SXSW Day 2: A Band In The Hand Is Worth Two In The Mohawk

Austin SXSW Day 2

Yesterday was not a great day.

It is the little things sometimes.

Things like when you wake up and realise that despite knowing I was away for 10 days in total, I had only bought clothes for 8 (except t-shirts which bizarrely could last me for 13) and the suncream tube is actually some kind of foaming face wash. Or all the eggs have gone at breakfast meaning as a non-meat eater the sausages and bacon are not great substitutes. And then some crappy news from work, and by the time all is sorted I am rushing for the bus with just enough time to get downtown to see Savages at the Brooklyn Vegan day party except the bus pulls into a stop and then just stops. For five, then ten, then fifteen minutes. And by the time it starts again and enters the slow crawl of traffic heading into the heart of the city there is no chance of getting there on time.

Akron Family

So I head for the Filter day party at the Clive Bar and do get there in time for The Guards who offer an energetic if somewhat formulaic take on muscular big-on-choruses-indie-rock. I manoeuvre my way to the front for the Akron Family who, despite starting late, good naturedly indulge in some of the loudest psych-folk freakout jams I have ever heard. They could have played twelve songs or two, but however many it was I enjoyed it. It is packed now for the party headliners Lord Huron, but they, or rather the sound guys, cannot get things set up properly. They hear one mic but not another, then no drums, then drums but no bass. It goes on and on and even the party going crowd start to get a bit fidgety in the sun. Eventually they start 35 minutes late and offer a tropically breezy set of folk that sounds at times uncomfortably close to Vampire Weekend for these ears. There is an absolutely majestic Time To Run which gets the crowd going, but the rest is a little bit of a disappointment. And of course they have to cut the set short because of the late start.

I head back into the mayhem of Sixth Street and the start of the evening showcases. Compared with my last visit in 2009, it seems twice as busy, twice as packed, twice as intense. My plan had been to aim for one of the two big hitting events, Nick Cave at Stubbs or Japandroids and Iggy Pop at Mohawk. They’re close to each other so it seemed reasonable to see which was easiest to get into. Being late from the Clive Bar meant the Stubbs line stretched at least a block and a half just for the wristband holders so on I went to the Mohawk. I found the back of the line, but that was for badge holders only, a nice SXSW volunteer cheerfully pointed me towards the wristband line…it writhed like a snake for what seemed miles. Pointless queuing.

Lord Huron

Plan B, head for Red 7 and see Blessed Feathers, surely that will be easier. But in complete contrast to my last visit, every single venue I pass en-route has enormous queues. I join the Red 7 queue and half an hour later I am in at the Patio Bar with a beer and waiting for the band. They come on. They are from Wisconsin and probably look like it; Donivan Berube’s garb makes him look wonderfully like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz. A partnership duo playing guitar and banjo they charm and delight for 25 minutes against the backdrop of chatter and the band next door with Hey All You Floridians and the wonderful Stinging Nettle, Honeysuckle particular stand outs.

A SXSW photographer tells me the queue is now even longer outside and they are at capacity inside, and it is much the same everywhere else. I abandon plans to try and go and see Murder By Death, Lily Hiatt or Salesman and decide to stay put to see up and coming English buzz band Peace.

I am glad I did. They come on stage, painfully skinny and good looking, a study in affected insouciance, and in attire that looks like a cross between Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Child Catcher, Alice In Wonderland and Richmal Compton’s Just William. Then they plug in and play a set of outstanding psychedelic indie rock that completely and utterly wins the crowd over and in California Daze and especially ten minute epic 1998 (Delicious) have songs that are destined to live long in the memory. For Peace the buzz is justified.

Outside it is busier than ever. The queues for the Black Angels at Buffalo Billiards and Phosphorescent at the Hype Hotel are ridiculous. I decide to call it quits and catch the last bus back towards my Interstate hotel and ask the driver to let me know when we get to my stop on Saint Elmo Road. “Sure” he says, so I am surprised a while later to see the bus fly past it without stopping. I ask him, he looks at me blankly and I get off at the next stop and start the walk back.

It is dark and no-one is around. A car stops. A police car. Politely they ask if I am OK, and slightly less politely, to see my ID. I show them my passport and they are satisfied. I explain I missed my stop and am walking back to the hotel. The policeman shakes his head, “bad luck sir” he says.

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