March of the Sanguine (Through an Ideal Town) Part 2

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echobunnymen.JPGEditor's note: This is the second part of Sinan G's adventures in Austin for the SXSW Music Festival.  To read Part 1, click here.  

Austin, Day Three: West Coast Meets Willie Nelson

It looks like we’re going to hang out strictly on Red River St. today. All our events are taking place at Mohawk, Club de Ville, Stubb’s and Red Eyed Fly. We head to Mohawk to watch The Wrens. On the street, I see my friend (whom I’ve sadly haven’t kept in touch for a while) Chris Hrasky from Explosions In The Sky, a staple of Austin, who’s waiting in line for Club de Ville and who introduces me to his wife as “the dude from Turkey who showed them around”. It's a gentle blast from the past as I remember taking them around Istanbul which is where I spent my summers during college, working as a band guide for major music festivals.

The Wrens have the same intensity they probably had twenty years ago, shredding through their set like a bunch of twenty year-olds (really accomplished twenty year-olds) who just formed their band. There’s something so defiant, so winning about them for being in their mid-forties and playing like they are. Kevin Whelan gives out his address in New Jersey to the audience and asks them to visit him to hang out. Then, as I ask him to take his photo after their show, he’ll tell me that we should take it together, instead of me taking one of him. In the photo, he will end up looking like he’s eyeing the impromptu photographer’s crotch.

thewrenskevinwhelan.JPGAs we head upstairs at Mohawk to marinate for a bit, Bishop Allen, from Brooklyn, starts playing downstairs, but unfortunately we’re not listening actively since they're quite good. Their singer Justin Rice is the superstar of mumblecore films such as Mutual Appreciation and Let Them Chirp Awhile (check out the the Wikipedia page of the director of the film, probably self-edited, to witness some hefty, yet sans lubricant, masturbation at work).

I meet Mark’s friend Hank and his friend Ryan. Ryan and I believe that Austin is a town where your niche is already waiting for you, whereas, perhaps in a city like Los Angeles, the size of the city notwithstanding, you’ve got to carve it yourself with your bare hands, something I'm still working on. Ryan adds that Austin is like West Coast meets Willie Nelson. We start talking about the music scene in Brooklyn and both agree that if you're from there and make shit music, the scene will eat you. I have a brief epiphany – I wonder if people remember me like I remember them. I have recollections of people, people I’ve met randomly throughout my life, people like Ryan who has now carved a place for himself on this page. I wonder if there’s anyone out there who wonders what happened to Sinan. I consequentially wonder if the titty-fuck girl will wake up one morning, four years from now, on the eve of SXSW 2013, and go -- what happened to the guy who didn't.

We sneak into the Spin party just like we did four years ago. I remember watching The Hold Steady as they took the stage, they were the first band and no one had heard of; they left the audience spellbound. They went to places, one strong album after another. As my self-imposed correlation with my musical history goes, I could just as well be writing the beginning of my "Dear Science," review again.

As the ex-lead singer of The Darkness, Justin Hawkins, starts playing with his new band, Hot Lip, I realize, despite being entertained, I hear a sound that’s getting in the way of my enjoyment: the world’s smallest keytar. It’s playing for Justin Hawkins, and somehow I’m hearing it too. As I sneak out to watch The Thermals at Club de Ville, I speak to a gentlemen about the communal energy exchange at the latter band's shows between the band and the audience. We also agree that technically speaking, as long as it’s a memorable experience, there’s no difference between seeing a band for twenty minutes or two hours on stage. The Thermals don’t disappoint with their performance or the gracious attitude towards me when I get their photos. franznicolay.JPGTomorrow, at the Mess With Texas showcase, Bill will tell Mark and I that, as a musician, he’s quite fascinated with the singing of Hutch Harris – he plays a melodic guitar, but his voice syncopation sounds like that of a drummer, rhythmic, and how hard that is to pull off. We will agree with the sage Bill. But right now, watching The Thermals, I notice a mustache towards my left. It’s the mustache, the man and the legend – Franz Nicolay of The Hold Steady who will play next. Yeah, we get a photo. Yeah, I blush a bit.

