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Thursday, March 18, 2010

SXSW: Notes from the road pt. 3

click to enlarge Howlies at Galaxy Room
  • Howlies at Galaxy Room

SXSW is an enigma that could not happen anywhere but Austin, Texas. It's the only time and place where industry cheese and pure, unadulterated music for the sake of art converge on the same city while letting go of pretense. Complete strangers make no bones about chatting you up and asking for your life's story over breakfast tacos, and you don't mind telling them. Everyone you meet runs a blog, a record label or they're there playing a show, even if it isn't officially recognized by the conference. It's enormity is overwhelming, and it's impossible to maintain a schedule. Nothing starts when the program says it's going to start, and it doesn't really matter. It's best to just dive in and let the crowd push where it may. The happiest accidents happen that way.

It's easy to get swept up in the same 10-12 block radius of the fest and never have a dull moment. But there's no real sense of adventure in that. One major highlight of my short time there this year included figuring out the bus schedule and riding far from the maddening crowd over to End of an Ear Records to see Golden Triangle, Happy Birthday and Pierced Arrows. All of the printed and texted matter said that Golden Triangle was to start at 5 p.m. I got there by 4:30 and they were already done. Bummer. But Happy Birthday tore it up, as did Pierced Arrows.

click to enlarge Happy Birthday at End of an Ear
  • Happy Birthday at End of an Ear

And that was the real consolation, being immersed in one of the most bad ass record stores I've seen in a good long while, and I frequent them a lot. I promised myself no record shopping because I was just going to have to lug them around Austin and the rest of the country for several days. But alas, I spent a lot and scored some pretty major scores (ask me later, I'd love to tell you all about the records I bought). I didn't see any other SXSW badges there, so I knew that I was onto something good.

The trip took me through neighborhoods in Austin that look more like the Texas college town that I saw in Richard Linklater's Slacker so many years ago — modest neighborhoods with no bustle. I even heard roosters and a peacock calling out from more than one backyard along the way. That was cool.

Another highlight this year was spending time on the road with the four members of the Howlies and wrapping our heads around everything from the Stooges to Steely Dan. Seeing them multiple times over a couple days gave me the chance to fully take in the vocal harmonies that these guys have perfected. Their songs are so simple they're complex, and so gorgeously catchy that it feels like a guilty pleasure. There's a classic quality to their sound, and it's no wonder that Kim Fowley wanted to produce them once he heard them. Fowley is a character like no other, by the way. He's an impeccable self-salesman and his rider includes a whole rotisserie chicken and a banana among other things.

When Howlies hit their last note at the Galaxy Room on Wed. night the house music came up, and the club was blasting Gentleman Jesse's "All I Need Tonight." The people who were dancing didn't miss a beat. I saw them singing the words and bobbing their heads to the Howlies' songs and Gentleman Jesse's song as though they had been doing so for years. It seemed to imply something, but what it is I'm not sure. It's hard to see the forest for the trees, but one thing is for sure, these songs are catching the same ears.

click to enlarge Zoroaster at Mohawk
  • Zoroaster at Mohawk

I also spent a lot of time bouncing between the Brooklyn Vegan showcase, which was situated next door to the Action PR showcase at Mohawk. In one instance I was swooned by the lite indie sounds of Here We Go Magic and the Middle East. Twenty paces away I had my face smashed by Gates of Slumber, Priestess, High on Fire and Zoroaster. And let's talk about Zoroaster for a minute. Something happens when these three guys take the stage, something that transcends both time and space. I watched the show from high above the stage and felt as though I were peering down into the depths of hell. It was awesome.

There's a whole lot more going on this week. Sadly I have to leave to take care of family business, but I got my fill of sensory overload, at least for this year. But still, it would have been cool to be at that ATL vs. ATX baseball game today. Anyone heard the score?

(Photos by Chad Radford)

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