Whereas Day 2 and Day 3 of SXSW Music were pretty glorious, weather-wise, Day 4, the Saturday, was... not "Chamber of Commerce" weather. It started out cold and, um, just never warmed up. It made for a lack of motivation to get back downtown for a third day of music.
What I never fully appreciated having never attended SXSW before was how tiring the whole thing can be. Now, to some extent, this trip was just a giant vacation for me. My wife, whose tolerance of crowds and standing around is waaaay lower than mine, stayed home for some time without the kids, and my kids got lots of grandparental time. Which meant I could play hooky, listening to music for 3 days straight. It was wonderful. But just like you can be exhausted after a couple days of Disneyland or camping in the woods, SXSW can be exhausting. Scratch "can" -- is exhausting.
So after telling you how cold and tired I was, what was my first activity on Saturday? Waiting in line for 30 minutes to get into the Rachel Ray party. I wanted to go for a couple reasons: 1) the bands (Jakob Dylan with Neko Case and Kelly Hogan, as well as She & Him), and 2) just to see what it was like doing a "free" (no badges) event. There were plenty of other events like that I skipped (who really needs free Taco Bell?), but the music (and the food) pushed it over the top for me. (The food was pretty good, definitely better than Taco Bell.) I got in, heard Street Sweeper Social Club, which sounded like it was for those who liked Rage Against the Machine but couldn't be bothered with the whole politics thing. (Turns out that was a pretty good read, as the band included Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine.)
I chatted with a random stranger for awhile while listening to She & Him, the Zooey Deschanel / M. Ward project, who were pretty sunny for such a blustery day. As I noted before, it's amazing how much networking you can do when you're not expecting it -- it even was slightly kids music related. I don't remember much of the show, but I did note that they had 2 tambourines in the band. For some reason, I spent much of Saturday noting the presence of tambourines in the bands, because it seemed like everyone had them.
She & Him were the final act for the party, so they rushed us out of Stubb's, and I made my way to Flatstock for the second time. It was just as cool the second time. I never did find a show poster I loved (I picked up a small New Pornographers poster for $5), but I did find this at the Seattle Show Posters booth. (What can I say? It was my third day without my wife.)
While I did enjoy being back at Flatstock, I'm disappointed in retrospect that I didn't boogie out sooner to see more of Ride Rise Roar, the movie documenting David Byrne's last tour. I loved his set at the 2008 Austin City Limits music festival, and the hour or so I saw of the documentary was a great souvenir of that. It's no Stop Making Sense -- how could it be? -- but it's close and rather than being totally immersive like that movie, it includes some interesting background material interspersed between the live stuff. I'm definitely getting the DVD.
Killing time between the end of the movie and my next act, I ducked into a bar solely to get out of the cold. I heard a band out of San Marcos called "Zlam Dunk" who played as if their lives depending on furiously thrashing around. It was a reminder that for every "She & Him" who played maybe a dozen shows that week, there are a dozen bands like Zlam Dunk, just incredibly happy to have the opportunity to play there once. [Ed: See comments section. Zlam Dunk actually played 6 times that week. I think She & Him and Titus Andronicus must have better publicists. ;-) ]
Then I scooted up to Central Presbyterian Church where I caught an awesome set by Minnesota singer-songwriter Jeremy Messersmith. In a hushed and darkened church sanctuary, the uptempo songs were a jolt and put a smile on my face; the sad songs were a punch to the gut. Messersmith joked that his upcoming album (titled The Reluctant Graveyard) was "13 songs of death and dying - a mega top 40 hit for sure." Oddly enough, having heard the album, he might not be far off in that description. It should be, anyway, a glorious mix of songwriting with Beatles and Beach Boys influences woven in. You can listen to his two previous albums at his website and even name your own price to download them here. And here's a video from the evening. The kids' music equivalent? Justin Roberts, or Lunch Money perhaps, in their more reflective moments.
At this point in the weekend, intertia and the cold played a role as I decided to stick around to hear the Watson Twins, who put on a nice set of bluesy folk-rock, though it wasn't quite the intimate show Messersmith had suffered a bit in comparison. On the plus side: I spotted another tambourine. Two of 'em, in fact! Also, their cover of Sade's "Sweetest Taboo" was excellent.
While I stuck around to see what Matt Morris would do, the best and worst I can say of him is that he had by far the best soundcheck I've ever heard. He called out the soundguy for playing other stuff while they were going through the soundcheck, and it was probably worth it, it sounded beautiful. Morris' main set? Too preachy for my tastes. (Can I say that in a church?)
So I hustled on down to the Red 7 Patio to hear Titus Andronicus - a New Jersey punk band with anthemic aspirations that somehow gets lumped in with Bruce Springsteen sometimes, which I don't get, except from lazy music writers who hear "New Jersey" and "anthemic" and reflexively write "Springsteen." I went there because they got a good recommendation from a friend and because the local paper spent seventeen hours with them at SXSW, which goes to show that as much as this can be a vacation for the fan, it's a job -- and a hard one -- for a band trying to get noticed. Kids music equivalent of their brainy, punky historically-informed anthems: the Deedle Deedle Dees, of course.
Time for my last SXSW show -- the great Waco Brothers. So much fun they were -- I could watch Jon Langford play for hours, his joy is contagious. He joked that by playing at 11 PM they'd received the old age pensioners' slot. No matter -- they were ten times more active than the frozen crowd. Even the violinist (Jean Cook, who plays with Elizabeth Mitchell, among others, as Mitchell notes below) had attitude.
And like that, it was midnight, and I'd've loved to listen more, it was time for me to go home. It was a vacation, but vacations must end eventually. Hopefully I'll make it back one day...