SXSW 2008: Feels Just Like the First Time

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Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg

Day Two: Thursday, March 14

After a first taste of talent on the first, chilly night of the music festival, it was time to wake up refreshed (sorta) for the first full day of entertainment, one without any airplane travel involved. Before heading to any of the day parties (technically, unofficial “private parties” so there’s no confusion here), however, we wanted to hit up a panel. After all, we could learn something, right?

So we joined the crowd at the Through the Lens panel, hosted by writer Michael Azzerad and featuring photographers Tom Wright, Autumn de Wilde, Thomas Weschler and Paul Natkin. Each displayed a slide show of his or her work while discussing their respective techniques and theories, which resulted in debates such as whether or not there’s a difference between film and digital photography and whether or not there was still a market for live photography. According to Natkin, making a living as a live photographer is impossible, whereas just about all of the panelists agreed that making money shouldn’t be the goal in the first place.

The Constantines

Having been enriched with a bit of knowledge for the day, we soldiered on to see more music. Around 1 p.m. we arrived at Emo’s for the A.V. Canvas Saddle Crafts Club party, a joint venture of every company mentioned in that long, whimsical name. We got there just in time to catch the Constantines, a consistently invigorating act which I’ve seen a few times, but can never see too many times. Waiting for just the right moment to announce that the show was being broadcast live for the CBC, the band soon launched into an intense and impassioned version of “Hotline Operator.” Surprisingly, though their new album Kensington Heights will be released in April, the band played only two new songs, taking material, almost equally, from their entire catalog, including “Soon Enough,” “Young Lions” and “Young Offenders.” That said, they finished their set with the badass new track “Trans Canada,” which wrapped things up nicely.

At 2, the mission turned quickly to searching for the free food and drink that was offered at the party, though we came up unsuccessful, and I don’t care how much money they put into this thing, I’m not drinking a damn Sparks. (Same goes for eating Zone bars—I’m talking to you, Diddy) No matter, we grabbed ourselves a couple of Shiners and cooled down a bit before seeing the next act, The Shout Out Louds. Having walked into Emo’s Main Room in the middle of the set, we were met with a full house, so we merely enjoyed the set from the back of the room. The Swedish band stuck to the hits, or the equivalent of such in an indie market, rocking through tracks like “Tonight I Have to Leave It” and “The Comeback,” with the highlight being “Very Loud,” which transitioned into a cover of The Clash’s “Train In Vain” before returning to one last chorus of their 2005 single.

Inside Emo’s Jr., we staked out a spot for Los Campesinos!’s set, yet the Welsh group was preceded by a trio of comedians. All throughout the venue, there were posters for Human Giant, though we didn’t actually catch those cats. We were treated, during this interval, to 15-minute standup sets from Eugene Mirman, Mike Ribiglia and Todd Barry. Mirman had his share of hilarious moments, ranging from an argument with a guy in the crowd over whether or not Aerosmith was awesome (Mirman is a firm supporter of the band) and his scheme to sell water over the internet. Ribiglia was clearly the funniest of the three, comparing Jesus to the popular kid in school who everyone wants to call their friend, though he probably wouldn’t remember your name. Barry was the last of the three, but wasn’t so much funny as, uh, grumpy? He had a few chuckles, but he mostly seemed bitter about expensive pizza and a dude trying to grab some cymbals behind him during the set. Okay, so I don’t begrudge him the second part, but, regardless, he just wasn’t that funny.

Los Campesinos!

In any case, Los Campesinos! were next, and provided one of the most thrilling sets of the day, playing most of the songs on their new album Hold On Now, Youngster with an energy and giddiness that made the wait worthwhile. The comedy sets went a bit long, because, as Campesinos! singer Gareth put it, “comedy knows no bounds.” The highlights of the set were numerous and frequent, from the gorgeous “Drop It Doe Eyes” to the driving “Death to Los Campesinos!” One thing I’ve always noted over the years at shows is how much the audience can make the show, and in this case, that certainly proved to be true. While the crowd was enthusiastic throughout, they completely lost their shit during the group’s single “You! Me! Dancing!” and for good reason—it’s a stellar song, and has so much energy you couldn’t sit still if you wanted to.

From there we got a bite to eat, soaked in some of the atmosphere on Sixth Street and did some people watching, a worthwhile affair at SXSW. One of the most fun things to do is play the ‘guess which band that guy is in’ game, which, so far, I’ve been fairly unsuccessful at. The week is still young, however, and in the meantime, I’ve made some interesting observations. First off, why is every person here wearing an Against Me! t-shirt? I didn’t bother looking to see if that was the required uniform for the festival, but if that’s the case, I might be kicked out any day now. Second, I’ve never seen so many leg warmers in my entire life. Austin this week looks like an Olivia Newton John video. With temperatures expected to be in the 90s later this week, some of these American Eagle fauxshionistas may want to rethink their visual statement.

