Hey readers! I was so lucky to have the opportunity to attend SXSW (South by Southwest, the Annual Music Festival) in Austin Texas, held March 18-22. I had a blast last year, but my experience this year was very different. Last year, I never looked at a schedule. I went with an Austin local, who also knew a record executive, so we heard about all kinds of shows and parties, as well as just happening upon some great shows.
This year, I poured over the schedule and tried to mark all the bands and shows of interest. (There were so many! If only I could be in 3 or 4 places at one time!!!) Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get into to 90 percent of the shows I desperately wanted to see. The best piece of advice I have for a fellow music lover who wants to attend SXSW is this: BUY A BADGE! I only had a wristband, and continually saw everyone with a badge having an easier time getting in everywhere, while we wristband-wearing losers were continually turned away. It was frustrating, but this is an awesome festival, which I recommend… if you buy a badge. (Otherwise, like I did for the first time in my adult life, you may feel like the nerd loser in a bad high school movie that everyone walks all over!)
I also got stranded on the streets 2 different nights while trying to get a cab, which was super frustrating, with hundreds of people fighting over cabs. (Second most important advice: get a hotel in walking distance of all the happenings and remember to book a year in advance! Or stay with someone who’s driving.)
I like Austin, have many friends there, and am the kind of gal who can make my own fun almost anywhere, but this year I felt frustrated and missed out on so many things I wanted to do. I spent much time waiting in lines and feeling distraught about missing what I perceived to be historic moments, so it was honestly really difficult for me to sit down and write about the experience. I really only want to share positive things with our readers! The following is my attempt.
I had a lot of fun hanging out at the Jackalope with old friends. That bar has an outdoor area that gets packed during SXSW. They also have 2 rooms inside, including a stage with music, and the place has a good down-home punk rock vibe. They also serve food there, which is handy during the craziness. I always feel at home there. I also enjoyed hanging out at Emo’s (all three locations), and saw a few bands of interest there; but I didn’t discover any up-and-comers this year that I got excited about. I also enjoyed the Beauty Bar, Red Seven, and walking the streets.
Primal Scream was the best band I saw at SXSW. I was completely on the fence about whether I like this band, but a friend was pretty insistent that I would like them and should check them out. I downloaded a lot of their music before the trip, and I wasn’t that into it. I really disliked the album ‘Screamadelica,’ (because it reminded me of Jesus Jones and cheesy psychedelic pop-rock from the early 90s), but songs from other albums were very different, and way more up my alley.
This band has the ability to switch musical styles from one album to the next, and they are able to employ each style masterfully. I think their newer stuff is really good; I just got scared off by that one older album. I waited in a line for a while, but was eventually able to get in to see part of one of their completely packed shows, and they were really amazing. They are extremely unique and talented, and they won me over. I wish I could have stayed, but I ran out to see another act that was playing at the same time (which was a mistake). I like their harder rock and blues-ier stuff. The crowd was really into them. I’d love to see them again sometime. I like their song “Can’t go back,” and their new album, ‘Beautiful Future’ is really good. http://www.myspace.com/primalscream
My next favorite, (which I already knew I would like), was Juliette Lewis and the New Romantiques. I had seen Juliette Lewis perform with her last band, The Licks, as well as with Camp Freddy (an L.A.- based revolving door of talent including Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, Matt Sorum from Guns and Roses, Dave Navarro of Janes Addiction, and tons more). Juliette has a great voice, reminiscent of Joan Jett, with aspects of Sinead O’Connor thrown in, and she has a fun stage presence—she’s not afraid to rock out, but is also sweet and humble, truly appreciative of her audience. I caught an unscheduled afternoon show at The Beauty Bar Backyard, which was the best surprise of the weekend for me.
