Saturday is the day at SXSW Music on which people really start dragging: You start seeing people sitting on every available sittable surface (curbs, window sills, etc.) and the energy of Sixth Street is a little less frantic. But it’s a nice sort of fatigue, and it doesn’t stop the parade of concerts happening in every nook and cranny. But it does keep me in bed a little bit later—nothing seems more important than a bit of chill time.
But still: Rachael Ray’s Party. I didn’t go last year, but this time out the lineup was stronger and it was at a bigger place, Maggie Mae’s, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Also: Delicious-sounding food was promised (ancho chicken soft tacos, seven-layer sliders, bourbon BBQ chicken), and who can turn that down? Guess what? The food was pretty damn sub-par—not inedible, but by no means TV quality. Ms. Ray was walking around (being stalked by Marc Hawthorne), not behind the Dorito-crushing machine that she patented, so maybe it’s not her fault. Also: tons of free pre-mixed Mojitos that were insanely sweet. And this is coming from a guy who likes Malibu and orange juice.
I first saw a singer-songwriter named John Pringle, who said “This is a new one” to a room full of people with their backs to him, scarfing down food and playing Guitar Hero. He then corrected himself, “That was stupid. Every song I play is new to this room.” On one of the outside stages, a thoroughly mediocre band I’d never heard of before was rocking things out, faux-rockingly. It turns out The Cringe is Rachael’s husband’s band. A-ha. I headed downstairs and ran into former A.V. Club editor Stephen Thompson, who had just seen Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, which he claimed was the greatest thing he’d seen at SXSW. And there I was wasting my time on The Cringe.
Back upstairs was the geriatric rock association presents show, New York Dolls. There are only two of them left (David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain), but there’s still some great energy there, even if they’re a little tough to look at. Downstairs, I watched pretty much the entire set by Ra Ra Riot, because I couldn’t get anywhere near the stage when they played our party on Friday. I’m by no means a RRR superfan, so I was surprised at how many songs made me go, “Oh, this is the one I really like!”
Back upstairs, Rachael introduced The Hold Steady, squealing like a tiny wood sprite. She seemed genuinely excited, even if half the people there were making Dorito casserole jokes. I watched the tippy-tops of THS’ heads for a few songs before heading over to the convention center for two songs by Echo & The Bunnymen, just for the hell of it. Appropriately, they were playing the Bat Bar, and Ian McCulloch was wearing shades. One of the songs I heard was “Bring On The Dancing Horses,” so it was worth the trip. I also stopped by Flatstock, the incredible poster show, and saw Chicago homeboy Jay Ryan of The Bird Machine. He may be the nicest human being alive.
Then it was back for sustenance and rest, because I knew this would be the latest night of SXSW for me. We convened at the hotel and celebrated Kyle’s birthday with cookie sundaes from room service. Rock-star life.
My evening started late with The Shackeltons, an inspiring rock band from Pennsylvania whose self-titled record from last year was pretty incredible. There weren’t a ton of people watching, but they played with passion, dedicating their final song to everybody’s mothers, and encouraging audience members to put their arms around strangers. A young lady came up and hugged me, isn’t that nice? Britt Daniel of Spoon was right up front, rocking out.
Then I headed over to see some comedy with Mr. and Mrs. Sean O’Neal (of the Texas O’Neals). The quick summary: Brandon Walsh—funny. Andy Kindler—died a little bit, partly because he was so distracted by the booming beats coming from outside the club. And then it was time to move on.
I saw Titus Andronicus a couple of months ago, and they were pretty fantastic, much better live than their record, which is pretty good to start with. Here, they were sloppy as hell (maybe a little drunk, it was late), but still fun. The song “Titus Andronicus,” with its shouted outro (“Your life is over!”) is pretty unstoppable. I dropped in a different club quickly to see Illinois, who were not much like I expected, and a little disappointing. Still looking forward to a full-length from the vaguely psychedelic Pennsylvania band.
By this time, close to 2am, it was time to head over to the SPIN magazine closing party, where Trail Of Dead were supposed to go on at 2:45. Security was insanely tight, even though the venue wasn’t crowded. Even though I had a laminate and had RSVPed, I was turned away—along with every other person that came up to the entrance. I thought about pulling the “I freelance for SPIN” card, until somebody walked up with a SPIN business card and was turned away.
Unabated, I managed to sorta sneak my way in with the Trail Of Dead posse, in time to watch Superdrag. They’re solid and loud but never terribly inspiring to me. It’s a bit of a sugar rush—fun while it lasts, but ultimately not that exciting. By the time Trail Of Dead went on, at 3:30, they were especially feisty—and this is a band that’s always at least a little feisty. I’m constantly amazed how they can keep songs together and attempt to destroy everything around them at the same time. Drummer-singer Jason Reece spent half the show out in the crowd, commiserating with friends by enlisting them to help sing—and basically crashing into everything around him.
Meanwhile, singer-guitarist Conrad Keely—who was all smiles most of the show—ended up attacking the monitor wedges at the front of the stage, trying his damnedest to knock them into the crowd. All the while, Trail Of Dead’s roadies are doing their best to not let it happen. (In a similar move, Keely attacked his own speaker stack, and the sight of the band’s road manager bracing the stacks was something to see.)
It was the perfect cathartic way to end the festival for me, with a burst of aggro energy followed by a walk back to the hotel accompanied by the morning birds and street sweepers. See youse next year, Austin.