It’s been almost eight years since Swearing at Motorists performed at South By Southwest, but I can remember a time when Dave Doughman was the self-proclaimed mayor of SXSW—and he owned that title. The prodigal son returned from exile to try and conquer the festival again. He epitomizes everything that made the festival great in the past: showmanship, ingenuity, humility, self-promotion. It made sense that the day began at Side Bar to see his first set of the week. Mixing songs from his upcoming record and old favorites, Doughman showed why this festival exists: for guys like him with a heart and a song.
Most of the day was spent volleying between the Side Bar and Beerland. In the former, the Midgetmen Jumpstart included a number of guitar-heavy, pop-punks. There was Cleveland’s Herzog, who play Superchunk-esque fastballs, even covering a spot-on version of The Mice’s “Not Proud of the U.S.A.” And there was Liquor Store, New Jersey slackers intent on sounding like an eternally stoned basement version of Foghat. Meanwhile at Beerland, the Can’t Stop the Bleeding collection of bands pushed the levels of volume and velocity. While current favorites like Obnox and the Gotobeds made a considerable racket in the dungeon that is the club, newbies, including the Empty Markets, were particularly impressive. The Austin band wowed with adept precision and hooks that seemed to lock themselves outside of the usual wall of distortion.
In a surreal turn of events, which is always likely to happen at SXSW, Melissa Etheridge made a surprise visit to the Side Bar to play a cover of Tom Petty’s “Refugee” with the guys from the Midgetmen and Diarrhea Planet. Though I’m not the biggest fan in the world, I couldn’t help but be a little starstruck that such an icon would make an appearance at such a small gathering. She definitely trumped the preceding mess of aggro-garbage projected by Big Ups.
The night continued through the same penchant for power-pop and big guitar glories, with Wet Nurse, Potty Mouth, and Philadelphia rookies, Amanda X, before legendary Belfast band Protex took the stage. Another pleasure of SXSW is seeing men in their twilight years destroy everything and everyone that came before them in the day. This was perhaps the most energetic crowd I’ve seen thus far.
My nightcap at Cheer Up Charlie’s included an abbreviated set from the ever-evolving Merchandise. They still play moody, hypnotic, dream-pop, but now the edges are sharper, it has more shape, and the lead singer continues to hone a persona unique to the landscape of modern rock. I had to ditch them, though, as Denton’s Baptist Generals were playing inside. It’s a rare occurrence for them to play their rustic, nearly-graceful, laments, so that is how I decided to end the night, in troubadour bliss.