Is it too big? Is it too much for the city of Austin to handle? I feel I’m not one to comment, not living here and all, but I’d love to be able to stick around to read all the op-ed pieces either trumpeting the efforts of this city to keep it safe, clean, and running like a clock or damning the chaos that ensues. Every corner and crevice of every avenue is covered and called. I can’t fathom what it’s like to be here for a week. Some entrepreneur should bring sound-proof isolation chambers and set them up on Sixth, just for a momentary reprieve from the madness.
Don’t get me wrong. I love every minute of it. But it’s become so sensory driven, it seems my mind is more exhausted than my feet. There are few moments to think if you plan to get in the thick of it.
Friday, I opted to take it easy and head off the beaten path. It’s always nice to take in a record store and there are few in the country better than End of an Ear. It just so happened that Gotobeds, who I’d caught the day before, were playing. This Pittsburgh quartet rage with a youthful fervor I haven’t seen in quite some time. Though of barely of drinking age, they appear as crusty punks who prefer staying home, chugging cheap beer in the basement to devouring generic garage nuggets. The result is hallucinogenic psych-pop soaked with amphetamine. There’s a dynamic in them that hard to find, even during SXSW.
In the evening, heading out of the boundaries of the “normal” Sixth street experience was supposed to be an antidote in heading to Lambert’s for the Misra Showcase. But even in that somewhat once remote location, the sprawl had taken over. Apple had taken over Austin City Limits and Pitbull was playing their iTunes Festival. Meanwhile, Lady Gaga had taken over the Lambert’s private lounge to munch on BBQ and gather a crowd of onlookers. It was all a bit fashion over function on this side of Congress, another piece of evidence that Austin encourages the SXSW infinite expansion. Little did Gaga (now in her “ugly” phase, as she looked like an extra from Battlefield Earth) know, but Dayton’s Motel Beds were bringing down the house just above her head. The night had a very Ohio-centric line-up, highlighted by these gents rollicking revue of spartan indie-pop, bright harmonies, and that indelible Dayton charm that spilled over into the next set. Again, I felt a taste of home was in order (I had been on the road for the past eight days with my own band) and the full-set treatment from Swearing at Motorists was in order. Dave Doughman, whom I spoke about yesterday, is part soothsayer, part stand-up comedian, and part jukebox hero, and knows better than most how to put on a show.
Another trend that I found at this year’s SXSW was the rebirth of the ’90s indie-rock goddesses. First there was Ex-Hex, with Mary Timony’s recently christened trio banging out power-pop reminiscent of the Go-Go’s and Dwight Twilley to unsuspecting crowds. Then there was Hole’s Patty Schemel backing the new punk-twee of Upset. But on this night, it was Kelley Deal and R. Ring that exceeded expectations. Deal’s spent the better part of the last 12 months with her sister touring Last Splash, but as R. Ring she has had a chance to project her own songwriting chops. Last night, you could see her as scientist, kneeling above a rainbow of effects pedals, manipulating her voice into what she called “soundscapes,” or simply reverberating her enchanting coo over Breeders-esque doom-folk with fellow cohort Mike Montgomery. I’m highly anticipating whatever should come in recorded format, but was simply satisfied with the Shellac cover and the unnamed songs she played to in the very intimate venue. Personally, it was the most therapeutic way to end my (albeit abridged) week at SXSW.