It’s not so bad, doing sxsw sans wristband and/or badge. I had thought about throwing down the $180 or so for a band, which gets you second priority to all the official shows. Going band-less though can still guarantee you a good time, if you don’t mind day time shows (unofficial, and almost always free), the occasional long line, and tons of other people.
Take, for instance, the Department of Eagles daytime gig at Waterloo records. Even though we got there about a half an hour before set, my friends and I were crammed in with about a hundred other fans. I tried to balance myself against a side shelf of cds and crane my neck over the crowds. This is about how much I could see, though.
They played a very short, very hungover set. They stopped in the middle of one song to fiddle with sound quality, and in the end, had did about as much banter with the crowd as they had played songs. (This would be nothing compared to Passion Pits’ intoxicated antics later in the day, though).
Passion Pit was one of my absolute-must-see bands at sxsw, so the hour long wait in the hot sun to get into their free day time gig at Radio Room was fine by me. Other people in line were banking on seeing the Avett Brothers, who I hadn’t heard of, but judging by the amount of fans also in this obnoxiously hot line, had be to good.
We walked in to see Omaha darlings Cursive finishing up their set. (I only know Cursive from my brother’s high school days, when they were one of the many emo bands he listened to). Outside under a tent was the other stage. I pushed my way up front and battled legions of drunk, smoking sweaty people to make sure I would close to Passion Pit.
People around me were excited for the Avett Brothers, who were up first. One girl in front of me talked about how they couldn’t quite be classified as bluegrass, but were still bluegrass.
Bluegrass classified or not, they were good. Three handsome dudes from North Carolina (plus a handsome fiddle player who jumped on with them later on) playing bluegrass inspired pop rock–every song was a love song, the kind of song that probably made girls swoon and wish they would be crooning to them. Their music had the force of Neutral Milk Hotel’s songs, with charismatic pop vocals yelled by the lead singer with his banjo painted with skulls and roses–badass bluegrass? You could definitely head bang to it. Het women and gay men should get their crushes on–they were all very easy on the eyes.
Waiting for Passion Pit to come on, I hoped I could find enough wiggle room in the crowd to dance the way I wanted to. The young Boston band has infectious electro-pop tracks, having borrowed the equipment of MGMT and Hot Chip to get their start. I give credit to them–after a mere fifteen minutes of sound check for three keyboards, a drum set, apple power book, and guitar player, they were on.
When they were on, they were on–high pitched vocals and fast beats causing those of us willing to dance able to jump around with our hands in the air. But when they were off–a false start to their song sleepyhead ruined the high adrelin moment, and the poor lead singer was so tipsy that he a) knocked beer onto his keyboard and b) swung the microphone around only to whack his bandmate in the head with it. One could only hope that a bigger stage and a proper sound check would give these boys the running start they need to deliver.
And, just when the hot sun and crowded downtown scene was becoming too much, there was the free outdoor concert at Auditorium shores. I showed up right at sunset as the Cold War Kids were finishing up (a jumbotron broadcast what those not right up on the stage couldn’t see) and M Ward was about to go on. A blanket, friends, corn dogs, cupcakes–it was pretty sweet. The sound quality at first nearly rendered the M Ward performance pointless (how can you hear this genius singer songwriter when the sound is low and everyone around you is chatting up a storm?), but then the volume went up, the crowds thinned out, and we could dance around all we wanted to.
Bonus points–if you tipped your head back to the dark sky, it was all stars, stars, stars, stars, stars.