Since I now call Austin home and I've attended multiple SXSWs, I've been able to approach this year's fest a bit more casually. When the cost of things like airfare, hotels, cabs, meals, and that ubiquitous badge are off the table, the pressure to get every dollar's worth out of every minute everyday is lower. Of course, living here during such an event isn't without its own downsides. Trying to coordinate your everyday life (especially with a toddler) around ten to twelve hours of music a day and a house full of out-of-towners presents significant challenges. When the mother of all music festivals hits your hometown, you can be assured of a few things: your sofa cushions will magically become as valuable as Manhattan real estate, and no matter what the weatherman says or what preventive measures you take, you will suffer at least a partial sunburn, and Sub Pop/Hardly Art will throw one of the week's best parties.
Some stereotypes are true. Only people from Seattle wear flannel in sunny 73 degree conditions.
After a quick and thankfully downhill 15 minute walk, I was on Sixth street where I spotted Danger Mouse and his entourage of impossibly hot indie ladies. It was like that Li'l Kim song where she raps about "chicks by the layers of all different flavors" and pretty f'n impressive. I pondered the spectacle for a minute then headed into the Moondoogies' first show of the day. A respectable crowd of Seattle well-wishers were cooked pink on the uncovered rooftop deck of Cheers! Shot Bar where the happy hour drinks were a mere $2 and no badges or wristbands were required. The band played tracks old and new and sweated out the glaring sun like pros. Their infectious sound drew in listeners from the street below, which is a SxSW sign you are doing something right. The new songs have a little more Laurel Canyon via 1971 in them and certainly boosted my anticipation for the next record, now tentatively slated for release in September. I popped in on a few other random shows before heading home for dinner with my kid and a change of shoes for the evening to come.
The Sub Pop festiveness started early with BBQ dinner and refreshments for artists, label employees, and friends. The venue filled quickly with badge-wielding hipsters when the doors flew open at 7:30 and Brooklyn-based ARMS kicked off the jams with their smooth and dreamy pop rock on the indoor Hardly Art stage. Milwaukee's Jaill got things going around eight outdoors for Sub Pop. During the band's performance, I caught sight of megacritic, tastemaker, and wearer of the most-recognizable haircut in music journalism, Rolling Stones' David Fricke, flying solo in the crowd. Fricke was nicer than pie when I approached him to ask about his festival experience; recommended he stay for the Moondoggies set; and survey those famous Ramone- style bangs up close. I felt like a big old geek for a minute or two for bothering him then realized if he really wanted to fly under the radar he would have changed his 'do in the last thirty years.
The Moondoggies' evening show was tighter than their afternoon performance and packed out. They took the stage announcing "Hi, we are the Moondoggies from Seattle. We're a grunge band." They proceeded to have the crowd singing along by the second song. It was the kind of show and performance that sets a band on a new course and it looks as it they won't be our hometown secret for much longer.
Other highlights included sexy, attitude-fueled fun from LA's Dum Dum Girls, England's edgy and raw Male Bonding and my favorite discovery of the evening, Hardly Arts' latest signees the Woven Bones who make delightfully, danceable garage rock, sport a female drummer who plays upright ala Moe Tucker and makes the band as much fun to watch as they are to listen to.
Sadly, I couldn't catch our own Dutchess and the Duke (but promise updates later on one of their other many SxSW performances) or the house rocking performance at Stubbs by former Seattleites Band of Horses (some platinum credentialed friends assured my it was a tasty as Stubb's BBQ sauce) but that's how it is here at Sx: you just can't see it all.