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 first of four.
Tuesday, March 13
12 PM: Austin Bergstrom Airport: Barbecue smoke. Austin has the best airport food in America.
12:30 PM: In cab to hotel. I see: used tires; old lawn mowers; homemade Ron Paul banners; barking dogs; rust.
1:45 PM: Badge pickup area, Austin Convention Center: A registrar yells: “Anybody who doesn’t turn in a green card is going to be stuck in purgatory!”
1:50 PM: Guy on cellphone: “Awesome. Yeah, awesome. Killer all around.”
2:15 PM: 3rd & Congress: female vocalist screeching into crappy mic and distorted amp: “no deal is a good deal is a deal is a good deal is a deal.”
4:15 PM: Best outfit I’ve seen today: woman in a head-to-toe aquamarine leotard, caterpillar dreadlocks, beat-up cowboy boots; she was sipping an iced coffee. Runner-up: an African-American dude with a side shave, tap pants, and a pair of three-feet-long angel wings that appear to be sprouting from his back.
4:30 PM: Game over. This guy wins.
7:15 PM: Hotel lobby: Jack Black is being accosted on his way to the elevator by a man who is insisting that the two of them share numerous mutual friends. Black keeps repeating “Okay. Yeah, okay.” in the calm and patient tone of someone trying to defuse an incendiary device.
8:00 PM: At Hype Hotel for my first show of SXSW 2012. The room abruptly fills to capacity 30 seconds before Oberhofer takes the stage. He looks like Vincent Chase from Entourage; the music is a weird take on skinny-tie new wave, complete with stolen “My Sharona” drumbeats.
8:40 PM Musician David Liebe Hart: “I wrote a song about going to camp at the Christian Science school. It’s a punk rock song; it’s called ‘Poison Mushrooms.'”
8:50 PM This year’s must-have men’s fashion accessory: enormous, Mike Nesmith-style sideburns.
8:51 PM This season’s must-have women’s fashion accessory: a miniskirt short enough to expose matching front-of-thigh tattoos.
9:00 PM: At the Mohawk to see LA psych-rockers Sun Araw. Their set: Looping swampy bass groove with organ fuzz on top. Chanted vocals. Moog solos that sound like kids making arm farts. The drummer stays in one place, grooveless. Then they just… stop. No build. No peak. Nothing. “We’ve got a buzz going on,” the vocalist says. Unfortunately, he’s only talking about a defective cable.
12:00AM: 1100 Warehouse: Danny Brown raps about his, um, oral skills in hyper-anatomical detail, drops gratuitous Urkel references, enthuses about Adderall, tells us how drunk he is at least eight times and ends every song by saying the exact same thing: “Make some more fucking noise, South By Southwest!”
2:25 AM Back in hotel room with a Sprite Zero. My feet are killing me.
Wednesday, March 14
10:35AM: Major label A&R guy in lobby: “I own more Insane Clown Posse records than Tom Waits records.”
10:45AM: Barbecue run! J.Mueller’s has the kind of brisket you used to be forced to drive two hours outside of Austin to enjoy: dense, spicy, symphonic. Each slice is surrounded by a pink corona of smokiness & an outer penumbra of pepper-coated suet. It is amazing in the way that only something really, really bad for you is amazing. I try to take a photo of the pitmaster/proprietor and he barks: “Hey! Don’t be stealing my soul!” Afterwards, because we haven’t yet ingested enough artery-clogging fat for one morning, we jaywalk across the street to Gordough’s for a made-to-order donut topped with a pound of banana pudding.
2:45PM: Wandering around the Audio Expo. Like any trade show, it is full of products no one wants, fake-happy product reps manning empty booths and young women walking around dressed as Batgirl. A guy in a cheeseburger costume tries to hand me a flyer.
3:30PM: Maverick outsider-pop genius R. Stevie Moore improvises a song posing the musical question of the week: “Why would anyone come to SXSW to see Lionel Richie?”
4:00PM: Upstairs in the Convention Center, nearly a thousand people have turned up to see Alabama Shakes, who are one of this year’s most buzzed-about new bands. Their Janis Joplin-y music sounds as old as somebody’s well-loved copy of “Cheap Thrills” as they envelop the room in a cheery, nostalgic bubble of blues-rock verities. You know those people who are always whining about how “there’s no good music anymore”? This is what they’ve been fantasizing about. Your parents will love them.
5:15PM: I have no idea whatsoever.
5:25PM: Irritated singer/songwriter: “I had to mentor someone this morning.”
6:15PM: Hotel bar: the only available seat here is next to the bassist from a Famous Band. He tells me a hilarious and unflattering story about a music-biz bigwig I don’t dare name. The bassist is playing a show tonight: “Don’t come. It’ll be past my bedtime.”
8:00PM: Stubbs: Thousands of chattering people, a non-illuminated stage, and an outdoor venue with the worst acoustics I’ve been exposed to since the PA system that was used for morning announcements in my 7th Grade homeroom. Then! Suddenly! A blaze of light! A squeal of feedback! Fiona Apple onstage with a full band! Singing! At least I think so. The song ends. There is rapturous applause. Fiona speaks! It sounds something like this: “mmmmffmngrrmmmffthnx.”
9:00PM: “Get over here now!” a friend texts me, and I make it to Whisky Bar in time to catch most of a set by Jerusalem & The Starbasket, a band I’ve never heard of. They are worth the hustle: a scuzz-droning power trio with a krautrocky drummer who could be mistaken for Kim Pine from Sex Bob-omb. She knows exactly one beat: the right one.
10:00PM: I make it into Elysium seconds before Zola Jesus hits the stage looking like Emma Frost from the X-Men. She’s got: echoey drums, billowy fog machines, icy synthesizers, Grand Canyon-y vocal reverb and a shrouded violinist who hovers in back looking like the angel of death. ZJ warbles operatically, sneaking in a shard or two of soul when no one’s looking; she flaps her arms like a flightless Antarctic waterfowl. This might be the least funky performance I have ever seen, but the sturm-y, drang-y clove-cigarette melodrama of it all is irresistible.
11:40PM: I’m in an endless line to see Miike Snow. Hype Hotel workers are passing out free tacos that have shells made out of Doritos. (The Hype Hotel is sponsored by Frito-Lay.) A woman next to me grabs one; I ask her if it’s any good. “I’m hungry,” she shrugs.
12:40AM: Miike Snow have now been onstage setting up their equipment for over 30 minutes. Most bands at SXSW manage to do this in 5.
12:50AM: Fuck you, Miike Snow. Your formerly captivating Europop and your supernumerary unvoiced vowel mean nothing now; you are dead to me. I’m outta here.
1:00AM: I run back to Elysium to see The Men, who are precisely what I need: a roar of super-fast art-punk delirium and a psychedelic light show. Listening to them is kind of like being attacked by a friendly power sander. It is high adrenaline and low coherence and it is pretty goddamn fantastic.
2:35AM: Back in my hotel room with a large bottle of water and some trail mix. My feet are killing me.