Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Belated thoughts on SXSW

Continuing my annual tradition, I took a mini-vacation to Austin TX last month for some indie rock goodness by way of south by southwest. As usual, I heard some great music, met some awesome new people, and hung out with old pals, digging the good weather and chill company.

As the cliche yet true conversation frequently goes these last several years, SXSW was even bigger and more frenetic than before and, methinks, has long since past that tipping point where things are less cool and more corporate than justifies the vacation time.

Having spent several years in Texas before moving up here to Cleveland, I know Austin quite well and, thus, am able to take advantage of the cooler stuff in non-traditional quarters, but god help you if you try to make it in the downtown mess. From inconsistent access policies to an utter clusterfuck of traffic (vehicular, human, and otherwise), I found my blood pressure skyrocketing the two times I attempted (and failed, ridiculously) to attend something I'd had my heart set on. Rather than try to catch 20 bands in a day like you used to be able to do, I found myself picking cool spots where I could here a run of good bands for a chunk of the afternoon or evening. South Austin and, especially, the east side of town made for the best times.

That isn't to say I don't endorse a trip to sxsw or, for that matter, Austin. Just like every kid should go to Disneyland, you better know what you are in for if you go on the 4th of July or Labor Day weekend. That's pretty much what 6th Street in Austin is gonna be like, but hipsters in skinny jeans instead of toddlers with Mickey hats.

When you do go, however, you are likely to see some awesome stuff and, if you are smart and focus on stuff you don't get to see very often rather than the buzz bands of the moment, you'll often be able to get pretty good access. For example, rather than go all sardine and cram into a Surfer Blood show, I hit up a funky little cafe many blocks from the main stretch and caught shows by Golden Triangle, Slim Cessna's Auto Club, and Everyone Was In The French Resistance ... Now! with a cats eye perch.

Rather than craft a dear diary post telling you what I did and where, let me give you some memorable bullet points:

-- The Piano's party, sponsored by the same name NYC club, was killer, particularly since I got to see my 2010 faves The Octagon in a small and spartan space and because I found out about Spirit Family Reunion.

-- Eddie Argos still has the best comic timing in indie rock. I already knew that, but now I also know that he's one of the most generous guys in the game, too, having bought me a beer as we stood in line at Spider House and chatted about music.

-- If you are nice to people and think good thoughts, good things happen even when you think they won't. For example, having given up on any hope of catching Floating Action play that weekend, I randomly walked past a bar on my way to somewhere else and realized I'd come across a Park the Van Records party I'd somehow not made a note of. I got to see Floating Action but, even cooler, was turned on to Giant Cloud, who blew me away and, thanks to their lady on the keys, got a new little indie rock crush.

-- Slim Cessna puts on one of the finest shows and Oh No Ono rocked more in the 10 minutes I got to hear them play than most bands do in a week. I hope/dream/pray that both bands make their way to the Beachland ... soon!

-- The Whip In is my new favorite Austin bar.

-- Gotta Groove Records is a cool ass business and I'm very proud of their Cleveland roots. Even better, so are they. And they put up a hell of a party at a funky out-of-the-way record store. Totally dirtleg, totally rad.

-- God damn it I love Mexican food and BBQ in Texas. Someone please convince me that the advantage we have of eastern/central European cuisine up here makes up for the terrible deficiency we suffer in those cuisines.

-- No matter what, every band that Jason Lytle plays in sounds basically the same. Which is awesome. So when/if Admiral Radley comes to town, you should definitely go see them.

-- Jessie Torrisi is amazing tolerant of her crushed-out, mouth-breathing male fans. I should know - I am one! Also, playing the kazoo onstage during her set is quite probably my sxsw highlight of the year.

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