Live review: South by Southwest, a conversation @ Austin, TexasBy Ricardo Baca | March 19th, 2010 | No Comments »
Austin in March is a cluster of ringing ears, sunlight, Tex-Mex goodness and random friends. The 2010 installment of the South by Southwest music festival finds Reverb representing on many fronts.
Reverb co-editors Ricardo Baca and John Wenzel took enough of a breather to have a conversation about the first few days of the festival — considered the largest and most influential music festival in North America — to have this brief chat. A second installment and lots of photos will come early next week.
Ricardo Baca: So Wenz, what’s the single best band you’ve seen all festival? So far…
John Wenzel: Ironically it was a band who only played a few songs because of technical difficulties. Sleigh Bells rocked the Parish on Thursday for the NPR day party and were easily the most impressive thing I’ve seen. Sadly, they finished early. Embarrassing software malfunctions and all that… I kind of felt bad for them, but the lead singer was a sweetheart, meeting fans at the foot of the stage after the show.
RB: The stuff I’ve heard of theirs online was really great. It sounds like the Santogold of 2010 to me.
JW: M.I.A. is producing their debut album. And they deserve it. Hard-hitting, overdriven dance music from New York is right in my wheelhouse. I just said “wheelhouse.” Ugh.
RB: Hells yes. Sounds great, and I hope to catch them before they leave Austin.
JW: You should. They’re playing at 8 p.m. at the Fader Fort on Saturday (where they later canceled). And you? What’s your favorite band so far?
RB: Yeah, Paleface played a pretty great set on Wednesday. It was in this gorgeous, plush-leather hotel bar at the Intercontinental, and Paleface and his friend/drummer slayed this set that included some of his nutso-early stuff and some of his more folk-oriented later stuff — some of which showed up on his collaborative records with the Avett Brothers.
JW: Ah, and yes, you love the Avett Brothers.
RB: Yes, yes — I do. And he was great – even without them.
JW: Speaking of more chill stuff, Nathaniel Rateliff’s opening night set at the Ale House was an early Denver reunion. Aaron Collins (formerly of Machine Gun Blues) did a bang-up job filling in for James Han on keyboards.
RB: Yeah, I saw him today at the Mile-Hi Fidelity party. It was a solid crowd, a great set and I totally understand why he’s generated the buzz that he has at festivals like South by Southwest, CMJ and others.
JW: Bart Dahl (Rateliff’s manager) was so psyched for the crowd at the Ale House. People were chilling down front, sitting Indian-style. Very easy-going feel.
RB: You know, Wenz, you’re not the only one who saw a great dance band this weekend. I caught Sliimy on Thursday night and even though the room was almost empty, this Perez Hilton-signed dance artist has a future. His charisma is enviable and his talent is real. He’s a totally likable guy and I could see him doing well.
JW: Dude, the High on Fire metal show at the Mohawk on Wednesday night was killer. My ears still hurt …
RB: Is there a better venue in Austin than the Mohawk? It seems like all the great shows are there.
JW: Nope. I find myself there at least a couple times a day while I’m down here. It’s kind of ridiculous. Phantogram, this girl-guy duo from New York on Barsuk, totally killed it there on Wednesday. Really nice, trip-hoppy stuff, even if the vocals were at bit low at times.
RB: We were in line at the Mohawk while GZA made a fool of himself and we tried to catch the xx but the powers of Austin persuaded us elsewhere.
JW: Right… what does that mean?
RB: You know, Wenz, South by Southwest is as much about music as it is about catching up with people from out of town, seeing friends who you never see otherwise and ultimately solidifying relationships that are essential to making things work year-round.
JW: Agreed. I see more PR people and music friends down here in a week than I see almost all year in Denver. It’s nuts.
RB: Truth. Let’s talk overrated bands. I just saw Miike Snow at the Spin barbecue at Stubb’s and this is a band that just got bumped up from the Bluebird to the Ogden in Denver (April 9) and I don’t see what all the fuss is. South by Southwest is a place to get excited about music and this crowd was not excited about this set.
JW: Getting excited about music is the reason to be down here. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings were friggin’ great at the Spin barbecue, as they were at the Mohawk the day before. Funky R&B is so appropriate for this crowd of sunburned hipsters. Although I will say in terms of overrated, GZA was it. His Mohawk set was lame.
RB: I was psyched to see the Soft Pack and I didn’t realize until we got there that the Soft Pack was formerly known as the Muslims. But while their set was fun at a day party on Thursday it hardly stopped time.
JW: Time only stops when you’re eating pizza or tacos on 6th Street. I’ve eaten so much good, cheap food on curbs around this city the last couple days that it’s hilarious.
RB: Yeah, this year I’ve taken more time to sit down and have meals with folks who I never see, though I love a slice of sausage pizza on the curb as much as a meal at El Taco de Mexico in Denver.
JW: Ah, Denver.
RB: Speaking of Denver, I saw the first band at today’s Mile-Hi Fidelity showcase, Churchill, and they sounded great. The crowd was modest at the indoor stage but you could tell that everybody felt it. And it wasn’t only people from Denver in the crowd. When I wrote the front-page story last week on the 40-plus Denver bands coming to South-by, I knew that there was a lot of under-the-radar goodness that people still haven’t heard and Churchill is definitely representative of that.
JW: There’s so much good stand-up comedy going on here, too, and some of it has strong Denver roots.
RB: Like what?
JW: Well, ex-pat Ben Kronberg is here and he still claims Denver on his MySpace Comedy page. Tig Notaro (from “The Sarah Silverman Program”) is also down here. She was great at the Brooklyn Vegan day party today, although the set-up was less than ideal. People were streaming in and out constantly as she did her thing.
RB: Oh well, that’s the thing about festival atmosphere. It’s fleeting and of course exciting. And I’m looking forward to two more days of it.
JW: Me too. It’s always a little exhausting but I start missing it before it’s even over.
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Ricardo Baca is the founder and co-editor of Reverb and an award-winning critic and journalist at The Denver Post. He is also the executive director of the Underground Music Showcase, Colorado’s premier indie music festival. Follow his whimsies at Twitter, his live music habit at Gigbot and his iTunes addictions at Last.fm.
John Wenzel is the co-editor of Reverb, editor of the Get Real Denver blog and an A&E reporter for The Denver Post. His book “Mock Stars: Indie Comedy and the Dangerously Funny” was recently published by Speck Press. He also maintains a Twitter feed of random song titles.