Note/Warning: My proper reviews for SXSW will be on La Pop Life and Gold Flake Paint soon(ish). For Sloucher, I’ll be posting diary-style stuff, mostly unedited (barring a few typos that had to go away, replaced by more typos. Most of these diaries were written late at night and honest to God, this is how they went. No clear cut narrative is intended, just general ramblings. Enjoy this Gonzo-style experiment.
“The most promising acolyte left us, not out of the lesser folly of sentiment, but the greater folly of anger. His heart was clouded, and his balance was lost, but his abilities were unmatched. Even then, we knew to watch him most carefully.”
— Keeper Annals, Thief: The Dark Project.
I skipped breakfast and just walked towards the bus station. Last day. Lots to think of and reflect upon. The Eastern Sea’s show is at Cheer up Charlie’s and I arrive a tad too early. Add to that they might be late and I find myself with a free hour. I eat a few free treats that are weird tasting. The cherry one works, the chocolate one confuses my tastebuds. I walk around for some real breakfast and Vans employees are trying REAL HARD to get people into their establishment. One of them compliments my Space Invaders t-shirt and I have no idea what tone of voice I use to say thanks, but he says defensively “it’s cool, I just like your t-shirt.”
I need food and I need to rest. The day’s just started and I already feel ready to crumble into tiny pieces. The kebab joint by the food truck area has something that looks good. I order the chicken kebab and I see the spice-o-meter says “White people spicy” and “Brown people spicy.” I’m a terrible Mexican so I ask them to go “easy on me, like that Eagles song.”
Either they really, really, really hate the Eagles or even the mild one is spicy, but the thing fires my insides like a backdraft, with every particle in my tongue feeling like Tim Krizminski (spoiler alert.) It’s very tasty, though, so that’s the silver lining. I walk back and go inside the Vans area. I look for the guy and talk to him to see if everything’s cool. It is and he gives me a quick tour. A couple of local artists did graffiti. I ask about the half tube ramp. He just points to the sky and yes, it’s too wet for any skater to go and do a couple of ollies or grinds.
The Wild Honey Pie have really taken over Cheer up Charlie’s. Bear-shaped honey bottles spray painted in gold, paper bees, chile-shaped fairy lights, a big paper honey comb, yellow plastic cups and enough paraphernalia to make people think of Nicolas Cage and Macaulay Culkin meeting their demise in films that are cult for the wrong reasons. Two photos:
Phew. Anyways, I got a free drink, made with tequila, honey and lemon. It was weird but tasty. It helped calm my mouth, which felt like a four alarm emergency. I also get a free beer, courtesy of Andy Beaudoin, drummer of The Eastern Sea. It’s raining and their set will be delayed, so I talk about videogames with both the trumpet player (Kevin Thomas) and a friend of the band. They tell me about this place called Pinballz and I wish I could go there. It’s BYOB and the videogames get maintenance, it’s not like what happened in México with Dave & Buster’s, who crashed and burned and got replaced by Best Buy.
ANYWAYS, The Eastern Sea delay their set thanks to the rain. “Anyone has an acoustic guitar?” jokes Matt Hines while we patiently wait for Tláloc to stop, ah, raining on our parades. Let me put my glasses while The Who scream. Right.
What else do you want me to say about The Eastern Sea? You’ve sussed me out, you know I love the band and I can’t stress enough how good the new material is. I mistakenly tagged them as “chamber pop” in Plague’s review, I know think of them as Prog Pop with Jazzy elements. Hey, it’s my job as a reviewer to make up for my lack of musical theory with weird genres. The sameness of the setlist helps to test the new material with different audiences and judging the crowd’s reaction, all these The Thin and The Trendy (TM) people witnessing this are having a great time.
I meet Eric Weiner (he who sits in the Wild Honey Pie throne) and he’s pretty friendly. I give him a copy of the Cold War Issue of the zine, he stamps me with the logo of his website. Seems like a fair deal.
Can’t stand anymore, so I think a spot of free wi fi and sitting should do me right. On my way to the convention centre, I see Matt and his trusty van, ready to pick up the band’s gear.
“Thanks for coming!”
“No problem, it’s my duty!”
“Your effort is appreciated.”
“I wouldn’t be here stalking you lot if I didn’t honestly enjoy your band. See you later tonight!”
I talk with a friend who I haven’t seen for ages and agree to meet her at Latitude 30’s British Embassy showcase. When I get there, Kins are tearing the place apart. I’ve never witnessed them live and it’s safe to say they give a great show, with enough rock star bravado and posing to make the crowd believe once more in the power of rock.
My friend doesn’t say anything and just gives me a bag of candy, leaving afterwards. And that’s all I’m going to say about it.
