So this was my first time heading down to SXSW. And while I plan to go again (and again, and again), I have to say — it’s not quite what I expected. I guess there were three big things that disappointed me:
(1) I didn’t really discover anyone new. Part of that was my fault, given that I tended to see shows by bands I had already heard. Part of it was also that I wasn’t that impressed by any of the bands I was hearing for the first time (the only exceptions to this rule were You Am I and Grand Champeen, who I had heard (thanks Sal!) but not seen prior to SXSW.) Finally, and most importantly, there’s just too many bands. When you have 1,000+ bands to choose from, the only way to try to make sense out of it is to go with what you know. And, given that there really wasn’t much in the way of buzz for any new bands, I ended up playing it safe.
(2) Austin’s venues are disappointing. Outside of Stubb’s, I don’t think I went to a single club that I’d ever want to go back to again. Emo’s is a complete and utter hell-hole, with the CBGB’s-esque bathroom to boot. Antone’s acoustics were terrible, and the room has zero personality. The Mohawk? The locals say the space is cursed, and I see why — small, cramped, and it feels like a ski lodge. And then there’s the Dirty Dog. Ah, yes, the Dirty Dog. The classy sports bar whose logo is a scantily-clad lady with a dog humping her leg. Worst venue ever? Close.
(3) Disappointing performances. Unlike CMJ, where a lot of the bands I saw put on incredible performances (Silversun Pickups, Birdmonster, Apples In Stereo acoustic, Figgs, Asobi Seksu, Thermals, etc.), there were very few performances that really blew me away. The few exceptions would be the Buzzcocks, You Am I and the second Figgs set (and the full-band Clem Snide was pretty cool too). Everyone else? Just ok. Birdmonster, The Little Ones, Asobi Seksu, and The Broken West, who I’ve seen put on excellent shows, were all kinda average this time out.
At the end of the day, I just didn’t see that much memorable music. My memories of SXSW will be Smitty’s BBQ, the Buzzcocks (and Matt’s brilliant job getting us in), meeting Mike from WOXY, and the incredibly unfriendly night manager of the hotel we were staying at. (Indeed, the same jackass who got a Walkman arrested.) Hopefully next year my memories will be a lot more focused on the music.
That said, waking up, eating BBQ, drinking beer and watching bands from 1pm to 1am is pretty hard to screw up. So, yeah, I’m goin’ back next year.