SXSW: Day Four

Reaching the final full day of festival activity, I was beaten-down but still
ready to be impressed. Strangely enough, it was raining in Austin (a rare
event these days). This blocked my first attempt to see Dr. Dog in the parking
lot of a pizza joint (Home Slice). I had seen the band at SXSW 2005 and found
them to be one of the highlights of the festival. Their glammy take on prog
and power pop is ambitious and packed with energy. Alas, I would have one more
chance to them later in the day.

In the meantime, I hightailed it over to Longbranch Inn on East 11th. It's a
great little neighborhood bar, yet, during SXSW, like most other watering
holes, it becomes a music venue. United State of Electronica were set to play
at 1:45 pm, but due to some shifting, had started early at 12:45. I came in
during their second song, and the crowd was already heaving with a boisterous
neo-disco pulse. That this can happen at 1 in the afternoon is a testament to
the character of USE's performance. Daft Punk-style guitars blazed over
rock-solid bass and drums pounding out a tight 4/4 groove. The vocal melodies
tended to be shortened to the simplest (and catchiest) of phrases so that one
or more of the six vocalists could easily rouse the audience into unison
chanting. One can tell that they've worked hard to hone their onstage skills
and that the work has unquestionably paid off.
It's sad that there are not many bands with the same commitment to the live
experience that USE has. Their ability to whip an audience into a frenzy is
almost unparalleled, at least for a band working with their means. It makes me
hope that they find the right backing so that they can some day develop their
stage show unfettered by limitations. Truly one of the most awe-inspiring
events of my time at SXSW.

My second attempt at making it to see Dr. Dog was thwarted, this time by an
obscene queue. In contrast with 2005 where I was never turned away from day
showcases by prohibitively long wait times, this marked the third time that a
line had kept me from seeing a band in 2006. A little rundown by the activity
level of the past few days, this disappointment sapped my energy, and I took
some time to regroup. Feeling that I should eat something before attempting
any night events, I went with a small crew of fellow festivalgoers to a
reputed southern cooking establishment. This was my big mistake.

Two smothered pork chops and a bevy of sides later, I waddled my way down 6th
Street towards Exodus, where the new Manchester-based XFM were hosting an
evening of entertainment. With this being the case, I wasn't all that
surprised to see Tony Wilson there introducing the acts; although, I must
admit that I was a bit starstruck. After all, here's the man who brought the
world Joy Division, A Certain Ratio, Durutti Column, Happy Mondays, and at the
very least, one of my favorite films (24 Hour Party People) is based
around him as the main
Regardless, the first act upon arrival was Liam Frost, a focused
singer/songwriter with a warm, distinctive voice. His music was wonderful, but
as he rocked with acoustic fury, the warning signs of food coma were coming
on. My eyelids began to close uncontrollably while I was still standing. I
decided that I needed to find a bed as soon as possible, and with as much
energy as I could muster, I charged through the doors of the club. I barely
made it back to the car without collapsing on the sidewalk, but once there, my
saintly wife drove me safely to our abode. I was asleep in no time.

Upon reflection, this rather unceremonious end to SXSW 2006 holds some
important lessons for me. One, I need to remember that when running a marathon
(literal or metaphorical), pacing is the real challenge. Two, just because a
band is incredible and the beer is free doesn't mean that I should lose count
of my afternoon beverages. Three, that hole in the bathroom wall is not safe
to fiddle with. And four, I am a cranky old man. I hope to apply this newly
acquired self-knowledge to any future festivals that I'm lucky enough to
stumble into, but if I can impart any one festival lesson to you dear reader,
it would be this: if you see a man slumped against a club's wall drooling
gravy, please give me a friendly shake and ask the bartender to call me a cab.

(Day One)
(Day Two)
(Day Three)

(Day Four)