AUSTIN, Texas — Every March, the music industry throws on a pair of shorts, slathers on the SPF 45 and heads on down to Austin for South by Southwest, a weeklong celebration of bands, BBQ and (sometimes free!) beer. It's a brutal bacchanal and music marathon powered by thousands of acts playing in hundreds of venues — at all hours — plus an unreal number of complimentary drinks and fancy private parties.
Sleep is not exactly a top priority, so MTV News dispatched three of its most tireless reporters into the fray. They filed reports twice each day and, as you'll see below, endured all kinds of hardship — endless lines, hipster infestation and a diet consisting almost entirely of fried food — to bring you incisive reportage on the event's hottest happenings. Saturday's report is below, and at the bottom you'll find links to coverage of the previous days. Dig in: If you spill a little BBQ sauce on your shirt, it's the next best thing to being there.
James Montgomery, MTV News writer: Growing tired of the SXSW rigmarole — a routine that could charitably be described as "Get up, shake off the cobwebs, eat something fried, drink, walk to a field, drink, watch some band, drink, walk to a dingy club, eat something else fried, drink, watch another band, drink, drink, pass out" — I decided to take my pal (and Beirut/ Bishop Allen multi-instrumentalist) Jon Natchez up on his promise of a full-blown "BBQ excursion, deep into the wilds of Texas."
And deep we went, indeed, heading way west through the dusty foothills ... driving for more than two hours (we got lost) until we came upon the sleepy town of Llano, home to a BBQ mecca by the name of Cooper's Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que. Joining us on the excursion was Isaac Green, head honcho of Almost Gold Records (home of Peter Bjorn and John) and self-described BBQ connoisseur. He told me that SXSW vets swear by Cooper's, a true carnivore's cornucopia of smoked meats.
We downed pounds of ribs, brisket and Cooper's famous BBQ pork chops; talked about some of our festival faves (a list that included Midlake, Beach House and Jamie T) and reveled in the fact that we were literally miles away from the SXSW buzz. Oh yeah, and we had some cobbler, too.
But now it's back to the grind as we enter the festival's final raucous hours ... of course, there's more rumors of a Rage Against the Machine reunion Saturday night (March 17), plus the triumphant return of the Stooges. What'll happen? Nobody knows ... but we're certainly gonna close with a bang. And some of the brisket I brought home.
John Norris, MTV News correspondent: Just what Austin needed this week — another reason to drink!
But yes, it is St. Paddy's Day ... so by early afternoon, the South by Southwest-ers were tying on the booze bag again, and I found myself among a 50-percent-green-wearing crowd at the Cedar Street Courtyard, an outdoor patio wedged between Irish pubs. But taking the stage at this party sponsored by Filter magazine was a trio of not Irish but English lasses: the Pipettes. Their names are Becki, Rose and Gwenno. Think Lisa Loeb, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Linda Evangelista in polka dots. Musically, think '60s girl group meets punk sass — a combination in full effect as the ladies ran through songs like "Tell Me What You Want" and "Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me." Shangri-Las for the 21st century? Bananarama with a backing band? Time will tell.
Since one music-publication event deserves another, we made our way from the Filter party to the Blender house, where I met up with those Southern-indie-twang-rock-sons of a preacher man, the Kings of Leon. The brothers Followill and cousin Matthew have a third album, Because of the Times, just a few weeks away, and they're in town to play their first-ever SXSW. When I reminded them that they are one of the three or four biggest bands at this year's fest, they said there is still a challenge.
"There are so many of these beautiful girls around here hanging out with these new bands," famously randy frontman Caleb Followill laughed. "We feel like, hey, we're supposed to get our pick of the girls."
Something tells me the Kings have no problem in that department.
That said, their "kingly" status in the U.K. has yet to be replicated on their home turf, where the guys are still pretty much princes. Will that change with Because of the Times, a much more expansive record — with a seven-minute opening track called "Knocked Up" and forays into jam-band territory? Whether it does or not, the Kings are loving life.
"We'll play our show [Saturday's Esquire party at Stubb's]," Caleb said, "then sit back and watch Iggy Pop and the Stooges. And probably party."
No doubt. Good luck guys.
