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The brief SXSW 2007 of JD


This year's SXSW was a subdued affair for me. Unfortunately, I had to leave early and missed the Monolith party where I would've liked to reconnect with some music industry acquaintances, but by the time Saturday morning rolled around, I was definitely ready to jet. The roster of bands for this year left a bit to be desired with regard to hooking up with old favorites or even a chance to see any of the (rare) good new music I'd had the pleasure of listening to in '06. I didn't set up any interviews, didn't hang out at any after parties, didn't rub elbows at day parties, etc.

However, this is not to suggest that this was a wasted trip; I was in good company the entire time, accompanied by my girlfriend, Noelle, and I got a chance to see Austin from a bit of a different light. First, there's the little canal area over by Habana Calle 6; it's really a neat area that I'd only glanced at on occasion in years past. There are some little tunnels and waterfalls over there that afford visitors a quaint view of Austin's charm. Another thing we noticed is that downtown Austin has no shortage of piles of rubble and pools of standing water that persist where buildings once stood. Walking among these piles of kipple is somewhat akin to viewing the ancient ruins of old Europe. I find the existence of these sites odd since the demand for real estate in the downtown area of any major city is usually in such demand that the owner of any such parcel would be quite remiss in the management of their affairs to allow such a degraded state of their property. A lot of downtown Austin looks this way, many of the operating venues can't possibly make an even close approach to any sort of building code, but I suppose that's simply part of the city's dilapidated charm.

Once you step outside the downtown area, particularly from the other side of Town Lake, you see the gleaming, modern Austin that is slowly being erected in the wake of the steady decomposition of Old Austin. I suppose that's the price of progress, but I think that it would be worthwhile to preserve the more historic aspects of the city, rather than simply allow them to fall into ruin. Once across Town Lake, we tried to get some pictures of some odd-looking ducks, and while walking along the path, we crossed under a bridge to find a bunch of people just sitting around. They seemed to be waiting for something, but we weren't sure what, until I had connected their presence to a sign under the bridge we had just walked under telling us not to pick up any grounded bats. We waited around for about 5 minutes when all of a sudden, thousands of bats began pouring out from hidden recesses under the bridge's support beams. For several minutes, a steady stream of bats took flight into the Austin skies, and then they were gone.

Following the bat exodus, we headed over to the Town Lake Stage to catch Hawthorne Heights, a punk band that Noelle likes, and to look around at the wares plied by various vendors. Most of the "stuff" being sold there seemed to come out of the old SNL skit about a store of containers made explicitly so you could "put your weed in it." Granted, most of these items were for smoking weed, not actually storing it, but the near uniformity of the vendors reminded me of it nonetheless. The Town Lake Stage also proved to be the ideal locale to pick up one of the glowing Texas necklaces being handed out by a beer company, and which we had previously seen popping up all over Austin. I also had my first experience with a funnel cake, which is sort of like a big, sloppy pile of doughnut covered in powdered sugar. It was certainly good, but was definitely a meal for two to share. They are most certainly not endorsed by the American Heart Association. However, this was Thursday, and our first band of the trip turned out to be the best.

That band was on Wednesday, and the band was I Can Lick Any Son Of A Bitch In The House, a primarily southern rock band with a penchant for dark and witty lyrics (Your love is like a bullet to the brain…) and an homage to "The darkest soul that ever lived… Andy Gibb." The band finished off with a giant fuck you to funeral protester, Fred Phelps, and other ultra-conservative villains. We caught some thoroughly bland and disappointing Finnish rock before moving on to the Soho for the last two songs of Golden Boy which made me wish I'd caught the rest of their set. Scissors For Lefty, the band we'd arrived to see took too long to get any momentum, and their lead singer seemed awful drunk. Another disappointment. We caught Single Frame at the Hideout for a merely average set, but I did get some good pictures of Adreon thrashing away on the kit. The rest of Wednesday night failed to elicit much interest in my notepad.

Thursday started off with us wandering around since our prior method of going to see bands based on how clever their band name was had only paid off once, so we decided to let our ears lead us to the place to be. Apparently, that was Stubbs to catch roughly half of Aqualung's set. They were a pretty good brit-pop band with an excellent vocalist and a sound clear enough to listen to without earplugs. Standing around seems to wear me out a lot quicker than walking around, and by the time we hit the Exodus for Against Me we were aching for a place to sit. Unfortunately, all but two seats were taken for the upstairs Sire party. We were lucky enough to snag those seats as we watched a beleaguered bouncer tire of the task of continuously turning patrons away from some lame private party. After awhile, we headed into the crowd for the last few songs so I could get some pictures, and had probably the best crowd experience of the trip. The patrons were obviously die-hard fans who knew all of the words and sloshed beer all around. Moshing, diving and surfing were the primary activities for the wild ones in front while the rest of us reserved folk stood around and watched it all unfold.

Friday started off with a jaunt to the Redrum to catch Denver band Signal To Noise. They were a standard 4-piece rock band with a lead singer who dressed like an '80s-era trucker. The band played with a lot of energy and while I found the music to be a bit average, they did play with a lot of energy and furor which made for an entertaining live set. Later, we headed to the Elysium for Japan Night to watch the all-girl Japanese brass band, Pistol Valve. They seemed to cannibalize a variety of styles, principally ska. They seem at times as little more than a novelty act, but their skill, flair and big sound makes them highly entertaining nonetheless. The sweaty crowd of nippophiles ate it all up and cheered loudly. We wandered around the strip for a short while afterward, but called a night rather quickly.

For Saturday, we stopped at the Flatstock Convention to appreciate the poster art on display. I pondered the purchase of my favorite Tara McPherson print, but ultimately decided that $400 was more than my artistic appreciation warranted. I also discovered that if you get there early enough that the SXSW staff puts out the remaining swag bags on a cart and gives them away for free. Noelle and I swooped down like vultures and began picking our way through them. Mostly I was curious to see what $600 gets you above the $160 I paid for my wrist band, and I'd have to say that the bag was more than a little disappointing. Mostly a bunch of lame magazines I wouldn't read and music samplers that I could get for free anyway. The Voodoo doll was a nice touch, but hardly worth the extra 400+ bucks. The swag bag gets a rating of "Totally Gay" from me. The best free stuff was handed out in the streets, with the mytoons.com LED flashlight lanyard taking first prize and the blinking Texas necklaces a close second. And, I violated the old adage about taking wooden nickels. It's sitting on my dryer right now, saved from a trip through the wash. Those trinkets led us to Gallery Lombardi at 602 W. 7th St. which has a nice collection of odd, contemporary art from the likes of H.R. Giger, Gibby Haynes, Clive Barker, Tara McPherson, and more. This was our last stop before heading out of Austin for the higher and drier climes of Colorado.


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Mike Doughty



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