Tuesday, April 26, 2011

SXSW 2011 Recap: Day 1, March 15

A little over a month ago, I made the fateful decision to drive to Austin, TX for SXSW 2011. I decided it was high time I finally sat down and wrote about my experience. The week before SXSW, I had been mentioning that I was seriously considering making the trek down to Austin but that I would have to drive in order to be able to attend the festival due to money and planning constraints. On Sunday the week of SXSW, my good friend Dan Goldin from Exploding in Sound gave me a call to say that if I were willing to drive, he would accompany me. After not-so-careful consideration I decided that I would do it even though it meant leaving a few hours after making the decision. I had a “last supper” of sorts with my roommates, prepped my car, and was off.

In the first leg of the trip from Boston to Nashville, I completed an incredible 1150 miles in just 16 hours. We took a break and stayed with some friends in Nashville so we could rest for a few hours. After 16 hours of straight driving, I was feeling kind of insane so I owe a big thanks to them for allowing me to regain my composure so I could do it all over again the next day. We were briefly entertained by their newborn baby, 4 dogs, and chickens which were roaming in the backyard before I finally passed out for 6 hours. It was my first taste of southern hospitality.

The second half of our journey had us riding through the western half of Tennessee before entering the vast nothingness that is Arkansas. It was incredible how everything was few and far between in the state. I was certainly relieved when we entered the border of Texas. While I was racing around northern Texas looking for food, I was pulled over. I assumed this was an inevitably on such a long road trip. Fortunately after talking briefly with the officer, he kindly let me off with a warning. Apparently, the law enforcement is a little more lenient in the south, at least in my experiences.

We finally found a diner to stop at in the northern part of Texas called Pit Grill. Now I usually think that southern stereotypes are overblown exaggerations caused by northern bias, but I really had to reexamine that line of thinking after having visited Pit Grill. As I went to park, I noticed that I had the only car in the lot; everything else was a pickup truck with an American flag bumper sticker [often accompanied by or replaced with a Confederate flag]. We walked into a smoky diner where everyone was a caricature of southern stereotypes. There were plenty of men with big mustaches in camouflage taking about their gun collection and overweight women who would only address you as “honey” or “sweetie”. You better believe we got some odd stares while we were eating. When I was fooling around on my smartphone, the patrons gave me looks as if I was using the communicator from Star Trek in order to get beamed back up to the Enterprise. As I went to the bathroom, everyone’s head turned like they were watching an alien casually stroll by. I’ll be damned if I didn’t get some excellent chicken-fried steak for breakfast though. As we neared civilization and passed through Dallas, I realized Texas is a vastly diverse state. Below are some picture of Dallas as we drove through.

My car reached its destination in Austin sometime Tuesday afternoon [my head was a little foggy from sleep deprivation] and we immediately began to prepare for our first string of sets. We were staying with Preston Maddox from the awesome shoegaze / electropunk band Bloody Knives so a HUGE THANKS goes to him for putting up with our shit for a week. Below you can listen to the latest Bloody Knives single from their split with like-minded NYC artists Me You Us Them.

I went with Dan to pick up his press pass and noticed that I could get a wristband for $165. I made a split second decision to pick one up which turned out to be one of my smartest moves as I would not have been granted entry to many of the events I went to without it. After we both got situated, we made our way over to Skinny’s Ballroom to see our first band.

7:00 PM: The Boxing Lesson – Skinny’s Ballroom

We toasted our successful arrival with our first beers in Austin, which were appropriately Lone Star, the PBR of the south. Skinny’s was a great starting point and I loved the atmosphere in the venue. It was a small, dimly lit bar with chandlers hanging above the stage. The Boxing Lesson were the first band we were to see and although I was unfamiliar with them, I couldn’t have been more excited. The trio impressed with an excellent balance between synth-oriented and guitar-oriented alternative music. The group had a spacey vibe and filled out the sound nicely between the three of them. They especially won me over with a guitar-heavy cover of “Age of Consent” which is my favorite New Order song and one of my favorite songs ever.

The Boxing Lesson - Dark Side of the Moog from Eric Power on Vimeo.

The Boxing Lesson - Four from The Boxing Lesson on Vimeo.

