The Worst of SXSW

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Photos by Marco Torres
Somebody somewhere really did not want us to see Smashing Pumpkins at SXSW.
Security and Cops Gettin' Wild: Look, I get it. Every drunken dickhead in town "knows someone" or thinks he has pull at the door, but that doesn't mean the hammer goes down on everyone. I was stopped by two cops who didn't want me to walk 50 yards from where the Smashing Pumpkins would be playing an hour hence, for unknown reasons.

See also: The Best of SXSW

And then when you want to play the whimpering "I have a SXSW badge, though" card, you feel like a choad and don't. I don't know what function preventing people from walking in the middle of a closed street had, but I hope it somehow saved thousands of lives. --Craig Hlavaty

All the Garage-Rock Acts: Should just pool their beer, weed, and cigarette money together and start sending the Black Lips royalty checks. I steered clear of every obnoxious surf-, fuzz-, buzz- and ADHD-plagued group I could, and still some of it made its way into my earholes. I would say I am ready for the next big movement, but what if it involves garage and dubstep? What then? --Craig Hlavaty

Marco Torres
Note: This is not the Flaming Lips. (It's Diplo.)
The Constant Noise: Did you know there is a lot of live music in Austin during SXSW? There is a lot. So much, in fact, that the din reaches a sufficient pitch as to drown out the more feeble buskers. I saw a tired dude playing acoustic guitar, muted completely by the nearby patio stages and the distant rumble from the monolithic vending machine or whatever and the hundreds of people rushing by, talking loudly on their cell phones. --Kiernan Maletsky

The Flaming Lips: The Flaming Lips are one of my favorite bands, so I knew I would see their set at SXSW this year. The psych-rockers closed out Friday's free Auditorium Shores show, making their mark by playing their fantastic new record The Terror in its entirety.

So why is this in the "worst of SXSW" post? Teasing. Just before playing their anthemic "Do You Realize?" to close out the show, Lips front man Wayne Coyne began to tease the crowd relentlessly that Justin Timberlake would be joining them on the song. He then ran backstage, ostensibly to bring out JT.

Most of us were unsurprised, despite some glimmers of hope, when Coyne showed up with a decidedly heavier-set man in a green mask. Coyne pulled the mask off to reveal that it was instead My Morning Jacket front man Jim James, who had played an uninspired opening set earlier in the night; a cruel, yet ultimately hilarious joke. --Corey Deiterman

The Shame Taco
The Shame Taco

The Hype Hotel: On Wednesday night, the Hype Hotel featured a night of hair-melting music: Phosphorescent, The Orwells, Jim James and Foxygen for the Aquarium Drunkard day party. That party was sponsored by Taco Bell, which means cartons of Doritos Locos tacos and bean burritos and correspondingly long lines to the bathroom.

Trust me, I love me a cheese-dusted taco shell, but coupled with the massive "Feed the Beat" bat signal floating on the wall, and the bizarro-massage station (which, by the way, was directly in front of the bathroom. Why, why, why would you want a public massage at night in the middle of a concert venue) made the Hype Hotel feel like a bad Vegas casino. --Nick Rallo


Foxygen: I don't "get" bands like Foxygen, and the whole hype, or supposed hype, around them. That being said, I tried to give the band the time of day at the Hype Hotel, and it just fell flat. A sad, glittery, indie flat. I am sure I am in the minority, but whatever. They were boring. I can't wait until this wave of "indie" is over. --Craig Hlavaty

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Macklemore: Enjoying those 15 minutes.
The "It's Gotten Too Big" Argument: First off, that's what she said. Secondly, if you just start embracing SXSW for what it is now , which is a marketing juggernaut slash party slash press junket slash great spring-break destination, it is not so awful. It got too big because all of us in years past have been really good at selling it as a great, badass time. Which it was.

We should have been dogging it this whole time. There are the people who complain about the marquee pop acts taking over the town, but most people who are at SXSW to hear new music were not beating the doors down at Justin Timberlake or Green Day. They were at small venues seeing promising (and unpromising) acts like lame-o no-fun dorks. If you never saw Macklemore & Lewis this SXSW, you were doing it right.

Let the popped collars have their shows, let me keep my Central Presbytarian pews and Lustre Pearl backyard. --Craig Hlavaty

Kitty: This rapper from Florida, who was just as surprised to be in Austin as the litany of hip-hop purists decrying her, played one of her shows at 1:30 a.m. to 30 people in the Palm Room. And, as is SXSW custom, the sound was terrible - her monitor was plagued by feedback issues and the mix was a garbled mess.

Via Kitty.

And she soldiered through, as most musicians in Austin did this week. But for Kitty, that meant even more hyper self-awareness, more gleeful irony. There's no way to cheer for that sort of thing -- if you yell and dance and do the usual concert affirmations, it feels like you're missing some joke. And if you stand quietly in the back, you're standing quietly in the back, and that's no way to see a concert. Or, put much more simply, this was an actual exchange that happened during the set:

Kitty: I'm doing really bad right now.

Person In the audience: It doesn't matter!

Kitty: I know, right??

--Kiernan Maletsky

Badges: If you're a casual music fan, you might love SXSW for the opportunity to see as many of your favorite bands as possible, rather than as a way to discover new bands. Good luck with that, however, if you don't have a load of money to bring with you.


Having gone to SXSW for the last few years, I've noticed a progressive decline in the availability of mainstream bands to the general public, and this year was probably the worst year yet. Unless you were in possession of a badge or a wristband, seeing Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Iggy and the Stooges, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Prince or Justin Timberlake was a total impossibility.

Even the Pitchfork Interactive showcase last Tuesday night, originally billed as open to the general public, was restricted at the last minute to those with badges and wristbands, leaving at least a hundred fans who waited in line for two hours standing out in the cold.

It's counter-intuitive, in a way. If you're a casual fan of music, you probably don't want to spend the money to obtain entry. If you're a hardcore music fan and you do buy a badge or a wristband, you probably want to see more of the free, general-public shows anyway. In the end, everyone loses. --Corey Deiterman

The SXSW Lottery: I know that it is a fact of life of the new corporate SXSW, but the whole lottery system for the biggest shows (this year: Green Day, Nick Cave, Depeche Mode, Sound City Players, Justin Timberlake and Prince) was very un-SXSW.

I get that crowds needed to be regulated, but I didn't see the point in doing so when plenty of other non-lottery winners were walking in with no problem. To be honest, though, I didn't really need to see four out of those six acts. --Craig Hlavaty

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