23 March 2007

SxSW finis
(putting the austin in exhausting)



the good, the great, and the awesome, more like, heh heh (l-r?)

day four! well, i didn't really expect this day to top the incredible day three, particularly since there weren't all that many shows i was especially keen on. but somehow it managed to be about equally perfect, except that where friday had been carefully plotted out, saturday was for the most part a serendipitous string of spontaneous happenings.

breakfast was the first meal i'd had at home (in a home) all week, and possibly the nicest - toad in the roads (toads in roads? eggs in holes? one-eyed egyptians) with avocado and fruit and matt and nico and david and those wacky ledowski sisters. but after that lovely bit of company i headed out on my own for the first show of the day, the almost unfathomably exciting the good the bad and the queen.

man, getting on that rsvip list and getting my wristband ensuring access to the fort was maybe the best decision i made all week. sure, it would have been swell to see gbq at their official showcase the night before at stubb's, last on the bill in a venue more befitting their stature... but this way i was able to save $40 and still watch them play a full hour-plus set (including two encores), in the open air at 3:00 on a balmy afternoon, from the second row, dead center. (also, i couldn't have gotten in the night before.) the fort itself was pretty rad - not sure what the building's used for usually, but they had it set up as an indoor maze of nooks and crannies, a jeans showroom, a guitar repair shop, blogger rooms, and an adult swim "gallery," eventually leading out to an expansive courtyard with various kiosks, dj tent, bar dishing out free beers and peach-colored soco punch. and a sizable stage, of course.

they had by far the best djs i heard all week too - a-trak and the rub were scheduled to spin that day, and just between sets as the most exciting "background music" you can think of. not sure who was playing at that point in the afternoon, but they kept me smiling, with "california soul," "lip gloss" (!), some new-ish house song that i really like and haven't been able to place yet, "fu-gee-la" played over a clipse instrumental, and pb+j's "amsterdam," all seamlessly sequenced together. melissa in sundress asked if i was going to be dancing during the show too - "well, i don't think it's exactly dance music" i said, but she said just to wait - after all, with a rhythm section like that...

in case you don't know (and wonder why i'm so excited about this band who are, after all, brand spanking new), the good the bad and the queen are damon albarn (mastermind of blur, my favorite band, or darn close to it, among many other excellent musics), paul simonon (bassist of clash, everyone else's favorite band), tony allen (the the afrobeat drummer, veteran of fela kuti's bands and his own as well), and also in addition the guitarist from the verve as well (and gorillaz, etc.) right. well, hopefully you can understand why it was a little intense, to be standing five or ten feet away from at least two or three bona-fide legends. i'm not sure i'd fully prepared myself for that aspect of it.

even before they took the stage, just looking at paul's bass (old and yellow, with his name scratched into the side - indeed, it's the same one he played with clash) was an unexpectedly holy experience. it was clear this was to be no winehouse-esque taster set - they were doing their thing full-on, no messing around, with an evocative painted backdrop and a lengthy overture by the bowler-hatted all-female string quartet. there had been a band scheduled to go on before them, at 2:00, but they were forced to cancel, allegedly so that gbq could finish their soundcheck. (yup.)

and then they strode out...oh man. i'm not sure i can do justice to how bad-ass paul simonon is, in particular (just check out his outfit in the above photo!), sauntering around the stage with his bass, or aiming it like a weapon at somebody in the audience, his every move (even plucking a single bass note) seeming deliberate and deadly serious but somehow also tauntingly tossed-off. tony was cracking me up - most of the time he'd sit basically expressionless behind his kit, the most casually dressed of the bunch with just blue jeans and polka-dot button-down on his diminutive frame, but every so often, especially as the set went on, he'd break into a big goofy grin. damon, meanwhile, who was standing almost directly above me for the majority of the set, was effortlessly dapper as hell with his top-hat and navy suit, looking absolutely distinguished despite the remnants of a boyish sparkle in those dreamy blue eyes. melissa had called him "delicious," and it wasn't long before i was swooning right along with her - at one point, in an instrumental break, he and paul went to the side of the stage and lit up, then strode back and just stood there casually dragging, basically just oozing sex in an almost ridiculously calculated but still woozily potent manner.

with that much coolness pervading the air, the music was almost secondary - but then, the music was an integral part of the coolness too; they fed off one another. honestly, paul and tony's playing was nearly as solid or in-pocket as you might think - there were definitely moments where the time was a little fuzzy, and individual licks that didn't quite hit their mark. as has been noted, the rhythmic elements are not especially prominent in gbq's music - tony spent one song just shaking a rhythm egg (see above), and another barely playing at all - and that sparsity makes the bass and drum parts so much more exposed and vulnerable, and therefore harder to play, mistakes that much easier to detect. but it didn't really matter - especially as they warmed up, they found a way to make the grooves work in spite of, or almost because of these rhythmic inconsistencies. on the other hand, maybe we were just all ready to forgive them, or accept whatever they offered as gospel, because of the magnanimous force of their mere presence. i was really curious how tony was going to render the chorus fills on "herculean," which, on the album - as looped by danger mouse - feel a little off-kilter, almost too subtly to be deliberate. it turned out he didn't even play them, just stuck to the simple groove.

