South By Southwest: Day 3.5

hot water musicHot Water Music

This air-conditioned, embalming chamber of temporary habitation has made my face grow haggard and the 3-day stubble and pale early spring skin makes me look about 10 years older than I am. I fit in well here. All these industry folks are handsome in the half-light of dingy clubs around the city. There is that warm booze glaze wherever one looks, from the spring break college kids projectile vomiting in overstuffed trash bins to pint glasses sweating in the Austin humidity.

Perez Hilton waits for his car at the Four Seasons, his showcase this weekend with N.E.R.D is one of the highlights and a fascinating point about ground swell popularity in the music business. He may dish about the worst dregs of celebrity like Britney and Lindsay but an endorsement from him for a band is an olive branch to popularity. It was reported recently by the New York Times that he might have an A&R deal with Universal by the time you read this it might have already been signed. Good for him.

On the other hand you’ve got cheap meals maven Rachel Ray with her own showcase with the Raveonettes where a fair share of bloggers, music leeches and others ate Yum-o! amounts of spicy shrimp and cheesy orzo while gagging down new songs from Holyfuck. If you want to have influence in this town just get yourself some friends together, hand some indie bands some cash and throw a party. If she gets an A&R deal watch out for churning seas, black sun and swarms of locust (not the good kind in suits that play grind core either).

Today is a special party though. One I’ve been anxiously anticipating for a few months. The Shirts for a Cure Project is hosting a FREE party at Red 7 with recently reunited Gainesville punk outfit, Hot Water Music as the headliner. Started by rock photographer Mark Beamer in 2002 the project has bands donate shirt designs to the Syrentha J. Savio Endowment (SSE) which helps give assistance to underprivileged women who cannot afford expensive breast cancer medication and treatment as well as spreading awareness about breast cancer prevention (if you’ve got a facebook account, go sign up in the causes application).

I made it there at noon, a few minutes before doors opened. This looked more like my kind of crowd. Not too many asymmetrical haircuts or pseudo hip-hop garb. Quite a few beards and some Converge t-shirts. Yes! My peeps and no one in a sport coat with jeans anywhere near. The line stretched around the block and there was some worry on my behalf that I may not get in but when I approached, handed my ID I heard them say they’d only let 200 more in, so I could have slept another 20 minutes and made it fine. I’m glad I got in though. I waded my way through the indoor ‘bar’ stage where some bands like Envy On the Coast where about to play. They’re mid level Warped Tour style screamo-whatever-they-call-it-now type of music that I’m just too old to get into.

It is approaching 90 degrees. The outdoor stage area has a bar at the back, large open space, stage and a 12 foot brick wall where just on the other side is another showcase that elicit a few hilarious comments about the quality during the long day. Jersey based band Drive By opened the set with some searing four on the floor Lifetime-esque punk rock and consistently plugged their Jersey neighbors, Gaslight Anthem who had just finished playing a few blocks away at their new label showcase for SideOneDummy Records.

Gaslight Anthem was definitely a highlight among many for this particular show. They played a good cross section of songs from their Sabot debut, Sink or Swim peppered with tunes from they’re recently released EP Senor and the Queen. Where Against Me went the route of more Billy Bragg/Replacements style rock, Gaslight Anthem proudly wears their Springsteen roots on their sleeves (singer Brian Fallon sports a Tramps Like Us, Baby We Were Born To Run sleeveless black Tee). They’ll be in LA the last two weeks of March recording their full-length follow up before heading out on the road with former Avail singer turned solo alt country singer Tim Barry and hometown bros, The Bouncing Souls.

San Francisco punk band Dead To Me tore things up and chaos ensued when Paint It Black warmed the concrete with their Slapshot style hardcore. Hot Water Music opened with “Alachua” and it was like they had never stopped being the same hard working, hard drinking, poor passionate traveling bards they started out as in the early 90’s. Singer Chuck Ragan and Singer Chris Wollard both have such similar voices its hard to believe they’re not blood relatives, however that dynamic bit of genetic difference makes what HWM so unique. They are doing a national tour and this was a somewhat unofficial kick off for it, its great ‘no surrender rock and roll.’

heres a set list pic from Colin over at

The end of this ridiculously long day saw a performance by MXPX and a stumbling swagger down 6th street with the Fat Wreck Chords crew, ending in a cocktail at the Omni and a planned stroll to see Fucked Up across the Congress Street bridge that had to bow out of. I turned and went to my room where I fell asleep wrapped in my street clothes with one shoe off so I could get a few hours of sleep.

Gaslight Anthem

South By Southwest Day 2.5

naked raygun

Naked Raygun

Yes day 2.5. The days go from about noon to 3am. Or that’s when I start realizing I’m seeing some band I should be writing about and scratch some notes in my book with a some note that says “remember this,” and nothing else to reference what I’m supposed to be commiting them to memory. Day two began in the hotel restaurant/bar where I ordered a salad and a bloody. The salad was terrible, big chunky unripe avocados instantly turned my stomach. Who needs food when you’ve got the unsullied dreams of thousands of musicians filling every nook and cranny of every place you turn right?

I headed to the convention center to see if I could get a press tag for my video camera since I got denied at Van Morrison the night before. Inside the Austin Convention Center is where you will find the ‘Exhibition’ space for SXSW. It’s a veritable who’s who of ‘who cares’ with the exception of some amazing guitar companies, like Taylor Guitars (plug). Companies that have 10×10 booths selling everything from something called an iStick, which is a portable video device to Armed Forces Entertainment who book bands to perform overseas for soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

You’ll also find some panels taking place; usually the good ones are at the same exact time, early in the morning when most musicians present are still asleep. Useful panels about getting signed to record labels, licensing music, working with brands to supplement your bands income, ASCAP talking about industry health insurance. Incredible panels that folks can take advantage of if they shelled out 400.00 dollars for a badge in October of last year, or the ‘Day of’ price of over $600. Wow! What a deal for that little band from Jersey who spent 1K on a Van Rental to drive all the way here to play two little clubs without being able to book any shows on the way since every band in America has booked up clubs and venue’s east, west and north of Austin.

