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 third of four.
Friday, March 16th
2:05 PM: Why am I awake? Because there is a shitty band playing 50 feet from my hotel room. Hours of sleep: 5.75.
2:40 PM: Hotel restaurant. I am straining to overhear the conversation of the comedian-turned-game-show-host at a nearby table. He’s eating the same salad that I’m eating.
2:45 PM: A woman who has managed a number of prominent artists is eating pecan pancakes and dissing a popular singer/rapper: “Stop saying you’re sensitive. That’s, like, so fucking stupid.” She continues: “What’s so great about that guy? He’s got a horrible voice and he’s ugly. He’s the most horrible overpaid person ever. I don’t know. I’m just so 1986 in my tastes.”
3:00 PM: Email from my mom: “Did you see Bruce Springsteen last night?”
4:05 PM: Foreshadowing.
4:15 PM: Rock & roll macroeconomics: a surplus of goods leads to a decline in value.
4:25 PM: A guy hands me an energy drink. “Does it have caffeine in it?” “No.” Well, what’s the point of it, then? (It tastes like lemon-flavored aluminum.)
4:40 PM: Does your aspiring neo-garage-rock band need a name? Perhaps I can be of assistance.
6:00 PM: Hotel bar. About half the people in here could be accurately described with: “Oh hey, it’s the dude from that thing.”
7:20 PM: Neches Street. I walk past a guy wearing an “I’m On A Boat” t-shirt and think to myself: how many memes ago was that?
7:30 PM: 6th & Neches: I find myself at the rear of an endless, joyless line – stretching more than two blocks – to get into Jack White’s Third Man Records showcase. Executive decision time: I’m getting the fuck out of here. Pedicab ahoy! In 30 seconds I am speeding to the Moody Theatre to see War On Drugs. (SXSW Rule Number One: always have a backup plan.)
8:45 PM: The Magnetic Fields take the stage, and Stephin Merritt, who looks as if he’s escaped from a summer stock production of “Fiddler On The Roof” – addresses the crowd: “We have eaten too much of your local foodstuffs. Now we are fatter than you are.” Their show is a precise, Lincoln Center-ish demonstration of Merritt’s songwriting skill, but with each bone-dry introduction (“This song is called “Come Back From San Francisco.” It’s about someone who ‘s gone to San Francisco.”) I find myself thinking that he would have been the best Dick Cavett Show guest ever.
9:10 PM: 4th & Colorado. A Luddite sneers at my iPhone: “People with devices, man.”
9:15 PM: In a not-very-good hot dog restaurant that has been converted into a not-very-good space for musical performances, Eleanor Friedberger is playing quietly in a vain reverse-psychology attempt to make the jam-packed crowd shut up.
9:45 PM: I’m at a strange venue on 4th Street that has been taken over and re-decorated by the HGTV Network. Googling up a press release, I learn that they have done so “to appeal to the festival’s young aficionados.” What the young aficionados are aficionados of is not disclosed, but the HGTV people must think it involves turning a bunch of Converse low-tops into planters.
10:00 PM: Ganglians play an under-attended set of low-fi psychedelia to an audience of people who use Filemaker Pro to index their collections of lathe-cut 7-inch 45s.
10:30 PM: At a certain point, you no longer have the strength to ask “Why does this exist?”
10:50 PM 6th Street. A guy with a large white rat on top of his head is juggling hacky-sack balls. Creepiness factor: off the scale.
11:15 PM: Ingrid Michaelson at the Central Presbyterian Chuch: Now I know what it would sound like if the theme song from Friends made a guest appearance on Grey’s Anatomy.
11:30 PM: Just down the street from the Presbyterian Church, which offers only water and M & Ms, is St. David’s Episcopal Church, where the Café Divine – staffed by kindly parishioners wearing tie-dyed t-shirts – offers homemade baked goods, brisket sandwiches and beer. Sorry, Presbyterians: you lose.
11:55 PM: 6th Street is now as hazardous and difficult to navigate as a Class VI whitewater rapid.
11:57 PM: A British guy runs past me yelling into his phone: “I’m booking it! I’m booking it! I’m fuckin’ Forrest Gumping it!”
12:00 AM: Latitude 30: Howler are from Minneapolis. Their frontman looks like Richard Hell in 1974, and if Sassy magazine still existed they would totally be featured in “Cute Band Alert.” They are really good.
1:00 AM: I am fascinated by UK sister act 2:54’s revisitation of the spooky abrasiveness of Curve and Garbage, but I am just as fascinated by the guy standing to the left of the stage wearing a plastic Ghostface mask.
1:25 AM: Woman behind me: “There’s a finger in my armpit – is that you?”
1:45 AM: Hotel bar. There are a surprising number of people in here who look like Kenny Rogers.
2:15 AM: Back in my hotel room with a Diet Coke and an excellent chocolate chip cookie I bought at St. David’s. My feet are killing me.