How does one summarize roughly 96 hours of continuous music? How does one encapsulate the experience of South by Southwest, of staying up way too late and partying way too hard, of seeing bands until your ears bleed and eating BBQ until your stomach does somersaults?
Why, with a top 10 list, of course!
It may seem like the lazy way out, but cut me some slack. I slept a grand total of 10 hours last week in Austin, and I wrote something in the neighborhood of 576 stories about SXSW — all of which you can check out on MTV News' South By Southwest hub. When faced with the daunting task of penning a recap of the entire festival, I decided it was best just to focus on my 10 favorite moments from SXSW 2009.
Because, sometimes, there is no grand point. Sometimes it's just about the music. If there are any shows I left off my list, feel free to let me know about them in the comments section. Now, if you excuse me, I have to go fall asleep under my desk, Costanza-style.
1. The Decemberists at Stubb's
Imagine if you discovered that not only was your science teacher in a heavy-metal band, but that they were actually a really good heavy-metal band. That was the general takeaway from the Decemberists' Wednesday night gig at Stubb's, where they debuted their new album, The Hazards of Love, in its entirety. It was a brave idea to tackle a 60-minute prog opera in front of perhaps the most fickle audience on the planet, and it paid off in spades. The heavy stuff was heavy, the pretty stuff was pretty and, for one night at least, the super-nerdy were super-mighty.
2. Kanye West at the Levi's/Fader Fort
It may not have been a proper Kanye show — he spent the majority of his 90-minute set playing hypeman to his roster of G.O.O.D. Music artists — but it was the gig everyone in Austin was talking about, days before West was even confirmed to appear. That buzz, coupled with cameos by Common and Erykah Badu (and turns from newcomers 88-Keys and Kid Cudi) made it a highlight. After wrapping at the Fort, West would take his party over to Perez Hilton's late-night soiree, which only further cemented his status as the hardest partyer of SXSW 2009 (well, either him or MTV News digital producer Andrew Ross Rowe. That dude's a beast.)
3. Metallica at Stubb's
Just once, it would be amazing if a "secret" SXSW show actually managed to remain a secret, but when a band as ginormous as Metallica is involved, it's difficult to keep the cat in the bag for long. According to some reports, as many as 4,000 die-hard fans deduced that Metallica would be the surprise guests at Friday night's "Guitar Hero" party, and nearly two-thirds were turned away (they still attempted to watch from a nearby parking garage). What they missed was 90 minutes of one of hard rock's greatest bands, playing fast and loose ... and doing impressions too. And how can you not include all that in a SXSW top 10?
4. Grizzly Bear at the Central Presbyterian Church
It's difficult to think of a better place to see Grizzly Bear than a warm, intimate church. All the usual adjectives apply ("hushed," "reverent," "ethereal"), but to actually feel the tones created by the Brooklyn four-piece reverberate around the room made this one truly special. During Thursday night's performance, co-frontman Ed Droste joked that Grizzly Bear had come a long way from their first SXSW gig four years ago at a pizzeria. Somehow, I doubt it sounded and felt as good as this one did.
5. Jane's Addiction at the Playboy "Rock the Rabbit" party
Immediately following Grizzly Bear's set, I walked across town to catch the return of Jane's Addiction — playing with original bassist Eric Avery for the first time in 17 years — at the Playboy party, and to say that it was a change of pace would be an understatement of Hefner-ian proportions. Super-charged (and super-loud), Jane's hadn't lost a beat, and they looked happy as Pigs in Zen while doing it, which only bodes well for the future. They completely blew out of the water 90 percent of the bands I saw at SXSW — more proof that the original is always the best.
6. WAVVES at Red 7
I'll admit that I didn't know the first thing about 22-year-old San Diego noisemaker Nathan Williams — a.k.a. WAVVES — before heading down to SXSW. But with his Wednesday afternoon gig at Red 7, he won me over. Backed by drummer Ryan Ulsh (who may or may not be an actual member of WAVVES ... this was never clarified for me), Williams tore through blast after blast of raw and lightning-quick bedroom punk. You can check out some of that performance (and hear Williams talk about dirty stuff) on the Newsroom blog.
7. Asher Roth at Club Deville
His set was very short and happened very late at night, but it proved that 21-year-old rapper Asher Roth might actually be the breakout star of 2009. Laconic and bed-headed, Roth might try to play down his deft lyrical touch and ability to spin a narrative, but on songs like "Lark on My Go-Kart" and "Blunt Cruising," he does just that (and work in a MILF joke or two). And it translates to the stage. The crowd at the Deville ate him up, and by the time he got around to his hit, the dorm-room banger "I Love College," the place was going bananas. He sounds like Eminem, looks like your R.A. and has a fascination with weed that is perhaps rivaled only by the immortal B-Real. Now that's elite company.
8. BLK JKS at the Mohawk Patio
Elements of spiky punk, bubbly dub, stoned-out reggae and free-form jazz (with the occasional Hendrix guitar explosion thrown in for good measure), fronted by a kid who happens to sing like a Kele Okereke/ Peter Murphy hybrid. In other words, exactly like every rock band from Johannesburg, South Africa, would sound. BLK JKS (pronounced "Black Jacks") were my favorite discovery at SXSW 2009, and I'm certain you'll be hearing more about them very, very soon. Their gig at the Mohawk was co-signed by YouTube, which means you can watch it here, guilt-free. Oh, and yes, the bass player does look an awful lot like Avon Barksdale, which only makes them rule even more.
9. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart at seemingly every venue in Austin
These Brooklyn dream-poppers (or, if you prefer, nu-shoegazers) played a tidy 13 gigs at SXSW 2009, all of which seemed to be at venues I would randomly wander into. The thing was, they were always good, with the dueling vocals of Kip Bermand and Peggy Wang particularly standing out. After seeing them a baker's dozen times, I'm willing to say that the hype surrounding their debut album is, in fact, justified. Still, I can't help but think that I was being stalked. Don't make me get the restraining order, guys.
10. Explosions in the Sky at the Auditorium Shores Stage (with fireworks immediately following)
An Explosions in the Sky gig with actual explosions in the sky?!? Duuuuude.
MTV News was all over the South by Southwest festival, with blogs, articles and video on all the gigs, the artists and the scene!