By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
THE FIRST STAGE: DENIAL
When you first arrive at SXSW, you are invincible, impervious to such forces as bad luck, bad vibes, laws pertaining to room capacity, and scheduled set times. You think: I will see every show. I will get in to every show. I do not need to get on any snobby guest lists. I barely even need a schedule of shows! I will travel among the people, with good will as my badge and Kismet as my guide.
And so it was on Thursday, my first day at the annual music-industry hoo-ha held (largely) in the spooky beer dens of downtown Austin. (Okay, yes, I did have a fancy get-in-everywhere badge — get in everywhere, that is, except the creepy, parasitic underworld of “unofficial” SXSW parties. More on that later.)
With Kismet and good will on my side, I found myself at a show where The Spinto Band, a hip/MySpace-y group the girl from Giant Drag had told me about a while ago, were playing. They’re better live than on MySpace, for sure — hookier, more harmonic, more accessible. You get the feeling they only sound lo-fi because they’re too young to know any better, and sometime down the road may be staring down a Jeff Lynne/ELO revelation, which will either destroy them or make them stronger. U.K.’s Boy Kill Boy gave a pleasingly energetic show of unpleasingly generic post-punk, haircut, Strokes music. (Really, though, energy does count for something; I only wish all the shoegazers in Silver Lake had an ounce of their high-hopes chutzpah.) Then Kismet kissed us all with a surprise gig by The Flaming Lips, who opened their set with a note-faithful rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” urging the entire tiny club to sing along full-volume, which we did. Giant balloons everywhere, of course. And so much genuine love of Queen.
Like an idiot, I left the show early to make it to the Beauty Bar for my first unofficial party, and this is where it all went wrong for me, and nothing would ever be the same. There’s a huge crowd and a big bouncer saying, “NO ONE is getting in.” I text my friend who’s inside, and she says, “go roundbak.” Roundbak, it turns out, is the alley where the bands actually play. D’oh! A mere chainlink fence separates the “ins” from the “outs,” and considering that half the “ins” are look-alike faces I vaguely recognize from Cobrasnake shots, I’m happy to be on the outs with Mark Sovel and TKfrom Indie 103.1 FM and members of The Prix. Nevertheless I am drugged and dragged inside and suffer through ALMOST AN ENTIRE SET by She Wants the Revenge, a band whom I have decided I completely love, because they are hilarious. Hilarious.I want a T-shirt so bad. It’ll go perfectly with the Limp Bizkit shirt I just made at Kinko’s. (They don’t even make them anymore.)
THE SECOND STAGE: ANGER
On Friday, Ray Davies is giving a talkie-singie thing where the sober old people go: the Convention Center. I’m all hopeful and shit. This is truly the only SXSW event I knew I could not miss. He comes out in cool shades, looks great, younger than Bono somehow. Voice sounds great, all freakishly boyish, and he begins strumming the opening chords to “Waterloo Sunset.” Everyone goes “awww . . .” and claps lightly, like people do, me included. Then he stops, and that’s the last time he plays anything old and good. He shows a lengthy, lengthy home movie he made of his post-9/11 U.S. tour. At every whistle stop, he mentions how far his band has traveled that day, as if it’s some big deal. 400 miles. 345 miles. As if every single musician in the room hadn’t traveled much farther in one day, many times, with much humbler accommodations.
Obviously, the Kinks’ banishment from touring the U.S. in the ’60s prevented Davies’ learning that, indeed, the U.S. is rather large. (As the T-shirts in the tourist shops here read, “Texas is larger than France.”) Some of the new songs are okay but not nearly as attentive to the details of “Other People’s Lives” as he seems to think. I love his music forever, forever, forever, but I know he can do better.
Of his old stuff, he says, with a degree of loathing, something like, “You can avoid ex-wives, but you can’t avoid the back-catalog.”
(Thankfully, I can’t avoid his ex-wives, as I heard The Pretenders sound-checking the next day outside Stubb’s Bar-B-Q. Went round back to get as close as I could, but could only hear Chrissie Hynde’s beautiful voice stop and start. Sounds like she doesn’t smoke.)
That night, I find myself waiting on a friend to go out. Around 11:30 we realize white-hot-hipster-fuckin-buzzband-du-jour Arctic Monkeys go on in a half-hour — across town. We trek on out into the night and text the Cobra, who texts back that the show is packed, he barely got in, huge line, whatnot. I’m feeling under the weather as it is, and the prospect of walking miles to see some overrated MySpace band just so I can, I don’t even know what — live forever? — makes me want to vomit. It’s impossible to get into any shows here. The lines and the lists and the badges and the buzz — all of it seems so at odds with what I thought this was supposed to be about. Fuck this, I decide, and perform a one-woman bed-in protest all night long.