Perhaps the biggest surprise of Austin's 22nd annual South by Southwest Music Festival was that there were no big surprises. That's not in any way to suggest that SXSW 08 didn't attract marquee bands or A-list celebrities. There was a tsunami of both.
Van Morrison kept it simple at La Zona Rosa, while Moby coerced keynote speaker Lou Reed into a rendition of "Walk on the Wild Side" at the universally reviled Fader party. The iconic Velvet Underground pioneer was a no-show for Alejandro Escovedo and Okkervil River at Stubb's and Roky Erickson at both the Austin Music Awards and his Ice Cream Social, all events rumored to be on Reed's short list of possible guest spots. Composer Steve Reich conversed with Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, and fresh from recording sessions with Brian Eno and U2, Daniel Lanois premiered his new album and documentary, Here Is What Is. For exclusive interviews with both artists see austinchronicle.com/earache.
Considering the buzz surrounding cewebrity blogger Perez Hilton's Robyn- and Tough Alliance-boasting afterparty on Saturday, it's no wonder Warner Bros. is in negations with him about a development deal. Lance Armstrong posed with bunnies at the Playboy extravaganza, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons backed his Austin City Limits co-star and 13th Floor Elevator operator at Threadgill's before joining the Cringe at Rachael Ray's Feedback party at Beauty Bar. And everyone has at least one story involving Bushwick Bill of the Geto Boys, who threw down drunken freestyles twice his size at the UGK Family tribute to Pimp C on Wednesday at Fuze.
Some of the Festival's biggest draws, from My Morning Jacket and Vampire Weekend to the Whigs and Jens Lekman, were broadcast live on National Public Radio. Duffy blossomed during her U.S. radio debut for Santa Monica, Calif.'s KCRW at the Tequila Mockingbird studio, while Minnesota's the Current managed to transmit performances from Mick Jones' Carbon/Silicon and Billy Bragg from the parking lot on the corner of Seventh and Red River. R.E.M. accelerated the 34th season of Austin City Limits with a monumental taping on Thursday, while Daryl Hall, Glasgow's Sons & Daughters, and Dizzee Rascal all went live from the Austin Convention Center on DirecTV. Daytrotter.com recorded 24 sessions, including sets by Yo La Tengo and locals Brazos and the Octopus Project, from Big Orange, Sound Team's Eastside studio, all of which will become available in the coming months as free downloads.
Unfortunately, there was the usual allotment of thievery. UK synth-pop duo I Was a Cub Scout had their van broken into, while Justin Townes Earle had his rental lifted along with his gear and breakout songsmith Bon Iver had his passport and wallet jacked, mere weeks before his European tour. Balancing out the week was the JellyNYC- and Gibson Guitar-sponsored Texas Garage, which offered free parking to musicians and 24-hour security, not to mention more than 70 bands across three days including Santogold, Neon Neon, and the Whip.
Following the uproar last March regarding permits necessary for public assembly, this year's unofficial day parties were impressively organized and professional, especially Transmission Entertainment's three-stage blowout, Mess With Texas 2, or as Atlas Sound's Bradford Cox deemed it, the "Festival festival," allowing OTR to catch Shearwater, Wooden Shjips, Howlin Rain, and Kimya Dawson all in the span of a few hours. Meanwhile, under the moniker List Christee, Of Montreal's Kevin Barnes, who spun cuts from Fela Kuti at Emo's Lounge the previous afternoon, covered M.I.A. ("Jimmy") and the Grateful Dead ("Shakedown Street") during an acoustic set at Club de Ville. Perhaps the most humbling sight of the week was catching Britt Daniel in line at the Parish for She & Him during the Merge showcase, despite the fact that Spoon swept the Austin Music Awards at the Austin Music Hall and is the bestselling artist on the label's roster.
With the noted exception of Arclight Records' Sound Ordinance rumble Thursday at the Light Bar, SXSW 08 proceeded pretty much as planned; no small feat for a conference that boasted 1,775 bands in official showcases spread across 75 venues. As Jon Pareles noted in The New York Times, the experience was "like MySpace moved to the physical realm: more music than anyone could possibly hear, freely available, and clamoring to be heard."
After four exhausting days absorbing as much as possible, OTR ended his SXSW expedition the same way he started it: dancing along to the caterwauling neo-soul of Austin's White Denim. Flanked this time by Pareles and Rolling Stone senior scribe David Fricke, both of whom were scribbling notes, the exhilarating performance confirmed what the city of Austin has known all along: that the next big thing really is happening in our own back yard.
"I'm just glad it's over," sighed White Denim vocalist James Petralli, unwinding after the band's 10th and final SXSW show and already looking forward to a brief European excursion and five-week North American tour with Tapes 'n Tapes. "No one can keep up this pace forever."
OTR's Fab 5:
National: White Denim; Bon Iver; the Whigs; Santogold; A Place to Bury Strangers
International: Fuck Buttons; Lykke Li; Liam Finn; These New Puritans; Mala Rodriguez
The Ones That Got Away: Dokkebi Q; Does It Offend You, Yeah?; Shining; the Ting Tings; Monotonix
• Another one bites the dust: Harp magazine, which named Austin's Future Clouds & Radar the Best New Artist of 2007 and whose first cover in 2001 featured Alejandro Escovedo, announced during SXSW that its April/May issue would be its last.
• The Austin High School Jazz Ensemble has been named a finalist in the 13th annual Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival, May 15-17, in New York City and is hosting a concert on Tuesday at Austin High School's Performing Arts Center (1715 Cesar Chavez) to raise funds for travel expenses.
• Cum laude graduates Code Rainbow! and Jenny Wolfe & the Pack take center stage before Saturday's screening of Girls Rock!, a documentary following four students through Portland, Ore.'s Rock 'n' Roll Camp for Girls, at the Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz, 3pm. Rosie Flores hosts, and the show doubles as a benefit for Girls Rock Camp Austin.
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