The one band that made me the happiest was the one band I mainly wanted to see this trip, the composite group Tinted Windows, made up of members of Hanson, Cheap Trick, Smashing Pumpkins and Fountains of Wayne. It is a quickie side project for these members, most of whom will be returning to their main projects by summer, but for this spring, they are having fun and so are their new fans - myself included. The band is pure bubblegum fun! Their single, "Kind Of A Girl" was just released to radio, the CD of theirs comes out in just under a month and they hit Chicago at the end of April. Check them out!
A band that came out of nowhere to surprise me this year was The She Creatures. Their act is that they are three women from Venus (along with one male Earthling drummer), who have crashed they spaceship on Earth, to look for men and to rock us. They dress in bright blue wigs, bright blue mascara & lipstick, plastic-like outfits and use cheap props like a toy laser gun. Despite the 60's B-Movie campiness to the act, the ladies deliver classic garage rock that is highly enjoyable. Their few shows in Austin these past few days were their first, and so far only, US gigs. Hopefully, their spaceship will bring them back soon. (They actually hail from England and tour Europe regularly.)
Another Brit, Ed Harcourt, surprised me with a fairly good set. A little mellow at times, but the addition of a trumpet player and violinist added a lot to his sound. It didn't make me want to run out and buy any of his CDs, but it didn't make want to leave the room, either. Speaking of violinists, having on in your band seems to be the "in" thing lately, as quite a few bands are adding that extra element. One such band is LA's The Airborne Toxic Event, one of the "next big thing" bands this year. They played a couple of showcases at this years SXSW. I watched one and while, I find them talented and enjoyable, I didn't find them all that exiting. I'm not on the "next big thing" bandwagon for them. Another "next big thing" band, Forever The Sickest Kids have incredible energy and catchy hooks. That's the good news. The bad news is they aren't doing anything even remotely original to separate them from the many other emo bands already turning out similar & even better music. They also are not as funny to the audience as they seem to be to themselves. Another supposed "must see band" was synth-driven Late Of The Pier. I give them the E for effort, in that they were doing something unique and un-commercial by today's standards. However, the annoying lame lyrics and stupid rock formats, coupled with cliche stage antics, had me hoping they would take the leap off of that pier and forced me to the exit doors. One artist I sadly only caught the tail end of was Little Boots. At least it made want to check out more of their (her?) dance rock/pop act at some future time. They (she?) struck me as a more pop version of Goldfrapp. Catching the tail end of sets was a reoccurring theme this year, but with so much to see & do, there is no way to keep a schedule.
Going at the very same time as SXSW and at the very same location in downtown Austin, was the Red Gorilla Music fest. This music fest pretty much filled in every other bar on 6th Street that was not used by SXSW. It is the same concept: a new artist on stage almost hourly. Of the many bands I heard at these showcases, three jumped out at me: Chicago's Dot Dot Dot, who played on the itty-bitty stage of The Thirsty Nickel bar, but still managed to put on a large show. The half-hour showcase of songs was just not enough time for this group. Over at the somewhat larger stage of Darwin's bar, two bands on two different nights really grabbed my eyes & ears: Orlando's Afterglow Radio and Fort Worth's Green River Ordinance. Both were very promising acts.
The Austin Convention Center was the official home base of the SXSW festival. There, inside an exhibition hall, they set up two "bars" for some larger acts to perform in: the Bat Bar & the Lone Star Lounge. These were actually a pair of side by side TV soundstages made to look like amazing bars. They were indeed amazing, but it was more DirecTV magic than a great bar. Don't come to Austin in the summer and expect to find these fiction saloons. The Convention Center may be the official heart of the music fest, but 6th Street is the true heart of this event. Walking down the closed-off street is almost as much fun as watching any band. Thursday night, the street and bars were surprisingly not as crowded as years past. By Saturday night, though, it was wall-to-wall craziness. On Thursday, sitting on a curb enjoying some late night pizza (sounds odd, but everybody does it there), I watched one musician after another strolling down the middle of the street, including Jane's Addiction's Perry Ferrell, hanging all over a blond woman and having the time of his life. I watched Gordon Gano (formerly of the Violent Femmes) film a music video with his new partners the Ryan Brothers on a street corner down the block from where he was set to take the stage, while drunken partiers did all they could to ruin the shot by acting like morons right behind him. (Unfazed & enjoying the atmosphere, Gano never stopped smiling about the situation.) In addition to the dozens of bars and the non-stop parade of SXSW revelers, there was so much more going on here: all types of fast food being sold out of carts & trailers, street musicians playing for a buck, a guy dressed up as Captain Morgan & posing for photos, PETA protesters finding a unreceptive audience, DirecTV interviewing musicians on a crane, musicians handing out CD-Rs of their band, and some of the local Austin freaks that come out when there is a crowd. 6th Street is a world unto itself during this fest.
Looking past the influential nature this annual event has on the music & radio industry, "South By" is a party like none other. Crazy, exciting, loud and wild. There is an electricity in the air, as much as there are constant drum beats & guitars off in the distance in every direction. Everybody is smiling, everyone is friendly, everybody is excited about something they might see later, everyone has a story to tell about the day before, everybody is of one mind set. There is always a twinge of disappointment, as well. Since there are so many acts playing at the very same time, it is impossible to see it all, and there is always the feeling that you are missing out on something wonderful happening down the street. The fact is, you probably are missing a bunch and there's nothing you can do about it. All you can do is enjoy the ride -- and what a ride SXSW is. See ya' next year!