Gil Kaufman, MTV News writer: We've entered the dead zone: My feet hurt from standing on cement club floors 14 hours a day, my eyes hurt from constant smoke and cavelike conditions, and my soul aches from constantly denying my urge to pummel every clown I see wearing a headband and ripped-to-shreds low-top Keds.
The day started off promisingly with some smokin' Afro-Cuban funk from the 11-piece Los Angeles band Rhythm Roots Allstars. Then not-so-hot mess Mickey Avalon took the stage looking like a cross between Pauly Shore and a down-on-her-luck gutter-punk girl and sounding like the Beastie Boys on a bad day. The only saving grace was when he handcuffed an audience member to a chair and then lost the key and practically dragged her across the stage by her wrist in search of release.
Not wanting to fight the inevitable lines, I camped out at Red 7 and saw a mix of horrible "indie" comedy — OK, portly comedian Brian Posehn's set about how the closest he'll ever come to a sex scene in a movie is playing the demented killer who offs the comely teen couple was kinda funny, and David Cross was great as usual — and yet another set by the Black Lips. No vomit this time, just lots of spitting and bad wigs. The best part was when some fan tried to give Cross a copy of early porn actress Linda Lovelace's autobiography, "Ordeal," and he looked puzzled and politely declined in favor of bobbing his head to the Lips.
Toronto hardcore band F---ed Up thrilled an afternoon audience with a set of smashing tunes and lived up to their name when frontman Pink Eyes bashed his forehead bloody with the microphone and then put a drumstick where the sun don't shine. The crowd later went nuts when hardcore punk legend and original Circle Jerks singer Keith Morris took the stage and yelped one out while swinging his hip-long graying dreadlocks.
And finally: How can you tell an indie-rocker is tired? They cop a squat on the squalid, sticky floor of Red 7 and close their eyes for a quick catnap in the middle of a show.
James Montgomery: Well, it's over. More than 100 hours of non-stop rock (and the occasional hip-hop act looking for directions back to the interstate) came to a close on a hectic, dude-master-terrific Saturday night in Austin. And as if the last night of SXSW 2007 weren't enough to pack the streets, it was also St. Patrick's Day (WOOOOOOOOOO!!!) which meant that every steakhead within a 30-mile radius was required to thrown on a green T-shirt — or backwards ball cap — and head down to Austin to gawk at girls, get in fights and get really really inebriated (Sixth Street will surely be awash in green vomit come sun-up — WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!) ...
Quote-of-the-night honors went to the — ahem — gentleman in the cocked fedora and black tank top, who bellowed into his RAZR, "No, we're down here on Fifth Street and Colorado ... No, Colorado — like the city."
Yeah, man. And after spending more roughly 30 minutes trying to navigate the packs of heavily gelled dudes (careful to avoid brushing their shoulders and setting off a testosterone OD), I sorta gave up and ducked into Habana Calle 6, where, as luck would have it, the Changes, four clean-cut young men who make strummy, summery pop, were just launching into an exceedingly nice set (seriously, these dudes make the Shins look like Turbonegro — your mom totally wants your sister to marry one of them immediately). Then, in one of those "Woah, look who's playing?!?" moments that totally makes SXSW worth it, I glanced at my schedule and noticed that former Helium frontwoman/my teenage crush Mary Timony was about to take the stage at Emo's tiny "IV" venue. So I rushed over and heard her unspool songs from her upcoming album The Shapes We Make, which were pretty excellent in that spacey, super-proggy "Revolution of Hearts, Pt. 1 & 2" kind of way (OK, 14 people in the world know what I'm talking about right now, and most of them were probably at the show) ...
Then, I bade farewell to SXSW '07 with a late-night performance from Australia's finest hirsute rockers (Jet be damned) Youth Group, who were great, but didn't hold my attention as I was starting to see spots. Soon after that I was making the seemingly 17-mile walk back to the Embassy Suites, and as I crossed over the Congress Avenue Bridge, I began to mull over my SXSW experience.