Whoa, there, is it the chronic fatigue or is there some ulterior comment here, hiding between the words? I dunno, after the set was done, I ran into Bo Ningen, loading up their gear. I wished them good luck, they nodded. Back to the convention centre for more R&R. There’s a poster exhibition. Some are pretty groovy and I wish I had some space in the bag.
The bathrooms are packed with people on the north side of the convention center. Not so on the west side and when I go into a cubicle, I notice the door has been kicked in recently. This half scares me, half amuses me. Once I flush, I sing aloud “Kick in the door / wavin’ the four four” as I open the door. There’s two cops outside. I look at them. They eye me up and one of them says “all you heard was Poppa don’t hit me no more.” My heart recovers its beat and one of them goes into the cubicle.
I grab a seat far from those toilets. It seems a lot of leftover prizes are just being given away. There’s this stand selling car insurance, I think, and people try their luck. I see 2 pairs of headphones and an Xbox One being won in the space of 10 minutes. I wanted to try my luck but I was too late, like The Bishop saving that priest from the mafia in Monty Python’s classic… Another obscure reference. This is why Sloucher will never be anything but a repository of backhanded compliments, gushing and obscure references. like this:
Ok, let’s talk life and SXSW in general, shall we? Why? Because em i see, kay e why. That’s why. Life is full of disappointments. I’m pretty sure that 85% of things you set yourself to do in life will never be realised. If they do, they will never ever be like you imagined them. You can wish to have a brighter future, to move to another country, to finally reach a goal and it might look like you can get to it. But then the wax in the wings starts to melt. How we react and live the rest of our lives on that downward spin is what defines. You see: we need to accept that plans will never come together and that the expectations we might have about ourselves, others and life in general will usual be a problem of perception.
Perception, that is the problem. It defines how we react to life’s vicissitudes and it defines us. No matter how much planning you do, nothing will come out as you want it. Nothing. That’s the beauty. We are so indoctrinated into trying to stay “in control” that once we start to list slight to the right, alarm bells ring. We oversteer and crash. We will make things worse. Because that’s human nature.
And that’s what this week of SXSW has been: a lesson in human nature. From the intoxicated prick that ruined lives to the angry, bitter reviewer, from the disillusioned musician to the spaced out neophyte, we all are the best and worst of human nature. It just shows exponentially here, in a festival, because music always is with us. It will never judge you, it will never let you down. Music is there for you, always. Smiles and cries, all of them are activated by a language made up of only 12 words, changed into music by each artist.
Phew, for a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myself. A security guard tells me it’s time to move out. I just can’t be bothered any more. I want to call it quits and tweet that after this, I’m done with live reviews. It’s even been faved. Heck, maybe even music reviews in general. It feels like it was a swell ride for a long time (almost 6 years), but I do believe it’s time to move on. Back in 2011, I sometimes reviewed 2 albums per day, every day. Maybe it affected a relationship I was having, maybe it helped alleviate the struggle that it was to be on the right side of the wrong car.
Whatever it really is, the point is that it seems my interest in music writing is waning. There’s no more spark and it feels I’m just coasting instead of motoring. That’s when performances started to be phoned in and that’s a cardinal sin in my book. If there’s something I learned from the breakup of Cats:For:Peru is that once you accept you’ve done all you wanted and face the monster of repetition or the silent assassin of demotivation, it is time to change your plans. It’s not giving up, it’s accepting the natural course of life. Birth, growth, creation, decline, death.
I walk out of the convention center with that in my mind. I’ve given myself a deadline regarding reviews and I will stick to it.
It’s dusk and I have 5 or 6 choices of bands to check out. Instead, I go inside that deli I tried on Wednesday. I think the proper name was Royal Blue Grocery. The manager woman is on a table, quietly having her dinner and I walk slowly towards the counter. There’s a very good looking woman on the other side and I think a million things to say. This happens:
“Is the coffee really strong?”
“We can make it stronger. How strong do you like it.”
“I’m Mexican, I’ll drink oil and feel it’s too light. I’ll take the Ethiopian.”
She smiles and adds hot water to a couple of shots of espresso. I think she does that. Do I look like a barista? I don’t, but she does. She asks if I want anything else and I’ve already grabbed an iced tea. This also happens:
“Ever felt you are just coasting with life?”
“Driftwood. Ever felt you are driftwood moving with the current?”
“Sometimes you need to do so to know where it’s flowing towards. Maybe something good will happen. Anything else?”
“I’ve never had a Muffaletta. Wait, did I pronounce it right?”
“Sounded good to me. It’s a very good sandwich.”
Of course she has to say it’s good. It’s her job. “You know? I’ll ‘ave it. Thank you very much.”
I sign the voucher for the card and take my coffee. I sit on the other side of the place and look at the people outside. Old, young and somewhere in the middle, all sorts parade in front of the place. Some enter to buy a couple of drinks, others browse. I get my Muffaletta and I’ll be a son of a gun if it isn’t one of the tastiest things I’ve had in my life. Slightly spicy and full of olives.
