Friday, March 18, 2005

South by Southwest 2005 Report

Room 710 seemed like a nice enough club and the stage manager was really on top of things which was nice. The bands piled their equipment in what seemed like an infinitesimally small corner but surprisingly it all seemed to fit.

I missed most of Hobble (the opening band) but the next band, Baboon, seemed to have a large enough following - maybe filling 80% of the main floor. Perhaps they were going for some inept attempt at irony but I can honestly say that it was easily the worst band I have seen in a long time. I mean what the fuck! The singer turns his back to the audience and raises his fist ala Freddie Mercury – not a good sign. Freddie could get away with it – not Baboon's singer (who I think was Huey Lewis!) Ya ever see one of those 50’s teen horror movies and there is a party scene where there is a generic “rock” band playing in the background? Ok! This was that band but updated about 30 to 40 years. Horribly contemptible stuff that made me actually hate everything about music for the 4 songs I heard.

Mercifully I had some foresight to leave during this time (unfortunately not enough to remember that American Vodka was playing at the same time at the Ritz). My salvation though came in the form of Juanita Family And Friends - a folksy Portland act playing on the sidewalk across the street. 30 Minutes of old folk/country/blues put me in a better mood. I put a few dollars in their jar and thanked them. [Here is the only detailed info I could find on the web: ].

When I returned Fantasy’s Core was setting up. Go (one of the guitarists) needed an amp as he blew his out the previous night and I was more than honored to let him use mine. We had actually met FC briefly yesterday at the KPFT live broadcast in Houston. These guys are just incredible musicians and performers. I only wish they toured with a translator so I didn’t feel like an ass from my vast lack of knowledge of Japanese. To nobody’s surprise they completely packed the house and everyone was just senselessly beaten by their brilliance. [ They have a good interview with MP3s here ].

For better or worse we were up next. My worry was whether or not a crowd rocking out to 60’s manic garage rock would be interested in our everything-in-the-pot psych. The answer was a resounding “Hell No!” Half left before we started and the other half left quickly after. This was fine and dandy by us as, like last year, we thought we’d pick up an audience of passers by …. or not! It turns out that this corner of the festival isn’t exactly a place for people randomly walking in. If you are going to go off of 6th street nearly to Stubb’s you are going there to see a specific band not wandering. So, we played what I felt was one of our best sets to a handful of fans who really enjoyed the set and if I had a choice of these people over a crowd who really dug Baboon, I’ll take the small exclusive crowd.

Things that went right: The 16mm film projector (despite a loose belt) worked beautifully and the timing on the films was perfect. Everyone hit the songs perfectly. A good stage manager this year kept things moving smoothly and was really accommodating to our needs. So performance wise – no complaints.

Things that could have gone better and you the reader can learn from:

1) I can’t confirm it but Clinton supposedly played out of tune at some point.

Lesson (if true): never let the pressure of the schedule overtake your instinct to tune. If it’s not in tune, no matter how well you play, it’s gonna suck.

2) Nobody told us the class-monitor poster-Nazis were gone from 6th street. In 2004 any flyers were torn down by these goons. We skipped posters as it was so futile last year. But when we arrived, posters were stacked on the flagpoles. Go figure!!!!!

Lesson: Always flyer and fuck the man! If the man is in force and he takes it down, came back and put it right back up!

3) Sound was supposedly awful. Last year we had a less than spectacular stage manager and a great soundman. This time just the opposite was true. Supposedly we sounded like crap and no amount of great performing is going to override that. If the sound was as bad as I was told then this brings up a big thing for Clubs who are participating at SXSW - give the band a real sound check guys. What is the point of rushing bands through if they sound like crap?

Lesson: Force the soundman to give you a real sound-check! Better to play a good sounding 35 minute set than a crappy sounding 40 minute set.

Bonus Points: This guy actually placed a sm-57 right up to my exposed speaker. To nobody’s surprise after the change between Fantasy’s Core and ourselves, someone bumped the mike and it tore into my speakercone. Brilliant!

Well, despite those two or three problems we played well and you can only control what is in your sphere of influence. If we played well, did our bit, and only a few people liked it then so be it – it was worth all the work, fatigue and damage to our personal finances. That’s the beauty of SXSW. On some level you always feel like it’s this big beast that exploits you to some degree – you just can’t help thinking that on some level. But despite that undertow, you can’t help but appreciate the camaraderie of the whole endeavor. The musicians are busting their ass, not for that “big break” that is never going to happen at these conferences but for the sake of having their music reach a few more people and to meet some like-minded musicians and listeners. It’s just a way to remind you that you are just an insignificant small fish in a big school but there are a lot of other fish just like you that do it despite the futility simply because, as musicians, you are simply compelled to do so.

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