Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Thee Oh Sees are incredible and some other general observations: Monday at SXSW

Posted By on Tue, Mar 13, 2012 at 2:15 PM

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First time at SXSW. First time in Austin. Go!

*I guess this is sort of a cheap joke, but, you guys, there were SO MANY people wearing cardigans and hoodies at the Austin airport when I arrived at noon on Monday. Also, there was an airport shop selling mass-produced T-shirts that said, "Keep Austin Weird" on them. I bought one for $59 because I figured it would be a good way to fit in here at the festival.

*I went downtown yesterday to get my badge, and ended up wandering around for a while. Do you want to know how corporate SXSW is? CNN apparently rents out some space downtown, brings in its own restaurant sign that says CNN Grill, attaches that sign to a building, and hosts panels and shows all week. The plan for today is to stop in there and order some loaded baked potato skins.

*For the record, I have no problem with the commercialization of SXSW.

*There is this place called Torchy's Tacos that has amazing tacos. I got the Democrat (barbacoa and avocado and some other things) and the Beef Fajita (about what it sounds like). The queso dip was also outstanding, maybe even as good as the queso dip at Chili's. The queso dip at Chili's is pretty good, y'all.

*The "official" music part of the fest hasn't really begun yet — it's mostly film and tech stuff until Wednesday — but there's still tons of shows going on everywhere. I'm staying 30 or so blocks north of downtown in a neighborhood called Hyde Park. Last night, we walked 10 minutes to the Spider House, a bar with a sprawling, ragtag patio with Christmas lights strung up all around. We sat in what I could only describe as a cabana booth. I drank 24 oz. Tecates. Then we headed next door, to the 29th Street Ballroom, where Thee Oh Sees were playing. It was already packed — I was literally the last person they let into the venue. All the poor souls behind me had to wait in a horrible "one in, one out" line that never seemed to budge because nobody leaves a venue where Thee Oh Sees are about to play.

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I was pretty bowled over by the Flesh Lights, an Austin three-piece that preceded Thee Oh Sees. The guitarist and bassist traded off vocal duties. The guitarist's songs tended to lean power-punk, and the bassist's were more ferocious and hardcore. The room was packed, and some kids were moshing up front. The most badass part was when the guitarist, who had been bouncing around the stage all set, launched into a guitar solo while standing completely motionless and staring at the audience with an insane, but very focused, look on his face. The bass player knocked the microphone off the stage at the end of the last song.

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I have not participated in anything resembling a mosh pit for more than 10 years. And yet: During Thee Oh Sees' set last night, I spent a good hour shoving and getting shoved by a huge, sweaty crowd of people. It was almost impossible not to. Thee Oh Sees sit atop the lauded San Francisco garage-rock scene, and they have earned their spot. What they do is simple but maximally effective in a live setting: Take raw punk energy and add psych jams that build and release. The two drummers were positioned at the front of the stage, facing each other. Frontman John Dwyer played from stage right. At one point, he tipped back a beer and then held it in his mouth while he resumed playing guitar. Then he just kind of spit out the beer bottle, and it fell to the ground. Nobody seemed to notice.

I have no idea what songs they played or which albums they were from. It's hard to keep up with Thee Oh Sees' two-release-per-year output. I recognized about half the songs, and the other half were good enough to keep me knocking around on the floor and sweating all the way through my shirt and chugging warm beer and generally acting like a person 10 years younger than I am. At one point, amidst all the madness and movement, my cousin grabbed my beer out of my hand and sprayed me with it and threw it up in the air. The entire floor was so crazy and hazy that I didn't even realize it was he until he mentioned it after the show. I just assumed it was some random dude, and I had been cool with that.

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