Thursday, March 15, 2012

SXSW Wednesday: Fiona Apple, the ACBs, Haim, and lots of standing around

Fiona Apple and why the Austin music festival is like the Internet.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 15, 2012 at 4:28 PM

We all wait for Fiona.
  • We all wait for Fiona.
Being at South By Southwest is like being on the Internet: There is too much information to process, you always feel like you're missing out on something better, and you are very rarely satisfied with where you are and what you have. So I guess SXSW is also like life, too, now that I think about it.

Yesterday (Wednesday) was my first taste of the overwhelmingness of SXSW, and I responded poorly to it. But I saw some things. Oh, I saw some things.

The ACBs
  • The ACBs
The ACBs piled into a van called Travel Quest ("TQ" for short) at 8 p.m. Tuesday night and arrived in Austin around 8 a.m., which is pretty good time coming from Kansas City. I called bassist Bryan McGuire at 10:57 a.m. to get confirmation on the time of their set yesterday, and he answered and asked if he could call me back at 11 a.m. He then went back to sleep and literally called me back three minutes later.

The ACBs were playing the Banners showcase at the Side Bar at 2 p.m. The crowd was pretty thin at that early hour, but it had filled out nicely by the end of the set. (The band is also playing a party for an app called SiXSaW tonight, with Beautiful Bodies.) I'm an old-school, longtime ACBs fan, and I continue to maintain that they could break at any moment if some powerful music kingmaker happens upon the smart pop jams they continue to churn out. Their set included a couple of freshies I hadn't heard before; "My Face" (their weirdest song); and "I Wonder," which seemed to be the one that drew people up closer to the stage. The ACBs are also keeping a pretty hilarious running diary of their tour food, which they are calling a noshumentary, on their Twitter.

Journalism nerd alert: I went outside to get some fresh air on the patio out back at Side Bar, and saw New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson! I planned to go bug her and figure out what she was doing at such a random event, but when we rolled back inside, the next band, Haim, was already playing, and I completely forgot the most powerful newspaper person in the world was at the show because of how insanely good Haim was.

This is a really shitty picture of Haim.
  • This is a really shitty picture of Haim.
Here is a link to a download of a Haim EP, but it doesn't really capture the skillful intensity of yesterday's set. I saw three cute girls with guitars onstage and assumed I was in for some sort of Vivian Girls-style noisy garage-rock show. Instead I witnessed what will end up being a major highlight of the fest for me. Haim is composed of three sisters from Los Angeles, plus a guy drummer. The youngest sister was celebrating her 20th birthday yesterday, and her siblings couldn't be much older than that. I'd never heard or read a single word about them before, but apparently they've been playing together since they were kids. Their father stood near the entrance and almost seemed to be coaching them through the show. But they didn't seem to need much coaching. A full crowd watched them burn through a set of powerful, percussive jangle-pop. The arrangements, harmonies and energy of the performance were eerily on point. Each of the girls had their own drum set up in front of them, and on the last song, they one by one unstrapped their guitars, picked up drum sticks, and began beating the hell out of their drums for two minutes. I don't know what else to say other than it was fucking awesome, and you should see them the first chance you get.

After Haim, I sat on a stoop and ate a pulled pork sandwich and some really nasty nachos from a food truck. I was unsatisfied with that and promptly ordered some sort of Cuban sandwich from a different food truck. But then I was too full! It's all about balance, don't you see?

I met a booking agent buddy of mine at a place called Club 606. It was all music-industry types. A band that sounded like Yeasayer was playing, but only about 20 people seemed to be paying attention. Met some nice people, though. Around 6 p.m., I headed over to Stubb's for the NPR showcase, which featured a very rare live performance from Fiona Apple. I waited in line for an hour, and then waited another hour inside the venue for Fiona to come on. I was alone, because nobody else I'm with here is badged-up to my level, and the ones who were weren't willing to wait in the line. I stood like a goon and drank a Strongbow and finally Fiona came on. She is still super-hot, and lithe, and full of nervous energy, and serious about her music. She looks physically pained every time she sings. She has a new record coming out, and she played three songs from it, and she closed with "Criminal." Was it worth the two-hour wait? I'm still not sure. I'm glad I saw it, though. If you want to see what Fiona Apple looks like (you do), there are some nice photos here.

Post-Fiona, I met back up with the ACBs dudes a block away at Red Eyed Fly, where Neon Indian and Unknown Mortal Orchestra were to play later. We drank Lone Stars and hung out in the back, where there was a nice breeze. The dude from Cults, or a guy who looks very much like him, was there. Word was that the indie-rock celebrity-spotting party was at Lustre Pearl, where Wavves and Trash Talk were playing — apparently the Smith Westerns dudes and the Girls dudes were hanging there all night. I had planned to head over, but I was afraid I wouldn't get let back into Red Eyed Fly for UMO. That fear turned out to be unfounded. There was a healthy crowd at the show, but a huge, daunting line never materialized.

Perhaps that was partially due to the fact that the Neon Indian set was just a DJ set by the main guy in the band, Alan Palomo. That was kind of a bummer. He did some cool stuff on the decks (most notably incorporating the crashing guitar sound on "Funkytown" into an electronic track), but it seemed to go on forever. By the time UMO had done a sound check and was ready to play, I was fading. Frontman Ruban Nielson also seemed to be exhausted. He apologized for his voice, which was raw from playing shows all day. They played a cover of a song from Pink Floyd's Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and a couple of songs after that, I sneaked out and hailed a cab. Not everything worked out Wednesday — I must work on my timing — but I'm still learning. Spirits remain high. More tomorrow.

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