My first trip back to Austin since 2009, and compared with then the town is hectic even before any music is officially due to start. Streets are teeming with folk whereas previously four years ago, the day before the event, Chris T Popper and I had strolled around empty streets and then casually into the marvellous Waterloo Records and bought wristbands for the coming evenings showcase events. We had no idea then just how useful that was going to be.
This year, pre-armed with wristband knowledge, I went to Waterloo Records on Sunday only to be told that they were pretty sure they weren’t getting any at all to sell this year. Judging by the folk that were around even then, a wristband (and entry into the evening showcases) seemed a forlorn hope.
But hope springs eternal and this morning, by judicious following of the official SXSW news updates, I discovered a very limited number of wristbands would be on sale from selected music venues today. Only it didn’t say which ones.
I e-mailed the SXSW e-mail address and eventually got a reply telling me to look in the Austin Chronicle. I went online and finally found a list of 8 venues selling wristbands and armed with this knowledge grabbed my stuff and caught the bus into town.
I rushed to the first and closest venue. Shut. The second. Shut. Third, a helpful man said they wouldn’t be selling wristbands until 7.30pm. The fourth. Shut. The fifth just had a sign saying We aren’t selling wristbands yet – I asked, they shrugged and said come back this evening. The sixth told me to come back at 6pm.
At this point, I stopped to take stock.
A car went by dressed as a rabbit. A giant mobile phone, clearly unable to see, careered into people. A magician with green hair scammed happy passers-by. Cops watched on. The sun beat down. A man wearing a werewolf’s head played the fiddle. Someone was sick. Another man dressed only in cardboard sheets marched by with a placard “Be like me. Crazy”.
I needed to get out of the sun (suncream left in haste at the hotel) and seemingly having no chance of a wristband until the evening, I headed for The Mohawk and a day party that looked promising on paper. On came the Beach Fossils looking the epitome of New York cool in skinny black jeans and t-shirts and proceeded to delight a packed crowd with a set of upbeat, indie rock anchored on chiming guitars and short, uncomplicated songs.
As they departed I decided to use the bathroom and was joined at the urinals by the large imposing figure of grunge legend and forefather of the no-wave movement, none other than guitar maestro Thurston Moore who was up next with his new band Chelsea Light Moving. Somewhat disconcerted by being confronted with the erstwhile leader of Sonic Youth with not so much as pants down as flies open, I managed a garbled greeting to which he amiably replied “enjoy the show man”. And enjoy it I did, a blistering set of guitar histrionics and punk rock that made me determined to investigate much more thoroughly their recently released album. Highlights included Sleeping When I Fall, a brutal Groovy & Linda, the Roky Erickson tribute Empires of Time, a more brutal Lips and closing new songs Sunday Stage and the most brutal of all, No Go.
A difficult act to follow and so it proved for Barcelona’s Delorean, who strived to please with their blend of danceable, indie rock, but it was a bit like watching a shower after a tsunami and it took the good ole boy southern blues rock of Natural Child to properly raise the tempo again. Looking like a cross between Status Quo and ZZ Top, they joyfully retuned the Mohawk to its Texas roots with a set of choogling boogie and good natured bonhomie.
Party over, I headed for the appropriately named sports bar, Buffalo Billiards where wristbands were apparently going on sale from 7pm. I joined a small, but growing queue headed by a Joe Strummer lookalike in a Clash City Rockers leather jacket, an excitable midget from New York, a honeymooning couple arguing over a Bratwurst, and an wizened old tattooed Texan and Austin resident who had inexplicably missed the sale of wristbands to locals. Behind me the queue grew exponentially as the dwarf from Brooklyn regaled us all with tales of previous SXSW’s, mainly about endless taxi woes, and finishing every sentence with “you gotta be a ninja about it”. He then exposed the Strummer lookalike as a phony as, when asked, he was unable to confirm whether Clash City Rockers was a song or an album. Twat.
After an hour or so a SXSW volunteer arrived to announce she had 30 wristbands only that were going to be available as cash purchases. I headed for the ATM with the honeymooning husband (who had driven down from Montreal via Memphis and New Orleans) as he confessed, “if you were a judge I’d get you to divorce us” and withdrew the necessary funds. Against all odds I had the precious wristband.
Just time then to return to the Mohawk and the Pitchfork party, smugly jump the enormous queue of non-wristband folk wanting to get in, and catch a set from new faves of Mrs Mackerel, Night Beds. The indoor stage is jam-packed, testament to the buzz they have created as the latest of the “folksinger in a cabin” stories, but unlike Bon Iver these are more robust songs, ornate and orchestral, they powerfully rise and swell to fill the room and the band clearly look set for bigger things. Finally it is Torres and a set of quiet/loud indie rock illuminated by her intense vocals and cracked washes of distorted guitar, amongst which Honey is an absolute stand out. Although there is more than enough in the rest of their material to suggest they may be more than just a temporary flavour of the month.
I leave. Hail a taxi, the first I see. It stops. You’ve got to be a ninja about it.
Offically, SXSW hasn’t started yet. Unofficially it is off to a stormer.
Download Torres – Mother Earth, Father God mp3 (from Torres)
Download Natural Child – Hard Workin Man mp3 (from 1971)
Download Natural Child – B$g P$mp$n mp3 (from The Muse American Songwriter September Sampler)
Download Delorean – Real Love mp3 (from Subiza)Follow @madmackerel