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Silence, Please

My five days at SXSW are over. I'm relieved to be writing this entry from my home in Portland, with the dogs beside me, looking out on a cloudy day.

I left for the Austin-Bergstrom airport this morning at 5 am, an hour that became my normal bedtime at SXSW. After seeing anywhere from six to ten bands a day, it was nearly impossible to immediately fall asleep. I wasn't coherent enough to write, but the various sounds and images from the day formed a mental static that took a few hours to dissipate

In the end, here's what left an impression, music or otherwise:

Lack of ear plugs—When you are given a SXSW tote bag containing 5 pounds of leaflets, worthless promo CDs, 6 packs of gum, and playing cards—it would have been thoughtful to throw in a pair of ear plugs. I'm sure some label would have paid to have their name on the small carrying case. Certainly, the onus is on us to get our own, but it seemed a strange oversight. (And earplugs are more useful than the action figure we received depicting a soldier playing guitar, a recruitment tool by the US Army).

D.I.Y—Everyone from Vampire Weekend to Thurston Moore were lugging around their own equipment. In the case of the latter, Moore didn't bring his own sound guy or guitar tech (both which are pro forma, along with a dozen other crew members, on a Sonic Youth tour). The more casual approach to performance added an intimacy and spontaneity to Thurston's band's performance at the Garden Party, an event that took place on the beautiful grounds of the French Legation Museum. The stripped down versions of certain performers also drew a line in the sand between bands/artists that really know how to play, rising above technical maladies and malfunctions, and the bands that can't pull off what they do without a bit of spectacle.

Blogger Cage—An actual space but also a state of mind. There were two of these at the Paste/Stereogum party. I'm almost certain that during every other week of the year these cages host dancers, which made it even more bizarre to see goatee-sporting men wearing band t-shirts furiously typing away while we looked on. Sadly, no one tipped any money.

Inspiration—With so much to see, I found that I needed at least one moment a day that reminded me why I love music. It didn't have to be a mind-blowing performance (though sometimes it was: Bon Iver's set at the Parish, My Morning Jacket doing eight new songs). Sometimes it was merely seeing J. Mascis' silver hair or X looking gleeful to get me through the long days. Even my friend recounting that he stumbled into a half-filled room only to realize he was watching Mick Jones' new band, Carbon/Silicon, and how happy Jones looked despite the poor turnout, was enough to make me glad to be in Austin. There were a lot of bands at SXSW existing outside the glare of the press, the sun, the stares, who were still doing it because something inside of them has to play music.

I saw enough bands at SXSW to last me an entire year. I think I'll listen to classical music all week and finish reading the book I thought I would read in Austin. Who was I kidding?

Cross posted to the All Songs blog.




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I feel the same way. The amount of exhaustion I feel now is just incredible. Next year I'll have to bring more comfortable shoes, and shell out some real cash on earplugs, instead of the crappy ones that were floating around for purchase on 6th.

This was also by far and away the busiest SX I've ever seen, and the first time that a wristband or badge was absolutely essential. Every venue was a SX official venue this year at night, and if you didnt have one of those ways to get in, you were gonna be real screwed.

Sent by Daniel Childress | 1:11 AM | 3-17-2008

Thanks for all of your posts from SXSW. Even though it sounds like it was tiring, I'm glad that you cut through all of the pomp and actually talked about the music on a true level.

Sent by Meagan | 1:46 AM | 3-17-2008

i too am sxswrecked and i too managed to forget ear plugs which i terribly regret. yo la tengo blew my ears out which is ok since it was blown out by the hits! then i bought some on friday and kept forgetting them on my dresser!

my highlights:seeing many old dear friends in town & running around like a mad woman with them, yo la tengo @ the austin music hall, marked men & the night marchers @ the swami record showcase, jeremy jay, the blow, jens lekman, dr. dog, herman dune, yacht @the bust magazine day party, carbon/silicon playing @ the waterloo records where i work part time, MEETING MICK JONES!!, and m. ward playing with jim james inside a church that sounded beautiful and felt 100 light years away from sixth street which was only two blocks away.

today i sat at a coffee shop with all my wrecked friends for hours and we compared highlights and stories and enjoyed quiet.

my legs are rubber, my ear are still buzzing, i didn't get to high five you and tomorrow i go back to work yet i'm still on sxsw time. booohooo. it was all worth it though and although its overwhelming it's always a blast!

i'm glad you had fun too.