Thursday evening I moseyed over to the Texas Rock Fest sponsored by Guitar Hero III stages. The Texas Rock Fest is in its 3rd year and used to be held in an empty lot that had been dubbed ‘Beirut’ for its urban warfare visage. Newly situated in a giant parking lot, Rock Fest is free and open to the public and all ages. With its central location on 7th and Trinity it is an easy place to find and if you are local or a band without money it is a good place to end up, drinks aren’t cheap though so make friends with a stage hand and soak up the free ones back stage. The Normal Kids from Evergreen, CO played a ripping set with a stand in singer named Travis who belted out each tune like they where his own.

I attempted to make it to the Anti showcase later that night to catch Billy Bragg again and The Weakerthans but I ended up at Vice watching Fucked Up. The problem with this behemoth of a festival is that you will ‘attempt’ to make to as many things as possible but end up straying and getting pulled into some vortex watching another band. Getting pulled in to the Fucked Up vortex was well worth the distraction. Singer Damian Abraham stalked the stage like a polar bear, moving his considerable mass gracefully through the raised fists in front of the stage, raining spit and sweat on the first 3 rows. Take one look at their wiki entry and you’ll get an idea for their brand of irreverent punk rock.

That concludes day 2.5. Day 3.5 soon to come (with pics and vids!).

Billy Bragg 

South By Southwest Day 1.5

Dub Trio

Dub Trio live at Red Eyed Fly

The key, when entering this particular environment, is to avoid spirits, sticking to beer will save your life at the end of the night. I’ve seen those who decide to walk the path of shots and mixed drinks. They’re ugly man. They get carried out by their slightly embarrassed friends who, I’m sure are making excuses for the friend who can’t hold his or her booze while shuffling pass the tsk-tsking security. Touched down in Austin yesterday afternoon.

On my airplane was Jon Foreman from Switchfoot, Grand Ole Party and a fellow in the row next to me that was dressed like he could be in a band—or gay. Point is there are just under 20 bands from San Diego this year like Earthless, The Muslims and an entire Swami (John Reis from Rocket from the Crypt’s label) showcase. I kept my mind nimble as I maneuvered through the thronging mass of revelers, slowly making my way to where I would be seeing Dub Trio at midnight. Stopped in a couple different bars, including Headhunters where I saw Cory and Pat from Vena Cava. A fantastic punk band was playing by the name of Watson. Great songwriting. Lots of energy on a stage that barely fit the entire band. It was cramped. Next I hoofed it over to Stubbs. Saw Michael Stipe and the other dudes from REM mingling with the crowd. A few bands from Athens were playing and REM was the headliner. I didn’t stay but a friend of mine said they were great, played a lot of new up-tempo tunes that rocked. That’s cool that REM rocks.

After spinning my wheels and lubricating my main frame for a couple hours I hit the ground running at the Red Eyed Fly where I patiently waited through two super shitty bands. One of which had a guitar player that didn’t have much restraint. He smashed his SG on the ground. From the stage. No one was in front of the stage. It didn’t break the first time so he picked it up and hurled it from the stage again, headstock first. Douche nozzle. His backup guitar was a Reverend. They make neat little guitars for under $1K from plastic with wood necks. Great guitars for playing surf rock. It’s the kind of guitar you would smash and not feel bad about, but he killed that Gibson.

Dub Trio went on at about 12:15am. What an amazing show. They played some songs from their new record as well as from their debut, New Heavy. When they come to your town please go see them. I took some pictures but I failed to bring the chord to transfer them to my computer. Go figure.

Naked Raygun closed the show. Quite a bit of drunken moshing took place which was good to see to a normally ‘I’m so fucking cool I don’t dance’ kind of crowd. Limped back to my room at about 2 and hit the sack.

This morning was amazing. Lou Reed was the keynote this year (Pete Townsend was the keynote last year) and he was mesmerizing. Hal Willner, a music producer who has worked with Reed and Marianne Faithful and dozens of other notables moderated. They knew each other so it was comfortable and relaxed but Reed is a thoughtful speaker and Willner made a joke about trying not to cut him off. Not that Reed talks like Captain Kirk but he takes his time to answer things and usually what he says is great, like his songs. They discussed the new performance film of Reed’s album Berlin, directed by Julien Schnabel called. The most interested aspect of the discussion came about when they began to talk about technology and music. Reed said, “People have to demand a higher standard (for recorded music). People that like good sound will (some day) be looked at like some strange animal in the zoo.

Adding, “[technology] is making it easier to make things worse.”

Yes he collects records. He likes to listen to Melt Banana in small doses and even entertained the idea of resurrecting some of his old albums like he did with Berlin. Some assholes cell phone kept going off during the interview and Reed, frustrated by this point, mentioned that they should shove that phone up a cow’s ass, being in Texas and all. He was funny, intelligent and well spoken. It was the highlight of the day [though the day is still young at the time of this writing].

I caught Thurston Moore and Steve Reich in the afternoon. Suffice to say it was a learning experience. Reich and Phillip Glass are pals and used to have a moving company called Chelsea Light Moving where they would go around and pick up smelly old couches then dump them or sell them. Music ain’t all about the glamour right?

Billy Bragg closed out the SESAC Day Stage. I’ve got footage and will post it soon. Now I’ve got to go eat some food and drink another dozen Lone Stars. There is a reason you can only really find Lone Star in Texas, its like Pabst but not as good.

Fucked Up: Live