It was St. Patrick’s Day, and the last day of South By Southwest, and a Saturday night, and everybody was drunk and angry and tired. Public transportation in Austin, at least during SXSW, is pathetic. It’s impossible to find a taxi. The buses run at infrequent intervals, and when you finally board them, they roll like snails. Fuck this place, I thought as we pulled away.
*Free Energy at ND on Friday. It was my first time seeing the Philly band, which combines the power pop of Thin Lizzy with the power pop of Third Eye Blind. I have been obsessed with their song, “Hope Child” for a long time, and they closed with it, which was incredible. I was surprised that the singer, Paul Sprangers, didn’t play an instrument; it made them seem like a minor-league version of Van Halen, which I mean as a compliment, of course. I was bummed that they didn’t execute the twin guitar solos live, because that’s my favorite part of their sound. Sprangers was boyishly enthusiastic throughout the set, almost as though he weren’t the real singer, just a superfan who had won some drawing to play with the band. “Kinda cheesy,” my friend said. It was, but I am more willing to forgive cheesiness than ironic detachment, and I think there should be more bands willing to risk cheesiness, so I give Free Energy the thumbs-up.
*A huge line of kids wrapped around a building at Second and Trinity on Friday night. I asked no less than five different people who they were waiting to see, and not a single one could answer me. I discovered later that the place was offering free booze until 4 a.m.
*A line too long to wait in for Alabama Shakes. Heard good things, though.
*Sixth Street at midnight on Friday: A living hell.
*The Drums headlining Stubb’s Friday night. Maybe I was getting tired and crabby, but my notes say, "Overhyped horseshit."
*A guy with a Carcetti for Mayor T-shirt. I gave him a high-five.
*ATMs throughout downtown with $5.75 fees. What is this, a strip club?
*A bunch of people wearing green clothes taking Irish car bombs at Champions, the bar in the Marriott Courtyard hotel. By the end of the week, Champions had become my favorite bar in downtown Austin. The food is gross, the beers are kind of expensive, and the décor is stupid and sportsy, but you could reliably walk in, sit down, watch the NCAA tournament, and get away from a lot of the SXSW insanity.
*Justin Townes Earle, son of Steve Earle, following Kiwanuka at Stubb’s. Earle dresses in what my friend characterizes as “uptown hillbilly” style (he wore a plaid jacket) and was playing with a full band for what he told us was only the second time. He seemed a little nervous and awkward, and his set of classy, sturdy alt-country tunes was pleasant, if a little boring.
*New Jersey’s Delicate Steve at Mohawk, playing a set of ramshackle rock with chaotic guitar solos. After Delicate Steve, I caught White Denim, an Austin-based act that's equal parts Phish, knotty indie rock and Black Keys, and also indulges in wild, meandering guitar solos. The War on Drugs also mine that territory. Are we on the verge of the age of the indie-rock guitar hero?
*White Denim was playing the Doritos Jacked stage. There was a stage, and then above the stage were these 15-foot “bags” of different flavors of Doritos lined up inside a rig that had been designed to look like a vending machine. Here, this picture kind of helps:
*See you guys in a few days!