I’m back! And I’m cold.
Last week’s trip to Austin was everything I’d hoped it would be. And reminded me that I’m ready for spring. It was sunny and warm. That isn’t even close to important and perhaps I’m writing that because it’s the second day of spring and I’m fucking freezing. And a little sad the whole thing is over.
So our trip started with a funny (haha) little snafu on our part. When we got to the Philly airport on Wednesday I said to Brad “So, I think I saw that we are flying into San Antonio?”. He looked at me funny and said “No, why would you think that?”. I looked at him blankly and said “I don’t know, maybe I made that up?”.
We had originally booked our flight to Austin then needed to change it because of Brad’s work schedule. It seems that at some point during the switch we were offered “nearby airports”. 80 miles away. Which required renting a car to drive to Austin, park the car in Austin, come back to San Antonio the night before our return flight at 8am, rent a hotel in San Antonio (and ditch our already paid-for hotel in Austin). So car+parking+gas+additional hotel ended up costing us about $700. FUUUUUCK. And that was after the $300 fee for switching the flights. What a waste.
We remained upbeat.
We had originally planned on hitting a Cold War Kids show at midnight on Wednesday, but after our little detour we weren’t able to make it. Probably my biggest regret. But then things got good.
Here’s one thing I learned about myself: I have absolutely no gauge on how popular bands are, apparently. I find music from word of mouth, xpn, and random music blogs, buy music online and mostly see the same local bands over and over. I guess this has lead me to have no clue whether a band is very popular or not. Also, I think the number of shows and variety of venues at SXSW lead to crowds that are not necessarily representative of how many fans they have. I guess? I was repeatedly surprised.
Also, we had no SXSW badges to get into any official showcases – this really didn’t cramp my style at all and I don’t regret that decision one bit. This could actually be quite an affordable trip if you find the right place to stay and plan parties to get food and drinks (and don’t fuck up your travel plans to the tune of an extra grand).
Another fun fact: I drunkenly deleted all my pictures from my memory card on Thursday – the wise people from the internet say that I can get them back since I haven’t taken any more pictures on that card since, and hopefully I will. I can be rather lazy. Cell phone pics for now, because if I try to wait and edit all that shit, we’ll be 6 months out and I won’t remember anything.
We showed up about 2 hours early for a band I was sure was going to have a line wrapped around the block only to get a table with a waitress 15 feet from the stage, with about 20 other people there. The band members were sitting at the table next to me. While coming back from the bathroom I nailed my arm into the lead singers chair and felt like an awkward dork (he was very nice though). I got a pretty nasty bruise on my arm which I consider a battlescar (in the war of me vs. clumsiness). The show was lots of fun and the perfect way to get started. High energy, small but fun and enthusiastic crowd, perfect sunshiny warmth, slight buzz. Ahh.
I also took an accidental 7 minute video of the girl-in-front-of-me’s butt. It’s very avante garde. My 4 year-old niece thinks it’s the funniest movie she’s ever seen. Sorry, girl.
We left and rushed over to Rachael Ray’s Feedback House Party at Banger’s – a really cool outdoor venue, to see a few of my favorite local acts. Ali is actually an old friend of mine from when I was a camp counselor, and she is just fucking great. Banger’s was a converted house with a huge fenced in yard with looong picnic tables and cornhole and buffet. Free food, free drinks, free music. That part of SXSW was incredible – free shit everywhere. Ali is an incredible singer and mixes some fun funny drinking songs with some huge, monster songs that will blow your hair back. She’s working on an album and I can’t wait for it.
I’ve probably seen them more than any other band in my life, and just couldn’t miss ’em down there. Great show, as always, a little more low-key than usual – the frenzied crescendo that ends most shows was notably muted – but it was the middle of the day, with most people sitting and eating at that time, so I can see why.
I saw him as a “surprise” guest a few weeks ago and loved him – I honestly enjoyed his acoustic duo at the house show more than the full stage act, but still a really talented guy, with seriously quirky songs. He just seems like a super odd guy, but way talented and genuine. I talked to him a bit after the show and told him I contributed to the kickstarter he had for his wedding (I told you, odd!). He seemed almost apologetic about it (said he had to cancel a bunch of shows in order to do it, plus the total amount they were trying to raise was only $1500 – I donated 5 bucks to get the postcard they had as a perk!) and told me he just met her that week. I wasn’t sure what was true, but he was really nice. I was pretty drunk and ended up buying a copy of his CD that I already owned. Corndawg!
So we stumbled back to the Convention Center to catch our shuttle (R&R shuttles, which worked pretty smoothly overall), I promptly accidentally deleted all the pictures from my big camera, and fell face down into the bed fully dressed. Success.
So again, I misjudged the popularity of a band and started our day with a 1.3 mile walk (which included a long detour through some neighborhoods thanks to crap maps on Brad’s phone [they were beautiful neighborhoods, though]) we ended up at Waterloo Records headquarters to see Alt-J. No way. Hundreds of people wrapped around the place, long lines, people yelling at us that we couldn’t block the sidewalk. No go. Walk away. Ok, sorry – I had no idea they were that popular. We are not worthy.
Joe Fletcher with Jonah Tolchin and other guy with great big beard and smiley face
My goal was to see David Wax Museum and we showed up during the proceeding act, Joe Fletcher. I figured this show would be huge, I would be late and was ready to give up on the whole day after walking an extra 2 miles the wrong way across town again (Um, The Tap Room on 6 was… not on 6th. that’s some tricky shit.). It was 2:30 and so far the whole day was FAIL (well, except the flautas. Tex Mex food agrees with me). We showed up to the venue and it ended up being a smallish, open concept bar, uncrowded and perfect. These guys were fun, solid folk with harmonicas blazin’. Brad was lukewarm (his folk sensibilities are not quite as folky as mine), but I liked them. Not love, but maybe it was because I was SO! EXCITED! for:
DAVID WAX MUSEUM!!!!
