Remembering (Barely) SXSW

We've vowed never to do it again--but we can't wait till next year

Usually, at around noon on the Sunday following the annual South by Southwest Music and Media Conference, we vow never to go again. Usually very quietly, since we can't speak. Our clothes smell like sweat, liquor and smoke (or: any member of The D4, a rawk-rock!-ROCK highlight of the 2003 fest), and our throats feel as though we gargled with a handful of rusty razors. But once everything's been through the laundry and our voice returns, we can't wait for the next trip. Surprisingly, despite averaging one drink an hour (at least) every day between noon and 2 a.m., we've already bounced back. Pretty much.

One reason we like going to SXSW is we get to meet a few people for the first time: musicians, other writers, two-thirds of Spinal Tap, a version of ourselves that can ingest somewhere north of 20 bourbon-and-waters (along with a pack and change of smokes) and still get up at 9 a.m. One of those musicians happened to be Alligator Dave, who we ran into at the British Phonograph Institute's showcase at The Blender Bar at the Ritz on Friday night. Alligator Dave, if you recall, has been a frequent target in this column, as well as the leader of one of the first bands to stand on top of a Sack of Kittens. So, not exactly someone you'd expect to be a big fan--or so we thought. Turns out AD has a soft spot for our particular brand of carpet bombing, as we discovered after throwing back a shot of Jim with him at the bar. Even gave us the nod to rip him apart in the future. Which, of course, only makes it tougher. Dammit.

(A quick aside to the above anecdote: One of the bands on the BPI bill, The Darkness, may have been the most entertaining thing about SXSW, apart from the rickshaw race we were involved in later that night down Fifth Street. Sample stage patter from singer-guitarist Justin Hawkins: "Gimme a 'D!' Gimme an 'arkness!' Now who's fucking ya?" Doing a scissors kick above the fork in the road where AC/DC, Queen and any number of '80s hair-metal bands meet, The Darkness' set was pure entertainment; except for Freddie Mercury, not many front men can pull off a striped, chest-less body suit, but Hawkins proved he belonged in that number. The music was only OK--see: the '80s hair-metal bit--but the rest made up for it.)

(An aside to that aside: A rickshaw is a man-powered taxi, usually found in Asia and usually propelled by running. The rickshaws in the aforementioned race were attached to bikes. And by the way, rickshaw drivers in Austin are surprisingly down with a late-night race, even one featuring several belligerent people running lines from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom [e.g., "No time for love, Doctor Jones!"].)

The next day, at the well-attended New Times party at Antone's (well attended by one Mr. Frodo Baggins, Elijah Wood, that is), we met up with a few of the members of Jibe, another band that's regularly been in our crosshairs. (Seems we drove three hours to kick it with local bands we've shat on in print; might as well have just stayed home and hung out at Curtain Club.) Didn't talk to them long--after getting off easy with Alligator Dave, we didn't wanna press our luck--but they probably wouldn't have given us much guff anyway. See, they were riding fairly high after playing an impromptu set at an Arista Records shindig the previous afternoon, apparently at the behest of Arista president L.A. Reid. Pharrell Williams--one half of ubiquitous producers the Neptunes and a third of less ubiquitous band N.E.R.D.--was so impressed by Jibe's jive that he wanted the group to fly up to NYC to play for him again. A pretty sweet deal for Jibe, kind of a letdown for anyone who's a big fan of Williams. Or music. OK, maybe just us. We suck.

Along with Jibe, plenty of other locals made their way down to Austin and came home happy--well, maybe except for Kid Icarus, who spun records at Zero Degrees on Wednesday to almost Zero Attendees. Erv Karwelis' Idol Records celebrated 10 years of putting out records with a packed house at Venue on Wednesday night. The pAper chAse hit the Red Eyed Fly stage on Wednesday with Knives out and spent the better part of an hour sharpening them on an enraptured crowd. Same thing happened when the Baptist Generals took the REF stage a few days later. The Rocket Summer may have launched a deal with Flower Booking, one of the biggest independent booking agencies, after a trio of sets. The newly christened Eisley proved that when their debut (the Laughing City EP) drops in May, they're going to be big. (Maybe just in an MTV2 way, but still.) And The Polyphonic Spree renewed its vows with a still-smitten SXSW, playing two overflow gigs on Saturday night that ended the festival with a smile. Only 357 days until next time.

 
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