SXSW Day 1: Afternoon exploits

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Thoughts on my first day in Texas after the jump...

I forgot how much of a fashion show this is.

That's the first thing that crossed my mind when I entered Austin Convention Center, and it didn't let up for rest of the day. Everywhere you turn, people are dressed up in their most fashionable rock 'n' roll attire, from designer dresses to leather jackets to, ahem, creative haircuts. It's a bizarro world where everybody looks like a hipster and, yeah, most of them are.

Then the bureaucrazy smacked me in the face. Registering for entry into Bizarro World is kind of like getting processed at Ellis Island, right down to the green card you have to fill out before they'll hand over your badge or wristband. Securing my glorious sliver required bouncing from line to line, hearing I needed to be one place only to arrive there and get sent to another. Even the bands are herded like cattle; I saw the slender, bird-like gal from excellent New York prog/post-rock trio The Big Sleep (appearing Thursday, March 20 at Ravari Room!) waiting patiently amidst scores of anonymous rockers. Her bandmate and husband was curled up next to a wall scrolling through a laptop. A major music festival has its mundane moments, even for the presumed stars.

By 2 p.m., I was all set and on the street. It didn't seem as crowded as last year; 6th Street wasn't even closed to traffic. (By nightfall, the blockades were up and things were back to normal.) I nabbed a slice of pizza and got my musical marathon started.

I decided to begin my day at the "Big Texas Jumpstart" at Creekside Lounge, an event sponsored by the Columbus-based music blog/major SXSW news source and an Austin band called the Midgetmen who offered to help Donewaiting set up a show. I flew in too late to catch Columbus' El Jesus de Magico open this thing at noon, and I missed the superb Goes Cube and Catfish Haven as well.

I arrived just in time to see the Midgetmen, and while I'm glad they had a hand in making this event happen, their music didn't resonate with me. It came across as standard-issue Replacements-influenced rock, nothing sour but nothing sweet either. I'm liking it more on MySpace, where their Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. influences are coming out more clearly, but ultimately they're the sort of band that makes me think I could play SXSW without a problem.

Around this time I also realized I forgot to bring sunblock. Oops.

My main reason for visiting this party, besides checking in with the myriad Columbus types milling about, was to see AA Bondy, and damn was he good. The Alabama-bred singer-songwriter, now residing in New York, once fronted Verbena, a Nirvana-style band that was mentored by Dave Grohl himself but never really caught on. Now Bondy has fashioned himself as an alt-country troubadour. His simple offerings between sips of Jameson proved the man-guitar-harmonica format can still be powerful in the right hands.

Next up was Joseph Arthur, who intended to perform the same way. Despite all the good things I have to say about Bondy, I wasn't really up for another No Depression turn, and when Arthur snubbed event emcee Envelope and just started playing, I bid his set adieu.

Next stop was the Fader Fort, an RSVP-only event hosted by uber-hip magazine The Fader and Levi's. (On the way I'm pretty sure I spotted comedian Eugene Mirman. Awesome.) After walking through a temporary Levi's/Puma storefront and navigating a labyrinth of hallways and hang-out rooms, I made my way outside to the tent, where a boatload of new buzz bands were playing and the Bass and SoCo flowed for free. (I will be back. Oh yes.)

The main reason for my visit was The Ruby Suns, a New Zealand trio that just put out a record on Sub Pop. My experience with the music of New Zealand is limited to Flight of the Conchords, so I had no idea what to expect from these three. After hearing their drugged-out sounds reminiscent of Animal Collective (especially Panda Bear), tropicalia, Afro-pop and shoegaze, I doubt I have a handle on what the average Kiwi band sounds like. But I sure do like this one. They were particularly potent when they supplemented their canned beats with live, standup drumming. Irrelevant side note: One of the women in this band looks like that lesbian from America's Next Top Model.

Next up was Chikita Violenta, who announced this was their first gig outside their native Mexico City. You wouldn't know it; they're a sleek and professional pop-rock outfit, described by Columbus booking dude Ben Hamilton as ready-made for the soundtrack of some CW show. They didn't look foreign; they didn't sound foreign. It was ultimately pretty forgettable. They do have one dude who looks like Brad Pitt though.

I headed inside the Fort for a bit to lounge in this computer room sponsored by upstart label/blog RCRD LBL. Turned out I was sitting next to the CEO, and we had a chat about his intentions with the site. He basically thinks the blog has supplanted the label as the primary medium for breaking bands—I guess this idea caused heads to explode at a panel with some music industry folks earlier this week—so why not combine the two? I'm lovin' it.

Back outside to catch Does It Offend You, Yeah?, a dance-punk band that, like Bondy earlier, reminded me that just because a genre has been overdone doesn't mean it can't still be awesome in the right hands. The British quartet's music wasn't exactly revelatory, but they were consumate entertainers with excellent influences (Justice, The Rapture, LCD Soundsystem, maybe a little Gil Mantera's Party Dream?) and a keen understanding of how to rock a party. They dedicated songs to Vince McMahon and Corey Haim, ran around the stage like madmen and played their hearts out. I'd jump at a chance to see them again.

Then it was time for dinner. I'll be back shortly with a report on last night.