Fatigue set in by the time Saturday rolled around. I woke up tired and no amount of Red Bull would do me justice. My legs ached and my head was fuzzy from too many loud shows in such a brief amount of time. I missed most of Saturday afternoon because not only did I have a blog entry to write, I just couldn't get myself moving quick enough.
I pondered heading home early until my friends convinced me that I would be kicking myself if I missed that night's events. In hindsight, I'm glad I stuck around as Saturday provided my favorite night of music, despite what my body told me.
4:30 p.m. - Two bands dominated Saturday: Echo and the Bunnymen and Silversun Pickups. The former band has been around for 30 years, creating the sound and vision many bands would launch their careers on such as U2, the Smashing Pumpkins, Oasis, and Interpol. Needless to say, music would be very different without the Liverpool act.
I surely thought I wouldn't get to see one of my favorite bands at SXSW 2009, most of the group's performances occurring during the nighttime showcase shows. Since I didn't have a badge or wristband, there was little chance I'd be singing along to “The Killing Moon” any time soon.
Thankfully, the ever trusty Bat Bar in the Austin Convention Center delivered once again, setting up a 5 p.m. taping of the band. My friends and I got down to the venue extra early to score comp tickets. The previous night we had scored extra Shiny Toy Guns tickets. The box office clerk came around asking if anyone had any extra. I gave her one back only if she promised to hook me up with Echo and the Bunnymen tickets. She agreed. It was the most excited I'd been all week.
Sure enough, we got in and scored great spots, perhaps 20 feet from the stage, smack-dab in the middle of the stage. The extra wait was well worth it. Ian MacCullough and company took to the stage and busted out a 42-minute set (it was a TV show taping, after all) of the band's greatest hits. Although more reserved in their old age, Echo and the Bunnymen were in fine form, playing classics such as a more reserved “Killing Moon", a chiming “Bring On The Dancing Horses" from the Pretty In Pink soundtrack, a still powerful “The Cutter,” and a contemplative “Nothing Lasts Forever.” The group only incorporated one new song in the entire set.
It was amazing to see some heroes deservedly recognized by SXSW for their achievements. I had two criticisms in regards to the show. First, I wished the band would let loose a bit more. I know they're close to 50-year-olds, but their back catalogue has an edge that screams to be played fiercely. Instead, the band played much more reserved versions of the songs. Still good, but not as good as they could've been.
Second problem, there were way too many merely curious badge and wristband peeps at the show. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal. But when the front ten rows were press and people who were only there because that was the cool place to be, then it makes for a lack of energy. The true Echo and the Bunnymen fans were spread out through the venue and I got dirty looks for - pooh, pooh - actually getting into the show! I didn't know dancing and singing along was illegal in Texas.
Here's my solution: charge a small cover fee to anyone who wants first dibs on a spot for the TV performances. Whether you're a badge holder or not, allow those who really want to see a band to get primo places in front. It would make for better audience participation and the show wouldn't look like it was being taped at a marketing convention instead of a music conference (although, marketing people can party down). Don't you think the producers of the TV tapings would want 100 hardcore fans in front to make it look better for home audiences?
9:00 p.m. — After crossing another band off my “Acts To See Before I Die” list, my friends convinced me to stick around for the Silversun Pickups show at Antone's. Only I didn't have a badge or wristband. How would I get in?
We hit the venue a couple hours early to see if they would have tickets available at the door. They told us they would, but to come back around 9:00 p.m. I showed up at the given time (out-of-breath, after my friends texted me to bust it down to the club when they only had 10 tickets left for non-badge, non-wristband peons) and scored a ticket.
It was my most extravagant purchase of the entire week. The cost: twenty bucks to see three bands when I had paid a total of five dollars on cover fees the previous three days. While I promised to see as much as possible for free, I figured I hadn't spend a whole lot of money and I knew the Silversun Pickups would be good after hearing raves about the band's show before Metallica's “secret show” at Stubb's the previous night.
The point was if you really wanted to see a band, you still didn't need a wristband or badge. Both the Echo and the Bunnymen and Silversun Pickups shows proved that idea. There were plenty of opportunities to see bands play over the week and venues often reserved limited tickets for fans at the door to keep bar sales steady throughout the night. Face it, not everyone is going to show up to see some relatively unknown band early in the evening. Turnover after each group — badges and wristband holders often take off to see other acts at different clubs — also means there's room for non-wristband and badge holders.
