It’s easy to have a certain disdain for the music writer who finds room to complain amidst his free tickets and free drinks. SXSW is notorious for this; bloggers especially often make reference to the rest they’re not getting or the meals they’re not eating. But standing in the Austin sun in the mid-afternoon running on less than five hours of sleep, a complete lack of food, and seeing a band you saw less than a day ago, is a sobering experience. It’s easy to identify when trying to process how the article that inevitably needs to get written will look when factoring in how tattered a mental state can get while trying to piece together a compact way to describe the sensory assault in the middle of the night.
That, of course, doesn’t change how wonderful the whole thing is; on the first legitimate day of the music festivities all the hype came to fruition. Music was decorously in the air, familiar melodies bled through walls and windows from street corners to clothing shops, and bands set up anywhere with even the slightest chance for listeners. It would be inescapable, curious, and almost a paradise if fatigue and stress weren’t factors.
First to the ND, a strange, off-the-tracks rock club near an intrusive highway overpass. The avant-blog collective Altered Zones had rented out the place for the day, and placed some of their most talked-about artists on the bill. Leaning heavily on the hazy bedroom-pop that’s been on the tip of everyone’s tongues lately, the show offered a left-field haven that’s hard to find in the regimented world of SXSW. The artists – Laurel Halo and MatthewDavid – set up where they felt comfortable. MatthewDavid plopped right on the floor, just like he’s done in all the house shows he’s played. The crowd was full of eccentrics interested in the bewitched electronic pop that clashed across the walls. Compared to the other shows the population was rather light, but those who did arrive gave the stage their utmost respect. Laurel Halo was the big winner of the day, luring her audience and herself into reverb-drenched trance, hitting astral vocal samples and chest-crunching bass punches with perfect tension.
Red 7 is a punk rock bar most of the time, but today it was taken over by Terrorbird and ForceField PR, two company names that probably don’t mean much too many people outside of the industry. It was quite strange seeing the two names put up with such prominent display – like some odd self-celebration. But the bands they represent certainly drew a crowd, specifically Toro y Moi. Most of us can remember when the project consisted of a promising, yet half-finished album and a collection of hopeful interviews; now Toro looks like a constructed, festival-ready band. Songs from Underneath The Pine (like New Beat and Good Hold) absolutely punished the crowd with their amplified, full-bodied funk grooves. Chaz looks completely confident on stage, probably bolstered by all the goodwill he’s relishing at the moment. He demolished his set in less than seven songs and probably earned a lot of fans who’d been wary of the hype.
The rest of the night was filled with some aimless wanderings and starvation-panged food quests. Is it really worth it to stand in line for a mediocre spot for Duran Duran? Nope. Is there a press entrance to see Bad Brains and OFF!? Nope. Did that lady really just fall into that gutter? Yep. Later in the night, a Brooklyn Vegan showcase featured Sam Amidon, gently serenading a classical-looking crowd with some of the prettiest folk you can still make with an acoustic guitar and a banjo. He did nothing new (or arguably, nothing all that interesting), but his storytelling defeats all of that. His wordplay, his lightly gravelled voice, his gentle wit; it all made for a revealing and rewarding show.
Tomorrow will see far too many shows going on at one time. Cass McCombs, TV On The Radio, James Blake, Julianna Barwick, The Strokes… and that’s not even including the daytime stuff.