The watch says it’s “music o’clock” and I walk towards the counter. I want to say something witty or intelligent, anything to dispel the idea I’m just a confused old creeper having a moment of clarity (or breakdown) in a deli. This happens.
“Say, did you give me my copy of the receipt?”
Her face turns a little white. I dunno if this is one of those places where they have to give you a receipt or they’ll reimburse your purchase. She slightly panics and I try to defuse the situation:
“Look, I just have this creeping suspicion I didn’t tip you.”
Saying that, I put the obligatory 15% of the food in the tip jar and wave goodbye. She doesn’t say anything or reacts. I just walk away with half of the coffee (it’s too darn hot) and walk around, camera in hand, filming the crowd and taking random shots.
These guys from a local band, Halaska, well, they were supposed to play tonight. Their set was cancelled. I like their music and although most of their twitter comments are acerbic (bordering on bitter), there’s a lot of truth on what they say. Those bad parts of SXSW. The drunken louts, the douchebags, the discarded cd demos strewn on the streets like Eddard Stark’s lineage.
I walk into The Parish. There’s two different entries. I take the one to the right. The stairs are unforgiving, but it’s a cool venue, TARDIS like in nature. There’s a guy doing live electronics/DJing. I have no idea who he is, but there’s a midsized crowd. I stick around for a couple of songs and make my way out.
“So fast, friend?”
“I might be at the wrong Parish, dude.”
“Try the other line?”
And so I do. They check my ID again (“different shows, sorry pal”) and stamp me with another different rubbery thing (uh, stamp?) The place is swanky looking, but there’s a small crowd. It’s The Parish Underground and a 4 member band is on a stage that looks tiny from a distance but gets decently medium with each step.
The singer has a t-shirt with the words “WATERLOO”. I’ll be informed later it’s a great record shop. The bass player is wearing a sweet-looking blue dress. She looks gorgeous. As I notice I wrote those words, I see I’ve written that a lot lately. Dammit, I’m so deep inside The Patriarchy (TM) that I should get my own “Superficial Chauvinist” badge. Maybe that way I can get faster inside shows?
Ah, flashback humour. We’ve read it before, haven’t we? Anyways, the band is called The Zoltars and that’s two points for a Big reference. It’s mellow and garage-like, something you can tap your feet to but won’t mosh with. And sometimes that’s what you really need. Think of mellow late 60s garage rock, almost like dream pop but without the vocal processing.
There’s a bucket that says “Just The Tip” by one of the amps. I throw a couple of quarters inside and wonder where it will end. Secret Colours set up their gear and one of them puts their merch on said amp, surrounding the bucket.
Secret Colours. First time I hear of them. Impressions? I see them and know they are from New York. Wrong. They are from Chicago. I expect them to be doodly and post punkish. Wrong again. It’s slightly Britpop, with a lot of psychedelic moments. The guitarist is a beast. I can see his fingers slide up and down. Scales, riffs and solos are delivered swiftly, not even once bordering into self-indulgent technical. This band is a joy to watch and the cover of ‘These boots were made for walking’ was great.
When they finish, I approach their lead singer (and rhythm guitarist). He has an OCD pedal, one I’ve been seeing a lot lately. He swears by it, saying it’s one of the best things he’s ever purchased. New goal acquired.
I stick around for a lil’ white longer and then I start the pilgrimage to the last venue of the night (and last set of concerts before this whole ordeal is over.) The streets are peppered with drunk people and I can see a fight starting, so I make a run towards Buffalo Billiards and sit for a few minutes in a table with a guy looking like a Japanese manga character. He asks me if i remember him and I lie. He’s has one of those long cigarette holders and I remark it looks cool. He winks and asks a waiter for another pint. He buys me one and we talk about the week.
He’s a reviewer too, he says he’s seen me at Motel 6 but I pinky swear I’ve never seen him before. “I’m pretty conspicuous right now, friend-oh” he says while taking a sip and then taking a puff. “Long week?” I reply to him “you have no idea.” He smiles and drinks his whole beer on one go. He shakes my hand and says “don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.” And he disappears into the crowd.
I walk out of the place towards Lambert’s BBQ. The Eastern Sea AND Pompeii. I have to be there. The crowd on 6th is nightmarish and I’m just sort of dancing through people to avoid crashing. Then a guy grabs me by my t-shirt and pushes me to a side.
“I hate you and all you represent.”
“I know, my ex sent you.”
He looks bewildered and I use this to do a runner and get lost in the crowd. I can hear a guy drumming incessantly nearby. I’m sure he’s been drumming there all day. More CDs on the floor, in potted plants, even hanging from traffic lights.
