Thursday, March 26, 2009

SXSW 09: My Twitter Experiment

I'm headed to Texas for the second time in 2 months. Not sure if I like this trend, but at least it's Austin this time! #sxsw 11:11 PM Mar 17th

That was my first “tweet” related to Austin’s massive, annual music fest and conference, South by Southwest—otherwise known as “SXSW” or “Southby” by music industry types who want to seem cooler than you. I headed to Texas’s dusty capital with my husband, Seth, and his record label, Negative Progression, and as I was there for nothin’ but a good time, I decided to use the opportunity to practice up on my Twitter skills.

I've hesitated in the past is in part because I'm not sure anyone cares to read a minute-by-minute playbook of my life and, besides, what ever happened to a good, old fashioned air of mystery? But in Austin, where upwards of 2,000 bands were playing in the space of 5 days and lots of people wanted to know what was going on there, I thought it was a good time to share.

And I wasn’t alone. Billboard Magazine noted that, “Twitter was far and away the preferred method for reporting from SXSW, providing readers with a steady stream of reports on long lines, good BBQ, and bands to watch.”

So here's my SXSW story, told in selected Behind-the-Tweets.

Heading to 1st night of shows. Only at #sxsw can u go from M. Ward to Circle Jerks within an hour! 8:39 PM Mar 18th

The best thing about a place where literally thousands of bands gather is the diversity of music you can see in one day, and since my own musical history is all over the map, it works out well for me. I loved that we were going to see formative punk rock band the Circle Jerks (who, incidentally, still rock after almost 30 years) and HR from Bad Brains (who, incidentally, is still a nutjob but great showman after almost 30 years) in the same night that we would see much-discussed folky singer-songwriter M.Ward of the much-discussed band with actress Zooey Deschanel, She & Him.

(Keith Morris of The Circle Jerks and his impressive dreadlocks)

Ok, I finally get the hype...the Decemberists are killing it at #sxsw! 1:40 AM Mar 19th

We caught this much-hyped Oregon band at the NPR showcase outside of Stubb's BBQ. Friends have been trying to push them on me for years, but I hadn't really loved the recordings that I'd heard. Nothing makes me happier, though, than when a live performance converts me to fandom, and this one really did the trick. Heck, any band that has wildly varying influences and incorporates robots and full-band drum routines into their stage show is allright by me. Seth and I were both blown away.

(The Decemberists' rocking drum routine)

SXSW=Post punk frat party 12:58 PM Mar 19th

This observation was made when it was only 1 PM and the main drag was already clogged by Pretty Young Things drunk on cheap beer, but instead of white baseball caps and Uggs they sported tattoos and, as my girl Dee from MTV so aptly put it, “Flannel for DAYS.”

(The spandex and flannel-clad kids enjoying Death Metal pizza)

At documentary "say my name" about female mc's and sexism in hip hop. Not a single male in audience. Proving the point. #sxsw 1:20 PM Mar 19th

Did I mention that SXSW is also a film festival? It’s actually my dream fest; I would LOVE to have a film premiere there. Although the main film part is over by the time the music fest rolls into town, there were still some movies playing and I was lucky enough to catch Say My Name.

Some dudes did show up, eventually, but it was definitely striking to walk into a large theatre for a film about female empowerment through music and see that only women seemed to be interested in the concept. Compare this to the wide distribution of a film like Notorious about male rapper, Biggie Smalls, and the importance of a movie like Say My Name, which highlights the work of some of rap’s hottest female MC’s, becomes more apparent.

From classics like Sparky Dee and MC Lyte to contemporary artists like Jean Grae and some of the grime girls from London, this film covers a wide spectrum of often challenging topics and does what many music docs fail to do—it captures the energy and spirit of the music that it portrays in the filmmaking itself.

Waited 30 mins in line to see 5 mins each of Great Lakes and the Hard Lessons at Found party. Love me some Davy Rothbart though! #sxsw 5:17 PM Mar 19th

It's amazing how much time at SXSW is spent line, between sets, during performances. My feet were practically ablaze by Saturday night.

The payoff, of course, is seeing great bands. Another big plus is catching up with friends at the parties thrown by their various affiliations. In this case, it was Davy Rothbart, the plaid-clad man behind the excellent Found Magazine. I found him rocking out to one of his favorite bands from his home state of Michigan, the appropriately named Great Lakes.

