Anonymous music critic @Discographies (even we don’t know who he/she is) has earned tens of thousands of Twitter followers by distilling artists’ entire discographies to 140 characters (example: Bruce Springsteen: 1-5 “You ride the road…” 7-8 “…until you arrive…” 9-10 “…or run out of gas…” 6,11-17 “…or your country does.”). So for the South By Southwest Music festival and conference in Austin – four days of more bands, food, beer and people than anyone could possibly get their head around – RollingStone.com asked @Discographies to identify the unique moments that make SXSW an annual cavalcade of absurdity and amazement. Today’s installment is the last of four.
Saturday, March 17th
12:45 PM: Hours slept: 4.5. I no longer have a circadian rhythm.
2:00 PM: Hotel restaurant. A smarmy branding-and-licensing guy is sipping a mimosa. “I feel like all artists should eventually sell out.”
2:15 PM: Guy in semi-successful band: “I get hungry every two hours. It’s biological.”
3:30 PM: The final evening of SXSW is always a nightmarish onslaught of people, but add St. Patrick’s Day into the mix and you can be sure it’s gonna be a bumpy ride. Sixth Street is full of green shirts, green beer and, soon enough, green vomit.
4:25 PM Austin natives are growing openly contemptuous of interlopers. I ask a barista if he’s looking forward to the end of the festival and he tells me: “No offense, but we’d just like you all to go home.”
4:40 PM: Best band name at SXSW this year: Fake Your Own Death.
4:50 PM: Hotel bar. A guy who looks like Mr. Belding tells me he’s stoked to be seeing his favorite group tonight: “They’re sexy. They’re a sexy band.”
5:30 PM: A music publisher with a margarita introduces herself: “This is my girlfriend. I mean, you know, she’s not like my girlfriend kind of girlfriend. She’s my friend-girlfriend. I guess I should make it clear that we’re not lesbians. We’re moms.”
6:10 PM: Tales of social anxiety at 2nd & Congress: “He asked me ‘do you think I’m a hipster?’ I’m like, ‘no.’ He’s like, ‘awesome.'”
6:15 PM: Bar Congress: This is the sort of establishment where the chief mixologist can tell the difference between two batches of the same artisanal gin just by sniffing them. (“The first formulation was beautiful,” he tells me. “The second was a coriander bomb.”) He makes me a drink called a Critical Darling; it tastes kind of like Radiohead.
7:00 PM: 3rd & Congress: I give a guy in a banana suit five bucks and he gives me a hug. Not sure if that’s legal in Texas.
7:10 PM: 4th & Congress: Erin Go Bragh!
7:40 PM: I have just walked 6th Street all the way from Congress to Red River. Under present conditions, this is akin to winning the Kobayashi Maru or reaching the kill screen at the 256th level of Pac-Man.
7:45 PM: Red 7. The band I am watching is called Psychedelic Horseshit. As a description of their music, it is 50% accurate.
7:50 PM: Stubbs. Michael Kiwanuka’s songs recall an earlier era of expanded-consciousness British troubadours like John Martyn. He sounds luminous, even through the awful Stubb’s PA.
8:45 PM: The Palm Door is a small club on a quiet block below 6th. Supposedly Donovan – THE Donovan – is playing a gig here in 15 minutes as a last-minute sub for an act that canceled. It seems improbable. Why on earth should he be here? Doesn’t he have anything better to do? No one who works here knows whether or not it’s true. Skepticism is rampant. All I know is: I passed on seeing Sleigh Bells for this. If the dude doesn’t show, I’m gonna be pissed.
9:00 PM: Holy shit! He’s here! You can feel the collective endorphin surge wash over the room. He plays his hits. He plays new songs. He plays “Sunny Afternoon” by the Kinks. He cracks himself up every time he does the “quite rightly” bit in “Mellow Yellow.” He makes us admire the plastic fingernails that he superglues onto his guitar-picking hand. Everyone sings along to everything. (If you’ve never been in a room with two hundred people shouting “goo-goo/goo-goo-barabajagal” at once, you should try it sometime.) Not even a lackluster guest appearance by Eric Burdon can dampen the mood. A triumph.
10:00 PM: The Parish. I have broken my inviolable “no seeing the same band twice at SXSW” rule because Soft Metals’ electro-burble was simply too much fun the other night not to experience again. When the sequencers kick in, everyone in the room starts doing the bounce-up-and-down-robotically-while-not-actually-picking-your-feet-up-off-the-floor dance.
11:00 PM: The Doritos Jacked Stage might be the most unsettling bit of corporate brand extension at SXSW this year, which is saying a lot: a fake vending machine 56 feet high full of giant bags of tortilla chips glowing an ectoplasmic blue, like ghosts or artifacts from the Tron universe. Bands play at the bottom of the thing, surrounded by smoke machines belching contact-lens-destroying mucilage. I feel bad for them.
11:15 PM: I accidentally walk into a VIP area and a burly security guy gets all TSA on me. “Show your Doritos wristband, please.” My what? “Show your Doritos wristband, please.” I don’t have a Doritos wristband, I tell him. “Show your Doritos wristband, please.” This is my cue to leave.
11:25 PM: Someone in the SXSW scheduling department must have a sense of humor: avant-hip-hop guy EL-P and singer/songwriter LP are both playing shows in the same time slot. (ELP the prog-rock band are nowhere to be found.) LP, who looks like Cate-Blanchett-as-Bob-Dylan in I’m Not There, reveals herself to be the sort of resourceful performer who can win an audience Macgyver-style with just a broken ukulele and her impressive whistling skills. One to watch.
12:00 AM: Back on 6th Street. I’d put the number of people here who could be described as “completely shitfaced” at somewhere around 70%. Sirens; cop cars; things on fire; booming subwoofers; people slumped over on benches; debris everywhere: it’s like the third act of a Michael Bay movie.
12:05 AM I felt horribly guilty as soon as I took this picture.
12:07 AM: Two women teeter by on high heels that would be challenging to walk in sober, let alone their present condition. “Everyone just uses me, don’t they?”
1:00 AM: For my last band of SXSW, I need something loud, fast, noisy and borderline insane. Jacuzzi Boys are only too happy to oblige me. I admire their slash-and-burn garage-rock pummeling, their vintage Vox amplifier and the singer/guitarist’s curtain of 1970s surfer hair, which obscures his face like Cousin It for most of the set. Their performance is over much to soon, and when the band stops I realize: Oh. That’s it. We’re done here. I can’t decide whether I’m sad or relieved about this. Both, I think.
2:10 AM: Back in my hotel room with a Diet 7-Up and a bag of Corn Nuts. My feet are killing me.