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Gone to Austin,
looking for Elijah

Gone to Austin,
looking for Elijah

SXSW

Our South by Southwest correspondent crams a lot of live music and Red Bull into two days, although music fan Elijah Wood remains elusive

Every year the entire music industry gathers in Austin, Texas, for South by Southwest (generally referred to as SXSW), a weeklong music showcase (that now includes a film festival as well). Up-and-coming bands are signed and discovered, while seasoned veterans of the music biz show their stuff for fans, journalists, and industry types who flock to the event from around the world. Here's one SXSW devotee's blog of the exhausting event:

Wednesday, March 15

On Wednesday afternoon I took a jam-packed Austin-bound Southwest flight, so damn excited for my eighth trip to SXSW. A totally unscientific breakdown of fellow travelers indicates 90% palpably excited SXSW attendees and 10% bewildered business travelers. Scanning the flight for notable musicians, I came up with the slightly disappointing sighting of Flogging Molly. (Sorry boys, you just don't do it for me.) Anyway, after a bumpy landing I dragged my queasy self to the taxi line and before I knew it I was picking up my badge at the convention center--and beginning the yearly ritual of conversations that all start with "It's so good to see you! What are you seeing?"

First stop: to see my friends at the Astralwerks showcase at Antone's, where I caught the first half of Bronx-native Stephanie McKay's set. The label promotions staff was abuzz--most had never seen her live--gushing that her music was "indescribable" (not usually a good sign) and "a sort of old-school soul sound" (more promising), so I was hopeful. Sadly, it just didn't work for me. A hybrid of a bunch of different soul influences, yes. But the seams were glaringly obvious, and life's too short.

Went to Exodus to see Amos Lee, where the room was uncomfortably packed. Amos sounded great--true to the record, which I really dig--but I couldn't get a sight line, as I was relegated to the drinky-talky section of the bar. As soon as his crowd cleared out I squeezed into the middle for the World Party set. Taking a gander around the room during their show, I felt positively youthful by comparison. After comparing musical tastes with the people around me I added some of their recommendations to my "must seek out" list. More than one person was raving about London band the Rakes and Swedish singer-songwriter Jose Gonzales, and positively everyone was talking about the Arctic Monkeys. As for World Party, they sounded good--but truthfully, I was never a huge fan, so I couldn't really mock with conviction when the singer forgot the words to a song that I couldn't even tell you the name of.

Next up: the Plimsouls. I adore them because of a sick fixation with the movie Valley Girl, in which, if you'll remember, they played in the "scary" Hollywood dive bar to which Nicolas Cage's character brought the adventuresome valley girl of his dreams. Bathing in nostalgia, singing every word right along with singer Peter Case, I had the first of what I hoped would be many Perfect Moments. Then I got a text message to head to the Art Brut show and had to snap to IMMEDIATELY, because there was a lull in the line, and at SXSW there is practically never a lull in a line at 1 a.m. I raced down the block and got right in just a few minutes before Art Brut hit the stage and ignited the room. Their fan base appeared to be largely hot indie girls young enough to pull off a retro '80s look. And these girls let out randomly placed and terribly enthusiastic screams throughout the show. It made me all warm inside to see all that music love going on around me. Just in case you were wondering how Art Brut actually performed--awesome, energetic, songs were great and entertaining in that story-song way. I know they've been compared to the Fall a lot, but I kept thinking "punkier version of the Streets."

Thursday, March 16

My day kicked off at the Filter magazine party, where I had the somewhat odd experience of seeing Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips conduct what appeared to be a dissertation on how he wrote and then arranged the song "Free Radicals" from the new Lips album, At War With the Mystics. The Q&A session boasted a special guest appearance by Wayne's longtime companion, a four-track recorder, which he cautioned us "could break at any moment." I soon hustled on to the Village Voice Media party at La Zona Rosa in plenty of time to see Rosanne Cash, who inexplicably went on stage first even though she had headliner billing in all the materials promoting the party. Go figure. It was a good show, perfectly timed for my lagging adrenaline levels.

