It's Friday morning and I shouldn't actually be awake considering that just a few hours ago the NPR music team was sitting in the courtyard of the Presbyterian Church—also a SXSW venue—recording a podcast that sounded like one long hiccup. But with the magic of editing (thanks, Stephen!) that hiccup will be transformed into a mellifluous yowl of enthusiasm.
Yesterday was a bit of a marathon. NPR presented our second and final showcase at The Parish. I really love that venue: great sound, lanterns, a variety of vantage points from which to view the stage, and a heat that builds and smolders. I'm a bit talked out about the showcase, you can hear my immediate thoughts about the bands here and even more about it on the aforementioned podcast. Quickly, however, I will add that highlights included watching Bob rush to the front of the stage during K'Naan (who wouldn't?), meeting Blind Pilot for the first time in Austin even though they live in my hometown, and seeing Blitzen Trapper play a packed house after watching them five times at SXSW last year, sometime playing only to a few hippies dancing with invisible scarves.
After an hour of rest back at the hotel, I ventured out into the warm Austin night with the intention and hopes of seeing about six more artists. Considering that I'm averse to large crowds, long lines, roving groups of drunkards, and spring break "fashion" a.k.a "is that a mini skirt or just a belt you're wearing because it's barely covering your ass?" I'm surprised I enjoyed myself as much as I did.
My first stop was to see The Entrance Band. I love their song "Grim Reaper Blues" and wanted to see the guitar playing in a live setting. The two front people were clad in white and looked like extras from Dario Argento's Suspiria. I stayed for a few songs but realized that I wasn't yet in the mood for such a labyrinth of sound. Never the less, I'm not done with The Entrance Band.
Next, I saw The Crystal Stilts. Actually, that's not entirely true. The band was late and the venue threw on a local band that through the din I kept thinking was called "Etta James." I wish it had been Etta James, so that I could say that I saw her on a filthy outdoor patio in Austin under a tin shed surrounded by Port-o-Potties. Instead, "Etta James-not-their-real-name" was a three piece band that shrank to a two piece by the second song, a song that they made up on the spot. The best part of the "Etta James-not-their-real-name" show was the couple in front of me, who danced to the music—knee dancing, I'll call it—as if this were the band they had come here to see. Then came the Crystal Stilts, claiming they had no idea they had a show that night. Were they just in Austin by coincidence? Who cares, actually, because this band was amazing and I felt blissful after the first note. Jangly guitar, minimal drums (Mo Tucker, fine, I'll say it), a lanky keyboardist devouring a tiny keyboard as if it were his only meal in days, and a singer who looked as transfixed by the music as I was. Crystal Stilts! Yes!
That performance was followed by a trek over to the Jagjaguwar/Secretly Canadian/Dead Oceans showcase, a label vying for MVP if the music industry was prone to those sorts of sport-inspired accolades. I really wanted to see the Calgary band, Women. I squeezed into the tiny room at the Mohawk and was immediately surrounded by tall men, as in seven-feet tall. In fact, it was the biggest sausage party of the festival thus far with only about fifteen females in the crowd. I guess dudes love Women. Here is a band whose music is hard for me to classify. But I can tell you what I love about them: Their voices, echoing and strange, the bassist who plays the lead riffs high on the neck, the way the songs have space and breaks and fall as seamlessly apart as much as they come together. I did, however, leave a bit early on account of the man coffin.
And last but not least (I can't believe there is anything else!) I saw Handsome Furs. One word: married. I don't really need to say more, imagine a lot of figurative and literal togetherness.
What now? Breakfast.