This was her first outing with the new band, and their record and tour was to follow shortly, so I highly recommend curious fans to go check them out. She did songs that had been recorded with the last band (a favorite of mine is ‘Got Love to Kill’), new songs, as well as a unique and surprising cover of the Village People’s ‘Y.M.C.A.!’ She jumped into the crowd, and everyone was very excited about it. I’d say this band is a must-see for fans of the actress, Joan Jett, and rock n roll female-fronted bands in general. They are currently touring abroad, and I hope they will come through the states soon. http://www.myspace.com/juliettelewis
One band I saw that was a big surprise, and very entertaining, was Mexico’s Cosmopolitan. They call themselves the “next punk Mexican band!” I happened upon them because I was walking by and heard some spazzy music that sounded a bit like Le Tigre, whom I love. They’re a 3-piece, high energy, new wave, electronic dance band. Their sound, energy, and their look (all wore white jeans and T shirts, new wave sunglasses and matching plastic 80s style jackets) all made for a fun-to-watch performance. There was an impromptu dance party of girls in the parking lot, which was adorable. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever come across– a group of girls dancing with wild abandon in a parking lot! www.myspace.com/cosmopolitan
A few bands I saw, all of whom I have seen before and wanted to see again, were: The Girls (Seattle, WA), The Cute Lepers (Seattle, WA), and the Riverboat Gamblers (Denton/Austin, TX). I have liked all 3 of these bands for a while. All 3 have new songs up on myspace, so you can give them a listen. All 3 are also really fun to watch.
The Girls were fun to watch because the singer acted wacky, performing in his underwear, having no shame. They are an 80s-style New Wave band inspired by Devo and the Voidoids, which you can clearly hear. They have good energy, and I’ve enjoyed their music since I first saw them in 2000. They’ve only gotten better. http://www.myspace.com/thegirlsseattle
I wrote about the Cute Lepers in the past, having seen them my first time at SXSW last year, and again in San Francisco last year. Having been a huge fan of The Briefs, it’s impossible for me not to like them as well. With the singer and bassist of The Briefs, and 2 awesome, cute girls who sing and shimmy along. Their sound is spastic New Wave and early punk meets Motown Soul. http://www.myspace.com/thecutelepers
The Riverboat Gamblers are a hard rock, high energy, tight band. I’ve seen them many times over the years, and always think they put on a great show. Their singer isn’t averse to jumping into the crowd to get everyone going, and it’s impossible to not enjoy them if you like hard rock and roll. He’s a good frontman, who moves around a lot. This band makes me proud to be from Texas! http://www.myspace.com/theriverboatgamblers
On a totally different tip, I made a point of seeing Kid Sister (Chicago, IL), who has a few songs I really like: ‘Beeper,’ ‘Switchboard,’ & ‘Damn Girl.’ She did all those, plus ‘Pro Nails.’ She is an adorable female rapper who reminds me a little of early Mony Love or Salt n Pepa, and maybe a little like Lil Mama. She didn’t miss a beat, and really had the crowd riled up and excited. (Her DJ was hot too!) She was really fun to watch, and I was glad I made a point to see her. I also met some really fun characters in the crowd at that show. http://www.myspace.com/kidsister
I accidentally discovered a band I should have known about previously! I went to see The Homosexuals, because I knew with a name like that, they would probably be a band I’d get a kick out of. I had NO idea they were an original 70s punk band from the UK… and they still sounded pretty good! I thought they were clever, but the singer looked to be the oldest singer I’ve ever seen front a band! He looked seriously old… but they were entertaining, and I liked the songs I heard. He even insulted George Bush and his politics between songs, which is funny, especially since they’re old English punks (foreigners) playing in Bush’s home state of Texas. (Oh wow, I found they actually formed in 1972!) I can’t believe I never heard of them, and then accidentally happened upon some Punk history! The link has a SXSW performance on it. http://www.myspace.com/thehomosexuals
I went to a couple of cool DJ sets- the best being Le Castle Vania (Atlanta, GA). This guy had a crowd of people watching him DJ like he was a band. The stuff he spins is really fun electronica/ indie rock to dance to. It was cool. (Check out his free downloads too). http://www.myspace.com/castlevaniadisco
While at SXSW, I enjoyed the weather and people watching. If I had a badge, I would be able to tell you about these shows I waited in line for: MSTRKRFT (twice), HR of Bad Brains, Circle Jerks, Echo and The Bunneymen, Yelle, DJ Steve Aoki, The Sonics, and Gravytrain!!! (I was so bummed to miss these shows!) I also went into a lot of random shows in the hopes of seeing something new and exciting, which ended up being unremarkable or just plain bad, so this is all I have to share from my SXSW 2009 experience. I enjoyed myself, but felt a bit let down, and I feel like I’m letting you readers down too since there were amazing things happening, and I wasn’t able to get in… Just so you understand, I was right outside some really exciting shows! (BOOOOOOO!) I hope to go back next year, and hope to have more exciting things to share! (Must get badge!)
