The problem with blogging SXSW is that every second spent blogging is a second spent not seeing something that you might want to blog about.
Having arrived late Wednesday night, while the festival was already in partial swing, and trying (unsuccessfully) to catch up on some lost travel sleep Thursday morning, this is literally the first time I have been able to stop to catch my breath and reflect on what I have seen. Some argue that the festival is suffering from its own success: that its immense popularity and overwhelming musical stimulation leads to music fan burnout.
Unlike, say, Coachella, where the lineup has been handpicked for quality, SXSW is pretty much anyone's game. All it really takes is a little moving and shaking and a band can get on a bill, regardless of merit. Failing that, there's always the street, which is dotted with gypsy acoustic groups, people playing through battery powered amps, and just plain freaks. From the sublime to the ridiculous, the festival has it all, and it's easy to get cynical when band after band fails to impress. The flipside, however, is that when you do find a band you unexpectedly like, the pleasure is even greater.
Thursday's (reasonably) local highlight was Long Beach's Crystal Antlers who continue to sharpen their Hawkwind/Comets on Fire inspired sound and seem to be growing increasingly confident in their abilities to move a crowd. After an aborted set downtown (so aborted they didn't even get a chance to load in their equipment), the band picked up and moved to a backyard across town where they were certainly the loudest band on the bill. After their first song, the property owner came out and told them to keep it down a bit, but they soldiered on undeterred, if a little less ear-splitting.
For a taste, see below:
Following Crystal Antlers was Mr. Free and the Satellite Freakout, a Tucson band who had driven to Austin in a full sized school bus equipped with a stage in the back for on the fly performances. Definitely one of the strangest bands I had seen here, within ten seconds, Mr. Free (in Kabuki/Whatever Happened to Baby Jane makeup) living up to his name, stripped down to absolutely nothing but a strategically placed sock. What was most surprising was that the music was actually really good, Alternative Tentacles style punk…but from Arizona, which somehow makes it even more legit. Below: the only picture I took that isn't NSFW.
This shot was snapped seconds before I was basically tea-bagged by the man. OC Weekly: Getting face humped so you don't have to.