SXSW: Day Two – Strokes and Wanda keep it rockin’
This is the 25th anniversary of South by Southwest (SXSW) and it seems like there are more people in Austin for this festival than ever before. Just about any place you want to go, anything you want to buy, anything you want to do, you have to stand in line for. Everywhere you look, there’s a line for something. Yesterday I stopped walking for a second to check my cellphone and when I looked up, a line had formed behind me.
On Thursday we finally got down to hearing some music. We caught a nice band, the Latebirds, deep in downtown. We heard the Joy Formidable (from Wales) near downtown. And we went way past downtown – south of the river – for the best stuff. Kickin’ off the morning with some metal at Emo’s for the Full Metal Texas bash, bands like Elysion Fields, Better Left Unsaid and Headcrusher (“from the hills of Colombia”) are good palate-cleansers for the smorgasbord of musical styles available here this weekend. They had metal goin’ both indoors and out at Emo’s, and inside there is a nice touch: an old gumball vending machine repurposed to sell ear plugs. Nice. And the Full Metal Texas event got more points for the free CDs, the variety of cool “metal” stickers and a virtually unwashable hand stamp. Thanks, boys.
Then it was on to FILTER magazine’s Cedar Street Courtyard party, featuring bands with names like the Latebirds – maybe it was too early for me, but they sounded a bit generic to these ears. Meanwhile across town the venerable Waterloo Records kicked off its second day of free instores with a not-so-surprise visit from the yellow Third Man Rolling Record Store van and its genial owner, rocker Jack White. White stayed in the van spinning records while people bought Third Man product like vinyl by the Greenhornes, Wanda Jackson, the Dead Weather, the Raconteurs and of course, the White Stripes.
Seattle radio powerhouse KEXP set up inside Lance Armstrong’s bike shop for their live broadcasts, and the one we caught Thursday was by British synth-rockers Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark. Andy McCluskey (on bass and vocals) and Paul Humphreys (on synth keyboards) ran through a short sampling of their better-known tunes then settled in for a radio interview in front of a packed crowd. The dancing synth riff of “If You Leave” had me looking over my shoulder for Molly Ringwald and remembering better days for actor Jon Cryer (look it up).
One of the night’s biggest events was a free show by NYC rockers The Strokes in Auditorium Shores park. People lined up hours before the gates opened and it seems everyone wanted to see this show – in fact, organizers shut the gates once the park reached its 20,000 person capacity. But that didn’t stop the more determined outsiders; they climbed the chain-link fence and eventually knocked down the fencing.
Concertgoers near the stage were pressed flat by the crowd behind them, and many had to be lifted out by security either because they fainted or were in danger of being crushed. The Strokes, for their part, played some stuff off their new album and some of their better-known tunes including “What Ever Happened” and the new single “Under Cover Of Darkness.” Our correspondent told us “Taken For A Fool” was pretty good too. By the final notes of the concert’s concluding song “Last Nite,” a climactic blast of fireworks illuminated the sky over the park and revealed nearly half the throng had already started streaming out the exits. Austin police estimated the crowd at close to 30,000, which is the biggest show they’ve ever had at Auditorium Shores.
It was a more tranquil – if no less crowded – scene down on South Congress, for the excellent South by San Jose fest in the parking lot of the San Jose hotel. Thursday’s awesome lineup included San Antonio rockers Hacienda, who combine the garage rock thud of the Black Keys with a little Tex-Mex flavor (thanks to Farfisa organ fills by Abraham Villanueva). A song like the jumpy “You’re My Girl” has enough Farfisa fueled flavor to make even Sir Doug Sahm proud. Kudos also to Dante Schweibel, for playing the best guitar I’ve heard all year.
Then a couple of bright lights from the West: Vetiver, a San Francisco band had just enough Grateful Dead flashback in its music to keep things lively, particularly when earlier performers Jon Irion and Sarah Lee Guthrie (yeah, Arlo’s kid) joined ’em for a cool version of Byrd Gene Clark’s “Here Tonight.” The Cave Singers, a rockin’ trio from Seattle, had a jungle rhythm thing that made me want more, more, more. And the crowd too, even when lead shouter/maracas shaker Pete Quirk took an inadvertent plunge into the crowd. Simply great – I recommend you see The Cave Singers live as soon as you can.
The night ended with a stellar set by septugenarian Wanda Jackson, the rockabilly queen who was a contemporary (and probably girlfriend) of Elvis Presley. Backed by a cool rockin’ band that included guitarist Danny B. Harvey and legendary piano player Earl Poole Ball, Jackson teased and flirted with the adoring crowd with classics like “Shakin’ All Over,” “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and opener “They Called It Rockabilly Long Before They Called It Rock and Roll.” The new stuff included a cover of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.”
As my friend Art would say, “Wanda is a HOOOT!” and yes, she is. Many anticipated a “surprise” visit by Jackson’s recent collaborator and producer Jack White, but he didn’t show even though Wanda teased “he’s a man of many surprises.” Unforeseen circumstances took over, and we left early to go rescue the rest of our party from the Strokes melee. And with that comes an equally unexpected end to our SXSW coverage. Sorry, but duty calls. Rock on.