It’s early this morning, and I’m standing outside the congested Pure Volume VIP entrance when two things catch my fading attention. The text messages from Elizabeth Harper of CLASS ACTRESS, which promises she'll get me into the room of free booze and synthetic fog, and a young, hopefully-at-least-college-aged student named Brooke who has stuff painted on her face and is cute enough for me not to mind her requests for a cigarette (I don’t smoke tobacco). It’s at that point that I decide to call it a day and go back to the official Boston Phoenix HQ, the glorious Radisson on 1st Street and Congress. Approaching 24 hours of no sleep on SXSW’s inaugural day, it’s time to surrender.
“Surrender” is the proper term for deciding to, at whatever point, retreat back to the hotel room or friend’s house or van or whatever to catch up on sleep. And with every drunken, blister-footed step you take away from the 6th Street epicenter of tidal wave “cool,” you realize you’re missing something you’ll only be able to read about tomorrow. Hopefully someone Twipic’d or Phlipcam’d it. It’s probably already online before it even ended.
I touched down in Austin yesterday, Wednesday March 16, a little after 11am. Within an hour, I was at Klub Krucial, a venue similarly shaped to the old Paradise Rock Club back home, through a bit more condensed and featuring windows behind the stage, framed exclusively as a hip hop club.
From there, First Contact was go, the start of the first-ever Boston Phoenix (unofficial) SXSW party, a collabo effort between your favorite alt-weekly, Allston rock club Great Scott, its talent-buying duo CQ Presents, and the local gent of Pirate Promotion, Steve Theo. Fittingly, Allston’s YOUNG ADULTS kicked it off with their brash and distored woh-oh-oh punk sneer, Cincinnati’s THE SEEDY SEEDS brought a banjo into their eclectic indie-pop variety show, and Boston’s GIRLFRIENDS threw down the garage rock gauntlet with a fast, abrasive set suggesting, as many suspect, they really are among the finest bands we have to offer.
As they finished up, marking the end of the first segment of our noon to 6pm Austin jam, the NAKED & FAMOUS rolled up to Krucial. On behalf of FNX I conducted maybe the worst interview I’ve ever hiccupped up, but all was well after they agreed to pose in the Stuff Magazine photo booth and I caught them, in a pic I took from afar, with Jeff Abruzze of PASSION PIT and Justin Lally of EARTHQUAKE PARTY. This pleased me to no end, for reasons I still don’t remember several vodkas later. But by now the First Contact party was multifaceted – the show blazed inside and the patio sosh’ session buzzed out back, with free beer by Victory Brewing Co. and an assembled group of Boston musicians not seen this vibrant since the BMAs. Though not on the bill, MYSTERY ROAR, KINGSLEY FLOOD, YOU CAN BE A WESLEY all repped, and fuck-a-duck, even Mark Viera showed up.
Barreling towards 3pm, Los Angeles’ FUNERAL PARTY carried the stage torch, enrapturing with a fiery set of dance punk that saw the Chicano quintet closing their energetic set with “NYC Moves To The Sound of LA,” a track with sentiment no doubt near and dear to Bostonians if it wasn’t for those god damn Lakers.
With a quick break in the action, I went outside on 6th to brave the dreary overcast and talk to Chad from Funeral Party about their closing track, which he summed up as being about how everyone rips off everyone. We agreed on that, and as I saw I wasn’t going to get any good “Fuck KG” quotes out of him, we then reflected on the passing of Nate Dogg. It was only a smidge better of an interview than the Naked & Famous debacle (who, by the way, handled my ass-hattery with the grace and poise only shown on future 2k11 Song of the Year, “Punching In A Dream”).
The second half of First Contact began with some comedy – “Nine Minutes and 55 Seconds, and Not a God Dam Moment More” of EUGENE MIRMAN, he of Flight of the Conchords and Somerville Union Square Roundtable Fame. I missed his routine, but I heard the hahas coming from inside the club so I assume it was a laugh riot. I saw he had props, and more than a few “bits.” After he finished and was trying his damndest to GTFO, I asked him the Question of the Week: If you were REBECCA BLACK, would you sit in the front seat, or the back seat? He had no fucking clue what I was talking about. Carl Lavin shook his head (probably at me).
