I've got a whole city to hold down

March 22, 2004

The Austin Adventures of Lazlo Hollyfeld

Chicagomuzikblog's roving correspondent collides with South by Southwest. Guaranteed more entertaining than the mild missives of Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot.

Day One: Too Drunk Already

Wednesday, March 17

Light snow in Chicago has turned an on-time departure into an hour-plus delay, so I have plenty of time to check out my fellow passengers. No Japanese bands on the flight this time, but plenty of familiar faces. Imagine if you chartered a plane, then handed out free airfare to the people you see around you at shows on a weekly basis. That’s the Chicago-to-Austin flight on the Wednesday of SXSW. As you walk down the aisle you’ll see nothing but the faces of musicians, publicists, managers, club employees and fellow music geeks. Some of them know me, but not my double-secret assignment from Chicagomuzikblog.

Comfortably in the air and I’m poring over my homework. SXSW features four nights of official showcases (running from 8pm-2am, with bands playing 40-minute sets, every hour on the hour, at each of 50-something Austin clubs) and dozens of free daytime goings-on, so Rule Number One is Have a plan. Months in formulation, mine boils those 2,000-plus performances into four sleek cheat sheets. Rule Number Two: Hit the ground running.

Opal Divine’s Freehouse
Got my wristband - the ticket to the showcases. Now I’m double-fisting Shiner Bocks, so I guess things have officially begun. There’s some internet geek party going on here, which I play to the tune of a solid set by the Silos and four free beers. It’s time to go soak some of that up.

Iron Works BBQ
It’s snowing in Chicago. Here in Austin I’m sitting on an open porch. Before me: sausage, chopped beef, beans, potato salad, pickles & onions. And another Shiner.

Fader/Levi’s Lounge
This club is located on 6th Street, Austin’s downtown bar strip. They’ve taken over a retail space and put up a tent for live music in the parking lot out back. Inside, me and my sidekicks—Lawyer Boy, Mrs. Boy, and Bald Willie—are confronted with sofas full of hipsters not taking advantage of the complimentary X-Box on the plasma screens in front of them. We make our way out back, past a bunch of washing machines flush with Levi’s ads. The shtick is they’ll be giving away a pair of jeans with an iPod in the front pocket, every day at 5:01pm.

Out back we find we’ve just missed the Reputation. There’s a decent amount of recognizable Chicago folk around, but rather than chat I head straight to the free Red Stripe.

Phillys Cordalene plays a solid 25 minutes, but I might be one of 12 people paying attention. The rest of the joint is all about seeing and being seen.

Next up is Elkland. The last thing I need is another band with an 80s fixation, especially when the lead singer feels the need to do nothing more than a spot-on Robert Smith. I switch to bottled water to drown the surliness.

The gang and I decide to go gawk at Julie Delpy. Yes, that Julie Delpy, from flicks like Before Sunrise, Three Colors: White, and Europa Europa. Seems she’s shilling a sideline as a singer-songwriter.

Julie Delpy? There’s a line down the block, so we follow SXSW Rule Number Three: Adjust. We hop across the street, as there’s no line at Buffalo Billiards.

Buffalo Billiards
New York’s Sea Ray is onstage. Good live show, nice shoegazer influence - and I’m always a sucker for some rock cello. There’s also a large screen behind them displaying a mess of blurred images. Forget the bottled water, my inner genius says. I down two bourbons.

We’ve skipped to the Mexican showcase. Two members of Ozomatli will end up getting arrested outside this venue later this evening (more on that in an entry to come), but we’re here to see Vaquero. Solid indie rock, but it’s a weird dichotomy. They’re singing in English, their sound could be any skinny boys you see at Double Door or the Empty Bottle, but all the between-song banter is nothing but Spanish. After enjoying this for 20 minutes, it’s time to hop around.

The first venue I visited on my first trip down to SXSW several years ago, and I still really enjoy the atmosphere here. Open-air and spacious, it’s unlike anything in Chicago. Imagine an indie-rock Ravinia that holds around 4,000 bodies and you get the picture. Sweden’s Division of Laura Lee is on stage; for some reason, I don’t mind blatant theft (in this case from the MC5) when it’s a Swedish band.

Between sets I get my first true drunken joy of the evening: I take a piss next to Seymour Stein.

The fuel: A liberal mix of 12 oz. Shiners and 16 oz. PBRs.

Detroit’s Von Bondies are next. They can best be described as competent, and I say this as someone who paid cash for their last two albums and enjoyed their live show twice at the Bottle. For some reason, they don’t buy into their act tonight, and neither does this near-packed lawn.

The Parish
A great venue when you find it - the place’s name seems to change every year. It’s a second-floor space smack in the middle of the 6th Street drag, and the Rosebuds (debut album out on Merge, hint hint) put on a perfect 40 minutes. My history with this band captures a series of events I truly love: 1.You hear a song on WLUW that compels you to run out and buy the album (in this case, they namecheck Smiths lyrics in the first verse-bonus cool points). 2. The entire album is rock-solid, with not a moment that disappoints. 3. You finally see them live, and they not only capture everything you heard in the album but add to it in intensity and noise. (Even better: When it’s only a 3-piece making that beautiful racket.)

The Rosebuds blow through everything they know and they’re offstage by 11:30, so we wait around to catch Destroyer (essentially Dan Bejar of the New Pornographers and whoever’s in tow). I’ve seen the band once, and it was only Bejar with his electric guitar; tonight he’s playing with Frog Eyes as his backing band, and they just sound sloppy. Even worse, Bejar has that look in his eyes: As if he’s intentionally making it hard on the crowd. As if we don’t deserve a pleasurable listening experience. With a thousand bands playing this week, I got no time for attitude. We last through two and a half songs.

Club DeVille
Another great open-air stage and just kitty-corner from Stubbs. My notes say I caught the last 3 songs from Lil Capn Travis, but typing this days later, the memory eludes me. Couldn’t be the booze. Right? Anyway, Austin’s Grand Champeen takes the stage at 1am, and its the perfect finish to the first night. I’m always a sucker for their live show (think an early Soul Asylum sound), and even though there’s a hometown vibe, there’s a Chicago contingent present as well. I spy Katie and Tim Hideout, Bloodshot Nan—and Squeaky Pete, an old friend who seems, well, tired, and at least slightly overserved. His head bobs along to the music, but his eyes are completely shut. When he stumbles forward, we keep him upright. That’s where the hanging tag on the back of his shirt comes in handy.

Magnolia Café
We wind up at the usual spot for late-night eats. I order off the omelet menu, #2 House Special. What’ll you have?

Tomorrow: Day Two - the Schubas party, a squabble with Bald Willie, and other delights.