My first ever trip to Austin for SXSW is in the books and I’m already thinking about ’14. I tried really hard to balance the two types of shows you’ll encounter: The big, drool-inducing corporate sponsored showcases and the low-key corner bar with unknown band names. It was good to have the option to do both, but it was hard to face this reality; I missed 95% of all the shows.
With that in mind, here’s what I did see–or at least thought I saw– between a haze of Lone Star spray and mosh pit sweat:
Best show I saw: Since it’s March I’ll make this analogy. If SXSW is March Madness then Nick Cave is the Miami Heat. I love College Basketball, I love it more than the NBA. But on Wednesday night at the NPR showcase I witnessed a man who went straight to the pros out of high school.
Best Set: One of the bands I was most looking forward to seeing was the Welsh trio, The Joy Formidable. Someone somewhere quoted: “Do one thing and do it well.” Maybe it was lead singer Ritzy who said that, because they know their strengths and they use them.
Best Stumble Upon Discovery: Local Austin band Orthy has a pretty standard brand of Joy Division-y, Depeche Mode, The New Division type of dance music. But their drummer is bananas and the lead singer looks like he was in every John Hughes movie.
Best Pure Rock Moment: I caught Delta Spirit’s Matt Vasquez climbing up and over a 20-foot stage tower and elude security guards after coming down all while the band continued to play on as a sort of snub to stage management who wanted to cut their set short.
Best Pure Rock Moment #2: I know the above because at the Nick Cave show the following night, I just so happened to be standing next to Matt who told me the whole story from his side. He then threw his arm around me when Nick decided he wanted to own every man, woman and child in the city of Austin and said, “That’s Rock n’ Roll!”
Best Bar/Venue: Black Heart on Rainey Street. Pure American West on the inside, views of downtown Austin skyline out back. Austin at it’s finest.
Best Food: Lone Star Beer. But if you must eat, Iron Works BBQ.
Best Company Sponsor Swag: American Rag made flash drive slap bracelets out of some pretty sturdy rubber. All boxes ticked on that one.
Best Purchase: Donuts. Every morning I bought donuts for the crew making drinks at the Sonos house. Every time I felt parched later that day, I had a hand-crafted Moscow Mule in my mitt.
Best Lineup: I had to attend at least one of those big-time lineups and I feel good about the one I picked. Surfer Blood, Atlas Genius, Frightened Rabbit, Alt-J, Joy Formidable, The Flaming Lips
Best Feel Good Moment: The Mowglis from Los Angeles do that whole community band, love fest thing very well. They have a ton of fun on stage and in return, so do you.
Best Stroke Of Good Luck: I found my badge after it got ripped off my lanyard during the Andrew W.K. mosh pit. Remember: Those guys you slam against and push you around, they also help you find things. All in good fun kids!
Best Stroke Of Good Luck #2: Finding a support barrel to stand on during the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis show. Talk about sight lines.
Ironman Award Goes To: Surfer Blood. Look, every band grinds it out and plays a ton. We caught them at their last showcase their 10th in 3 days and they played like it was their first.
*Editor’s note: When I asked JP, the lead singer of Surfer Blood what he was going to do afterwards. He said: “I’m going to go home to my mom’s house and close all the blinds. Probably watch a lot of Bugs Bunny.”
And now, so will I.
Until next year, Austin. That’s All Folks!