Sent by esme | 4:48 AM | 3-17-2008

What book?

Sent by Elizabeth | 10:44 AM | 3-17-2008

"My Morning Jacket doing eight new songs"


Wish I could've been there!

Sent by alex | 11:17 AM | 3-17-2008

There is definetly such a thing as musical over load, that is for sure...

the weather can really add into that at festivals... I was at Summerfest in Milwaukee a few years back to see CS&N, was pouring the entire day. Walking around watching the other early bands, by the time came to work our way down to the main stage to see CS&N we were soaked, and just ready to sit and dry out... and enjoy some nice mellow musical (thankfully, thats mostly what CS&N is about...) I dont know if I could have appreciated some NY that night (and i LOVE NY)

Sonic Youth, definetly one of the bands I havnt seen that I want too...
along with my current band that im loving,

BlackFire (check em out... no i dont know anyone in the band, I just really dig the music)

Sent by Kramer | 12:13 PM | 3-17-2008

in 8 days, my body went from sore to extreme pain to actually being cool with the exercise. can't wait for next year!

i got some earplugs for free at stubbs and at the tradeshow. i've never used them in all my 24 years as evident by the state of my hearing, but they were like my best friends this past week. the one day i forgot them is the day i stood right by the speakers at the raveonettes show. that hurt.

Sent by Lauren | 3:54 PM | 3-17-2008

The army figurine--something tells me one of those will end up Jackassed in a new recruit's behind: DADT, but supply boredom-assuaging swag.

Sent by sncf | 3:57 PM | 3-17-2008

i wanna go next year

Sent by pebble | 5:24 PM | 3-17-2008

Your recent blogs have rejuvenated my love for "Z." I've been listening to it for three days straight.

Sent by Nick L. | 6:41 PM | 3-17-2008

I read your blog, I wanted to go to a music festival.
I went to Fuji-rock festival a few years ago,I was very exhausted,but it was fun.

Sent by Mamiko | 8:33 AM | 3-18-2008

I wish I could afford to take in events like this, such a wonderful expirence I'm sure.
But I'm curious, what caught you off gaurd? Who were the pleasant surprises vs the not worth the hype? What little band did you love?

Sent by gcn. | 9:57 AM | 3-18-2008

Does this mean you wear earplugs when you play? I guess I enjoy the pain, but for that reason have to pick and choose my live music events carefully.

Now, I am going to have to blame you in part for my being unable to get "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" and "M79" out of my head (even though they are very much "lightweight" as you suggested, and kind of strange since the African [soukous?] music that is one of the styles they are swiping doesn't strike me at all as lightweight--in fact I'm sure that's the part of their preppieness that turned me off at first).

Sent by David G. | 8:50 PM | 3-18-2008

So, was it ever weird being there as a reporter as opposed to a musician? I know you said it wasn't when you first arrived, but I'm wondering if that changed.

Sent by Karissa | 4:57 PM | 3-19-2008

well I'm glad yr. back. I know I would simply die if I couldnt feel & smell the sweet, crisp northwest wind upon my face.
welcome back. My sister works @ Austin-Bergstrom BTW kinda crazy seeing those names on here.

Sent by Marissa Dailey | 8:36 PM | 3-19-2008

"rising above technical maladies": I think you're referring to Lightspeed Champion, who clearly didn't "rise above", and who definitely sucked.

Actually, I was referring to Thurston Moore's set at the French Legation Museum. I've never seen the band to which you are referring -CB

Sent by Nat | 1:48 AM | 3-22-2008

For Heaven's sake, why has SXSW gotten this way? I've never been, I have no authority on the matter, and as only a minor player in experimental music radio, I really can't even make broadly painted statements or wag my finger. Blogger Cage? Is SXSW the new Sundance? Start a new festival called 'Panty Dancy Times And Susan's Mysteries' so the old guard doesn't get it and won't come. Then when Thurston Moore does play, maybe the 20 people from the Bingo parlor who came won't know who he is anyway and it'll be like 1982 for everyone all over again. Blurh!

Sent by Jason | 11:47 PM | 3-24-2008