Building from there, the party featured performances by Capitol Records artists--Annie Stela (not remarkable) and Morningwood (fantastic grunge disco outfit from New York). Here, I was sidetracked by a rumor that Elijah Wood was at the party. I was told that he was wearing a black T-shirt. Useless information, because who wasn't? Elijah is my favorite, because he loves music so much it surprises me that he actually finds the time to be an actor. Last year I traded him one of my packets of Emergen-C for a clove cigarette. (I know, I know...and it wasn't even at a Morrissey show.) I managed to turn the entire Sound Team set into the soundtrack to my unfruitful search for Mr. Wood. The show ended with the Magic Numbers. Later I learned that this London band boasts two pairs of actual siblings...not like those fakers Jack and Meg White, thankyouverymuch. In fact, the male-female band mix seems to be a growing trend this year.

Next I stopped by the Red Bull House, a joint venture with Buzznet. (Buzznet rules--if you like to do stuff like post your own photo blog, that is.) It is refreshingly air-conditioned, and there are about a million cans of Red Bull available for visitors, who can then mill about and find restful refuge on one of the multiple rooms' sofas, with flat panel TVs displaying digital photos of SXSW debauchery (or good clean fun) taken with a handful of camera phones on loan to various people. The house was billed as an ongoing "Chill Out" spot. I heard from one source that nearly 1,000 people had RSVP'd for their after-hours parties. Because nothing says "chill out" like a can of Red Bull at 3 a.m.

Ambling down 4th Street, I caught the last bit of Elefant at the Filter party (which must've been an eight-hour affair). They sounded amazing--something about the courtyard made the acoustics near perfect. Here I'm reminded that their new record, The Black Magic Show, hits streets next month. Color me Sold.

By this time I felt like something mellow, so I trekked a few blocks to the Sony BMG showcase at the Driskill Hotel and managed to see a few songs by Susan Cagle. It's straight-ahead singer-songwriter stuff in the rock-pop vein--not a hint of country or folk to be found. Think Michelle Branch. Interestingly enough, Susan's band is made up of her family members, all of whom she helped to learn their instruments. In the lobby there was a nice coffee service with real china. A refreshing break from my earlier drink of choice--tap water in an opaque plastic cup, which is impossible to balance while clapping.

Then it's back to La Zona Rosa for Anthony Hamilton's performance. His show was early and completely unaffiliated with the acts that followed him, the alt-country sounds of the New West records showcase. I arrived at this show feeling, frankly, like crap. My legs hurt, my feet throbbed, and a sleep-deprivation headache hinted that it might show up at any minute. I was hungry. Cranky. But I was there, and that counts for something, right? Anyway, Hamilton's band went into their intro, and there was crowd-pumping orchestrated by a band member. When we reached the proper level of readiness, Anthony emerged onto the stage. The first song was OK. Well sung, but he didn't seem that into it. I actually left the floor for a minute to return a phone call. I mention this only because minutes later someone must've flipped the switch, because he was ON, ON, ON. Anthony Hamilton's voice, six-piece band, and three backup singers owned that room from the minute they committed to it. I can barely explain what happened next, but the pace was incredible. Song after song he reached a place that made me think, Now, I know he can't top that, and then he DID. The pinnacle lasted for three songs, during which I alternately felt like I had front row at a hoppin' gospel service or was hearing a reincarnated Curtis Mayfield circa Superfly. When he made his way into the crowd, gripping the mic and giving it his all less than a foot away from me...well, let's just say this was the best SXSW performance I'd ever seen. Afterward, perhaps as a nod to Hamilton's Charlotte, N.C., roots, I craved some Southern food and had dinner at this incredible spot called Moonshine, where they actually served a drink made from grain alcohol. God Bless the U.S.A.

It's now Friday morning, and as I'm typing this from the Hideout coffeehouse I look up, and I swear to GOD, Elijah Wood walks by twice. With this sign I know that all is right in the world, and I am ready to tackle two more days of no sleep, bad diet choices, and all the music and parties I can swing.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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