With the recent passing of another SXSW conference and festival I have been reminded of the eight days I spent in the Texan sunshine in 2009 with John Lynch of The Dream Machine.
After a long 10 hour flight from London and the initial panic of having no phone, no money and no room, I quickly re-adjusted to SXSW time. I realised that Austin does not allow you to rush; you have to leave all your worries at the immigration desk.
I had managed to speak to John whilst changing flights in Atlanta airport and arranged a rendezvous, so on arrival I hopped on the downtown bus and headed for 6th street on Red River, where I was met by John (the hairy one) and we went for a drink at the Beauty Bar a fitting start to what turned into an amazing week.
The opening night began at the Austin Music Awards where ‘the hairy one’, (also the music booker at the Half Moon) was designing the on-stage lighting for the Black Angels. John was accompanied on the control desk by an assistant going by the name of ‘Chopper’, I think John found this rather comforting.
I found a spot at the front and plonked myself onto a very noisy sub-base and began to soak up the evening. The proceedings started rather like an annual golf club dinner with the inductees into the Austin Music Hall of Fame being invited onto the stage to collect their awards. The most notable being Alejandro Escovedo, with several accolades including best album for ‘Real Animal’.
The legendary Austin punk band The Dicks kicked things off and then Alejandro gave a performance with the one remaining member of his band The True Believers. Finally The Black Angels took to the stage to end the show accompanied by Austin wildman Roky Erickson, formerly of the 13th Floor Elevators.
Thursday night I headed for the Elysium for a date with Pete Murphy, ex Bauhaus man, he goes by ‘Peter’ these days and now lives in Istanbul.
This was a raw performance from Murphy, who reeled the audience in, with a quintessentially English performance, giving all he had, until he was, in his own words ‘exhausted’.
He paused for breath and chatted with the audience to cries of ‘Pete we love you’, to which Murphy replied ‘Why I’m a Moth
Friday saw British band ‘Fanfarlo’ entertaining a packed Presbyterian church, a surprising choice of venue for a band with the audience seated in pews. They performed well and their horns and strings echoed around a cavernous pulpit. Not staying for the full sermon, I dashed off quickly to catch Graham Coxon perform some songs from his latest album. ’Sorrows Army’ a catchy little number, going down well to an otherwise distracted crowd of lounge bar drinkers.
Tricky headlined at the Austin Music Hall. Not knowing too much about this man apart from his Massive Attack days, I did not know what to expect. He gave a mesmerising performance through a cloud of thick smoke to a somewhat daunted crowd, some of whom got it, others didn’t. I suppose that is the whole point of Tricky
Saturday afternoon was spent watching more bands in the sunshine of Waterloo Park, one of the many events happening ‘outside’ the official sxsw festival. There is much to do in this city and you don’t need to buy the official entry badge to have fun, although it does help when you want to get into a gig, as you get in first. At £695 dollars for a walk-up pass it’s not a cheap option, although it does give you access to the many seminars being held in the Austin convention centre.
We then made our way up to 39th street on Guadalupe to The Spider House, a coffee house and bar with a beautiful garden, thrown together with bits and pieces of old tat.
A stage in the garden provided the perfect platform for the many bands that were playing there over the weekend. The Spider House is right next to the campus and so attracts young students all busy working and playing on their laptops, what a great place to study. It reminded me of the time I moved to London and the best parties were in the back street arches and you didn’t need a fistful of dollars to create the best hang out in town, Check it out
Heading out south across the Colorado River we entered the show ground at Lady Bird Lake for a free concert which seemed to attract the whole of Austin. The Cannabinoids were performing with special guest Erykah Badu. The local crowd were tucking into their enormous turkey drumsticks and downing yards of Tequila in the strangest looking wine coolers I have ever seen.
I left early and so I missed local Austin band ‘Explosions in the Sky’; I will catch them another time. I had a far more pressing engagement, along it transpired with two thousand others to see PJ Harvey and John Parrish.
Polly Jean was due on stage at 10pm at Stubbs’ Barbeque on an outdoor stage in the car park. Knowing there would be a huge queue for this, I decided to be early for once in my life. My punctuality was rewarded as I arrived just in time to catch Razorlight on stage with Johnny Borrell pumping out the last few lines of that catchy little number they do. I’m not a fan, but when you stumble across a band in full throw, one can indulge oneself in a little foot tapping.
A couple of beers later and a quick set change and the crowd rose to greet PJ and Parrish on stage. The audience were treated to a taste of their new album.
With lyrics like ‘Chicken liver heart’ and ‘Stuff it up your fucking ass’ PJ immediately got the crowd on-side. Harvey manages to combine the crude with the melodic and the result is beautiful. ‘Black Hearted Love’, the latest single capped off a stunning performance, this woman is truly ‘out there’ on her own
Just when I thought I’d reached a high I suddenly realised the night was far from over, Echo and the Bunnymen were on at Rusty Spurs at midnight. Rusty’s is a great little bar where they do line dancing every Tuesday night. I had never seen Echo live but the ‘Cutter’ was my first ever 12 inch remix on vinyl some 27 years ago, so this was a trip down memory lane for me. Three hundred people packed into a ‘gay line dancing’ club to see a scouse band from the eighties congers up some interesting images.
Sunday at sxsw had another lovely surprise in store, we all headed off to South Congress to the San Jose Hotel car park to drink coffee at Jo’s café and explore the many vintage clothes shops. It’s a great spot for dog watching too, there’s even a rescue centre on the hill.
Monday sees a mad dash for the airport as everything winds down. We delayed our departure until Tuesday when things had quietened a little; it’s also a good opportunity to see Austin return to normality and gave us the unmissable experience of dining at East Side Pies, a small shack on Rosewood Avenue that does the best Pizza in town.
This was my first overseas festival and although not easy on the pocket, it’s one to put in your diary soon.