SXSW Outsider: Day 4 (don't let the cold get you down)

March 23, 2010

By admin

Saturday morning saw a mini-trend of day parties offering free pancake breakfasts in hopes of luring out fatigued festival-goers after a week of late nights. I went to one my brother had a hand in putting together called Friend Island. Eating flapjacks while listening to NPR Music darling Sharon Van Etten was a great way to start the day- first and foremost because it was inside.  The week's beautiful weather disappeared overnight with a violent thunderstorm, replaced by clouds, winds and temperatures in the 30s. I'm well aware that Chicago got three inches of snow on Saturday, but I honestly felt colder than ever in Austin. The weather wrecked havoc on the outdoor venues and forced many to push back their start times by hours. I was planning to film Swedish artist Miss Li for Radio M, but her set was canceled due to scheduling changes. Instead I tried to catch Chicago's The Smith Westerns opening slot at Mess With Texas, a free festival held on the east side headlined by Gwar and Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony. When I arrived only one stage was open, so naturally I assumed it was The Smith Westerns. Except I thought they were all guys and didn't play 80s-style ballads... I consulted the schedule and quickly realized I was watching Katie Stelmanis. While her music was fine and fit the foreboding weather I had places to be.

Next I slogged all the way across 6th Street to Columbia College's AEMMP Records showcase. The program is a very cool idea and I'm glad they've resuscitated it, but their party left something to be desired. First, the location was not optimal- a good distance west of the center of the action on 6th Street, their line-up of up-and-comers was unlikely to attract passers-by. Second, the line-up was stylistically erratic, though I realize that's something of a necessity for a group tasked with representing an entire college. Finally, their headlining band, Japanther, showed up but refused to play their set. For their first time at SXSW, AEMMP made a good show- I hope they're able to build on it for next year.

Next on the itinerary was a book reading by Jessica Hopper of the Chicago Reader. She was promoting her book The Girls' Guide to Rocking at a local progressive book store. This was a welcome change of pace in a week filled with loud guitars and lots of walking. But perhaps the subject matter of the book was too close to the present reality of the audience for the reading to affect them. Funny lines got no laughs and great passages about putting on shows were not applauded. This seemed extra strange to me since so many bands I saw at SXSW were fronted by women- I assume a higher percentage than years past. Regardless of 20 folks at a book reading, it seems the Girls' Rock Camp movement is working and Hopper's book can serve as a textbook.

I stopped by venue/concrete block room Cheer Up Charlie's after the reading to catch yet another band on Chicago's HoZac Records, Woven Bones. Of all the stylistically similar garage rock I saw this week, they were the only one to bring a bit of The Jesus and Mary Chain to their music.

The evening ended with a great line-up of bands my brother works with followed by the last bit of Death's set at The Mohawk. Death was the first African-American punk band and Chicago label Drag City recently reissued their only album. The main reason for being there, though, was rumors of Mos Def and Beck doing a secret show after their set. The celebrity pairing never materialized, but it was a fitting conclusion to an overwhelming week. So much potential, so little able to be realized.

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