Live Music + Gig Reviews

SXSW @ Various Venues, Austin, TX 2009: Day 4

21 March 2009

SXSW 2009: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

With it being Saturday, the Austin locals are out in force to catch up with the free entertainment, making getting into day shows that little bit more difficult. But surprisingly hardly anyone is here to witness Jason Lytle, formerly of Grandaddy’s lovely solo set.

Comprising new solo material and classics of his old band, he beats his self-confessed hangover in style, which is similar tale for the Vivian Girls. Their gruelling 18 SXSW shows are clearly catching up with them; singer Cassie complains of the previous evening, and after 20 minutes the combination of the sun and sore heads sees them trudge off. But they’re still utterly charming with it and their two-minute pop nuggets are the perfect soundtrack to the as hot as ever weather conditions.

One of the more unusual venues is the Palm Door, which looks like a cross between a village hall and a classroom and not at all the sort of place you’d expect to see Past Lives, the new project of former Blood Brothers and Shoplifting members. The sound is a similar format to the past projects but vocally it’s a much more melodic affair and not the helium-induced rawness that overshadowed that of BB. It’s all a bit samey, of course, but the 15-year-olds in the crowd lap it up.

It then turns to the badly informed decision of heading to the Auditorium Shores Stage, 25 minutes walk away and where seemingly all the locals are hanging out today. The park is packed and in anticipation for a rare appearance from Erykah Badu. Except she fails to show and a backing band by the name of The Cannabinoids play directionless, dull coffee table music for some 40 minutes. Eventually Badu appears and plays two songs, her late arrival allegedly down to a stalker incident in her Dallas home, but sadly I was already on my way back downtown, having wasted a good hour and some anticipated acts. A pity.

All’s soon forgotten at Emo’s when Octopus Project play a triumphant homecoming set. The three-piece’s intense instrumental rings home like a heavier Electrelane and their 30 minute set is far too short, but provides possibly the festival’s highlight.

The bout of mixed spirits continues as a huge queue has formed at the-really-not-very-full Radio Rooms for the return of Gravy Train!!!! who, at one stage, were hyped for great things and gained a cult fanbase among the gay community, but with a disappointing third album have started to fade away from the public eye.

The band sound great, but an air of cynicism prolongs throughout and comes to ahead in one of several rants about the festival’s ethics. “FUCK SXSW!” screams plump singer Chunx followed by “We’re not getting paid for this so we don’t care”. Sure, some hardcore fans might get refused entry for not having a badge, but this is part of the SXSW experience and if they have such high distain for the idea then their reasons for agreeing to play in the first place are somewhat bewildering. The one old song that does get aired, the ever catchy Hella Nervous, raises some spirits but it’s too little, too late.

It’s a strange note to end the festival on (Perez Hilton’s party is mentioned elsewhere), but not one that reflects the event as a whole. Four exhausting, packed days have passed and there’s now time to have a lie-in and to be around some piece and quiet. Tiring? You bet. Enough to make me want to come back? Absolutely.

Top 3 tips for SXSW

1. Realise that you can’t see everything
Queues and missing bands are an unavoidable part of SXSW. If a queue looks like it’s not moving, go elsewhere. There are hundreds of bands from across the world playing and some of the best finds can occur when you’re just walking in by accident. Also, a lot of bands play more than once so there will be other chances to catch them later in the week.

2 – Blag blag blag
Being an industry event, there’s parties everywhere offering free booze and food. Some are limited to badge holders but given this can be an expensive trip as it is, it’s well worth doing your research and seeing what’s on where. The Done Waiting blog is a good resource for finding out the recently announced parties.

3 – Do remember to have a break
There’s nearly always someone you’ll want to catch at one time but you do need to rest now and again! Particularly in the heat of Austin, keeping yourself hydrated becomes more important than seeing some indie also-rans.

SXSW 2009: Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4

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