Two weeks later, on April 9-12, I went to the Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender #12. As usual, I had a ball. The 12th year of the annual Rockabilly Festival was bigger and better than ever! The event, after growing from about 1500 to 7000+ attendees over the last 11 years, finally had to move to a bigger venue! It’s moved from the Gold Coast to The Orleans, which was really pleasant. The ballroom for bands is bigger and the sound was very good, the hotel rooms and its staff were nice, and I absolutely love their hot tub and giant pool! (In this case, bigger really is better!) www.vivalasvegas.net
This year’s Saturday Classic Car Show had about 650 pre 1963 cars, and somewhere between 15,000- 20,000 attendees! There was a line to get in about a mile long, but the good news is, for those attending the entire weekend who have a wristband, you don’t have to wait in the line. The line was for people who were not attending the music event, and only wanted to pay for entry into the car show. The cars were awesome, and the parking lot had vendors, food, and had a street fair sort of vibe.
The Burlesque competition on Saturday night was held in a nice sit-down theatre, and it felt like a good old Vegas style show. The competition was friendly, fierce, and highly entertaining. The ladies competing all had different styles and talents to offer the viewers, but my favorites included amazing (expensive) costumes with lots of sparkle! The previous years’ Burlesque competitions were held in main ballrooms where bands play, so viewers had to stand in huge crowds, and it was very difficult to see the show. This year’s theatre was a huge improvement, although attendees probably learned they need to plan ahead and get in line, because the theatre filled up quickly, and once capacity was reached, no one else could enter.
My favorite part of Viva Las Vegas (besides the music) is the Sunday Tiki Pool Party. I love hanging out poolside anyway, because in chilly San Francisco, I never have the opportunity. It’s even more fun when you are surrounded by 380 degrees of eye candy: vintage bathing beauties, (including a swimsuit contest), tattoos galore, tiki cocktails, and bands to entertain and provide a backing soundtrack. I wish this was what I did every Sunday! (Seriously!)
As far as the music, standouts for me this year were: Dean Z as Elvis, The Chop Tops, and Jack Rabbit Slim. (I also love Big Sandy as the event’s master of ceremonies.)
Dean Z is the best Elvis act that I could ever imagine seeing. I don’t make a habit of seeing impersonators or tribute acts, but I’d say Dean Z does a classy tribute to young Elvis. Not only does he look a lot like young Elvis, but his high energy, showmanship, & handsome swagger are a must-see for Elvis fans or Rockabilly fans who want to see something that seems normal, while also being slightly kitschy and bizarre (meaning you may wonder if this is what it’d be like to see Elvis…!) http://www.deanz.com/home.htm, http://www.myspace.com/dzrockabillycat
Lance Lipinsky plays piano for Dean Z, as well as having his own act (by his own name). He is very talented too, and told me he used to do a Jerry Lee Lewis tribute in Vegas. You have to have some damn good piano skills to pull that off, don’t you think? This guy definitely adds to Dean Z’s act, as well as holding his own. http://www.myspace.com/lancelipinsky
The Chop Tops are from the Bay Area, and I actually missed their set in front of a crowd, but watched their sound check, which was impressive because it was like they were playing a show to an empty room. It didn’t feel like a sound check! I missed their actual set because I had an amazing opportunity to eat a fabulous dinner at another casino, and I couldn’t be in two places at once. (Check out Cathouse at the Luxor. The restaurant has a Burlesque theme, is done classy, and the food and service were impeccable. Also, the waitresses are all beautiful, and they have a nightclub too, which I haven’t been to.)