Soon after, HOORAY FOR EARTH took the stage, and it was apparent the hundred or so in attendance were getting bonus action, as the NY/Boston rock dudes were joined on stage by Dirty Apple partners-in-lime the Zambri sisters, who added a hypnotic, almost tribal quality to HFE’s post-jittery nerv-rock. As someone leaned over and said to me upon their last note: “Why the fuck aren’t they huge?” Good question. Another good question: How many drink tickets do I have?
The answer to that Q was “none,” as I passed the last stack I had to the crew from THE GOOD NATURED, the UK electro pop trio led by 20-year-old Sarah McIntosh that feels just one domestic radio push or prudent TV ad away from filling our House of Blues by autumn. If the hits “Be My Animal” and “Your Body Is A Machine” aren’t remixed by someone like DJ DIE YOUNG, I’ll eat my SXSW badge... so I leaned over and told Jamie Michalski he should, I fact, remix them. I turned back around 20 seconds later and he was gone.
Now on the vicious fast track to 6pm curfew, with about a dozen minutes to spare and about the same number of irritated bar staff starting to kick open doors, allowing streaks of light to barge into Krucial, DOM closed off a victorious First Contact launch party by showering the crowd (already wearing the band’s own wayfarers sunglasses) with a visual and aural cocktail akin to an MDMA high. Under the flickering visuals, DOM roared through their set, who even knows how long it was, but closing with the ubiquitous “Living In America” was a sweet way to end the day. I even cleared the air with Dom, the dude, decked out today in a presumably rare Pedro Martinez New York Mets player t-shirt, after the band’s tense live appearance at the Pill last summer (we summed up the evening as just a night where it seemed everybody wanted to fight everybody, and I thanked him for introducing “getting froggy” to my growing arsenal of Worcester slang).
Then came these things: a pitstop back at the hotel, the drunkenest FNX call-in interview ever conducted (“Dad says go easy on the vodka, love Mom” read a text I got a few hours later), a slew of Facebook updates. Now, I was finally ready to see SXSW without saddled with promoter goggles.
Phoenix editor Carly Carioli and I walked back to 6th Street, got the scoop on Bodega Girls walking off stage at their first SXSW 2k11 show after like 8 minutes (Summary: Don’t let Das Racist play forever, yo) and ended up in-and-out of a few places, joints, street corners, dives and pizza trucks, before landing with a boom at Emo’s. Thanks to former Mid East talent buyer Kevin Hoskins, now bringing bands to Emo’s full-time (we miss Kevin Hoskins), Carly, Village Voice writer Camile Dodero, Phoenix photogs Kristen Goodfriend and Kelly Davidson, a couple of the Bodega sluts and myself get into Emo’s through the back gate, all VIP like, in anticipation of a set from DC hardcore punk legends BAD BRAINS. What. The Fuck.
After suffering through the insufferable SoCal skater brat-punk of OFF! (where’s the switch?), we were treated to a monster set by HR and Co. This is how it gets done, kids. By fourth song “Salin’ On,” Emo’s had exploded, arms and legs flying through the air, a whirlwind of skin and aggression tucked carefully under the praying hands of HR, clearly in control of the room with a disaffected cool most musicians down here would kill for. Just a few feet from this powderkeg, my exit way blocked behind me by a hipster grid of outstretched arms holding iPhones and other gadgets, I realized I wasn’t going to make it down the block to Stubb’s to catch DURAN DURAN.
Only at SXSW can you lament not seeing Duran Duran because you’re caught in a Bad Brains mosh. Sickness. But by then I was ready for bed, and a few exchanged texts between Harper and I led to entertaining the Pure Volume party, but ultimately it wasn’t enough to overcome the notion that I had seen enough for one day, and it wasn’t even Thursday. Time for bed, even if that meant sharing one with Chris Faraone. Maybe I’ll ask young Brooke for a smoke.