Jens Lekman

After some pondering of the more curious phenomena before us, we then lined up for the first act of the evening. Jens Lekman opened the Kork Agency’s showcase back at Emo’s, his first of two performances that night, the second being a midnight slot at the Secretly Canadian showcase. Though we had seen Lekman before with a full band backing him, during this set he opted for an intimate, solo performance. Before playing, Lekman addressed the crowd: “I have a request, it might be a stupid request, but could you not record this show and put it on the internet? Let’s make this just for us, it’ll be more special that way.”

There’s no question that it was a special performance, as Lekman beautifully treated us to a series of songs from his newest album, Night Falls Over Kortedala, with a few classics thrown in as well. The intimate setup revealed the songs in a new and interesting light. “Sipping on the Sweet Nectar” was stripped of its disco beats and made more spare and chilling, while “The Opposite of Hallelujah” was fun and folky, with audience members whistling the violin melody along with Jens. Once again, Lekman told the story of his dinner with Nina in Germany, a story as Jens said he’s “told about a million times,” but he, like the rest of us, still loves “A Postcard To Nina.”

For a change of pace, we crossed the freeway to Scoot Inn to the east to catch some hip-hop. The venue was hosting the Definitive Jux showcase, which was being headlined by Dizzee Rascal, though we were primarily there for El-P. We got there reasonably early, which meant we were right on time for Bisc1, a positive rapper with some decent beats and rhymes, though nothing all that memorable in all. Devin the Dude was scheduled to play next, though Del tha Funkee Homosapien swapped sets with Devin, most likely because of an intense cloud of marijuana smoke (which seemed to waft in and out of the Scoot courtyard all evening.

Del Tha Funkee Homosapien

So Del went up, and put on a great set. While the introductory hypeman getting the crowd prepared for Del was getting tiresome quickly, Del himself took the stage, charging through a series of songs from his new album, The Eleventh Hour, as well as several classic songs, including Deltron 3030’s “Virus,” “If You Must,” and most surprisingly, Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood.” In spite of looking pretty faded, himself, Del had energy to spare, which of course spilled out into the hands-in-the-air waving crowd.

Devin the Dude followed, but got really annoying, really quickly. For those unfamiliar with Devin, he’s a pretty one-dimensional chap. About 75 percent of his songs deal pretty exclusively with smoking weed, something that’s become synonymous with the man, himself. The other 25 percent consisted of misogynistic odes to getting some. Don’t get me wrong, I sympathize with his needs, but, you know, I can only put up with such objectification for so long. The set, while only about 45 minutes total, seemed at least twice as long.

Once El-P started his set, there was a dramatic shift in mood. As El put it, “does everybody want to hear some happy music? Well we ain’t got any of that.” So, after a brief snippet of “Tasmanian Pain Coaster,” El Producto slammed into an upbeat set featuring “Smithereens” and Fantastic Damage highlight “Deep Space 9mm.” Yet after five or six songs, and the aftertaste of some mediocre to bad sets still lingering, we decided to high-tail it early and head back to the center of the city.

The Old 97’s

At the end of the evening, we headed to Stubbs’ Bar-B-Q to see The Old 97’s. I’ve been a fan of the Texas quartet for a long, long time, though until now, hadn’t actually caught them live. So what better place than Austin to see this group, who I still say put out the greatest alt-country album of the ’90s, Too Far To Care. In one of the longer sets of the week, at just longer than an hour, the group dug through their back catalog for material, all of which rocked. And the band did just that with smiles throughout. Between songs, frontman Rhett Miller, who currently resides in New York City, excitedly called out ‘alright, alright!’ and throw in a ‘y’all’ just for fun. But the sassy rocker in him outweighed the rootsy Texan by far.

The Old 97’s, too, have a new album arriving in May, and played a few new ones. Still, they new how to give the crowd what they wanted, and offered up a set of mostly classic 97’s tunes. A sizable portion of the set came straight from 2001’s Satellite Rides, such as “Rollerskate Skinny,” “Designs on You,” “Question” and “Can’t Get A Line,” while they also injected a few older tracks, such as “Crash on the Barrelhead,” “Streets of Where I’m From” and explosive closer “Time Bomb.” The crowd, although not as packed as the R.E.M. show the night before supposedly was, was more than enthusiastic, singing along to each song and swaying with the music. We may have skipped over someone younger and hipper, but this was by far one of the most fun shows we saw.

Tired and starving, we searched for a market in the wee hours for some victuals to store in our hotel fridge. We didn’t luck out as planned. In retrospect, we should have done it earlier, but we know now how to do it for Friday, so whenever we get back to the room (you never really know in Austin) we’ll have pop tarts waiting for us.

Day One: Wednesday, March 12
Day Three: Friday, March 14
Day Four: Saturday, March 15

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