SXSW 2009 opened with a bit of bad luck turned good: It was too foggy for our flight to land in Houston, so they re-routed us directly to Austin, cutting out the layover, etc. Not all the passengers were happy, but the 50-something of us who listed Austin as final destination arrived in the sunny, breezy, much-warmer-than-NY city an hour ahead of our projected schedule. They even found our luggage. We didn’t always have such great luck with our first batch of SXSW music.
Abe Vigoda started things strongly, playing a tight set at the Fader Fort. (It’s no longer directly downtown — you walk down the train tracks to a dusty field partially covered with a tent and fleshed out with lots of free booze. Refreshingly, it gets you a bit away from the hustle and bustle.) As we drank Budweiser’s strange-attempt-to-look-like-a-micro-brew beer, Abe’s energy dissipated with Graham Coxon: He opened with “Sorrow’s Army,” which went well enough because of the bluesy guitar part, but then things slid downhill. No fault of the talkers: His undistinguished acoustic songs just don’t go over so well in the festival atmosphere. He didn’t think so either… By the end of track three (which he ended prematurely), he was complaining about the noise and got in a snit saying “maybe next time I’ll bring a drummer and electric guitarist and the rest of that boring shit you like.” Good plan. He calmed down later, chalking it up to being “an artist and English.” Well, you’re sorta just a dude playing bland acoustic songs, but OK. Some other UK folks Micachu (aka 21-year-old Mica Levi) and the Shapes moved the clouds away with their youthful energy, strange/compelling genre blending, and colorfully off-kilter (but tuneful) hooks. They’re artists and English! They’re also likely the discovery of the festival.
Speaking of interesting female artists, Jessica Lea Mayfield’s set at the Parish was a stunner, though we could do without her guitarist’s orgasm faces and take-a-shit stance. But you can close your eyes and still hear that voice. To go from the pure and simple power of Mayfield’s set to Peter Bjorn & John’s trainwreck at Vice was just cruel. It took the sound crew (which included AFI’s Davey Havok) 45+ minutes to get things situated because Living Thing’s electronic drums and samplers are more confusing than “Young Folks”‘s whistles. From our vantage, PB&J spent the entire time upstairs taking photos with their friends. Once the rocky, cocky, and unimpressive set finally did start, the Swedes didn’t apologize, but framed the waste of our time as (to paraphrase) “this is SXSW, we play it by ear.” You should also learn how to play your new instruments, dudes.
Amrit, Abbey Braden, and Linda Flores walked one hundred miles to bring you photos of the aforementioned plus 4AD’s Central Presbyterian Church mass with Anni Ross, M. Ward, Department Of Eagles, and St. Vincent; the Akron/Family, Here We Go Magic, and Elvis Perkins at Austinist; and, via Hype Machine, our first look at the Golden Filter and the motherfucking Proclaimers.