You know what I would like? I’d like for St. Patrick’s Day not to fall during SXSW. I overheard my first “Where’s your green?” conversation before noon. Sixth Street doesn’t need this. Drunken music fans + drunken, green-garbed college kids = double the mayhem. I expect to see piles of green, and I don't mean shiny green leprechaun money.
It might be a night for going to a lot of movie screenings. Except that TV on the Radio is playing and Janelle Monae is playing and The Bangles are playing (all at the same time, which is just cruel) and The Sounds are playing and ... you get the picture.
3:30 pm Obits at Beauty Bar
I’m pretty sure the trick to getting the most out of SXSW is that you’ve got to alternate bands you know you love (and love seeing) with bands you’re unfamiliar with. I’d heard one Obits song before going to see them in a packed tent in the middle of the afternoon. “It sounds like an angrier, dirtier cousin to Rocket From the Crypt,” I said afterward, not knowing that one of the Obits dudes was in Drive Like Jehu with one of the RFTC dudes. It’s a small, small rock world.
4:15 pm Typhoon at Emo’s Annex
There were 12 members of Typhoon for this show, including a second drummer and a nearly invisible fellow half-hidden by speakers (other members of the audience were miscounting the number of performers. It’s a compulsion of some kind to try to figure out exactly what the hell is going on onstage at a Typhoon show). The afternoon crowd seemed to be there mostly because someone somewhere had told them to go — by which I mean it wasn’t exactly a massive singalong. But Typhoon threw their little Portland hearts into their short set, which looped around on itself, starting with “Mouth of the Cave” and closing with “The Honest Truth,” which picks up the line “You’re gonna piss and moan / you let the devil in your home” line from “Cave” and throws it up into the air with a strange joy.
4:45 pm Starfucker at Peckerhead’s
I think someone fed Starfucker downers before this set.
Somewhere around 10 pm God knows what at the Liberty
I don’t know who was playing at the Liberty. (I do know it was pretty awful.) I followed friends there. I don’t care what was playing at the Liberty. What I care about is the Liberty’s food truck, East Side King. Within minutes of hearing the words “steamed pork belly buns” I was in line ordering curry buns: “peanut butter home made curry in deep fried bun, fresh basil, cilantro, mint, onion and jalapeno.” I cannot overstate how good these things were: sweet, tangy, decadent, bright. I’m trying to find more reasons to go to the Liberty just to eat these goddamn buns. And everything else on the menu.
11 pm Smoking Popes at Maggie Mae’s
When the Smoking Popes opened with “Not That Kind of Girlfriend,” I got a little worried. What do you have to look forward to when a band you’re just now getting into opens with your favorite song? A song that's almost two decades old? A song that is clearly the favorite of lots of other people, many of whom are in the front row singing gleefully along when Josh Caterer puts the mic in their faces?
There was nothing to worry about. Smoking Popes songs are so catchy, you’re likely to know the words after one listen, maybe two. I knew more songs than I thought I did. The new songs, from their just-out This is Only a Test, play by the same rules: straightforward, catchy, gushingly romantic or bitterly put-out pop punk. The structure is assertive, bossy, driving — but Caterer’s voice belongs to a heartsick kid without an angry bone in his body.
Midnight Sharon Van Etten at Swan Dive
Swan Dive feels like it should be hosting a wedding reception. The stage makes the band look like they’re playing on an overgrown wedding cake. I watched much of this show through strangers’ camera screens; Van Etten is petite, the stage is low and the place was packed, so I got a better view that way. “Thank you for not going to see Duran Duran,” she said midway through the set, which included most of the songs from Epic, “Tornado” and two new songs, one of which she said she wrote for Sinead O’Connor. It wasn’t the most magical Van Etten show I’ve seen, but it built, piece by piece, as she seemed to get more comfortable with the patchwork crowd (the place was full, but not everyone was exactly attentive) and she stuck the landing: “Love More.” Of course.
1 am This Will Destroy You at Malverde
The danger of instrumental rock with an epic bent: It frequently runs the risk of sounding like a washed-out Explosions in the Sky with lesser dynamics. (Your basis for comparison may vary.) This, sadly, was the case with the two This Will Destroy You songs I heard, which built and built and soared and swooped and were still missing something. It’s not bad — it’s not This Will Destroy Your Soul or This Will Destroy Your Will to Continue — but it’s not This Will Destroy You By Reducing You to a Weeping Pile of Rubble (in a Good Way), either.