SXSW09, Day 4: [Kelly Reid]

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Walking on music.
  • Walking on music.

After circling the blocks of 6th and 7th streets east of Interstate 35 for about 10 minutes, I finally found a parking space so big that I could squeeze my brother’s pick-up truck—a ’94 GMC, a real Texas ride with straight pipes that emit a gnarly roar even while parallel parking—inside. Jumping from its cab, my heels hit the asphalt hard, and I was reminded that today would likely be my fourth and final 15-hour day of music. The thought hurts.

It’s not that I don’t want to see live music. Actually, I have a whole list of bands I want to hear today. Rather, it’s that I don’t want to walk everywhere to see them. SXSW felt more scattered this year: The FADER Fort moved east of the interstate, a half-mile or so from the center of the action. Places like The Scoot Inn, Victory Grill, Homeslice Pizza and the Shotlz Beer Garden gathered bigger acts, too, moves that meant more walking for me. By bedtime every night, rest only felt like an excuse to get off of my feet. But, hey, it was totally worth it.

One of the best freebies I snagged in Austin this year (and, given the economy, the goods and food and booze didn’t seem to flow as freely this year, though there was still plenty to be had) is the Hometapes sampler, Here All Beautifully Collides. The treasure chest of music holds “9 Unreleased Gems, 5 Classics, 3 Covers, 1 Remix,” proclaims the cover art, including “”Kaufman,” a perfect cut from Megafaun’s forthcoming album on Hometapes.

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In fact, one of the best performances I witnessed this year was Megafaun’s acoustic set at the label’s Saturday hideaway a mile east of SXSW’s epicenter, appropriately called Friend Island. The all-day party gathered representatives of Hometapes, Absolutely Kosher, Team Clermon, and Misra inside an art gallery and outside upon its green lawn. Megafaun played in a humid room, was packed but attentive, everyone listening closely when they weren’t clapping happily.

Even though the three laid-back Wisconsin transplants might never admit it, their acoustic sets offer an opportunity to showcase their musicianship and songcraft. Every element is a necessary part of every song, as when drummer Joe Westerlund picked up a string of bells from the concrete floor, flicked them ever-so-slightly with his wrist and set them back down. Or, when banjo player Phil Cook brought his voice and banjo further into the crowd, building a crescendo, kissing a close friend in the audience on the cheek between lines. It seemed to fit the song—just as the song seemed to fit the scene—so perfectly.

To admit defeat would to be to say that I lost, so I would rather say that the entire crowd at the Levi’s FADER Fort that arrived for Kanye West’s performances was simply more prepared for survival. At least I got in, thanks in no small part to a coveted Fader “Press” wrist band and a chat with a doorguy earlier that day. The general admission line spanned the length of the block-long fort. Once inside, the place was packed, too: I worked my way to the front, near the right set of speakers and waited an hour and half. But I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t take it. It was 9:20 p.m., and The Physics of Meaning were set to play at 10 some 12 blocks on the other side of the interstate. Kanye’s crew wasn’t done with soundcheck. I opted for easier breathing, but I admire the dedication of the 2,000-plus fans (and Paul Thompson) that persevered.

But The Physics of Meaning was worth seeing for the second time in a day: A workhorse of the festival, Daniel Hart not only led his own band through several performances but also played with current indie crush and childhood friend St. Vincent. After so many shows, Hart seemed remarkably refreshed. Early in the day, the group dented the makeshift stage of Friend Island with its loud foot stomps. The stage of Lambert’s later in the evening didn’t fare any better. Physics’ energy and congruency were a marvel, and both sets mesmerized.

The second show of the day began with “In Dreams, We Discover Ourselves, Broken and Yearning,” a near three-minute violin solo from Hart blending into “Destiny Reveals An Unbelievable Truth.” The two songs are the first two tracks from their most recent release, Snake Charmer & Destiny At The Stroke of Midnight.

Hart will soon be leaving North Carolina for Los Angeles, although his belongings have been in storage for the past two years due to extensive touring, anyway: “It shouldn’t affect much,” explained Physics bassist Wil Wright. “Daniel is on the road all the time anyways. We will just keep doing what we do, or at least I hope so, because I love it.”

Later that night, a long line gathered in front of the Red Eyed Fly—not as long as the line for Metallica the night before at neighboring club Stubb’s, but long enough to make me worry about seeing Dex Romweber Duo. Dexter and his sister Sara have a new record out on Bloodshot Records called Ruins of Berlin.

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The two played for a club filled with a mixed crowd of young rockers in skinny black jeans and vintage plaid shirts and older fans that wanted nothing to do with twitter.com. Categorizing aside, the two siblings sounded tight and rehearsed. Dex’s Silvertone guitar never gave him a second of fuss. Still, Dex later said the show felt a bit weird.

A character always, Dex remains a modest man of rock. He is cool, laid-back, fun in a conversation. After his set, I skipped across the street to check out Floating Action, Seth Kauffman’s semi-new band, and then returned to chat with Dex. I took a seat at the table behind The King’s Hotdog trailer and waited to see if Dex would show. Sure enough, in less than 30 minutes, we were eating hot dogs, talking about the quick-moving clouds overhead, and analyzing where the next part of his six-week tour takes him. Mostly, though, Dex, was focused on catching up with Exene Cervenka, who sings on his new record and performed earlier in the day. They shared thoughts on which track ended up best on Dex’s new one, when her and John Doe will be touring again with X, and how performing at the Red Eyed Fly was strange.

“It’s like performing in your own bedroom,” Exene said.

“Yeah, only there are two hundred people watching you,” Dex added.

I listening, eating my King Hotdog, dripping mustard and sauerkraut. My feet were aching again. I looked at my schedule of possible bands for the last hour of SXSW, glanced at Exene and Dex, and leaned in across the table that was scattered with sauerkraut and ketchup. They were making plans for when Dex rolls through her part of the Midwest. I put the schedule in my back pocket, forgot about the last indie buzz band, and looked up at the clouds.

Dex was right. They were moving pretty damn fast.

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