I'll Be Your Eyes at South By Southwest!
...but did I mention I'm legally blind? So forgive me if I miss something....I arrived in Austin early Wednesday evening, but the festival for me truly began in Chicago two hours earlier, when my plane received an infusion of New Yorkers making their connecting flight to SXSW. I know hipster culture has become enough of an institution to be a target for satire and disdain, but it still excites me. I want to see how girls in New York are wearing their hair, how boys from Berlin are wearing their jeans, and what kinds of spectacle frames are hot with our nation's DJs. Downtown Austin is a riot of rockers. Even though alt-country, hip hop, and singer-songwriter types rep South-By, the anglo-rocker look is king. Pale skin, tousled boho hair, zero percent body fat, zero percent muscle tone.
Once I get my badge, I head out to the Free Yr Radio party at La Zona Rosa. I don't really understand the concept of Free Yr Radio--my sense is that it's a promotional venture for the Toyota Yaris giftwrapped in paper marked "Congratulations on Existing, Public Radio!" But I do understand the concept of Yeasayer, the Brooklyn band I missed at the Entry last month (it was my round with the Death Flu of '08): melodies with so many notes they carry the energy of bluegrass, glossed up all rich and lush by unexpected complex vocals. Feral howls, lovely choral harmonies, '70s falsettos are set off by diverse tricks with percussion. Sometimes the lead singer moves his arms like he's a lion tamer cracking a whip. Whik-chaa! .
Before Simian Mobile Disco took the stage, I rushed off to catch as much as was left of the Noisettes at Vice. I'm a sucka for charismatic frontwomen and the wild Shingai Shoniwa from the trio the Noisettes has been a YouTube target of mine in the past year. Now I got to see her IRL! It was no disappointment, son. La Shingai loves the spotlight and it loves her back. She purrs, she howls, makes her eyes wide and curious and then suddenly turns her expression predatory. The band was fierce and fiery, wicked UK rockers who can suddenly switch gears with, "This is a new song" and hit you with an unexpected breather of a light jazzy songbird number. I don't know what was tighter, the band or Shingai's gold lame mini, but the delighted crowd could probably provide valid arguments on both sides.
While walking to the next gig, I happened by a busking duo who were absolutely unapologetically killing it on a streetcorner. Just one dude playing drums and the human equivalent of a tightly coiled spring wailing on a guitar--hey, wait a sec, it's Minneapolis' own Knife World! That the underground two piece would come to SXSW to play a sidewalk at 1:00 am is pretty true to their aesthetic and that people who were being bombarded by traditionally-promoted acts were taken in enough to stand and watch them is a testament to their freaky magic.
My final stop was Spiro's, where I saw Dark Meat fill up a stage with the density of a life raft after the Titantic went down. When I first got there, they were an impressive sextet. How do you give that many guitars to crazy Athens boys who draw preschool-tribal designs on their faces and not have it turn into cacophony? But it wasn't! It was controlled, it was heavy and swirly and drone-y, but not noisy. Then they added a four-piece horn section. As the floorboards of Spiro's parted and the family-sized bucket of Dark Meat started to sink into the ground, I headed back to hotel. I would see every single act I caught tonight if they came to town on tour (which I guess also means I should be going to every damn Knife World show) and that's a hard score to beat for Day Two.....
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