Things started off okay, rolling out of bed around 10am and I made it downtown by 11:30 and after grabbing some breakfast tacos, headed over to the French Legation Museum for a Garden Party day show.
Specifically, I was there to see Emmy the Great who is effortlessly charming even though most of her songs seem to deal with fairly depressing subject matter. I’d seen her in New York the night before I left for Austin but this was a better show I thought, the relatively pastoral setting fit the material. It wasn’t such a good show for Emmy, though, as she was performing right before Noah and the Whale, the bulk of whom used to be her backing band and their defection was acrimonious to say the least. (There may have been some romantic entanglements involved too, I can’t remember the details.) Later that night I ran into Emmy and she confessed that it had been torturous to be on the same bill as them. The punchline: the show was organized by her US publicity company. I knew about all this watching her performance, but you’d never know she’d been upset. Flanked by two Euans (one on guitar [aka Young Husband] and the other on violin), Emmy’s songs are the star, along with her quick wit and clear voice. It goes without saying she’s also very cute.
MP3: Emmy the Great – 24
Despite my allegiances to Emmy, I stuck around to watch Noah and the Whale who’s schtick includes dressing exclusively in various shades of unmatching blue. They looked like a big bunch of hipster dufuses, but musically I must admit they weren’t bad. I didn’t care for the singer’s baritone which kind of made them sound like the Crash Test Dummies, but he was a funny guy: “We played a show yesterday in someone’s yard and there were a bunch of four year-olds dancing around up front. I think we found our audience. They get us.”
Though it seemed a bit inconsiderate, it made sense in other ways. The early part of the day was dedicated to the current neo-folk scene in London, and also included Laura Marling (who might be best know for singing on Mystery Jets’ current great single “Young Love”) and Lightspeed Champion on whose record Emmy sings backup.
I really wished I’d stuck around, but I wanted to see Switches at the Filter party, so I hoofed it over there… only to find that they’d canceled due to illness. Filling in was The Big Sleep, which broke my vow of not seeing any Brooklyn bands during SXSW. (I would break it again later that night…twice.) Odd seeing them in Broad Daylight. I stuck around for a few songs and headed to the Fader Fort, home of neverending free booze.
There I ran into Austin bloggers Colin from Cubik Musik and Lawrence of Covert Curiosity, who both seemed to be there for the same reason as me. (Glug, glug.) They were also there for David Banner, who didn’t play, but stuck around for Lykke Li in what was a much better show than the Brooklyn Vegan one I’d seen two days earlier. Her megaphone was working and she seemed in good spirits, and the crowd was into it. I actually think she’s better live than on record, especially “Breaking it Up” which came off like a lost Madonna song from the Like a Virgin sessions. (The studio version is underwhelming.) In one of those weird SXSW moments, I ran into an old coworker of mine from my Sidewalk.com days who I hadn’t seen since 1999. (Hi, Kerry!) Nice, unexpected moment.
It was around this time, midafternoon, that my regimen of no sleep, junky food and too much beer began to catch up with me. Colin told me “it’s just a wall, keep going” but my wall seemed particularly thick. Yet I soldiered on. I hit the Lucky Lounge for the After the Jump party, where I caught Manchester’s The Answering Machine who are really, really good for such a young band. I stuck around for the rest of it, as Blog Fresh Radio was sponsoring it and many of the ATJers are friends of mine. Not to mention it was a good lineup, with Cloud Cult, Morning State and Lovelikefire. Jinners took this picture of me, Ian of Indie Outlaw and the Music Slut‘s Jen Kellas. I actually look coherent here (though not smiling), which is not how I felt:
Also also: the other half of the Lucky Lounge was home to a different day party where The Soundtrack of Our Lives happened to be playing. The room was *tiny,* and I was so close I could’ve detuned their guitars without reaching. Definitely a thrill. Back at the ATJ side of the party, I ran into onetime Pell Mell-er Steve Fisk who indulged me in talk of The Wedding Present‘s 1993 album, Watusi, which he produced. (He also did 2005’s Take Fountain.) Also there was onetime N’Sync member Chris Kirkpatrick… that’s what I was told at least. Only at SXSW.
