SXSW Day 3: In Austin No One Can Hear You Scream

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It has to be said that despite one or two hiccups, the second official day of SXSW turned out to be a whole lot more fun. It got off to a good start when we found there was actually a shuttle that came near to our hotel and meant late night night time returns were no longer a problem.

We headed off to the Pitchfork party, queued in the broiling heat for 30 minutes and gave that up as a bad job and trudged another 8 blocks out of town to American Songwriter’s Billy Reid Shindig Day. It seemed to be held in someone’s big backyard with a few benches, a couple of food vans and two drinks – beer and water. This was much more like it! We settled down in the sun and watched barnstorming performances by The Devil Makes Three and Heartless Bastards. The former created the perfect hoedown with plenty a whoopin’ and a hollerin’ and the barroom boogie of the latter was much appreciated too. They were followed by Wild Cub, who has the whole tropical tinged Americana thing going on (see Lord Huron from yesterday’s post) and so we headed up the hill to Hotel Vegas for some mind-bending rock at the Austin Psych Fest party.

Strangely the Akron Family were on when we arrived with the same set I think as the day before, or maybe a continuation? It still could have been two songs or ten, but the main attraction for us was the hypnotic Suuns who did not disappoint with a set of pulsing keyboards and guitar grooves and shamanistic intoned vocals.

Realising I’d spent the whole day outside and had singularly failed to find a pharmacy and sun cream I felt a bit hot. The folly of my situation was brought home as I headed back to the chaos of Sixth Street determined to sort this out, I passed two amused girls who were laughing about someone called “Rooster Guy”.  About twenty feet further on I suddenly realised that yep, they meant me.

Getting back to Sixth Street meant passing through the underpass of the Interstate route 35. Halfway through, a man with his few belongings surrounding him, was shouting and wailing at the top of his voice. Not at anything or anyone, just shouting. He had a piece of cardboard next to him with a few coins on it and having a dollar bill in my pocket I put it down on the cardboard. The man carried on shouting, at the same time snatching the dollar and instantly tearing into lots of pieces. Around him, oblivious to this little drama, hordes of partygoers streamed both ways through the underpass.

On Sixth more people were screaming everywhere. Screaming for attention, screaming offers of free beers or phone charging, one couple screaming at each other, a baby screamed in a buggy and everywhere the thousands upon thousands of people ignored it all.

As did I.

I found some cream and food and went to see Pyyramids who played a surprisingly powerful set of indie rock with needling guitars and tribal percussion, and then dropped into the Valhalla bar to see Fear of Men play a set of jangly, dreamlike pop that was littered with literary references and thankfully never overbalanced and fell into a pit of tweeness. An excellent uptempo cover of The Chills Pink Frost which thrummed with barely restrained tension and the Phillip Larkin inspired Green Sea were closing highlights.

Then it was time for Ray Wylie Hubbard, and a chance to see a true legend of the outlaw country movement. Introducing live favourite Snake Farm as an early audience singalong and following it up with the brilliant Drunken Poet’s Dream it was the consumate example of an entertainer knowing exactly how to draw in and build the expectations of his audience. Plenty of between song banter and a set list that included Down Home Country Blues, Name Droppin, Mother’s Blues, Redneck Mother, Count My Blessings and a storming Wanna Rock And Roll left everyone more than happy.

The queues for Phosphorescent were (once again) enormous, and the same for Caitlin Rose, so it was to the Hype Hotel for free beer and tacos and a chance to see the Specials some thirty two years since theirs was the first “proper” album I ever bought. I was ready to be disappointed (as most band reunions are), but this was the glorious exception that proved the rule. Lively, vibrant, tight, and sounding crystal clear in a vast space of fantastic acoustics they ripped through their classics that got everybody in the venue moving: Monkey Man, Nite Klub, Do Nothing, Gangsters, Doesn’t Make It Alright, Man At C&A, Concrete Jungle and closing with an incendiary Too Much Too Young.

This was the SXSW I was hoping for, still crazy, but tonight eclectic and brilliant too.

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