I experience the brilliance of Richard Swift and once again get excited for his upcoming album. Seriously the five dear people who are reading this article, do yourself a favor, just go and listen to "Lovely Night," "Kisses For The Misses" and "The Atlantic Ocean." You’re welcome. By the time I get back to the Spin Party to check out Echo & The Bunnymen, I realize that by society’s standards I’m drunk, by my own, I’m tipsy, and by the standards of this festival, I’m quite sober. Convinced of this, I try to have a conversation with a photographer who sounds like Russell Brand on my tape recorder but I only remember his face when I look him up: Alexander Lazslo Konrath. I’m spreading the word. I’m yet to meet a completely worthless person on this trip, but I hope no one is walking around talking about that guy with the tape recorder.

Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant mesmerize me as I jot them down on my list of bands who will never be knocked out. Details are rather fragmented here, but I think I make our group sing The Killing Moon out loud. When they don’t join me for Nothing Last Forever, I proceed to do so myself. Then, after the initial shock of realizing that my favorite Cajun place on 6th St., Jazz, which had recently become Roux, doesn't exist anymore, just like the house I was born it, the first school I went to, or the motel my granddad whom I only knew for seven years (three of which succumbed to infant amnesia) had built and I listlessly accept this fact as another shitty manifestation of time. Like any sober person who’s had roughly twelve drinks would do, I buy dinner for Mark and Cathy elsewhere, which is something I’ve been wanting to do anyway for their kind accommodation. We walk around like ghosts at a bar, at some point I lie down on top of a car, then I pass out in Cathy’s ride. It’s a well-deserved closure of the eyes. Hardly so, for my loud, loud mind.

 

Austin, Day Four: The Sentiment, The Sincerity & The Warmth

I tell Mark it feels like Sunday.

"What do you expect, you’ve been partying for the last three days!” he says, pausing the Battlestar Galactica finale for me. Today we’ll be spending our last day at Waterloo Park for the “Mess With Texas” showcase, co-founded by Keith Morris of Circle Jerks (for an interesting article on this and other events not-sanctioned by SXSW check this out).

After watching Team Robespierre play in the crowd and having witnessed this several times during the festival, I once again mumble into my tape recorder:

The whole of a stage I think, the old Greek idea of worship very archaic. Now I realize bands are trying to break that barrier between them and the audience. I wonder if it’s a reactionary thing to these distant times where words like “cool” are cherished… It’s a pretty distant word… “Warm” should be the word…But Phil Solomon, my beloved teacher, would disagree…Times where sentiment and seriousness are reviled and people are getting rid of idea of the stage, Dan Deacon, Girl Talk, Team Robospierre something to be quite cherished when you think about it, the distance between bands and audiences is decreasing, a lot of honor here...

I’m already reiterating ideas, shaping them and fitting them into blocks as I see fit. Yet, now that I think about it after having read about the origin of the word cool, I completely agree with Phil Solomon. That said, I’m also inclined to believe that there are certain expressions that are no longer valid simply because they’ve run their courses. Origins or not, I think that anything that’s cool immediately implies warmth, simply because it implies access, thus decreasing the distance between the ideology and the individual. Although this conundrum is more acceptable to me to than using words and phrases such as badass, sick, killed it to describe something inherently positive (given the circumstances, a concert would be the best example) I still insist that the expression leaves more to be desired.

Another fact that gets tangled in my web of cynicism is my immediate scrutiny of these same performers and the lengths they go through to please their audience. Although we’re not currently at a SXSW-sanctioned event but one that’s taking please because of it, there must still be an urge within these performers to please A&R executives idly walking around, trying to find the next best thing. Perhaps I’m being overly self-critical here by deliberately trying to see the other side of the argument. I sincerely hope that's not the case. When I briefly tell Mark’s wife Cathy about my theory regarding stage vs. the audience and her side of the argument is more pragmatic: She says she’s short so the stage allows her to. Fair enough. I promptly bump into a group of teenagers who are giving FREE HUGS and validate my points, at least to myself, by getting a free hug. It's the emotional equivalent of a one-liner joke, but nonetheless, its impact lasts a second or two more. kingkhan.JPG

