SXSW 2009: Top Five Wholly Subjective Austin Moments, Starring Dent May, Micachu, and Metallica


Two red-eye flights there and back, a night in a camper without a pillow or blanket, another crashed uninvited on an angry stranger’s futon, no consistent shower or WiFi in sight–with pilgrimages like this, I think you’re supposed to find God, but instead I found Dent May. In no particular order, five personal highlights:

Metallica at Stubb’s. When the prerecorded artillery fire of “One” kicked in, I temporarily made excuses to leave my show buddy (a/k/a my boss) because I didn’t want to be self-conscious about reflexively throwing up the devil horns, headbanging in a skirt, and screaming along to this anthem of my metalhead adolescence, especially around someone who employs me. Earlier, Rob said this show was the first time he’d ever considered buying a beer for the express purpose of throwing it–this was the first time I have ever in my life ordered a double whiskey on the rocks. But come on. “Seek & Destroy”? “Master of Puppets”! “Sad But True”?!? You don’t drink motherfucking Amstel Light to Metallica’s greatest hits.

Micachu and the Shapes at Emo’s Annex. Micachu and the Shapes is to Mica Levi as the Dirty Projectors is to Dave Longstreth. And you know how Longstreth looks like a young Christopher Lloyd imitating a chicken? Mica Levi looks like a high-school tomboy playing Cate Blanchett playing Bob Dylan. At 21, the Surrey native has already composed a piece for the London Philharmonic Orchestra, recorded with grime MCs, and released one of this year’s most inventive weirdo-rock records, Jewellry. Her Shapes are Mark Pell, a sandy-haired drummer boy who looks too young to drive, and Raisa Kahn, a laptop jockey/keyboard manipulator who turned 22 years old last week.

The day I saw them at SXSW, Levi announced Kahn’s birthday, which elicited cheers: “We did it earlier and everyone was all, ‘So what?’ Too cool for us.” Impossible, I might add. Mica has this onstage ease you can’t fake or force, wunderkind instincts bolstered by mishmash instrumentation: an Autoharp strummed with a credit card, guitars shrunken to Mica’s size, cowbell beats, etc. But probably the most impressive thing about these kids is the effortless nonchalance from which they segue from tin-man-chest-thumping percussion to brief noise squalls to woo-hoo falsetto pop jams. Like when you bond with a stranger on vacation and return home feeling closer to them than some of your friends, Michachu and the Shapes is suddenly one of my most trusted iTunes associates. Soon to be yours too.

Crystal Stilts, Wavves, and No Age on Ms Bea’s patio Saturday night. Been looking forward to the Ms. Bea’s patio since last year–apparently, so were the bazillion other people who congregated here, and in the adjacent dirt parking lot, on Saturday night. But fuck the hype, this was a beautiful moment of DIY traveler camaraderie, public urination, and dude-passing under the gazebo roof–call it limbo crowdsurfing–that the cops somehow didn’t break up. As for Wavves, scenes like this are why Nathan Williams was born. So yeah, I like Wavves, sorry.

Dent May & His Magnificent Ukelele at Antone’s. Dent May is basically Jonathan Richman with a plucked lute: catchy tunes with clever vignettes, white-boy jigs, social critique masked as bon-mot singalongs (“College Town Boy/Get off your ass and do something/College Town Boy/How does it feel to be nothing?”). He’s one of the few people to strip a Prince song of its groove and not make it suck–his cover of “When You Were Mine” sounds like a 69 Love Songs outtake. When Activision releases Ukelele Hero, I nominate Dent May for his own title.

Kanye at Fader Fort. This year’s Fader Fort finale was billed as G.O.O.D. Presents, a showcase for Kanye’s Def Jam imprint featuring Kid Cudi, GLC, Consequence, and “special guests.” But after Kanye flapped his jaw to the press that he’d be popping off at SXSW, everybody and Craig Newmark’s mom knew this would be where to find him. And so when Kanye emerged, his baby mullet shaved, he spent the first half of his two-hour jawn making introductions to “new faces.” We met Consequence, GLC, Really Doe. We met Detroit’s Big Sean and his discovery narrative: “He wanted to spit a rhyme for me and I was so impressed, I signed him,” said Kanye. We also met Mr. Hudson, who West promised would be the next John Legend–in truth, Hudson is completely wack.

But you can’t really complain about a free gift, so let us focus on the fact we eventually got Erykah Badu, Common, and 808 hits “Love Lockdown” and “Heartless”–including, as FoSOTC Ryan Dombal also noted, the fairly revealing improv admission: “Did I make you heartless when I cheated on you?” Didn’t get that on American Idol.

Also Awesome: Devo, Dirty Projectors, Matt & Kim (duh), Women.

Best Use of Auto-Tune. Baby screams through a vocoder, courtesy of Diplo.

Best Evidence that One Letter Makes All the Difference. Bun B and Bun E.

Worst Thing Ever Said to a Fader Fort Crowd. “How many of y’all are in a relationship?” asked Big Sean during the Kanye showcase. Stinkbomb might as well have gone off by the crowd’s response–save the relationship status for Facebook, bro.

Worst Way to Deal With Those Harrowing Bathroom Lines. The lead singer of metal band Annihilation Time defecating onstage at the after-hours Vice Party. Yes, I was there and our awesome pitgirl Rebecca Smeyne has pictures, but I really don’t think you want them. Seriously, you don’t.