10:00 p.m. - Settled in, I catch the last few songs of the Happy Hollows, whom I really didn't pay attention to because I was too busy catching up with friends. I paid attention to Cage The Elephant of Bowling Green, Kentucky, a five-piece that plays Southern Fried blues-rock, coming across like Kings of Leon and Black Crowes. The band was fronted by the charismatic Matt Shultz, the love child of Kurt Cobain and Ian Brown of late-era Stone Roses, with vocals that match Jack White.
The group had an energetic live show thanks to Shultz, who at one point danced into the crowd, jumped onto the bar, climbed some scaffolding onto the soundboard set 10 feet above the bar. It was the day's best rock star moment. Songs such as “Ain't No Rest For The Wicked,” and “Lotus” kept the attention of the audience, which was building to a crowded throb.
11:00 p.m. - Next up came another energetic group in London's The Duke Spirit. Whereas Cage the Elephant pandered chaotic, shambolic riff-rock, the Duke Spirit sold pure, fired up sexuality, the focal point being bleach-blonde lead singer Leila Moss, resurrecting the voices of Grace Slick and Janis Joplin with a think British brogue. The band's sound was 60s rock with Northern Soul elements and the guitar precision of The Strokes.
It was a sight to see everyone enraptured with Moss. She did things to her mic stand many ex-girlfriends never did to myself. It seemed meant to be that way, a phallic display to keep the boys in attendance on her leash and the girls wishing they could be her. Moss once dropped her mic on the floor, but instead of picking it up and holding it in her hand, she returned it to the mic stand, never once moving it from it's place, the stand more as a tool than a vocal amplifier. Songs such as “Lasso,” and “The Step and the Walk” were undeniable barn-burners, showcasing a great live act.
12:00 a.m. - The venue was shoulder-to-shoulder and barely penetrable by the time Silversun Pickups came on. The Pickups release their second album, Swoon, in April after gaining huge accolades for its Smashing Pumpkins-influenced debut, Carnavas. I would predict a quarter of the people in the club were there because of the show they played the night before opening for none other than Metallica, the band's publicist telling me that if this show was half-as-good as that one, we'd be in for a treat.
The band didn't disappoint, even drawing the attention of actress Drew Barrymore, who bowled people over, including myself, to get to the stage during the radio hit "Lazy Eye." What the hell, Drew? Please keep your faux-indie cred to yourself and watch where you're walking.
Standouts included “Little Lovers So Polite,” “Well Thought Out Twinkles,” and new song “Panic Switch,” which completely destroyed the crowd. The first five songs of the set were as good as any I heard all week, the only problem coming when the keyboards completely shorted out, taking away from the atmospheric layers that make the band's alt-rock attack so special. No one seemed to mind, though, as everyone stuck around until the near-end.
Homeward bound - I saw well over 25 acts while conducting my personally mapped-out musical marathon from March 18-21, the pedometer application on my phone informing me of over 50,000 steps taken - 51,826 to exact figure - or more than 25 miles covered from Wednesday through Saturday. I walked through crazy crowds of drunken debauchery; I walked to barbeques and pizza dens; I walked to official and unofficial SXSW shindigs and showcases; I walked more than I've ever walked before in the pursuit of good music.
The cost to do see and do all of this great stuff? I had no wristband or badge, and did it all for around $135. Instead of doing Spring Break with beaches overrun by frat-boys and drunk co-eds, Austin beckons those who like to party like a rock star while seeing as many favorite bands as possible in four days of non-stop, solid audio action. Thank you and goodnight for another year, Austin, Texas.
Goal: Spend under $100 over the course of the festival
Money spent so far: $140. $20 for a ticket + $10 on food and $20 on beverages on Day Four + $45 from Day Three + $20 from Day One + $25 on Day Two
Free stuff, Day Four: Entrance to the Bat Bar, several free drinks bought by friends, stickers
Pedometer, Day Four: 12645 steps (7.1 miles)
Total Pedometer: 51,826 steps = nearly 30 miles over the entire festival
Total words written about SXSW 2009: Over 10,000