This show was hands down my very favorite performance of the entire trip. AHH! I discovered David Wax Museum after shazaaming a song I heard on the radio, and quickly fell in love. I hadn’t ever seen what he looked like though, so as I stood there waiting for him to take the stage I google image searched him and started looking around the bar for him. Yeah, he was right behind me on the balcony, watching me google him. STARING ME IN THE FACE. HA! He happens to have the bluest eyes I have ever seen, and somehow reminded me of a killer, so I was seriously freaked out. I can’t describe it. I was really uncomfortable. He was making a very serious, murderer face.
BUT THEN! They started. With BIG, HUGE ADORABLE grins on their faces, obviously enjoying themselves more than possibly anyone I’ve ever seen on a stage, and just killed it. They describe their sounds as Mexo-Americana, folk mixed with Mexican Son music. They play about a million different instruments. Suz Slezak (David Wax’s main partner in crime) was possibly the most adorable human I’d ever seen, as well as being sick talented. I was obsessed with her. There were a few parts of the performance when I literally laughed out loud – a thing my friend Mandy does when a band is unbelievably awesome, which I never understood before. Now I get it.
We headed across town to see a friend and ended up catching a few songs from this band. I didn’t know much about them at the time, but later found out they’ve opened for the Black Keys, Grace Potter and and the Nocturnals and Dr. Dog. Liked them a lot but I really wish I would have listened to them before. I spent too much time processing to really enjoy myself. Solid show to accidentally catch, for sure.
Michaela Ann with Jeff Malinowski
Jeff was another friend of mine from when I was a camp counselor in Maine, many moons ago. He commented on a photo I posted on Instagram and mentioned that he would be playing in Austin the next day, so of course I had to go see him. He was playing guitar with a friend, Michaela Ann at a cool place on the East side of town. A bit of a hike, but it was cool to see another side of town – artsier, scrappier, with even more personality than downtown. They were great – female vocals + country isn’t usually my favorite, but she had a lovely, soothing voice and seemed like the sweetest human being on earth. The show was in the front yard of the place, and the street quickly clogged up with people stopping to watch her. Lovely. Jeff mentioned before I left that he was sure our paths would cross again, and he hoped it wouldn’t be ten years this time (FORESHADOWING!).
We left and tried to hail a pedi-cab to take us across the lake to Auditorium Shores – a free “official sxsw” concert at a huge outdoor venue. The bike cab driver told us no – he said it was pretty much the furthest place you can go and maybe we could ask around to see if anyone else would do it. After a long day of walking and sun we were fairly burned out but decided we’d hoof it. It really wasn’t that terrible. We crossed the
river lake with about a million other people and entered the venue – it was pretty well organized and hassle free. We got as close as I could get Brad to go (until he started hissing “we don’t need to be in the front!” – sorry, love, but we will just have to agree to disagree on that one) and Jim James started right away.
So I knew him, I knew he was in My Morning Jacket, and knew a few songs from his new album and liked them. I had no idea that many people would have gone to see him. I want to say it was in the tens of thousands. Another big surprise in the “how many people will show up” arena, though I’m sure that The Flaming Lips playing after had a bit to do with it. Or I’m just totally out of it. Anyway, I love the song New Life and was a little tipsy and swirly at this point and the sun was setting and it was great. Wow, that whole paragraph was not actually about Jim James. Good thing I’m not a music critic, shiiit.
Holy Moly. I don’t believe I can say that I was surprised by the antics that went on during this show, but I can say I found it absolutely grotesque and bizarre, horrendously painful and also relaxing and beautiful. Wayne Coyne came out wrapped in cords of lights, with an incredible light show – carrying a baby doll. Cradling the baby doll. Kissing the baby doll. Talking about the baby doll. For at least an hour, while playing their new album (that no one has heard yet) – mid-tempo outer space rock. I hate to say it, and tried to be open minded, but whooosh. It was boring and creepy. When he said he had one song left I asked Brad if he wanted to leave. Brad, The Oracle, in his INFINITE wisdom, said “No, maybe he’ll play a good encore.” (In my defense I was really asking in case Brad was dying to leave. Crowds are pure torture to him, and he had been an amazingly good sport with all my rushin’ around). And then, there it was: 5 songs from Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (starting with my absolute favorite Lips song: Fight Test. It’s my “song I never get tired of”. Check it.) and ending with Do You Realize?. Everyone around me sang and danced like they were tripping. Actually I knew some of them were tripping, because I overheard them say it (come on, they were one foot from my face). The one dude right in front of me kept turning around and looking at me, and for some reason I knew I was reassuring him – he would smile a tiny bit with a scared look on his face and when I would smile and nod he would visibly relax and turn around again. I had no idea exactly what was going on in his mind, but I was glad to be of help. It happened like 7 or 8 times (and again, he was less than a foot from my face, so it was probably weirder than it even sounds). I saw him in the crowd while walking out and he stopped dead and stared at me – I had no idea what to do so I just said “See ya later!” and ran off. Oh, drugs.
So that’s the first half – this shit is getting looong (2nd time I’ve used the word looong in this post, btw) so I think I’ll kill it there, and make a Part 2. Hopefully with real pictures. I haven’t even looked at them yet. Could be magic! Congratulations if you made it this far! Even if you just looked at pictures, I still love you!