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SXSW Day 2 – Mind = Blown. Eardrums = Assaulted.

March 19, 2008

I was really excited about not only today’s music lineups, but the keynote from Lou Reed. I’m a big Velvet Underground fan, and if nothing else was interested to hear from someone who’s witnessed first-hand all the big changes that the music industry has experienced over the last few decades.

Not surprisingly, Lou was VERY dry and dead-pan. So much that Mark could only take about 30 seconds of it before he bolted. But he missed out, because his keynote turned out to be very, very interesting. The key takeaways: lots of quotables such as “I have a B.A. in dope. I have a PhD in soul,” (this was his response to people asking him how he knows about taking a “walk on the wildside”); “I try not to think” (on his process of writing music); and “It’s making it easier to make things worse” (on what the mp3 and technology is doing to music).

If Lou’s anything he’s obviously a purist. I kinda walk the thin line between appreciating the convenience of the mp3 (not to mention all the new ears that are exposed to independent music every day thanks to technology) and missing the days when you spent $7.00 for a new vinyl LP. But I think anyone who’s ever heard a VU record can appreciate Lou’s standpoint. I’m just not sure I 100% agree with it. But all that aside, it was great to hear an icon’s point of view of the state of today’s music industry. He also preached the importance of artists holding on to their publishing, which I couldn’t agree with more.

When asked to name a few new bands that he likes, he pointed to Holy Fuck, Melt Banana, Dr. Dog and Joan As Policewoman. He closed his keynote with yet another quoteable, that he attributed to an anonymous musician: “Touring is like jail. Don’t get fucked.” Right on.

The Shout Out Louds

After Lou’s keynote it was nearing time to stake a spot in line for the NPR party at The Parish. I knew with Vampire Weekend headlining that this was going to be a tough one to get into. But lucky for us it was almost perfect timing. We got inside fairly quickly but did miss most of Shout Out Louds‘ set. They sounded amazing though, and we made a mental note to make sure to catch one of their other shows.

The Shout Out Louds set the tone for the rest of the afternoon – fantastic, catchy, mind-blowing music. Looking back, I keep remembering today as the very best day of music I’ve ever experienced. It was due largely to this NPR party and things just kept getting better from there.

Jens Lekman

Shout Out Louds were followed by a wonderful set by another Swede, Jens Lekman. This was my first time seeing him and he didn’t disappoint in the slightest. He has a very personable demeanor that translates great on stage, and his vocals are just perfect. On the Parish stage he truly shined, and it was during his set that I noticed that the sound was probably the very best I’ve ever heard at a venue of that size (I’m not good with estimating numbers, but for you ATL folks The Parish is probably about the size of Lenny’s). Add to that free food and beer, and I make another mental note to catch as many NPR-sponsored SXSW events as possible. They really throw a great party.

AA Bondy

Jens was followed by AA Bondy, who some people might know from the band Verbena. Bondy’s set was enjoyable enough, mostly because of his good lyrics and his comments between songs about doing a bit of partying the night before, but I felt my mind starting to wander a bit during his set. Not that his music was bad, but I think I was just anxious to see Bon Iver.


But first I’d have to sit through Yeasayer, which I just wasn’t very thrilled about. Turns out I was also ridiculously wrong about that band. Why oh why had I ignored them for the past six months? I don’t know if it was all the hype from bloggers, or their name, or the fact that they were from Brooklyn. But that’s all I really knew about them. From the very first song though, I was blown away, probably more than I’ve ever been by any other band. If you’re unfamiliar, they are sort of a hybrid of world music and electronica. Which on paper seems like something I’d be completely uninterested in. But this band was so completely unique, and with three and sometimes even four-part harmonies that were damn spot on, that I think anyone with ears would have been impressed. I loved every sound that they made and at times couldn’t even believe that humans were making them. And I mean that in a good way.