After a slew of text messages, we also managed to catch up with Josh Rosenfeld of Barsuk Records (one of the world’s finest indie labels IMHO) at his showcase with Merge Records, and inadvertently saw a set there of a band we really liked: Telekinesis. Apparently, Josh is now managing this jangly, singer-songwriter pop outfit.

I know both Davy and Josh from my Jewish media conspiracy cult, Reboot.

At house show watching great Texas bands like old timey rock News on the March from Houston. #sxsw 6:29 PM Mar 19th

Just in case there aren't enough shows going on among the dozens of concurrent performances each hour, the locals (or, at least, the hipster, 20-something locals) like to join in the fun and throw a bunch of parties during SXSW week. Some, apparently, won't even let folks with Southby badges in the door (Love it!)

(Seth and Papermoons entering Casa de Gallo, where a sign out back read: Free BBQ If You Get Me High.)

We were lucky enough to catch such a show at Casa de Gallo, where some excellent Houston and Austin bands played. A highlight was the set by our lovely hosts and friends, Papermoons. (Danny from Papermoons used to play in a former Negative Progression band, Little Compass.) The singer, Matt, has a beautiful voice and Danny’s drumming is so on point, it’s sick. If you are a fan of the Shins or Iron & Wine, I definitely recommend checking Papermoons out on their current East Coast tour. They were so good, in fact, that they kind of ruined our evening, as the “official” SXSW bands that we saw later (especially the aptly named Sleepercar—former At the Drive In and Sparta) just didn’t live up to the expectations set at the little house show.

Dying of embarrassment due to all hipsters looking alike. Just ran up to, hugged and kissed someone who I didn't know by accident. 1:21 PM Mar 20th

SCENE: Girl sits alone at large table in crowded restaurant, awaiting guests. Noticing an old friend passing by on street, she jumps up from table and bursts out of glass doors to greet him.

GIRL: Hi!! (Throws arms around old friend and kisses him on the cheek.)

OLD FRIEND: Do I know you?

GIRL: Glenn?


GIRL: Oh, um, nice to meet you?

Girl returns to restautant as other diners stare. Ducking head to hide bright red cheeks, girl Twitters about experience.

Went to Village Voice party at #sxsw. Amazed newspapers can sponsor anything anymore. 6:15 PM Mar 20th

Seriously, right? Thank goodness they managed to pull it off though, because despite lack of free booze, they did give out swag bags with essential items like a beer koozie and condoms, and more importantly, some great bands played. We finally got to see M. Ward after giving up on the unbearable lines outside his Wednesday night show, and we caught a couple songs of the Crystal Antlers, too.

The highlight for me was Cursive. They are one of my favorite bands and I had yet to see them live. The band played with an extra member who turned out to be my favorite, as he managed to play trumpet and shake a maraca at the same time. I love me a dexterous man.

On the Twitter front, I think I made my first Twitterbuddy, @billyjensen (aka writer and Village Voice Director of New Media, Bill Jensen), by attending this show. I’m one of those people who has their Facebook page all private and never understood my white girlfriend who dated guys she met in the “Ebony and Ivory” chatroom and shit, but I can’t say I’m not flattered that well-educated strangers want to follow my random musings on Twitter.

"if you don't want a girlfriend, then take yo toothbrush out my house!"--Amanda Diva at #sxsw 7:15 PM Mar 20th

Amanda Diva went to drama school with my brother-in-law, and the theatrics were right up front in her performance. Aside from the fact that it was a pleasure to mix up all the white-guy-rock with some R & B flava, I also appreciated seeing an artist who didn’t take herself so damned seriously. She made jokes about people mixing her up with Alicia Keys, did goofy dances around the stage, whipped out some stunna shades for a rousing rendition of her song “NEON”…and still sounded great. Go, girl.

(The Dramatic Diva Herself)

A Skylit Drive= band with hair that Brett Michaels would die for. #sxsw10:04 PM Mar 20th
Case in point:

DEVO!!! What a way to cap off the night at #sxsw. 2:35 AM Mar 21st

Sure, SXSW is one of the best possible places to learn about and catch performances from some of the hottest up-and-coming or most blogged-about indie bands, but it’s also a great opportunity to see some well-known, mainstream bands that you probably wouldn’t otherwise pay for.