Jin convinced us we should all go over and watch Kate Nash at the Filter bash and we did though I only stuck around for a song or two. (I foolishly skipped out on Billy Bragg’s set too, which included Ms. Nash singing on “A New England”) No cookies were baked from what I could see. A nap, however, was calling my name as was my Austin friend Steve who met me there and we went for a burger at some place with sawdust on the floor. I was too tired to speak at this point, and went to the hotel to crash for a while.
And a while turned into about three hours. I slept through a bunch of bands I wanted to see, including Jim Noir, Spiral Beach, Duffy, and others. And felt better for it. I was determined to see Neon Neon (Gryff Rhys and Boom Bip’s colaboration) but a SNAFU in the published schedule had them going on an hour later than they actually did. Annoyed at bit, but I met up with the River to River crew again and we all decided we’d check out Tiger City at the After the Jump official SXSW showcase.
We got there early enough to catch a little of Parisian band Neimo who I don’t remember anything about now. It’s also where I ran into Emmy and Young Husband again, and both were in much better spirits (mentally and liquidly) than when I saw them earlier that day. We chatted for a bit until they realized that the band they were there to see, WHY?, was actually at the upstairs of the place (Lamberts) and not the outdoor patio.
It was my first time seeing Tigercity, despite them gigging every other week here in NYC and me liking their EP a lot. If you like Hall & Oates and classic-era Prince, you’ll probably like Tigercity too. One caveat. Main man Bill Gillim is a decent frontman but, at least this night, his falsetto didn’t quite hold up live and he was entirely eclipsed by bassist Joel Ford, who possesses a honey-sweet voice that sounds uncannily like Scritti Politti’s Green Gartside, and a repertoire of genuinely (white boy) funky dance moves. I’m not sure how the songwriting plays out in the bad, but Gillim might do well to put his ego aside and move the spotlight to his bandmate. But that’s just me.
It was at this point, with only two hours of SXSW to spare, that Steve (from NY not Austin) decided that we were going to see everything we possible could to finish out the fest, sort of like that last night of the Fair (with the grease in the hair) where you cram it all in One Last Time. Anything anyone in our group wanted to see, we were going to do it. So, we dashed off (missing Project Jenny, Project Jan who played after Tigercity) on a mad quest.
First stop: Bourbon Rocks to see The Slits who were way better than I expected and I thought “Typical Girls” sounded particularly good. No “Grapevine,” though, and Ari Up is clearly more eccentric now than ever. And full of herself. She spent a couple minutes between songs reminding us how the Slits were one of “primary” bands in the post-punk movement. Which is true and all, but shouldn’t she let someone who’s not in the band be telling us that?
Next we hit Latitudes to see The Answering Machine who were quite good. Probably the best UK band I saw all week. This time, I got video of their song “Your Father’s Books”:
Sweden’s The Tough Alliance was next and their “performance” was easily the biggest pile of horseshit I saw all week. I can’t locate the link right now, dammit, but I swear I read on the Village Voice somewhere that the Tough Alliance’s performance “redefined the live show.” Which I guess is true if that means just playing the CD, pretending to sing for about 20 seconds and then just jumping around and running in circles and not actually “performing” anything is redefining. I would call it the biggest case of Emperor’s New Clothes I’d ever seen. (Maybe from a Andy Kaufman perspective it makes sense, but from a “hey we paid to see a band” one, no way.) We left in search of something better, but not before one of our group threw a drink at the band. I only wish it had been me.
British Sea Power was to be next, but the line to get in was enormous so we decided to end our Austin experience drinking whiskey and playing foosball and Buck Hunter at Buffalo Billiards. The next morning, my Austin friend Steve (as opposed to New York Steve) picked me up at the hotel and took me out for the one thing I really wanted all week — Migas con Queso with fresh tortillas.
A fitting end, I thought, to a fun exhausting week.