Denton-based acts made quite the splash in Austin last week, with eight acts invited to play officially sanctioned showcases at South by Southwest 2009, and gobs more bands playing in and around town at unofficial showcases, day parties, house shows and coffee shops.
On Friday, while playing a set at Progress Coffee, singer-songwriter Robert Gomez hoped the audience couldn't see his trembling hands. He wasn't nervous. He just chugged too much coffee before his noon set. "That was the earliest that I have ever played a show," he says. "I woke up at 10 and couldn't even talk." For most night-owl musicians accustomed to playing late, Gomez says a gig that early is "like playing a show at seven in the morning." He wasn't the only one with the afternoon-party blues.
A half-hour later, four blocks away, Shiny Around the Edges kicked off its set at the Asthmatic Kitty Junk Yard Piznik held at the Okay Mountain art gallery. "We were the first band, and playing that early was really hard for us," says Shiny's Mike Seman. "We were shocked that anybody was there, because it was so early in the day. But about 20 people showed up. We just thought we'd be playing for a bunch of post-modern sculptures."
During SXSW, though, attendance levels vary dramatically, no matter when a band starts its set.
"[At] one of our shows, we basically played for our girlfriends and, like, four other people," says Gavin Guthrie of Florene. The ambient-electro duo played five shows while in Austin, and Guthrie says there was one thing that was consistent: "We'd either have great sound and horrible attendance or great attendance with terrible sound."
Leanne Macomber of the synth-gaze duo Fight Bite echoed Florene's sentiments: "We had some of the greatest and worst sound experiences ever," she says. But another theme emerged during the band's six sets: "The thing that was consistent for us was that we were on badly mismatched bills—we stuck out like sore thumbs. We played the Todd P show, and we were the pussiest band on the bill. All the bands were way more aggressive and rock-oriented."
Matthew and the Arrogant Sea also played half a dozen shows (one of which was the band's packed-out official SXSW showcase at Maggie Mae's). But the band faced more troubles than early sets and bad sound: "All of us in the band were sick," frontman Matthew Gray says. "And everything—emotionally or spiritually—that could have gone wrong, did. Thankfully, it was never obvious in our sets. We felt like it was a really successful week, and we had a lot of fun."
And, isn't having fun at SXSW what it's all about? Well, that and the free booze. —Daniel Rodrigue