In his latest entry Matt Sanders details day three of this year’s South By Southwest, which didn’t at all go according to plan..
On paper, Friday was looking like a relatively straightforward day. Not much in the way of conflicts and most everything was nicely centered around the main 6th Street drag. After having tromped around town to see fifteen acts the day before, I was looking forward to a nice, simple day. But things don’t always go the way they’re planned at SXSW.
The first order of business was to start on the south side of Town Lake (which I still maintain is actually a river) at the Frontgate Tickets Brunch. It was a little bit of an awkward feeling walking up to what may or may not have been a company only party, but at least one non-employee was spotted, so that was a relief of sorts. There was a tiny stage set up in one corner of the parking lot and in the other corner, there were a pair of stands handing out free breakfast tacos and beverages (including some tasty Bloody Marys). We munched on our breakfast tacos as we waited for The Felice Brothers who not only were not onstage at 12:30pm as planned, but also had failed to show up at all in their trademark Winnebago. It was apparent they were running late, so we decided to head across South Congress and down a couple of blocks to the Yard Dog Gallery to check out their setup and the Bloodshot Records day party.
With the first act having already started (and I cannot for the life of me figure out what her name is, though she was apparently subbing for Andre Williams), the tiny courtyard behind the gallery was already near capacity. I can only imagine how packed it must have been the night before when Okkervil River played. Nice set up overall, but it would have been futile to try and see anyone remotely popular there. After having a chance run in with some friends from Chicago, it was a quick walk back to Frontgate and upon our approach, the sweet sounds of The Felice Brothers could be heard wafting into the air.
With a Bloody Mary in one hand and the Texas sun beating down, the Felicers played a short, mellow set highlighted by Simone Felice’s beautiful reading of “The Devil is Real” from their first record. Sadly, bassist Christmas sat on the back corner of the tiny stage with his bass still in its case as he watched his comrades perform while nursing a left thumb wrapped in some heavy gauze. It later came to light that there had been a knife accident of sorts the night before and Christmas spent seven hours in the emergency room with band manager Daniel getting ten stitches in his thumb. Get well, Christmas.
So the start of the day had not quite gone exactly to plan, but nothing had flown off the rails and we were still on schedule. A trip back across the lake/river to downtown and our favorite parking garage on Brazos south of 2nd Street ($7/day with three ins/outs) didn’t take terribly long and soon we were standing in another parking lot on the corner of 7th and Red River as we waited for She & Him, aka the incomparable Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward. And let’s be honest here: the real reason to see She & Him is to gawk at Zooey who is one of the most captivating women on the planet. The pen filled up quickly as the time for their set drew near and Zooey (somewhat surprisingly) gave a perfectly fine performance. M. Ward, on the other hand, should stick to playing acoustic guitar as he fumbled multiple times while playing his reissued Gretsch Corvette. Unfortunately, acts at this stage were being broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio and only ended up playing three songs (maybe four or five) per set.
While coming down from my Zooey high, I next headed to Beauty Bar for more free booze and another performance by Brooklyn-based Longwave. I spied a cooler full of orange Sparks behind the bar and decided to finally enjoy my first can of the alcoholic energy drink purported to taste like Sweet Tarts. In retrospect, this may have helped me get through the afternoon and while the beverage was sickeningly sweet, it wasn’t that bad overall. Able to stretch their limbs a bit with a 45 minute set, Longwave delighted with not only the same group of fine new songs, but four tunes from The Strangest Things including “Wake Me When It’s Over”, “Everywhere You Turn” and “Daysleeper”.
As they launched into their final song, it was time to hike up the hill on the other side of I-35 and make our way to the French Legation Museum for an acoustic performance by Yo La Tengo. The French Legation compound is a leftover from the days when Texas was an independent republic and was recognized as such by three countries: The United States, England and France. Setting up a legation in a foreign country at that time was considered an extension of diplomacy if not a full-fledged diplomatic partnership that would be signified by an embassy. The grounds are expansive and lovely with a large stage and tent set up on the top of the hill near the main building and a smaller stage occupying the bottom of the hill, much of which was miraculously shaded by large trees. The main tent where Yo La Tengo performed was completely packed, so we picked a spot to the right of and just behind the band which turned out to be a fine vantage point. Ira, Georgia and James gave a wonderful performance including such favorites as “Sugarcube”, “I Feel Like Going Home”, “The Story of Yo La Tango” and “The Weakest Part”, proving yet again why they are one of the best bands in the country.
After a free bomb pop from The Ice Cream Man and enjoying several songs from an unknown trio playing the smaller, shadier stage, it was back across I-35 to investigate the Paste/Stereogum/Dell Lounge at Volume Night Club and The Whigs. While the band was playing perfectly fine, it felt to be about ten to fifteen degrees warmer in the club than it was outside (where temps had reached 90 degrees). This made for a quick visit, especially when it turned out that the drinks were not free. The ‘blogger cages’ (which resembled exotic dancer cages, but with geeks at keyboards rather than hotties in skimpy clothing) were an amusing diversion.
Feeling a little wilty, we stumbled across the street to Habana Calle 6 in hopes of catching The Felice Brothers for the second time today (partly out of curiosity to see how they’d fare with Christmas’ injury). Oddly, though, the posters for the Team Love Records showcase that evening did not have the Felicers listed at all and when 6pm came and went without any bands playing whatsoever, there was a suspicious feeling that this may be a bust. Strike One.
Okay, no big deal. Shit happens and it’s SXSW – there’s plenty more going on. We wolfed down a delicious Cuban sandwich at Habana and ran over to Headhunters for the Suburban Homes Records showcase where Two Cow Garage would be sharing a set with Jon Snodgrass of Drag the River fame. Upon arriving promptly for the 6:45pm set, we were informed that they had just finished playing. What? Apparently the 6pm band had been running late, so they switched set times with the Two Cow gang. Strike Two.
Alright, so I’m starting to feel a little discouraged now. But Chicago’s Tight Phantomz were going to be doing a set around the corner at the non-SXSW Creekside Lounge, so it seemed like a good time to head over there, have a drink and relax while waiting for their performance. Yet again, upon arriving, there were no indications that Tight Phantomz would be playing at all that evening. Postcards on the tables advertised six bands, none of whom were Tight Phantomz. The sound guys had a cheat sheet with all the bands playing that evening – no Tight Phantomz. Nobody in the joint has ever heard of this band. Strike Three – time for a Jameson.
While attempting to wash away the stink of Epic Schedule Fail with booze, however, Mike from Tight Phantomz enters the room. I immediately grab him and find out they’re not playing until 10:45pm that evening. Interesting. So we decide to go back to the motel, wash up and head back downtown around 10pm to get our fill of Tight Phantomz. Famous last words. We went back to the motel, but after getting settled in and taking a short power nap, it became clear that the day had been somewhat of a bust and rest would be the most important thing. After all, tomorrow’s Saturday with a chance to start over and make SXSW bend to my will.