SXSW is a place where friends rejoice and stars are born (we heard). You don’t beat yourself up for not getting your work done. You live in the moment. Now I didn’t make it to most of the events on my itinerary. I missed Har Mar Superstar, The Bangles, Semi Precious Weapons, Old 97’s, TV on the Radio, Meat Puppets, Yoko Ono, We Are Animal, Emmylou Harris and all of the 7,654 day shows I was on the list for.
I made it to Duran Duran, but not in time for the photo pit action. I sang “Rio” with the line of folks waiting outside of Stubb’s. I’ve got to admit, they sounded flawless. By the time I got in all the hits had been sung, so I hit the loo and left again.
The first shows I shot was James Blake. Hole’s former drummer, Patty Schemel, told me I should catch one of James Blake’s performances (and the Dum Dum Girls). She’s such a cool person, I sought out her recommendation at Stubb’s. James Blake’s music is minimal and effective. The drummer does a lot of off-time tribal ticks and batters. They performed their cover of ”Limit to Your Love” by Feist within the first three songs. My friends and I were satiated after the fourth and moseyed.
SXSW kills. Many had to take naps. This fella’s place was planted behind the Four Seasons and it was only 5pm on Thursday.
Thursday meant the Strokes. This girl’s friend asked her which member of the Strokes she’d like to pop out a baby from. She held that face (pictured below) for the rest of the show, unable to decide.
My view awaiting photo pit entrance to The Strokes.
Forever cool, pulse fingering, The Strokes packed a park with an estimated 50,000 people, with hundreds at the gate turned away. It was the worst photo pit experience I’ve ever had. The photographers were meant to do shifts of shooting: first group, first song, second group, second song, third group, third song, and then done. Problem was, no one cleared the first group out of the pit. By the end of the third song all photographers were asked to leave. Problem was there was no way to leave the pit as the crowds’ mass was pushing forward with vengeance, which forced us to exit out the back side of the stage.
I took photos on my two minute lollygag walk through the pit. When I reached the other side, I slipped myself backstage to watch the show as I felt I deserved some retribution for that bullshit experience. I was handed a drink, bummed a fag and got a big smile on my face like a child with the promise of Christmas. The Strokes are a triumph of my generation. They rock, and together, are the kings of cool.
San Francisco’s Ty Segall performed at the Rhapsody day party. Cute boys and cute chicks. Genuine grunge revival folk rock.
Small Black followed. The music was good, the sound was good, well-layered, flowing, and dancey, but their look and personal vibe clashed BIG TIME with the music. It made no sense to me. I liked the sounds, but the stage presence drove me away.
Glasser singer, Cameron Mesirow, whose voice I will describe as ethereal, stated they hadn’t played such a loose show as this one for a long time. I’m guessing it was before their steady success of the past year. Shortly after that statement, some power surge cut the other instruments off and the show was lost at the beginning of their fourth song. She tied up the shortened set with an acapella version of The Flamingo’s “I Only Have Eyes for You,” which is one of my favorite romantic songs of all time.
Kurt Vile and The Violators were hard to shoot. When Kurt walked out on stage with his guitar, it was the first, and last time I saw his face during his performance. With his hair-in-face for 99% of the performance, his vibe and look reminded of a combination of Black Sabbath meets Kurt Cobain. As he played, Bradford Cox of Deerhunter took photos from the side of the stage. Later, while Deerhunter played, I saw Kurt’s face again as he watched the performance with a smile.
Deerhunter’s leader, Bradford Cox, started his set by breaking a string for which he had no replacement. He asked the crowd and got one. Bradford’s passion for music and people was transparent.
Then I ventured to SPIN’s party, where I caught Alison Mosshart. I’ve had a hard crush on Alison Mosshart since The Dead Weathers music video for “Treat Me Like Your Mother.” But one-and-a-half songs into this Kills set I left. I felt nothing. Too bad.
Oakland’s HOTTUB banged up the Virgin Mobile House at the end of Saturday Night in a living room sized space. This did not in any way infringe on their performance. They have some of the feel of Salt n Pepa, but a bit raunchier, with members spitting beer on the crowd and simulating fellatio on each other. I would say they brought the roof down, but I’ll tell you the truth–they the brought the floor down. A center beam collapsed as the crowd of thirty-five raged with the group. The Virgin House said, “‘Til next year SXSW,” as HOTTUB left with a bang.
SXSW is a lot of things– a juggling act of business and pleasure. Like Hunter S Thompson once said “The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs…” –as sweet as SXSW is and opportunities it represents, the quote is true. You can be running on 1,000 cylinders and only accomplish living another day with beer goggles and whiskey walks. Attending on any level, as a photographer, performer, punter, choose to be a free wheeler, expect nothing but to spread your pixie dust and awaken your spirit.
Mp3 from artists mentioned in this article
Kurt Vile: “Jesus”
Atlas Sound: “Shiela”
Ty Segall: “Girlfriend”
Small Black: “Photojournalist”
James Blake: “Limit To Your Love”
The Kills: “Satellite”