Bon Iver

So Yeasayer was a ridiculously tough act to follow, but if anyone could do it Bon Iver could. After all, I had heard about as much hype about this band as I had about Vampire Weekend (the party’s headliners). By the time Bon Iver came on I was working on a good buzz (thanks to the free Lone Stars) and felt like I was in musical heaven. The feeling continued as the three-piece played a mellow but very beautiful set of stripped-down folk rock, centered around Justin Vernon’s falsetto vocals. I’ve heard his vocals described by some as the sort of sound that takes some getting used to, but I just love them. The perfect way to end my afternoon. Wait, end? What about Vampire Weekend, you ask? Yeah, I left before their set. Call me stupid, but I have this thing about over-hyped bands (hense the Yeasayer ignorance). So I’ll probably regret it six months from now, but I just wasn’t into seeing them especially after being treated to so much great music already. I was getting pumped for the NPR-sponsored evening show with My Morning Jacket, Yo La Tengo and The Whigs, and as I’m a big fan of all three bands I wanted to ensure myself a good spot.

Well I needn’t worry about that good spot, because after a quick stop at Wahoo’s Fish Taco (for what ended up being the best tacos I had in Austin), we made it over to Austin Music Hall in plenty of time. In fact, we were the very first people in the badge line. We had to wait an hour or so before they opened the doors, but it actually wasn’t so bad to have a little bit of sit down time. My feet were still suffering from being on them for so long the day before.

The Whigs

We made it through the doors a little after 7PM and went right up front. Had to wait almost another hour for The Whigs to go on, but it was worth the wait. Another great venue with great sound. The Whigs were awesome, very tight but also rockin’, thanks mainly to their fantastic left-handed drummer. They played a good mix of older songs along with most of the tunes from their new record Mission Control. For me the standouts were probably “Like a Vibration” (which is the lead-off track for the album and also started the set), “Already Young” (which really showcases each member’s musicianship with its stops and starts and accents), and the catchy “Right Hand on My Heart.” There was a lull during the set towards the end, so I took advantage of the silence to yell out a request for “I Got Ideas,” (my favorite track off the new record) but to no avail. Nonetheless, The Whigs were a great start to what would be a wonderful evening of music.

Yo La Tengo

Yo La Tengo is one of my favorite bands ever; I’ve seen them a handful of times and always really enjoy them live although I admit they sometimes venture a little too far into spastic guitar freakout land (it’s a real place, really). But tonight, perhaps because they were confined to a shorter set length and weren’t the headliners, they stuck to the songs for the most part, and it was beautiful. Probably the most enjoyable YLT show I’ve witnessed, it included some of the “hits” like “Autumn Sweater” (which was probably my favorite song of the set, stripped down with Ira on the organ, Georgia on the full drum set and James on a snare and shakers, the drum combo sounding much like a drum machine) and “Sugarcube” (see video here) and some newer standouts such as the groovy, lighthearted “Mr. Tough”, the catchy “Beanbag Chair” and the pretty, jangly “The Weakest Part” from the trio’s most recent album I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass.

My Morning Jacket

Yo La Tengo was the perfect warm up for tonight’s headliners, My Morning Jacket, who also mine the noisy territory but which much more of a classic, southern rock feel. That’s exactly the vibe that shown through the entire MMJ set, as I kept thinking this might have been similar to what it was like to see Deep Purple, Pink Floyd or Lynyrd Skynyrd. If that turns you modern-day indierock fans off though, rest assured there was enough Flaming Lips-eque quirk rock to balance out the 70s influence. This was my first MMJ show, and I left with my ears ringing (until the next afternoon, they were the loudest band I think I’ve ever seen!) and a huge smile on my face. My Morning Jacket, in my opinion, raises the bar for all the indierock bands of today. It was so much more than just your average concert — it was indeed a ROCK SHOW. Looking up at Jim James under the bright blue and yellow lights was a real treat, as he commanded the stage from start to finish, like someone who was born to do this.

After the show Jenn and I managed to grab a pedicab (and boy was that fun!) over to Emo’s IV just in time to catch another great set from Yeasayer. The sound wasn’t near as good as The Parish and the band seemed a bit tired, at least until the bassist went out on the floor to dance around with the crowd. But I was happy to turn a few friends who were with me on to the band’s music, as they seemed to really dig it.

View all my SXSW photos here

One Comment leave one →
  1. citified permalink
    March 19, 2008 10:38 pm

    how enjoyable, keep ’em coming kim!

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