After waking up at a reasonable hour, I made my way into the fray that is SXSW during St. Patrick’s Day. In fact it wasn’t long before people started stumbling down the streets in WAY too early drunken stupors. It’s still a mystery to me why grown adults can’t pace themselves even on a day that requires you to drink pretty much all day long. Get it together people!
Anyway, one of the best things about SXSW is the amount of free food provided for people paying attention to the ‘Free Noms SXSW’ twitter feed. So like any other festival goer or human being for that matter, I gravitated toward anything that had the title “FREE SHIT” on the door. So I aimlessly wound up at the ‘Canadian Showcase’ and helped myself to some free tacos while I watched an average rock band called In-Flight Safety.
At this point I didn’t really have a plan. In fact I had a list of acts I wanted to see but no real clear plan at all. In my opinion that seemed to be the best way to experience the fest considering how many unexpected crap happens while you’re at this thing. Anyway, I overheard Baths over at the Red 7 Tent and decided I’d catch the solo lap-top/electronic artist beep and boop his way through the early afternoon. Watching Baths is actually pretty interesting for one reason; his concentration. He seems to go off into another world during each song and it’s quite exciting to witness.
After Baths I finished off my beer and was right about to leave when suddenly…FIGHT! Oh yes, not even 1PM and there’s a fight happening right outside the Red 7 Tent. I’m not completely clear as to why this guy decided to test the bartender at the tent and then the bouncer, but I can tell you it was awesome to see the above bouncer tear off his hat and yell, “YOU WANNA GO?!?!” I’m already loving my time here…
Next I wandered over to the convention center and caught this adorable yet slightly polished ‘folk-rock’ band called The Head and The Heart. They sounded like they would be perfect for an emotional conclusion to Scrubs or a life insurance commercial with an uplifting “can’t we all just get along?” theme. Also they did this thing where they would hold one ear and harmonize on the same microphone. Is it bad that I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at the sight of that?
Next up was the wonderful and theatrical Devotchka. The band played a tame (compared to their usual shows) but enthralling set of new material and of course the famous How This Will End. It was short but it seemed most sets at SXSW were short in order to fit the plethora of acts performing all over the fest.
After meeting up with my friends in Foxtails Brigade, who were playing several covers and original songs on the street, I ventured out to Club de Ville to catch Owen Pallett. I’ve missed seeing him on several occasions and I figured I’d treat myself to witness his talent. And yeah, Owen has plenty of talent. After playing a majority off the brilliant Heartland, he performed a spot-on cover of Caribou’s Odessa. I felt pretty satisfied and moved onto the next show.
As the streets began to get more and more crowded, I swung by some random venue and caught Andrew WK playing Party Hard on a piano (awesome?). The place was pretty packed so after that I made my way to see one of my favorite singer-songwriters…
Damien Jurado. Playing in front of a dismal crowd on the back porch of The Parish, Jurado still brought a disarming and vulnerable performance for the lucky few that peppered the venue. Playing a few off his latest Saint Bartlett, Damien did not shy away from pulling out a few older favorites as far back as Rehearsals for Departure. Despite how loud the band at the nearest venue was, everyone seemed to be entranced by Damien’s set and for good reason.
After Damien I walked a block to catch Rural Alberta Advantage completely tear it up at the Paste Showcase. I had heard enough good things about their live shows like how commanding their stage presence is and how flawless the band can sound. Well it turns out all of that was true. Rural Alberta Advantage far exceeded my expectations and made me more than a casual listener and transformed me into a diehard fan. Definitely a band not to miss when they swing by your town.
Next up at the same venue was local Bay Area hero and all around great dude, John Vanderslice. While he played a few off White Wilderness, which sounded good but without The Magik*Magik Orchestra, it was a fraction of how good it could have been. However, he was joined on stage my a drummer/keyboardist and violinist who did a fine job at compensating for the lack of The Magik*Magik Orchestra. Still, you can’t go wrong with John and this was no exception.
After shoving some brisket sandwiches in face and hydrating myself (with BEER!) I made my way to Stubb’s to catch Noah and the Whale and Portugal. The Man.
While I waited for both those bands to take the stage, I had to sit through Foster The People, the next ‘flavor o the week’ electro-pop group from LA. Not bad but really nothing special happening with these guys.
Now I was caught off guard by Noah and the Whale when their press copy of The First Days of Spring wound up in my mailbox. It took me a while to finally get around to listening to it but once I did, I understood the hype behind the group. So I was fairly excited to finally see them live. Unfortunately the sound at Stubb’s just wasn’t working all that well for their set. Even after several shouts from the audience that no one could hear any vocals, the band still seemed to have various sound issues throughout their performance. Which was too bad considering they were playing some of my favorite like Blue Skies and 5 Years Time.
After Noah, Portugal. The Man blasted into their set with several tunes from The Satanic Satanist and last year’s super catchy American Ghetto. They had the same vocals issue at the beginning of their show but that was quickly remedied right after the first song. PTM is always a treat to witness live and this time around was no difference. Howling guitar improvisation, belting vocals, and every band member just rocking the fuck out for the entire show. I am yet to see this band perform half-assed and I honestly believe that will never happen.
I left Stubb’s and tried to catch acts like James Blake and Janelle Monae, but for various reason I’d rather not bore you with (lines, scheduling issues, etc) I ended up wandering E. 6th Street until finally catching James Vincent McMorrow in some half packed bar.
Now after catching Wiz Khalifa just earlier for a few songs, I knew I needed something calmer and humble to close out my night. I really couldn’t have ended the St. Patty’s Day night better than James Vincent McMorrow. The Irish singer-songwriter silenced the bar with crooning vocals and modest arrangements that made the hectic day come to a composed norm.
As I wandered back to the hotel, I was fairly satisfied with my first full day of SXSW 2011. You see, when you’re not doing something at SXSW, you immediatly feel like you’re the only one not enjoying themselves. There is something going on all the time and if you’re not witnessing a band or whatever, you begin to feel left out and obligated to remedy that as soon as possible. Some people may disargee with me on that but I am the kind of person that needs to soak it all in. So I couldn’t wait to do exactly that the following day…