Possibly nowhere else could you see a group of '60s British icons, some feverish Canadian noise-punks, and an IDM knob-twiddling wizard from L.A., and meet Austin's own rock hero Britt Daniel (he of Spoon and Divine Fits) on the street, all in a span of about 10 hours.
It all started at Waterloo Records, who hosted The Zombies at noon. Walking up to the stage, I hear the smooth, echoing refrains of a song I've adored since listening to the oldies station in my diapers: "Time of the Season" still sounds weird and fresh and utterly fantastic 45 years after its release, and so does pop classic "She's Not There" (now nearly 50 years old!), which closed their set, the band swaying in unison and Rod Argent's fingers dancing gleefully across the organ as they transformed this historical nugget into an extended psych-pop freak-out. Radical.
Just two hours later, Metz at the Mohawk was a radically different scene. Speedy, propulsive and loud, this Toronto trio keeps the words minimal ("You're wasted / You're already gone," goes one song dedicated here to "everyone at the festival," according to lead screamer Alex Edkins), but the noise dense and discordant, muscular and brawny in every inch of its anatomy. Finale "Wet Blanket" had Edkins shaking his guitar at the amps, the sky and the earth like a shaman inciting a spirit. "That's pretty damaging for being only 2:30," said my concert-going companion.
To balance that ear/brain damage, Baths, the one-man project of Will Wiesenfeld, offered tantalizing electronic music, part Aphex Twin glitchy, part Postal Service pop, part Animal Collective freaky, all dreamy and groovy at once. Wiesenfeld is like a mad chemist onstage, playing with disparate elements, mixing them into seductive concoctions. He'd loop in gentle acoustic guitar, manipulate his falsetto into a robotic wail, and make beats that crinkle and crumple and then unfurl into grand thumps of ecstatic house. "This one is actually very gay, so get looser," he advises the crowd upon starting up a new song from upcoming album Obsidian. Masterful advice for those planning to survive the rest of SXSW. [Stephanie Benson]
I don't even know the names of all the metal bands I saw as SXSW wound down on Saturday, but I definitely know the name of one of the metal bands I only saw for a few seconds. That'd be The Shrine, at Spider House, who I'll get to in a bit because it's an incredible story. But first, my wife wanted to see Georgia's Royal Thunder, who I'd already seen Wednesday, but she likes them even more than I do (her favorite band to jog to these days!) and she was jealous. So I dropped her and my Peltor-Kids-earmuff-equipped daughter off at 4th and Navasota a few blocks east of I-35 while I went farther east to hunt down a parking space, and since "All Ages" includes 4-year-olds, they got in. By the time I showed up they'd staked out optimum territory right in front of the far side of the inside stage, and were talking to the band. The set was if anything even better than the one I'd seen at the Mohawk a few days before, but I already wrote about that, so I won't now. My daughter had a good worm's eye view of the drummer, which helped augment all the one-on-one lessons she'd received from visiting drummers all week.
After Royal Thunder's set ended, we headed outside, which looked a lot crazier, with a way more densely packed crowd of headbangers -- Seattle death/black/thrash-corerers Black Breath had spawned a fairly dangerous-looking mosh pit earlier, but Thrasher and Converse were sponsoring the so-called Death Match all week and my daughter wanted to watch the skateboarders on the half-pipe. Which she did, and that was pretty scary too, seeing how none of them had helmets, and one of the younger ones got hurt pretty bad, and the post-Sabbath stoner-biker tones of veteran Brits Orange Goblin blasting through the bier garten certainly added to the effect. But my daughter had just got her own little (green, favorite color!) skateboard for Christmas a few months ago and was entranced watching anyway. Only way to get her out of there was to tell her I'd seen another half-pipe being built at Spider House a couple days ago, so surely there would be more skate tricks to admire when Venice Beach's The Shrine took the stage there at 6; publicity one-sheet to their very rocking Primitive Blast last year called it "the perfect soundtrack to cracking your skull in your neighbor's empty pool," after all – so, a sure thing, right?
Except, when we got to Spider House, we found the Austin Heavy music Showcase occupying something like eight different stages, and no skaters. Investigative reporting on my daughter's part (no kidding – she started going up to random metalheads and asking where the skateboarders were) determined that the half pipe had been taken down, which got her pretty upset. So I was the bad dad there for a little bit. But she got into watching local sludge-and-retch unit Wet Lungs, whose guitarist's little son was also right beside the stage with ear protection on (I thought it was cool that the kid's mom had on an Earth Wind & Fire shirt), which cheered everybody up. I'd been told by a fellow at the merch table that The Shrine were coming on next, so my friend Dan (who'd told me about the show) and I watched over my wife's purse beneath the wall-long Army of Darkness mural (said Dan, I'm clueless about that stuff) and my wife took our little girl in for a potty break. The Shrine didn't come on, Austin's Skycrawler (maybe?) did, and after a while it occurred to us that maybe The Shrine might be on a different stage, oops.
So I grabbed my wife's purse (hey, how's My Wife's Purse for a potential band name?), and we shifted toward inside and heard what sure sounded like The Shrine's mid-'80s Black Flag via mid-'70s hard rock stylings coming from a stage I'd never seen in there before. And sure enough, they were finishing up their set with a Deep Purple cover, or what somebody told me they'd said was one anyway. But that's not the worst part. Not only had my wife and daughter, neither of whom had heard them before (much less placed Primitive Blast among their Top 20 albums of 2012 like I did), gotten to see The Shrine's whole short set; they saw it from so close that the guitarist actually crouched down to let my daughter strum his strings a few times and then held her chords, and the drummer gave her one of his sticks afterwards!
Hard to think of a band I've really wanted to see that I've been within spitting distance of then didn't (twice, in a way, since a way-too-long line had kept me out The Shrine's Wednesday Scoot Inn gig too), but hey these things happen. Afterwards we went to Ruby's BBQ, and I really liked the crawfish etoufee, and though Wayne Coyne was sitting at one of the tables, I'm proud to say I didn't have my daughter go up to him and ask why The Flaming Lips traded in good weird rock music for lousy children's music however many decades ago that was. He probably wouldn't have understood the question anyway. [Chuck Eddy]