And you know what? I don't have any definitive closing statement. As I re-read my notebook, I found myself thinking things like "Wait, I saw that band?" and "Wow, I went there?" And maybe it's because, after three straight years of SXSW, things tend to blur together — or maybe because there just wasn't that much interesting stuff going on this year. I mean, I know which bands I truly liked (a discussion we'll delve deeper into when we all return back to the office on Monday), but I can't pick any that I particularly loved or hated. For better or worse, the year's SXSW was one of the more average fests in recent memory: There didn't seem to be a real defining moment or breakout star to speak of.
Then I thought, "Wait: In just five days, I spent less than $200, ate roughly seven pounds of BBQ, saw a ton of rock shows, went for a drive in the Texas flatlands, linked to a photo of the Ultimate Warrior in one of my earlier posts and saw Duke lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament — what the hell do I have to complain about?" So maybe the problem wasn't SXSW; it was me.
But that's clearly a whole other ball of wax. Right now, it's time to get some sleep, make my ears stop ringing and head back home. Plus, maybe I can finally get around to eating a salad — and you have no idea how happy that last sentence has just made my small intestine.
John Norris: Some final thoughts on the final night of South by Southwest 2007:
For some reason, the festival seemed more sane this year. Not sure if it was the absence of one hugely hyped "must-see" show on the order of last year's Arctic Monkeys gig, but the biggest this week — Bloc Party, the Cold War Kids, Lily Allen, Beirut, the Good, the Bad and the Queen — didn't feel as out of control.
Credit, as always, is due to the host city for proving yet again that it's one of America's greatest music capitals. Voxtrot, Okkervil River and Ghostland Observatory are three of the better known local heroes who played the festival, but plenty more showed that Austin not only knows how play host to great music, but produce it as well.
Also, the schedule provides a multiplex's worth of opportunities to see certain bands: Some artists play one or two gigs during SXSW week, others play eight. It's hard to imagine that anyone in Austin who wanted to see the Pipettes, the Ponys or the Fratellis this week didn't have the opportunity to do so. And speaking of the Fratellis, Interscope Records wins the Golden Sledgehammer Promotion Award for them: from the Fratellis hotel room keys to the ubiquitous Fratellis flyers all over town to the Fratellis cocktail glasses in every other club ... and I've already used the word "Fratellis" six times in this paragraph! Aaargh!! The champ for the most Austin shows this week? I'm pretty sure that title goes to Peter, Bjorn and John with NINE. That'll earn you a Swedish massage.
Mucho thanks to our team here in Austin this week — not just James and Gil, but also Alyssa Vitrano, Damian Vaca, Matt Elias, Aaron Pinkston and above all, my musically maniacal producer, Chris "CJ" Smith. They are the best, and we'll all be bringing you lots more coverage from SXSW on MTV News this week. Till then — later, pardner.
Gil Kaufman: The apocalyptic atmosphere on Sixth Street described above made it feel as if all hell could break loose at any moment, and that's kind of what it sounded like at Elysium during the scorched-earth show from Pennsylvania psychedelic rockers Black Moth Super Rainbow (that's the best band name ever), who performed with Austin's equally trip-tacultar Octopus Project. The instrumental experimentalists created a thundering, paisley explosion of beats and noise that might be the sound of a spaceship taking off — if its engines were made of two sets of drums, a bass, guitar, sitar, two glowing tambourines, a Theremin and four keyboards.
The true apocalypse, though, came a short time later with a set that was the perfect capper to a chaotic five-day journey. To say that reunited Detroit punk godfathers the Stooges blew the roof off Stubb's would be an understatement (and not only because the outdoor venue has no roof). The always shirtless Iggy Pop gyrated like a demented go-go dancer and kicked off the show with five classic Stooges songs that sounded so raw and snarling they made you forget the band took a 33-year break between their last two albums. "Loose," "I Wanna Be Your Dog," "TV Eye," "1970" and "Funhouse" were crackling with chaos and electricity and the permanently amped Pop was clearly sucking up the energy from the crowd.
During this year's festival I saw a ton of great new bands and I have a whole new arsenal of things to add to my iPod. But nothing gut-punched me like the Stooges. It's something you can't buy in a bottle, ink on your arms or piece together from a thrift-store wardrobe. As Iggy told me shortly after the show, "We're the last great rock and roll band, man."
For more SXSW coverage, check out the week's earlier reports:
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.
[This story was originally published at 10:16 p.m. EST on 03.17.07]