SIXTH STREET, AUSTIN, TEXAS, DURING SXSW
Ever played Rock Band 3? You know the opening animation, where your outrageously outfitted CG band slowly strolls down a rain- and neon-smeared street to booming music from all quarters? And you watch this and think, OK, that’s cool, but I’ve attended rock gigs in a lot of cities, gone backstage and hung out with bands and all that, and it never actually looks like this – this is some pasty, twitching, guarana-and-caffeine-soap casualty game programmer’s heightened fever dream of what rock’n’roll looks and sounds like. And where’s the save file menu?
Right. Like that.
SOUTH BY TIP
I’ve been here since Friday last. Practically a local. I wish someone had informed me beforehand that the numbering on north-south streets are according to the cross street (such that “801 Red River” is above 8th Street), and that the numbering on east-west streets starts at Congress. That’s my killer South By tip. That, and the Alamo movie theaters serve alcohol and real delicious restaurant food. Look: I live in Montreal, whose by-laws prohibit so much as a hot dog truck or peanut cart. This excites me to the point of tears.
Also, take a pedicab. America is a net exporter of hipster glutes: the alternative fuel of the future.
DATA, DECISIVENESS, DISCERNMENT
Read flyers, download a QR scanner, eavesdrop on grandmas and teens in line, hand over your email address promiscuously. If you’re not feeling it, close your bar tab and walk out. Discernment means taste, but not good taste, particularly (what is “good taste” anyhow? Panel at eleven): just that your accumulated decisions will be telling in retrospect, so you’ve gotta own them. On Wednesday I dropped out of the nigh-immobile queue of Third Man Records’ mobile vinyl store (a yellow and black van) to go play Jeopardy with a simulation of IBM Watson at the Hilton. Metaphor for the analog-digital wars? Sure. Interactive paid my way, no question what side I fall on. Although if Jack White had been signing it would be a whole other barrel of oats – our trivia robot overlord may have easily defeated the combined knowledge of the fifty-odd humans in the room, but it still hasn’t got a bionic arm with integrated fountain pen.
BIG BOI w/ THE SOUNDS @ SEAHOLM POWER PLANT, MARCH 14, 2011
It is almost impossible to review this concert in context without describing the Foursquare social media campaign surrounding it, which is, of course, exactly what they were aiming for. I could write a review of Foursquare (the company as well as the service) at SXSW, but this isn’t the space for it. Suffice to say, watch out for those guys and girls. With great discipline comes great potential for evil.
Converted power plants have the best sonics, as Berliners know; if only Interactive kids were the best crowd. You have to allow everyone fifteen minutes to stare autistically into their Apple-branded audio-visual capture devices, taking photos of the Foursquare-branded giant projection screen showing the audience taking photos of the giant projection screen to append to their checkin on Foursquare. The band an artistic irruption into the middle of this house of infinite repeating mirrors. As the Seattle Times’ pundit pointed out (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/reweb/2014501401_golden_foursquare_ticket_unlocks_big_boi_tickets_but_what_else_a.html), “C-Bone wore a chain and a T-shirt featuring his name and a drawing of himself wearing a chain and a T-shirt.”
To be fair, when Big Boi showed the crowd was ready for him, tossing off suggestions like… well, “Ms. Jackson”… Being a casual fan, it was the first time I was hearing the tracks off Sir Lucious Leftfoot, and I was favorably impressed. But The Sounds, who are a band who exist so you can jump around and spill beer and practice cognitive surplus for half an hour – I say this with great fondness for Maja Iversson – had an uphill battle in the warmup slot. And for the first time I was in a crowd that couldn’t make enough noise (though we got our planned encore): not through lack of enthusiasm, but through what seemed like actual, physical lack of lung capacity. There weren’t even all that many smokers! Us cubicle farmers need to get out more.
OTHER GIGS, MARCH 16, 2011
Ivan and Alyosha: pretty, folksy indie rock, never rising above what one might call passionate competence. A rather better set came from N.C. orchestral folk collective Lost In The Trees, in the perfect-for-them setting of Saint David’s Sanctuary on 8th Street (where Low also played later in the evening). Headhunters on Red River and 8th, basically a two-level wooden tree fort of a venue that could never be a working proposition above a certain latitude in the Northern hemisphere, was playing host to Japanese hardcore from Osaka and Tokyo, which… okay, admittedly not my cup of tea. Raphael Saadiq was solid – as ever – at Stubb’s, in a set you can view online along with many others at NPR.org (http://www.npr.org/2011/03/17/134532123/sxsw-2011-raphael-saadiq-live-in-concert – why would anyone want to defund them? This Canuck socialist no comprende). To wrap a relatively early night, skipped Duran Duran (you laugh, but Devo rocked like motherfuckers when I saw them, so keep an open mind) and trekked over to the Phoenix to catch hyped post-MGMT Kiwi outfit The Naked and Famous, who were clearly shitting bricks in front of a packed and willing crowd. They were young and beautiful; nervous tension suited them. Check out their track “Young Blood”:
Well worth it, by me.