It's not that I've never seen lasers before. Or smoke machines. But I think this year at SXSW was the first time I saw them both deployed outdoors, overhead, on city streets, hazing up the entire town and its imported crowds. The whole scene felt somewhere between Disneyland, Mardi Gras, and a post-show arena parking lot. But there was definitely plenty of action, and more colliding instruments than a crowded practice space hallway. We ran into old friends like Marc Hawthorne and Chris Walla, met friends of friends like Beau Sorenson, and heard plenty of live music. One fine detail of SXSW is that a few venues are situated with the drummer in the back corner of the stage, as usual, but one giant open window to the street, so passersby see (and hear) the show from the drummer's perspective. It's a rare view, and some drummers handle it better than others. Best case scenario is a band like Cherri Bomb, who we happened across mid-set. Four foxed-up girls ("We'd buy you all drinks, but we're UNDER AGE!" the singer hollered before one song) blasting out a packed room, their surprise superpower was the drummer, who had collected her own crowd of admirers watching from outside. After watching a couple songs inside, I had to go out there too, just to watch her joking, flirting, gulping water, and flinging sticks while keeping perfect time on bashing drum parts. I don't know if I liked their music, but I totally loved their show.
Thursday started at Valhalla, where our friend Gary Pierson had helped us jump on a show with Santah, Static Jacks, and Stamps. Excellent. The show started—before the doors opened—with a hiphop set by a guy named Irrational Zac ("like regular Zac, but crazy"). Everyone was in a good mood, so that even when the booker looked over at me and said, "Did that rapper just light a blunt onstage?," the bartender just stepped up to the stage and snuffed it. Good for everyone. Playing a club stage with bright sunlight streaming in is a strange experience, but playing to friendlies made it an easy pleasure. We were familiar with Santah's music from Chicago, but Static Jacks were new to us, and they rocked super hard. I was outside with gear, but Paige testifies that it was righteous. We wanted to stick around for Stamps, but we were due at our next set across town.
The KDHX Twangfest showcase took place at Jovita's in the most charming section of Austin, across the river from the main madhouse. The weather was perfect, and the lineup was too: we missed Wussy (damn damn DAMN), but arrived to the sound of John Doe's set, caught a bit of Chuck Prophet, a bit of Water Liars, and then Brown Bird's full set. Man, their take on how to do a two-piece band should not be missed. We played next, then got to see the Figgs, who I've listened to over the years but never seen in action. Fine fellows, and they clearly started with the crowd on their side—people cheered the announcement of each song title. My favorite was their killer take on Buffalo Springfield's "Mr. Soul," a song I've loved since I was yea big. "Stick around while the clown who is sick does the trick of disaster," followed by a buzzy, wired Neil Young solo; oh my yes.
That night, after failing to get to the Flatstock poster exhibition in time, weaving our way toward Mike Musikanto's showcase, we stopped for some food-truck snacks. Projected overhead was a hiphop show in progress. From the sound of it, probably a million-selling artist, but news to my ears. The only lyrics I could make out were about good dank and good drank, leading to the chorus: "Purple sweat / sweat! / sweat! / sweat!" I couldn't help thinking about that color as a milemarker in the history of pop music, from "Purple Haze" to "Purple Rain" to, finally, "Purple Sweat." Who shall write the next chapter on colored bodily fluids?
But enough. New Orleans beckons.