Austin during SXSW was an overwhelming experience. When we first arrived, I was sure that I would have a bad time. It was crowded, I wasn’t hipstery enough, there was cacophonous resonation with every step. We’d already been on the road for a long time and I felt really burned out on music. Then, something came over me and I realized that being there had nothing to do with music. It was a gathering of people with like interests, like problems, and like joys. Dozens of people approached us on the street, some with marketing agendas, some to compliment our facial hair, some to ask where I got my boots.
We made friends everywhere we went. Patrick was doing a fine job with the video camera getting a close look at what everyone was up to. His segment on a large camera dangling from a woman’s side led us to realize that we were in the prescence of Boston photographer Kelly Davidson, who we had never previously met, but knew by name. We repeatedly ran into the bands from Detroit that we had just met out on the road: The Silent Years and The Hard Lessons. We ran into Neptune, Benjy from Sonicbids, and a bunch of other Boston folk. We got to meet Janelle Rogers (Green Light Go), who has been doing significant work for us over the past few months.
We talked music, mustaches, and blogging with enthusiastic people on the streets. We wandered and gawked at celebrities, oddities, and leaking port-a-potties.
We even got to catch a little bit of great music: She and Him, Billy Bragg, and Beangrowers. I got to eat some tacos, drink some Jamba Juice, and just generally hang out and have a fun time.
Our first day in Austin, we rolled on down to our first area gig (of 4). We had figured we should just play as much as we can while we’re in town, so that is what we did. Two of our gigs were right along the main area (Agave Bar – 6th st, Beso’s Cantina – 5th st.) and two were a little out of town (Bikini’s and Wests). I think I can speak for the whole band and say that we had a fun time playing all of the gigs. The attendance varied pretty wildly from gig to gig, but we always had at least a few captive ears in each location and we were generally happy about our playing. I really feel like this tour got us working together much better musically (and probably socially) than ever before.
Our first gig was at a place called Bikini’s, where, you guessed it, the waitresses wore bikini tops. It made me feel uncomfortable…and not in a good way, but all in all, it was fine. I really wondered what motivated people to work at a place like that, how they are treated, and whether they enjoy it all. I didn’t get into any real sociological analysis of it all, but Patrick did convince our waitress Lisa to go around and get some video of the place.
We left the bikini-clad ladies and the bikers gathering outside for a ride and headed downtown. We wandered pretty aimlessly and visited the venues that we’d be playing at in the next few days. We video-harassed some people, which led to meeting a few interesting folks. We met up with Janelle Rogers and chatted with her for a long while about life, the universe, and everything.
The next day, we were playing at Agave Bar on 6th. For those of you not in the know, 6th street is completely blocked off and loading equipment is not an easy task. We parked in a hotel lot a few blocks away and dragged our stuff in the hot sun (it was maybe 85 that day) over to Agave, where we found out that there was already a backline, so much of our work was for naught. We played to a light crowd that included the band Appomattox, who had played before us. It took me a song or two of theirs before I realized that we had shared the stage with them several months ago in Boston.
We wandered off to arrange for the retrieval of Patrick’s phone. He had left it at Mojo 13 in Wilmington, DE. It turned out that a fellow at the venue was headed down to SXSW and agreed to bring the phone with him. While we were hanging out outside the Beso Cantina (one of our venues for the next day), we met up with Benjy Kantor (from Sonicbids), Kelly Davidson, and their friend Heidi (whose last name I unfortunately do not know). They were headed to the Beso to see us play…only it was 24 hours early. We had a fun time hanging out with them for a bit and being photographed before they had to run back across town to catch Eli “Paperboy” Reed (also from Boston). After Patrick got his phone back, we decided we had better trudge to our hotel and get some rest.
The next day, it was 92 degrees! We got some sunblock, though I feel like I got dehydrated and sunburned just walking down the street to the store…
We decided to hang out and catch some outside shows despite the weather. We saw She and Him (M. Ward, Zooey Deschanel, and friends) and Billy Bragg at the Free Yr Radio Party – http://www.freeyrradio.com/. We got some video from these shows.
