SxSW Day One
If South by Southwest in Austin parallels The Sun Also Rises, then Wednesday officially starts of the music portion of the festival with fireworks as people pour into the frenetic streets, chasing and being chased by the running of the bands, including the incidental trampled bystander. It comes with the territory, it’s part of the deal, dodging the loading and unloading of countless and tireless bands, their wheeled amplifiers and overloaded shoulder bags and tightly gripped instrument cases. There’s no denying the grueling efforts of bands here, most playing anywhere north of four times throughout the festival.
Wednesday began at the Convention Center with James Vincent McMorrow near the press lounge. It also saw the advent of the Jawa. A small plush toy for children, tis true, but also an interview accessory that seemed appropriate and grew to be a mandatory post-interview picture. From there we checked in to the Paste Magazine party on 6th with The Civil Wars, offering a stunningly beautiful set in the early afternoon for a deathly quiet audience rapt with attention, no small feat in the distracted, sweaty and overcrowded Austin streets. One of twelve shows over the next few days, they’re making quite the impression. Trampled by Turtles took to the stage afterward to a packed house as we made our way to our next scheduled interview with the enigmatic J. Mascis, a suprisingly low-key individual compared with my idea of the prime mover of Dinosaur Jr.
After dinner and walking around downtown for a bit, I settled in at Stubb’s on Red River, one of the prime venues in town. It’s a large outdoor amphitheater behind a BBQ restaurant and known for it’s musical selection, sound and capacity. First up tonight were Smith Westerns, a young band out of Chicago that has a lot of buzz going for them right now, as they made a lot of must-see lists around the country, enough apparently to snag a prime slot at Stubb’s. It seems their youth pulls them in many musical directions, making their description something like a Ramones/Cure/Dream Pop/Lynrd Skynrd/Wyld Stallynz hybrid, or it could be said that they knew enough of the Ramones to be dangerous, but filtered through enough In Utero to fall short. In the end, the live show of these 19-year-olds was lackluster, embodying the notion that youth is wasted on the young.
In one of the most dramatically contrasting set changes I’ve ever seen, Raphael Saadiq exploded on stage with a high energy performance, backed by one of the hottest, tightest, and dynamically minded bands around. Saadiq took these two-thousand plus people here at Stubb’s to church, engaged the crowd and launched into Sure Hope You Mean It, riding that roller coaster through the highs and lows for all it’s worth, taking it way down dynamically, challenging the audience to some yeah yeah yeahs, and winning.