The Glowing Trough of Music: Five Days of South by Southwest 

We laugh, we cry, we hate, we score some dirt weed, suck at the corporate teat, rejoice

Wednesday, Mar 19 2008

Tuesday: Welcome to Corvette Day, Basically

Timothy Norris

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click to flip through (2) TIMOTHY NORRIS - Like many musicians in Austin this year, the Morning Benders love their neon Ray-Ban knockoffs.
  • Timothy Norris
  • Like many musicians in Austin this year, the Morning Benders love their neon Ray-Ban knockoffs.

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Like many musicians in Austin this year, the Morning Benders love their neon Ray-Ban knockoffs.

Timothy Norris

(Click to enlarge)

Washington, D.C.'s Le Loup: One of South by Southwest's great surprises

If you do a Google image search for “Austin,” one of the first things that pops up is a photo of two bikini-clad girls at the 1998 Austin Corvette Day. This probably has nothing at all to do with South by Southwest, yet judging by my initial impressions of this place — this is my first foray — I wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of the week, I end up seeing two highly siliconed and bleached women purring atop a sleek sports car. It’s shaping up to be that kind of trip.

SXSW is essentially a trade show, except instead of blond spokesmodels insinuating that they will be yours provided you spend $60,000 for a car that will make you look douchier than Steve Sanders on 90210, the festival (as well as the major corporate behemoths paying for it) attempts to ply you with nothing but free booze, free food and free music. As Dilated Peoples once aptly put it, “You Got to Rework the Angles.” (Jeff Weiss)Wednesday: Van Morrison — “Blah blah blah.”

Van Morrison’s pretty cool, wearing his trademark cap and sunglasses, holding a saxophone and totally nonplussed about SXSW. He’s got nothing to prove, seems like he could care less about “The State of the Industry,” the collapse of the label system, digital downloading. He’s Van Morrison, motherfuckers. He’s gonna do what he pleases. And if, when he’s scat-singing, he breaks off into, literally, a riff on the words “blah blah blah” — and he did this during the show — who’s gonna call him on it? He bellowed with half-assed conviction the phrase “blahblah blah blahhblahhhblah.” Which isn’t to say that it was bad; we were just more excited to see him than he us. Morrison’s dozen-odd band members filled the club with a variation on the cool jazz that he used to such great effect on early classics Astral Weeks and Moondance, cut it with a dose of country & western, and the crowd enjoyed it, though he most certainly didn’t bring the house down. He could have, had he dropped “The Way Young Lovers Do,” or “Sweet Thing” or “Brown Eyed Girl.” But Van don’t pander, has no time to give the people what they want. He gives them what they need. At one point between songs, he said, “I’m glad we’re getting somewhere, because I’ve got other things to do tonight.” Not many people can get away with saying such a thing onstage, but, well, this is Van Morrison, and his boredom is our medicine. (Randall Roberts)

 Wednesday: It’s a Numbers Game

Walking down Sixth Street on Thursday, you had to wonder if everyone in the world somehow heard that Art Brut song “Formed a Band” and decided that if Eddie Argos could do it, how hard could it really be? I’ve seen telephone directories thinner than the official SXSW guide, with about 54,322 bands scattered over four days, each one playing an average of 3.2 shows. Even at the Red Roof Inn, 15 miles out of Austin, I’m currently watching two dudes with long, scruffy hair, goatees, porkpie hats and skinny jeans bemoaning that their van broke down on the way here and their keyboardist got denied entrance. As far as I can tell, they weren’t demanding a MySpace Music page as entry into the city limits of Austin this week, so the band must be Canadian. Or else very, very stupid.

If you aren’t in bands, you work for a newspaper, or you write a blog, or work for a music-related tech company, or in promotions or for an agency — something. Which goes back to my trade-show theory. To paraphrase Back to the Future: It’s like an alternate Austin 1998 Corvette Day. But things here actually look a little more ’88. There are a lot of mustaches running wild, beards, blazers, lame-head bands, ironic MTV sunglasses, accursed neon ensembles and cockeyed caps.

The thing about festivals like this: You’ve got to approach them with the mentality of a baseball player, where getting a hit out of 10 times at bat makes you a Hall of Famer. But there’s something about being surrounded by all this great music that leaves you impatient and fidgety. It’s the same iPod phenomenon as having thousands of songs at your disposal, none of which you want to listen to for longer than 90 seconds.

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