Matthew Covey Issue: Section:

Photographs by Lauren Sposetta

The December Boys

The international music industry's annual pilgrimage to Austin has a gravitational field all its own. Lots of people have a lot to say about about South By Southwest, but at the end of the day, there are several very good reasons 2000 bands from every corner of the world make their way to Austin each March: you might have the break of your career there, and, failing that, the BBQ, migas, beer, and margaritas are a fully viable consolation prize.

Wednesday: I land in Austin at 6:30. By 7;15, I'm at Manuel's on Congress for ceviche and margaritas. Good start, but there is a pall over the proceedings since the news just came in that Alex Chilton had just passed on. And because it's Austin, and because it’s SXSW, even the hip hop and frat boys seem to slow down a little at the news. First stop Antone's to see ChocQuibTown from Bogota, which rattles out an infectious afro-Colombian  hiphop. Following them was their more engaging countrymen, Bomba Estereo, that manage to weave together a seething Swervedriver guitarwall with a spastic barking female vocalist, and stretched these over a frame of skittering latin beats. Sounds awful, I know, but it wasn't. In fact, it was great. Sadly, seeing Bomba Estereo necessitates missing the Motorhead around the corner. Priorities priorities. At 12:30 I caught the middle of Frightened Rabbit's set: following the Colombians, these lads-with-guitars seemed a wee bit pale. We wrapped up the evening seeing Delhi 2 Dublin, which should have been named Shiva-na-Gig. Time to turn in.

Thursday: We start out the evening at Stubb's seeing Besnard Lakes: shoegazer is not dead, and I'm very glad of that. Then we went to see a remarkably uninspired Brooklyn band which will remain unnamed, and casting around for an alternative within 100 yards, noticed that Ray Davies was just starting at La Zone Rosa. This raises the topic of guilty pleasures: I always feel compelled to only see new bands at SXSW... after all, that's what it's supposed to be about, right? So the evening I spent three years ago alone on line to see a Camper Van Beethoven reunion; the backflips I'll do to see a Bob Mould solo show, or, indeed, the Guided By Voices show I saw in 1998 when at the time no one needed to convince me they were the best band ever... these are all evidence of weakness of character, right? Ray Davies rocked. His voice is better now then back then, he dedicated songs to Alex Chilton, played old songs furiously, and played new ones like he meant them. There's more cool in Ray then in Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, and Mick Jagger combined. Back to Momo's to see Slovak duo, Longital, which is amazing but very very hard to describe... see

Friday: I started out the day late, naturally, but caught the buzzy band, Lost in the Tress, playing an outside show in some vacant lot east of I-35. It was not the best venue for their refined Decemberists-meets-Will Oldham thing, but I got enough to understand this band has a whole lot going on and I definitely need to see them where I can hear all the parts. Then on to a low-key BBQ held by website Muzzle of Bees north of town. It was turning out to be a glorious Friday afternoon and all the pale yankees were getting sunburned. The BBQ hosted a remarkable line-up of largely roots inflected hipster bands: Juniper Tar, and Roadside Graves before I got there, The Lovely Feathers, The Love Language, Still Life Still, the effervescent band The Loom, and the ever joyous Rural Alberta Advantage.  It was quite a love in, all told. I had to leave before Odawas and These United States played, alas.  See: Why did I have to leave? Guilty pleasures again: I'd not seen Billy Bragg since Obama was elected, and I wanted to see what he had to say. Billy's ruminations about various oxymorons lead to a discussion of "American Football", speculation that a British "American Football" team would have to be called the "Teabags", which lead to a discussion of tea, then tea parties, which circled back to a soliloque about how having elected a star quarterback, we have to understand that we're all on the team and we'll get nowhere if the people aren’t there for him when he goes to throw the ball. It was a pretty good analogy for a Brit, and, as always, somehow lent a feverish currency to "Power in the Union", which is a cultural-political sleight of hand only Billy Bragg could pull off. Missed Metric. Saw a dodgy band from Croatia and a band of teenagers from New Jersey who may have been playing their first show ever, which was totally endearing though decidedly bracing. Next question: GWAR or Smokey Robinson? The weather was getting colder, and since GWAR was outside, Smokey won out. Smokey is beyond reproach, of course, which is a good thing for Smokey. I'll say no more on that, except that  when Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (which were superb, of course) came on stage after Smokie, I think I speak for every thinking person there when I say "Why Smokie? Why didn't you play with the Dap Kings? They could play your entire catalogue in their sleep, and your show tonight would have been the stuff of legend." Guilty pleasures? ... Meet missed opportunities! Still, Sharon Jones blew the roof off. Back across town to see M.I.A. protege Rye Rye. Sheesh... that may or may not have been awesome, but it made me so tired I had to go straight to bed. 


Big Star 

Saturday: In the afternoon, I went to see Longital again, and remained impressed. Things are starting to wear thin though, so I took a leisurely dinner with friends and only then managed to drag myself out by 10 to catch Israeli surf band, Boom Pam (drums, guitar, tuba), which are exquisite at what they do, though the hook is a little bare, and after five songs I found myself wanting a fourth element... monster costumes? Accordion? Go-go dancers? An agitprop message? Dunno. I'll let you know when I figure it out. The festival was wrapping up, and the event of the evening was supposed to have been the Big Star show at Antone's. Rather than cancel the show, the rest of Big Star soldiered ahead, and a remarkable parade of Chilton's fans lined up to sing and play the songs which had inspired them: Curt Kirwood (Meatpuppets), Chris Stamey (The dB's), M. Ward, Mike Mills (REM), John Doe (X), Amy Speace, Susan Cowsill, The Waston Twins, Evan Dando (The Mighty Lemondrops), and, oddly, Sondre Lerche taking a stunning run at "The Ballad of El Goodo". Former Big Star members, Andy Hummel and Jody Stephens (also of Soul Asylum, Jayhawks), joined more recent recruits Ken Stringfellow, and Jon Auer (also of The Posies). The music was off the cuff and heart felt, and it's hard to imagine a better tribute to a legendary man and musician. 

The DJs would go 'til down, but the night was over for me. I headed home, to pack my bag and get some shut-eye.

Broken Bells

Bill Jo Shaver

Thurston Moore


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