Friday, March 18, 2011

SXSW - Day 1; The Austin Strikes Back


The first song I hear upon arrival in the US (playing in a cab outside LAX) is Beach Boys' 'God Only Knows'. That's gotta be a good sign. Less than 24 hours later, it's the Ghost Room and HBO have chosen Austin's SxSW, the world's biggest music conference/festival as the place to launch the new season of their New Orleans musical/drama Treme. Not only does it begin with one of the show's signature second line celebrations (which goes a little awry at the end as someone is knocked down by a car) but inside the Orleansesque Ghost Room we are immersed in the jazz keys of Henry Butler. There are no Treme cast to be seen but stepping outside, there's Mark Boone Junior, star of US biker series Sons Of Anarchy... he looks just as scary off screen as he does in the show - note: doesn't look like asking for an autograph is a good idea.

A long trek east from Austin's CBD (past the long lines into the Fader party) and the Thrasher party is in full swing at the Scoot Inn. While skaters do their skatey thing on a ramp in one outdoor area, hardcore bands entertain those doing non-skatey things in another outdoor area. But it's what's inside the dank, dark bar inside that interests most. "I wanna fuck every skater out there," pants queer indie icon Hunx, leader of the Hunx & His Punx pack. The crowd screams encouragement - Hunx ignores them, he's already moved on to shaking up a warm beer and spraying across those of us in the front rows. Yep, Hunx... guaranteed to leave you sticky. As Hunx powers through his anthems 'Cruising' and 'Hey Rocky', the room is over-heating. "How many songs do we have to do?" Hunx asks nobody in particular. "Ten!"... "No. Fucken. Way." But with the help of this all-girl edition of His Punx, Hunx delivers a more-than-satisfying set of lo-fi girl group fun.

But there's no escaping the Scoot sauna room as Nashville garage duo Jeff The Brotherhood enter the stage next. JTB do that wondrous thing where two folk make the kinda noise that you'd expect from at least twice that amount of folk onstage. The sheer energy as they tear through cuts like 'U Got The Look' is just too hard to resist and some old style moshing breaks out upfront. The moshing only stops to make a path for one of the Brotherhood to make a run to bar for a bar-top guitar solo. All hail the Brotherhood. Back in town, in fact, at the heart of the festival in the convention centre, local indie psych outfit White Denim work hard to win a tough room of 'industry types' sitting back with that 'come on, prove yourself' vibe dripping off them. White Denim prove themselves. A dash through a blur of bands follows before the night's most looked-forward-too moment, Nite Jewel at the Bat Bar in Austin's main music venue strip, 6th Street. The LA team DO NOT disappoint and their wonky disco stylings are captivating. Love is experienced in this room.

Over at Emo's, The Kills played a stripped down (yes, it's possible to strip their minimal rock further), no nonsense set (none of those usual Kills dramas played out tonight) of new material. The audience is torn between those loudly bitching about the changes in direction and those of us ready to order the new album Blood Pressures now. Following a trail of winklepickers and 'taches leads to the 'it' gig of the night, Gayngs at Mohawk. Suspicions of this Minneapolis indie supergroup (on record this collection of blue-eye soul boys from Bon Iver and the likes sounded a tad ironic) subside by the time the ten-piece hit their achingly beautiful take on Godley & Creme's 'Cry'. Eventually, after a parade of guest vocalists that includes Har Mar Superstar, the crowd aren't just eating out of their hands, they are sucking the sweat of their fingertips. It ends with all the boys on stage getting their tops off (surprisingly not Har Mar - the man usually leading onstage strips) and a giant lovefest breaks out as Gayngs kiss, hug and generally touch each other for the night's finale.

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