High energy indie rock from New Zealand that sounded like a rougher version of Tokyo Police Club. I mentioned this to Robb Nansel afterward and he gave me a look like I was nuts. The best was last. Thee Oh Sees from San Francisco — amazing garage rock to the extreme. The lead guy, looking like a young (short) Marty Sheen straight out of Badlands, is magnetic on stage — the best garage rock I’ve heard in years, covered in reverb and noise. Easily the best band I heard on my Day One, or maybe it was the Shiner talking. There was talk of a secret Jane’s Addiction set at a local Playboy Club, which I’d heard about before I left. Nansel was going, but I was dead tired.
By the time I got back to the hotel at around 1, my back felt like it’d been crushed in a vice from standing up for five hours after spending five hours smashed in a jet. Pure agony. The part about SXSW having nowhere to sit down is true, so is the part about doing lots of walking. I will need a vacation from this vacation by Sunday. Today I try to find the day parties on foot.
No Aponik comments. What happened, Chris? Too much partying? The only Omahan I’ve seen so far is Nansel, though I’ve been in touch via IM with a number of people. Stay tuned.
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