My initial reason for attending the South By Southwest Music Festival this year had nothing to do with covering the event. I tend to stay away from these industry-heavy, sycophantic cluster-you-know-whats.
I was invited to speak on a panel called "Comedy on the Music Circuit" Friday afternoon but arrived Thursday night and hit Beerland to catch some of the showcase being held by Memphis punk labels Goner and Shattered. For the two one-man-bands of the evening, the King Louie One Man Band and Yuma Territorial Prison Guards, the sound was turned down so low that it felt like a show in someone's living room. After saying my hellos to various Memphis people, I made my way down the street to be hit by the wall of volume offered by Jesu, who, it should be noted, were PLAYING IN A TENT. Jesu is a rare case where volume and emotional force override the need to move around on stage to ensure a good live show. When the opening chords of "Friends Are Evil" commenced, it moved the fabric walls of the venue.
Later, back at Beerland, Memphis' Jay Reatard played to a thick crowd, and this time, the sound was at an appropriate level. Though Reatard didn't need any help, his performance benefited from the truncated SXSW set times by making more concise his newer selection of frantic pop. Strangely, one of Reatard's SXSW appearances was a Saturday afternoon acoustic set at the Convention Center trade-show day stage.
My panel appearance was moderated by Commercial Appeal music writer Bob Mehr. It featured comedians David Cross and Zach Galifianakis, among others. I was the token "who the hell is that?" guy, chosen due to some comically incendiary columns that I write for a couple of music magazines and for the fact that, barring any major hiccups, my 2002 comedy CD Just Farr a Laugh will be reissued by Matador Records this summer with a second CD of unreleased material and a massive booklet. Despite my unknown status, I got some good cracks in and some good promotion.
On Saturday, it became even harder to trudge through the insanely thick crowds (in the streets and in the bars). Being St. Paddy's Day, it was a bizarre combination of drunken redneck idiots in giant green foam hats and a hipster saturation that looked as if someone airlifted Williamsburg's Bedford Avenue and dumped it into the downtown streets of Austin. I saw some uninspired sets, but an excellent one was by Pink Nasty with the Black (playing Memphis at the Buccaneer on April 12th).
It was recovery mode Sunday afternoon. The 6 Degrees of Memphis showcase scheduled for the afternoon at the Flamingo Cantina sporadically suffered from the fact that most SXSW attendees were either in cars or on planes heading home. To illustrate the difference, imagine shoulder-to-shoulder confusion reduced to a post-attack street scene from The Day After. The crowd was unfortunately sparse during Jump Back Jake's set of convincing Tony Joe White worship but bulked up during Antenna Shoes' wonderful performance of dense pop. Antenna Shoes is the result of Memphian/Austinite Tim Regan (pictured, above right) being surrounded by his favorite Memphis musicians, including Paul Taylor on drums, Steve Selvidge (pictured, above left) on guitar, and members of Snowglobe and the Coach and Four. The crowd flagged at times but returned in full force for Snowglobe's closing set. Despite the good times, I relish returning to the open arms of Memphis.