8:00 PM: Futurebirds – Club de Ville

I had been a fan of Futurebirds for quite some time now and I was super excited to finally have a chance to see their live show. Futurebirds are one of my favorite up-and-coming bands and an absolute must-hear if you consider yourself a fan of alt/country. They only helped this sentiment with their stage presence. Right from the start, the group demolished my expectations with an incredibly tight sound and energetic performance. They played all my favorites such as “Johnny Utah”, “Sam Jones”, “Yur Not Ded”, and “Ski Chalet” from their incredible debut Hampton’s Lullaby with the live versions sounding even better than the recorded ones. All six of the members had great chemistry moving around on stage and coming together for big attention-grabbing hooks. They even changed vocalists and instruments a few times. One of the biggest highlights came later in the set when they played their unique take of the 1983 single “Wild Heart” by Stevie Nicks. It featured a soaring chorus and great harmonies while singing “Where is the reason / Don’t blame it on me / Blame it on my wild heart.” The song can be found on their recently released Via Flamina EP which is one of the year’s best. Listen below.

9:00 PM: Black Books – Skinny’s Ballroom

Next, I headed back over to Skinny’s to enjoy a set by Austin’s Black Books. The group had a relaxed and highly accessible sound. Their stage setup was interesting since the drummer was also the singer and took the center of the stage. The 5-piece ran through tracks from their debut EP and appropriately titled An Introduction To… which can be heard below.

10:00 PM: Weekend – Emo’s

Weekend were the first of many bands I would get to see at the wonderful Emo’s over the course of the week. What a way to begin! The noise rock band shredded eardrums with songs from their highly acclaimed debut, Sports, like the epic “Coma Summer” which somehow finds a common ground between accessible pop and ear-bleeding noise rock. Listen to the track below to hear what I am talking about. At times, they reached such piercing heights I could swear one of their instruments included a buzzsaw. The amount of sheer noise that the trio can create is astonishing. Brooklyn Vegan has an excellent interview that they conducted with the band during SXSW which can be read here.

Weekend – "Coma Summer"

Weekend – "End Times"

11:00 PM: Pulled Apart by Horses - Latitude 30

One of the biggest surprises and best performances came from Pulled Apart by Horses at Latitude 30 otherwise known as the British Music Embassy. This was the first time in the states for the young UK band and I am fairly certain they left an impression albeit a destructive one. The band set the tone for the night by blowing a fuse early in the set. This was most certainly due to the knobs being cranked to 11 on their Orange amps. Once they got things going again, the group began to pummel the largely British audience with bruisers like “Back to the Fuck Yeah” and “Yeah Buddy”. It hearkened back to a time in the 90s when bands like Nirvana wanted their live shows to be as loud and destructive as possible with a take-no-prisoners style of rock and roll. Lead singer Tom Hudsons wasn’t afraid to take the action straight to the middle of the crowd and before long he was shredding guitar and screaming right in front of my face. Tom also didn’t shy away from the bar which he stood atop of after pouring beer on himself and proceeded to shout bloody murder into the crowd. This was one of the craziest performances I've ever seen and I knew that I had to catch them again sometime during the week. Little did I know this would be the “tame” performance…

12:00 AM: Kylesa – Klub Krucial

Kylesa wowed a crowd at Klub Krucial with their flawless mixture of psychedelic rock and heavy metal. I have seen them before but they were as impressive as ever. They crushed tracks from their 2010 album Spiral Shadow which was one of the best from all of last year. Songs like the surprisingly catchy “Don’t Look Back” and the sonic journey that is “Tired Climb” sounded and looked epic while watching them perform. The dual drumming kept a thunderous backdrop while Laura Pleasants and Phillip Cope took turns singing/screaming and shredding guitar. They closed with some tribal drumming, taking some of the percussion out into the audience while synchronizing a punishing rhythmic onslaught. At this time, I was so exhausted that I started to fall asleep on my feet which then turned into a raucous headbang as I started to drift but would be slammed back to consciousness by each pounding drum hit. As we left, I could hear Surfer Blood closing the night out at Emo’s and although it sounded quite good, I knew I need to get sleep. My wrist was already covered in stamps and wristbands just from the first night. There was a lot more to be done that week.

Kylesa – "Tired Climb" 

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