of course, this really was damon's show, even as he made his contributions as understated as everything else. the songs, which were just perfect for that warm, slightly overcast afternoon, are centered around the vocals, and his performance of them was as achingly beautiful as you could hope. he didn't do much else besides sing, in fact - he moved to the piano for a few songs, played a few recorder notes at the end of one, and a bit of melodica on another - and that was more than enough. just like last time i saw him - when "sweet song" was at the peak of its personal poignancy for me - there was a moment that he nearly brought me to tears. that was in "green fields" (i could have predicted - i'd nearly wept before just listening to in headphones in the sun), certainly the emotional centerpiece of the album, collapsing the personal and political, how the world has changed and especially "above all things, i've learned/it's the honesty that secures the bond in the heart" - i just put my hand on mind, chest almost overflooded with that warm sad love, reached out to melissa and she nodded back.

they played the entire album, a lot of it in order, and then they came out for an encore - the two groovier b-sides, one they recorded in lagos and the other for which they brought out a syrian rapper, who was pretty amusing. then damon (who hadn't said very much the whole time) urged us not to forget new orleans, and that was it. whoosh.

now. if i'd really had it together, i would have gone earlier to the norwegian showcase at the "northby tent" in a park a few blocks away, to see when marit my dreamgirl was performing. i hadn't because i'd wanted to make sure to get to the fort in time (which wasn't really a problem but better safe) and also because i'd sort of thought i wouldn't be able to get in without a badge. as it happened, marit played a three-song set at 4:10, which would have been perfectly me timed for me to go catch it after the good bad finished. but i didn't know that, so i called ben back and chatted with him as i strolled leisurely over, arriving just after she had finished. ohhh welllll. it was only three songs. i also missed her playing with thom hell's band earlier (though i did get thom's cd, which i look forward to checking out.) and i didn't get to jump around some more with matt and sarah. but at least i got to see her again, in the lovely dress she's wearing this picture, and flutter flutter some more. (would have tried to get another, non-blurry picture with her, but my batteries had died again while taking gbq videos - i've decided that my new camera kind of sucks, which is a real shame. or maybe i just need to use lithium batteries rather than aa rechargeables.)

i did stick around for the next band, davey jones' locker, who were truly impressively loud (earplugs!!!) and had a transparent orange drum set. and rocked pretty good, not that it's my kind of thing. also got definitely the best free beer i saw all week, "fat tire" from local brewery. and that's where i finally met up with caitlin (remember, from pb+j night one) again, along with her friend (dave, i'm pretty sure), who's on the verge of dropping out of music business school to pursue his music business fulltime (seems like a pretty sensible decision, actually.) he definitely had some fast-talking, hard-living industry cat in him, and he's a charmer, as you gotta be, so i liked him. he just finished booking a tour for scanners, he said, and they were playing in fifteen minutes over at the beauty bar, so would i like to come?

actually, i really like scanners, though i hadn't put too much into trying to see them, so that was an excellent proposition. even better that tagging behind dave made it much easier to get into the venue than it would have been otherwise - less an issue of credentials than confidence and assertiveness. funny six-degrees connection - my high school buddy scott got to be good buddies with scanners (especially the lead singer, sarah), while he was living in london last year. so i had something to talk to them about when i met them briefly before and after their set. which was flipping sweet, by the way. i think i rocked out harder to their set than any other show all week. especially crucial hits "lowlife" (their new order cover), "in my dreams" (p.j. harvey cover), and "look what you started" (travis cover), though for some reason they didn't play my favorite and their album opener, "joy" (their, um, gay dad cover?) guy and girlfriend in st. pat's green next to me were totally rocking out too. yeah, that was awesome.

went in search of the annuals ("who are annuals?" txted nan - "indie rock cuties" i txted back) but the venue seemed to have disappeared. just as well, because we got in line early for earl greyhound at chuggin' monkey, which filled up fast (even though the bar actually wasn't that full when they stopped letting people in.) we watched from the balcony upstairs, just above the stage, and took a lot of good photos, which are all on nan's camera:

hopefully i'll get those soon and put them up here. in the meantime, this gives you something of an idea. dig: massive drumkit, almost-as-massive drummer, the feather in the bassist's afro (i couldn't decide if i thought that was her real hair or not), the guitarists gawjess locks (you can't really see the embroidery on his shirt there), the fact that the dudes outside at the window definitely have the best spot of anybody. earl greyhound played and sounded almost exactly like they looked, which is to say it was pretty righteous. a power trio, no questions asked. as alyssa promised, no hint of camp or irony, just hard-hitting funky rock and psychedelic riffage. i suppose i could say something theoreticalish about that. but i won't.