It was interesting to see She and Him. I had listened to their recording and their KCRW session on a whim. I have mixed feelings about both M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel. I guess I kind of feel like they both do good work, but I don’t really like any of their work. I’ve seen M. Ward a couple of times with Bright Eyes and he never quite clicked with me. Zooey seems like a reasonable actress, but I really hated The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy movie and The Tin Man was painfully mediocre and silly. Anyway, something about their pairing interested me. I reluctantly sat down with the song “Sentimental Heart” from the KCRW session and was really profoundly impressed. Zooey is clearly a somewhat inexperienced singer, but something about her words and her presentation are very compelling. I was not disappointed by their live performance. There was a greenness to it, but it was good and it was held together by reasonably good songs. The sound (the mix really) was terrible for their performance…terrible! There was a massive crowd full of curiosity to see what it was all about. In summary, Zooey really wants to be Jenny Lewis…and she’s not, but she’s still pretty good. I am definitely interested in seeing more of them and watching the development of the project.
Billy Bragg was awesome. He played some newer stuff, so I wasn’t really familiar with it, but he’s just such a cool guy with utopian working-class politics spewing left and right. He’s funny, clever, and just generally awesome. I already knew it, but I definitely need to catch a full show of his.
We decided not to go see Tia Carrere play, even though she was nearby and we wandered off to get some shade before our shows. The first of our two shows was at the Beso Cantina on 5th. The sound was pretty good and we had a fun time playing. We had a plethora of people documenting the performance in a variety of ways. We’ll try to get some photos, video, and audio posted soon for you all.
After the show, we chatted with Janelle, Kelly, and Heidi some more before we had to scoot across town to Wests. We got a little lost going there and I had to call my father to help with getting us some internet directions. We made the show on time, albeit later than we intended. Wests was basically a startup art gallery kind of space in a small house. There was a stage built in the yard. It was a really fun little intimate setting.
We got to catch a few songs by Beangrowers. They were a really awesome band on Minty Fresh from Malta. I really dug their stuff and I like a lot of their label mates, especially The Cardigans. We played (our 2nd show of the night, so we were pretty tired) to a small, but really attentive and nice audience and had a lot of fun. As it was a night show and outside, we were being attacked by bugs the whole time. It was kind of an exciting experience. At one point, I had to stop playing guitar to swipe a spider off of my face…and then again later to swipe the same little fellow off my microphone before I accidentally swallowed him.
Rachel and Nick, who ran the whole thing were really awesome. All in all, a great way to end our live performances for the tour.
After the show, we had to rush back downtown to meet up with Aidan Williamson from Strange Glue for an interview. He had also attended the Wests show and took a bunch of great photos (unbeknownst to us at the time), check it out at http://strangeglue.com/live/sxsw-2008-live-the-motion-sick/1499.
We met Aidan at The Driskill Hotel, where we met Adam Lewis from Planetary Group, and saw Garrison Starr and Perry Farrell. Aidan was a really nice guy and asked some great questions. He probably got more than he bargained for from us! We opened up about a lot of different things including things that hadn’t been made very public before (Joy Division cover, I’m talking to you!). It was great to meet him and shoot the breeze about music, SXSW, and all of the things we had really learned about ourselves as a band during our two-week journey. That may sound cliche, but I really do think a lot of things fell into place in my mind. I started to understand how each band member fit in more and more and it was a good chance to talk about that with each other at the same time as we were being interviewed. Janelle Rogers, who had set up the meeting, was also kind enough to join us again and see us off from Austin into the flat, empty highways on the path to Boston…
Just in case anyone feared that Austin had nothing of Texas to share, it had some great religious imagery…
…and an awesome statue of a woman firing a cannon. Check out the videos for Angelina Eberly