King Khan kindly asks the audience to take out a dollar-bill and burn it during “Welfare Bread;” his semi-subversive method of making fun of the jackknifing economy reminds one of the fun aspect of the show, further distracting people with the music itself with its cheap stunt-like edge, reminding them to have some fucking fun. I join Mark and Cathy for Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle who sings the saddest lyrical bit I’ve heard in a while with his gorgeous voice (“Last night something pretty bad happened, we lost a friend”), and another band from the Smell scene in LA, Abe Vigoda, pleases the crowd. I randomly bump into Nick Oliveri from Queens of the Stone Age. To further fluctuate my argument regarding performer vs. audience, Vivian Girls invite half the crowd to stage. At some point I start another discussion, this time not in my head, but with Cathy, regarding encores: I’ve once read that Mars Volta doesn’t do encores because they think the whole idea of “leaving the stage just to come back” is trite and we both agree. Instead, like they do, we believe that a band should go on stage, give it hundred percent during their allotted time and should only come back if the audience will just not leave come curfew time. On the grass, Bill tells me about Grupo Fantasma and Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears, the latter of which I will end up putting on my list of bands I’ve regretted not seeing – along with Elevaters, White Denim, Heartless Bastards, Iran and many, many more. I don't remember having such regrets four years ago, I'm not sure if its our once superiority complex-infested lack of preparation or simply knowing many more bands due to experience, but there's a mild case of heartbreak: Which will not simply not compare to what the next couple of weeks has in store for me. But hey, I don't know this yet. nickandhisbaby.JPG

As we walk to dinner to Moonshine, I pass by a rather fatigued J. Mascis on the street and much to his dismay yet quiet agreement, I take his photo. Bill tells me that they’ve performed really late last night and he’s probably still tired. I’m just happy that he agreed to let me take his photo – I’ve hardly heard a no from anyone during the festival. Then again, we haven’t really try to sneak into the Kanye West show, but hey, our intentions were grounded, our approach was sound, and our execution was successful. Although when I find out tomorrow at Waterloo Records that I have somehow completely managed to miss Iran (whose album Dissolver and the track “I Already Know You’re Wrong” has been constantly on repeat with me) I will be completely devastated, I don’t let it get to me. This has been alright. It’s never hundred percent. I have accepted this.

Cathy looks like she’s being exorcised with invisible hands after dinner, and although we’ve missed Circle Jerks (and Iran, who apparently played during our dinner, somewhere) we make it in time for Black Lips. I bump into Nick again, still with his baby, after dark, on a blanket, watching the Black Lips as the baby soundly sleeps. It’s a nice note to end on, and before the band is off the stage, we slowly head to the parking lot to avoid traffic. theend.JPG

As we walk, I will suggest to Mark getting a six-pack, which I will then turn into a twelve-pack, which we will consume at his house, like the old days, listening to our favorite records from college, from the Young Liars EP, to Magnolia Electric Co., as we watch Discovery Channel on mute and I will turn Mark into a Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson fan while we argue on who introduced me to TV On The Radio, whether it was him or Jason Fox, and we will both miss Jason and wish he was around to end the argument, Mark will say that it was him who told Jason about TV On The Radio so it was him who technically introduced me and we will talk and drink and bond once again. Having come to an end, somewhere along the line the euphoria of events such as this will gradually decline, and then expectations will consequentially be lowered. The night will end, and I will look forward to that futon, and tomorrow, perhaps to breakfast, to lunch, then perhaps a short visit to Waterloo, then perhaps a cigarette, most certainly not to my flight but perhaps reading at the airport, and then sleep. At some point, it will shrink itself to just a sip of water, waking up from a troubled sleep with a parched palate. I'll be alright though. I'll be alright either way.

But for now, as we hit the freeway, Mark turns to me from his shotgun seat, points at the big, bright, beautiful city and says:

"Fucking Austin, Sinan. There it is.”

Sinan G. writes all kinds of articles for Steve’s Word. However when he writes twelve pages for a piece he hardly has the energy to come up with anything witty for the ever-changing ID on the rear-end of his ginormous article.  To download all of Sinan's pics from SXSW, click here.

1 Comment

  • 1

    Another slam dunk, S. So many things to be enjoy in this one -- the Wrens, the three-word epiphany "titty fuck girl", Stubb's (even though their barbeque is godawful), and your wistful recollections of Turkey. Dynamite.

    It's too bad you don't go to music festivals more often. I wish this were a running feature.

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