Is it possible that the best day party – and the best night showcase – of South by Southwest 2012 were scheduled for the same day? Yes. And we were lucky enough to hit both on Friday, the fest’s fourth day.
The day started in the afternoon at Spin’s annual day party at Stubb’s, and this year’s line-up was the best in memory – including Santigold, Best Coast and the Big Pink. And the night ended at the Third Man Records showcase at the Stage on Sixth, where guitar hero Jack White played an intense set of material that covered almost everything he’s ever done – from the White Stripes to the Dead Weather, the Raconteurs to his upcoming solo album.
We waited in line for 90 minutes for White’s showcase before they even opened the doors. But it was worth it. As White played his two sets – the first with an all-girl backing band, and the second with an all-male backing band – he showed the fire in his belly. White attacked the microphone violently as he wound through songs that were both familiar and not. The new material fit perfectly with “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” which started his first set, and “My Doorbell,” which kicked off his second set.
The Dead Weather jams (including “I Cut Like a Buffalo”) and the Raconteurs hits (“Steady As She Goes”) got worked in there, and it was a treat to witness one of the most important catalogues of modern rock ’n’ roll – live and intimate. Granted, I’ve always been a White fan – the White Stripes’ “De Stijl” might be a perfect record – but his two sets were the innovative and memorable music I’ve seen all week long.
The most surreal part of the night came when Bill Murray – wearing a Big Head Todd & the Monsters T-shirt and a close-cropped haircut – tapped us on the shoulder to get closer to White’s fury. Murray’s been seen around these parts before during the festival, but still … Bill Murray? At SXSW? At Jackie White’s set? In a Big Head Todd shirt?
Other acts from the Third Man (White’s label) showcase included Karen Elson, White’s ex who played selections her lush record “The Ghost Who Walks,” and John C. Reilly and Friends, the actor (“Step Brothers,” “Talladega Nights”) who has a sweet and smiling old-timey band. Both bands played pretty, melodic sets, but the rowdy crowd made it tough to hear. The Black Belles also played the showcase, and while their Dead Weather-loving style of dark rock was really fun, the matching costumes turned me off.
The Spin Barbecue’s highlights included a pummeling “Dominoes” from the Big Pink, Best Coast’s lulling “Boyfriend” and a dance party of a set from Santigold. Santigold is such a good-energy act, and its set – straight-faced back-up dancers and all – was an ideal close to an afternoon. –Ricardo Baca
What’s keeping Austin weird…
The word “free” is taken to astonishing, sometimes devastating new heights at South By Southwest. There’s the first level: cheap Ray Ban-style sunglasses with a ridiculous corporate logo, beer koozies, energy drinks, bumper stickers. The second level: beer of varying caliber and temperature, pizza, mini-burritos. And then there’s that third level. The giving-out-of-100-acoustic-guitars-from-the-back-of-a-truck level.
Late Friday evening, we came across roughly 300 people swarming a white truck just off of 6th and San Jacinto. Nobody knew what was inside the large boxes in the bed, just that it had to be something good, and of course, free. When the portly man in the back of the truck began handing out these guitars (albeit cheap), one-by-one to the clamoring masses — it resembled refugees fighting for a week’s worth of rations at sunset. People tugged and pulled, snatched from smaller hands, then ran away as if in a grade school game of capture the flag. All of this for a Sears-catalog-esque, featherweight guitar that they didn’t know existed even five minutes prior. So it goes at SXSW; an experiment in rock ‘n roll socialism. –John Hendrickson
Another take: Ricardo Baca’s food blog from SXSW.
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Ryan Johnson is a Denver videographer, social media strategist and guitar player for hire. Contact him here.