Back to the music: people kept talking all weekend about how good the Chop Tops were, and I believe them from that high-energy show they put on to an empty room, calling it sound check! I’ll definitely make an effort to see them again soon. http://www.thechoptops.com/about.html, http://www.myspace.com/thechoptops
I wrote about Jack Rabbit Slim recently, so I’m not going to say more about them now, but check them out: http://www.myspace.com/jackrabbitslimuk
I had an action packed weekend at VLV this year, shopping, socializing with new and old friends, networking, and trying to experience as much as I could fit in. It was exhausting, busy, and I can’t wait to do it all again! Promoter, Tom Ingram, also organizes a newer (this will be the second annual) Rockabilly weekend event called the Rockabilly Rave, to be held Oct. 9-11. I may be going to that again this year as well. http://www.rockabillyraveusa.com
On April 30, I went to see The Faint and Ladytron at the Fillmore. I originally went mainly to see Ladytron, because I’ve been a fan for many years. I had never seen The Faint. The Faint played first, and completely won me over. They put on a great show. They sounded amazing, and the energy was electric—I was actually genuinely excited to be there. It was a completely refreshing feeling, as I haven’t felt that while seeing a band in a long time, and I missed it. Of course I went home later and downloaded everything they ever recorded! Why did it take me so long to care? http://www.thefaint.com/ http://www.myspace.com/thefaint
Their myspace page says they are from Omaha, Nebraska… that seems surprising, and cool considering they must have really been standouts in the music scene there when starting out…? (I know nothing about Nebraska… just making random assumptions.)
Ladytron, on the other hand, put on the most boring show of all time. Seriously. They spent a lot of money onstage lights (the same ones that Yaz had on their last tour, except Yaz’s were programmed with better graphics); but stage lights alone cannot make a show exciting. (We aren’t 2 year olds, after all). The singers both stand onstage like frigid mannequins, singing as if they might blow up if they actually moved. It was frightfully boring, so I considered their set to be like the background music for the end of the Faint show. I like Ladytron’s music, but seeing them live is not exciting. http://www.myspace.com/ladytron
On May 14, I went to see German Psychobilly band, Mad Sin, at Slims. Their singer is one of the biggest men I’ve ever see front a band, and he still has crazy stand out style. (There’s no way he could go anywhere and be unnoticed). He had great energy and movement, especially for a big guy. I was impressed. Beforehand, I heard he was sick in the hospital, and the show might be canceled, but they made it, despite his bout with blood poisoning (according to myspace). They sounded great and the show was a lot of fun. They finished touring the U.S. and are touring Europe this summer. http://www.madsin.de/home.php http://www.myspace.com/madsin
I really wanted to attend a Tattoo and Music weekender called Ink n Iron, held in Long Beach on the Queen Mary the first weekend of June, but was unable to get a press pass, and with times as tight as they’ve been recently, coupled with the fact that I didn’t plan far enough ahead, and it was also my Birthday, I didn’t get to go this year. One of my favorite bands, Batmobile, headlined as well as The Bronx and The Sonics, among others. I hope I will get to go next year, and that the bands they book will be just as amazing. I’ve always wanted to stay on the Queen Mary. http://www.ink-n-iron.com/
SF Gay Pride is the last weekend in June. Also, on Aug. 23, I’m going to see The Cult “Love” tour. I’ve seen my old favorites, The Cult, many times, but find it interesting that they are doing a “Love” tour. This was their second release, before they became undeniably famous in the states for “Electric,” (which was produced by Rick Rubin). I love the first 4 Cult albums: Dreamtime, Love, Peace, and Electric all so much, but would have to say that the “Love” tour is something I’m excited about and never thought I’d see, since it came out when I was too young (1984). I love the songs, and hope they are still into playing them, and in top form. http://www.myspace.com/cultmusic
That’s all for now! As I’m wrapping this up, our site is being re-designed. I can’t wait to see it!
XXXOOO Alisha Amnesia