at that point i was more than ready to take a break and head back to the outskirts for a st. paddy's party at the house of matt's friends the brosnans (who had lent us the bikes.) and that's exactly what i was planning to do, but just to see i started back via 6th and red river, more or less the nexus of the sxsw scene, to see what things looked like outside the daptone showcase which was starting in five minutes. to my surprise, they looked pretty sparse. very short line for ticket-buyers, no line for anybody else. i'd have been fine with not seeing sharon jones for a fourth time just then, but if they were going to make it that easy... and only $12 too, which is hard to beat. so i waited in line and grooved to budos band who had just started up their set (and were easily visible just around the low wall of the emo's annex tent. it took slightly longer than expected, chatting with jeanine the bouncer who seemed almost more eager to get us in than we were ourselves, but after a small parade of badgies and wristies
she came through for us.

so i was right up front for the last four or five tunes of the budos set, including the dynamite "aynotchesh yererfu" and a sort of odd, loose version of "my girl," which they emphatically insisted was a smokey robinson cover (well, yeah.) and for sharon i was in the very front row. actually i wasn't as excited as all that. fourth time around the novelty had kind of worn off, and this was an abbreviated version of the set - though they still did the full dap-kings intro and a number with just binky (which was a really excellent "memphis-style" piece - can't wait for his album to drop, as he keeps promising), which meant a smaller percentage of it was sharon. but actually it was refreshing not to be the most excited person in the audience, for once. that title would have to go to kent, local kid standing (er, dancing) next to me in the front, who had never seen sharon before but seemed to know a lot about her, or possibly the bear couple just behind us, in yellow and orange. (they both got to go up and dance on stage with sharon, and their giddiness was beautiful to watch.)

well, anyway. she did a couple of new-ish numbers, and no-longer-new-to-me like "be easy" (which is still great) - her next album is gonna rip too - and also "genuine" (to close the set, with both of the amy winehouse back-up singers - amy was watching from backstage.) still no "n.b.l." or "all over again," sigh. too bad she couldn't have done a longer set, but it seemed like the crowd was loving it, so hopefully that portends good things to come.

now it was 10pm. no clear plan for what to do - hadn't been able to meet up with any of the usual suspects, who were scattered around (none of them, i think, made it into the crazy crowded spoon/stooges stubb's bill, and i was fine with not being there either.) i went to exodus, where i knew i wanted to end up later on, and saw the end of todosantos (venezuelan techno/dance/rock group) fun ravey set. was not impressed by what i saw of lesbians on ecstasy (too bad), so i wandered out again...thought about catching gary wilson at the church, but didn't feel like paying another $15 for it; could have seen keith kilgo but that would have been money too...eventually just got a free myspace hotdog and watched the pipettes from behind the beauty bar for a while. ("this is our last show of the week, so we want to make it extra special!")

...when i got back to exodus as lezzies on x were finishing, the club had filled up a bit more, and it continued to throughout prototypes' excellent electro-punk ("we are prototypes, and we come from paris!") fun to catch some of the french lyrics, though even when i understood them they didn't necessarily make sense. by the end of that, when headliners jr. sr. were
next up, it was difficult to move through the room, and almost as hard to see the stage (this was the same venue where it'd been impossible to see nellie the night before.) still, i managed to get all the way back and upstairs to say hi to caitlin and dave (txting had finally failed us), and back down front to my same spot, with some hip kids on a little side staircase.

when junior senior finally took the stage, the crowdedness didn't matter. or rather, it became part of the point. the whole front section (twenty feet back? thirty?) turned into a chaotic frenzy of dancing, jumping, shouting, singing, smiling, clapping hands ("we are the handclaps" [clap clap]) and saying yeah ("do the kids dig what we do?" "yeah! yeah! yeah! yeah!") it was a little violent, but violent like love is sometimes. basically it was a huge dance party free-for-all, a teensy bit out of control, but fueled by giddiness and glee and ridiculous danish dayglo-pop-dance-rap-disco. "who cares about junior senior anymore?" a funny little woman asked me before the show - well, evidently a lot of people, or else they were just ready for a release. the second jr. sr. album is finally coming out in the states this summer, and judging from the new (to me) tunes they played, it's just as bright and fun and hooky as the first, with maybe a stronger disco influence.

hey, looks like some people managed to get some decent pictures at the show, cool. i almost can't imagine getting some of these shots in the middle of that insanity. look at those funky back-up singers! look at that (japanese?) m.c. they did a silly duet with! look at that crowd! hey, that's me, pumping my diagonal fist (in upper right, with green and er tan shirt):

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the best way to put it is that we just did what the song said: "move your feet and feel united!" and indeed we did. even in the middle of the set, there was spontaneous hugging and laughing and dancing with strangers, all swept up in the euphoric moment. it was kind of incredible.

they closed with "d-d-dont stop the beat" and then one more song (new one), and then they closed the club down and we spilled out onto the street. the captain fellow from the hyphy show the night before was there, saying "it's rare that the last show is also the best."

indeed. but just possibly, the last best show was simply being there on sixth street, watching as all the clubs were closing and emptying out and the streets were crowded with sxsw folks, st. patrick's day revellers in their scanty greenness, garden-variety weekend partiers, and all other random sorts of people. a floodstream of humanity. yes...that was nice.


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