Devo was definitely my guilty pleasure of the week, if anything for the whack-a-doo fans wearing those crazy, red, plastic hats from the “Whip It” video. The 80’s electropop band did a very clever thing. Rather than having the audience focus on their faces and the fact that dang, these guys are getting old, they were silhouetted by an enormous video screen, projecting all sorts of bizarre imagery to enhance the show. Good times.

(DEVO backed by digital go-go girls)

Annoyed by long lines at #sxsw AP party. Now chillin on patio with free booze at lovely JDub party. Thanks @bizmonides! 4:51 PM Mar 21st

The fact that I was ten years older than everyone else waiting to get into the Alternative Press party really started to show when I could no longer endure standing in the unmoving monster of a line that didn’t seem to bother the able-bodied youngsters at all. I’m sorry, people, but after three long days and nights of music and mayhem, my dogs were barkin’ way too loud to wait around for your crappy screamo bands.

Thank goodness for the JDub Records party, hosted by my ever-classy pal, Aaron Bisman and his world music crew. I think JDub is one of the most interesting labels out there. Let’s face it, most indie labels are run by the Chosen People (at least every one I’ve mentioned in this blog so far), but JDub is actually, unabashedly, a Jewish record label.

Put on the map for introducing the world to Hasidic rapper, Matisyahu, JDub now has on their roster several very diverse bands that I happen to love—from gypsy punks Golem to Yiddish tent-revival bluesmen The Sway Machinery. I discovered a new one at their wonderfully relaxing party in the backyard of Copa: DeLeon. This energetic band (whose drummer kicked off the set from up in a tree) are self-proclaimed "15th Century Spanish Indie Rock." Ya don't see that every day!

(DeLeon drummer, opening their set)

Tinted Windows at #sxsw: 1 part Hanson, 1 part Smashing Pumpkins, 1 part Cheap Trick?? This is gonna be good. 11:16 PM Mar 21st

Really, I mean, how could we not? Thanks to a tip from my friend John Norris of MTV News fame, I knew that this gig was the not-to-be-missed freakshow of the moment, and it did not disappoint. Fronted by pretty-boy-trying-to-look-older-but-instead-looking-like-a-lesbian-with-facial-hair Taylor Hanson with Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos, who could be his grandfather, creepily leering over his shoulder, this performance was even weirder than I expected. Especially because they sound like freakin’ Huey Lewis and the News! What???

Thank Jeebus that James Iha still totally rules.

P.S. Seth thought they were great. I’m not sure what to make of that.
P.S.S. Sorry to say that no pictures were allowed at the show. But one is burned into my brain forever.

Today: world music > pop punk > indie rock > emo > party jamz > huey lewis rock > lez folk > soul. Only @sxsw. 1:39 AM Mar 22nd

This, my friends, is why SXSW rules. Match the correct band that we saw on Sunday with the correct genre from the above Tweet and you win a personalized @reply from me. ☺

Graham Coxon
Indigo Girls
You Me at Six
Tinted Windows

Have to admit, I really enjoyed being part of #sxsw conversation thru Twitter. Still can't decide if I want to go full time tho...about 8 hours ago from web

I have to say, I did not expect to enjoy the Twittering experience quite so much, but there was definitely something neat about participating in a collective conversation with a bunch of strangers-who-could-be-friends. Remains to be seen whether it will win me over for the long haul, but for now: tweet tweet.

P.S. Want to hear some of these great bands? Or even some terrible but much-discussed ones? There is a downloadable stream of one song from EVERY official SXSW band here,

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Power of Words

We are in an era of faster, more, and I do try to keep up. I shoot digital video; I take zillions of digital photos and post them on Flickr and Facebook and then Tweet about it. I live in a big, noisy, wild city and I love it. But...despite all the visual and audio stimulation constantly streaming in and out of my brain, I will always put great stock in the good, old fashioned WORD.

I was therefore very moved by this passage from "Spirit of '76*," part of a slate of poems written by John Updike as he approached the end of his life:

Be with me, words, a little longer; you
have given me my quitclaim in the sun,
sealed shut my adolescent wounds, made light
of grownup troubles, turned to my advantage
what in most lives would be pure deficit,
and formed, of those I loved, more solid ghosts.

R.I.P., Mr. Updike.

(*Spirit of '76 is part of Endpoint, published in Mar 16, 2009 issue of The New Yorker Magazine.)