SXSW 2005: Day 4 Wrap-Up: Part 1


Aaaahhh, nothing like a warm, hazy Saturday afternoon at the county fair.

That’s what it was like at the Town Lake Stage at Auditorium Shores, a park on the banks of the river all the way across town. It was free and open to the public, there was cotton candy, popcorn, funnel cake and steak-on-a-stick for sale, and families with young children gamboled on the lawn. It felt as far away from SXSW as you could get, especially with Savvy on stage. An eight-member kiddie-pop rainbow coalition (all between the ages of 8 and 15) ISO hugs, happiness, screaming fans and Radio Disney airplay, Savvy put on the most enthusiastic set I saw in Austin. Choreographed dancing on top of boxes, sugar-rush energy, jazz hands, high-fives, glittering white smiles, floppy ponytails… what jaded rock band could compete with that? This is where the future Jessicas, Justins and Britneys are coming from. They closed with a cover of “We Are Family” while somebody’s dad threw T-shirts to the audience. I really wanted one, but I felt bad about taking one from the little kids who were scrambling for them. Also, all the lead vocals were live, not lip-synched. You could hear the kids’ tiny lungs working overtime.

Back downtown, I stumbled upon some sort of Island records party at the Velvet Spade showcasing even more British bands. Bell X1 were on, and surprise surprise, they sounded like Coldplay. Except this one song kept repeating some line about a reacharound. Eww. The singer banged on some timbales, several band members wore cowboy hats (one was pink) and they unintentionally made complete fools of themselves. I stuck around for a few songs by the next band, Tom Vek, a funk-punk group with a great bass player and blah everything else. They’ll probably be huge. Oh Franz Ferdinand, look what you’ve wrought.

It started drizzling as I walked over to Emo’s to catch the Hold Steady at the Take Action Tour party. My feelings about the Hold Steady are somewhat conflicted. They’re from Minneapolis, hometown of, like, every rock critic ever, so my colleagues tend to go bananas over them (one told me that he was seeing them five times during SXSW.) I think Craig Finn is a genius songwriter, and the music on the new album sounds like vintage Springsteen/E Street band, but oh my god, listening to Finn’s whiny voice is like sitting in class while some smart-aleck ass-clown tries to impress the professor. But I can take it in limited doses, so the Hold Steady’s brief set was just perfect for me. Lots of sweat and excitement and sweeping organ parts. Plus, the music almost drowned out the singing.

The drizzle continued as I headed to Club Deville for the Making Time party (Philly represent!) I was quite curious to see Th Corn Gangg, which is the new project from the guys who used to be the Unicorns. I never really cared for the Unicorns, but I’d heard that this thing was completely different from the fractured twee-pop they used to play. And man, was it ever. But not at first. Two former Unicorns and a bass player whose name I didn’t catch came out and played a fairly straightforward indie rock song. Then the guitarist switched to keyboards and they banged out a synth-pop song that kinda reminded me of Hot Chip. Halfway through the second song, the beat shifted to some hip-hop boom-bap, and all of a sudden, three MCs hopped on stage and started rhyming. A sophisticated hipster girl got on stage and started dancing with them. After that song was over, the bass player left, so it was just the ex-Unicorns and the MCs. Then shit got crazy. The drizzle turned into a full-on downpour, and water started flooding the stage. The MCs freestyled about how they were going to get electrocuted, roadies scrambled to cover up equipment, the keyboardist walked away from his instrument and started climbing a rock wall behind the stage. This continued for several minutes, until the electricity shorted out. Then a rock fell off the wall and onto the PA. Show’s over, folks.