It’s getting grim. But not as grim as the headline of local newspaper I see a few blocks from Lambert’s. I just… Christ, I don’t think it’s right to use those kinds of headlines.
Right. Lambert’s. They ID me again and I go inside. There’s a funky looking bunch playing, called Majestico. Somewhere between Tito & La Tarantula and The Grateful Dead and for any enthusiast of both. I take a couple of shots and the guitarists strikes a few poses while I take photos. Since my ankles are acting up again, I hide in the back of the place. It’s warm as hell and I feel like one of those pigs being served downstairs with 2 delicious sides and cold ass brews.
The Eastern Sea has a big crowd. I assume it’s friends and longtime fans, as there’s some teasing and joking. Okay, a lot. A girl near me looks exactly like the woman that does that Internet showing called Pushing Up Roses. That isn’t relevant to the story. Sorry. Teasing? Yes, a lot of people are asking for ‘The match’ and Matt (vocals) quips “what? Is it 2006 again?” They laugh and he starts playing it. “I’m playing it, see?” He smiles and the band rips through the song. I wish I’d bootlegged it.
I swear the smell of BBQ is even stronger now. ‘Boy in blue’ is definitely my fave of the new bunch, but ‘The curse’ is also there, on a close second. I should probably steal a playlist. During the last track, Matt comes down from the stage and jams with the public. It’s a great moment and it’s ingrained in my head as my fave moment of Saturday March 15th, 2014.
I’m cautiously optimistic about Pompeii. I love Assembly like there’s no tomorrow but they have been quiet for a long time. Any cualms or fears are soon assuaged, as Pompeii are an emotional machine with a tight show. Some songs have a violinist add another layer to the thousand layer cakes that is their music. I recognise ‘Assembly’ and feel all “the feels” (i.e. I get emotional, for you still speaking English) but most of the songs are strange to me. With that said, they are grandiose sounding; musical landscapes as far as the fields of Texas can be. When they finish their set, I approach lead singer Dean Stafford and we chat quickly. He mentions most of the material they played was from an upcoming album. Another one to keep an eye for.
The nightbus arrives relatively quick, but getting out of the city center on SXSW’s last day is like commuting in Mexico city. The bus stops for 20 minutes in a corner to change driver and the driver is pretty slow, radios base very often and feels very “by the book.” As in: he stops for 20 minutes in another corner and calls base again. He goes out of the bus to look as God knows what and a couple of freewheelers get inside. The bus continues drifting like a continental plate out of town, a town that is being slowly suffocated by a shiny, bright red and white double headed snake.
When we cross the I-35, some two bit asshole throws a piece of wood on the side of the bus and the driver just steps on it. We drop more people and a couple of punks want to get in. One of them is turned away and the driver has just earned his asshole wings. “You are not getting on my bus” he screams to no one as he closes the door. Airport Boulevard and I’m getting cranky at the drugged out couple besides me talking about “cooking chicken legs at 4 am.” I hope that’s not a euphemism. They get off but start having a go at the bus driver, telling him he’s doing the wrong route. Half the bus scream at them “get out of the bus”, but they keep pestering the bus driver, who soldiers through so hard that I decide to remove the asshole wings. He radios back to doublecheck, but he’s reassured and we keep driving. He drops me at good ol’ Cameron Road and I stumble into Walgreens at quarter to 4 am and buy “dinner” in the form of some peperami looking meat, root beer, cheese, Doritos, chocolate bars and milk. The cashier must think I’m a junkie getting the munchies.
I dunno if I can see the sun peaking in a dim blue light in the horizon or if it’s just a migraine forming up, but a bottle of root beer afterwards, it matters not. I want to wear a t-shirt saying “I survived being a whiny prick during SXSW” but I realise I’ve been wearing it all the time.
It’s 7 am when I finish typing all of this and I wonder if I should edit it down or add some sort of narrative. I choose not to, as I wanted it to be a Gonzo experiment from the get go and I’ll stick to this. It’s self indulgent to do these types of diaries but, heck, sometimes you need to get out all frustrations. Sometimes you’ll get out nasty things out of your system not because you are a full time nasty one, but because sometimes you need the let the steam blow out. It’s the same for music, whatever works for you to let all that anger and frustration out is the type of music you need to make.
As some sort of conscious writing (which negates all the Gonzo style of this entire 28 page piece), I decide to finish it all with Billy Joel’s Angry young man. I fade slowly into sleep as I hear “And there’s always a place for the angry young man / With his fist in the air and his head in the sand / And he’s never been able to learn from mistakes / So he can’t understand why his heart always breaks / And his honor is pure and his courage is well / And he’s fair and he’s true and he’s boring as hell / And he’ll go to the grave as an angry old man.”
Words: Sam J. Valdés López