Arrive in Austin and inexplicably find parking spot (on a meter with an hour and a half still left on it) right near Emo's, the club that resembles what Hell will be for every hipster who dies unsaved. Catch the last bit of a Zach Galafianakis set from the Noisepop party. Zach Galafianakis is a comedian who is affiliated with many comics that I like, but I do not like him. Or at least I do not like him judging from this set, which is almost all of him I have never heard. However, it's not the ideal venue, being a rock show before 2PM where everyone is jammed in like sweaty sardines who have ironic mullets (or, I guess, sweaty mullets who have ironic mullets). Have my first booze of the day, but by no remote stretch of the imagination my last, and squeeze my way outdoors using the awesome power of my fat.
Emerge blinking into the cruel mid-Texas sunlight in order to catch the Pippettes at Emo's Outdoors. The Pippettes are the Next Big Thing, as evidenced by the fact that they are playing approximately fifty hundred jillion shows at this year's SxSW. Still, I like them: they wear polkie dots and are cute and sound sort of like the Ronettes run through a meat grinder and expelled into a Slits casing. They only play for about twenty minutes, though, allowing me to stumble back to my car before the meter expires. I have only had two drinks and one of them was really weak, but since I have already inhaled at least six thousand cubic meters of cigarette smoke, I decide to just bite the cancer bullet and start smoking myself.
Having planned to see Macromantics at the Creekside Lounge, I begin to realize after driving around aimlessly for a half an hour that I should have bothered to find out where the Creekside Lounge is. I am finally assisted by a girl in a passing truck, and arrive in time to see the last half of the Macromantics show, which is quite good. During my brain-dead peripatations around Austin in hopes that the venue would reveal itself to me through divine grace, I have smoked at least ten cigarettes, or approximately ten more than I have smoked in the last three years combined. My voice is completely shot and my throat feels like I have just blown a man with hydrochloric acid in his testicles. I can only imagine it would be worse if I was inhaling.
I head to a place called "Road Dawg", which is not a professional wrestler, but rather an art gallery that seems to deal in detritus from interstate highways. This is where the Bloodshot Records showcase is being held, and I instantly become quite nostalgic for my beloved Chicago. I catch up with owner Scott, who I've interviewed a couple of times, and am once again snubbed by Sally Timms, who I have also interviewed a couple of times, but she hates me. I see several bands, including the appealing Mark Pickerell & His Praying Hands, the appalling Deadstrings, and the perennial Graham Parker. Before the Silos come on, I try to head out back to meet up with thehighhat and scottvond, but am trapped behind a cattle pen of humongous Norwegians who have just returned from a visit to Graceland and are intoning sincerely in their goony-talk about "Alfiis Prassli" while wearing $300 denim jackets emblazoned with the visage of the King. I eventually get to the alley and meet friends of friends; after all this time, I am beginning to lose the buzz I picked up at the Creekside, and while it is pointed out to me that there are free cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon being distributed, I consider the operant words in that sentence to be "Pabst Blue Ribbon" and not "free".
It's on to Cheapo Records to see the Smut Peddlers. It is at this venue that I am vouchsafed my first zoot weed of the festival, which it turns out I need a lot more than I think I will. The free beer being handed out at Cheapo's is Shiner, which is mildly preferable to PBR in the same way that being punched in the jaw is mildly preferable to having an operant chainsaw stuck down your pants, so I take advantage of a few cans while I am waiting long, long minutes for the Peddlers to set up. While they are doing so, I cannot help but notice that their stage gear contains very few turntables and mics and quite a few more guitars than I would have thought, and also that they don't look anything like Eon or Cage. I bring this up to the counter help, who inform me that the band about to perform is not actually the hip-hop group the Smut Peddlers, but a punk rock combo also called the Smut Peddlers. This is crushingly disappointing, but always one to give the ol' benefit of the d., I decide to give this other Smut Peddlers band a chance. This turns out to be a terrible, terrible mistake.
Time for the Stooges at Waterloo Records! I leave late, because it's just down the street, and it's easy to spot, because there are fifty krosquillion people outside. I should have known that there wasn't a goddamn chance in hell I would get into the most-wanted show for every aging hipster on the planet, but lacking anything better to do and zooted off my egg, I decide to hang around in the parking lot anyway in case Mike Watt comes out and asks me to fill in on the thunder broom. This does not happen. What happens, in fact, is that I get to hear what this version of the Stooges sounds like through four concrete walls, which, given what they sound like on the new record, is probably an improvement.
Facing a lot of downtime before my next assigned gig, I decide to hook up with thehighhat and his lovely wife and shoot the breeze for a while. They have kindly offered to be my hosts for the evening, and we spend a few hours with her parents and with their rambunctious charming kid, Li'l' Sphere, before I head off for my next assignment. Li'l' Sphere puts my months-dormant ball-picking-up skills to the test, I read a story about the girl who plays Snoop on The Wire, and Hayden and I vainly attempt to find out where our friend Julie Beth's band, the Casting Couch, are playing, which takes so much time that they have probably finished by the time we admit defeat. Discovering that the Blue Genie, where I will be for the Iheartcomix Blowout Party, is nearby, I leave my hosts' home late.
NOTE: It is at this time that I get a bunch of inexplicably hostile text messages on my phone from a mysterious communicant with a Chicago area code. The thrust of these messages (from someone who knows me, obviously) is that I am a fat loser who sucks and is fat; I try responding to these messages with a "tell me something I don't know" reply, but the number is not serviceable. Way to put me in my place, though, anonymous text-messager!
Nearby the Blue Genie turns out to be, but difficult to find and accessible by an incomprehensible and incorrect series of MapQuest directions it also turns out to be. It is a big warehouse space tucked away into a cluster of Goodwill warehouses, and I have to park in a big mud lot and guck up my Tims trying to get to the place. When I arrive, I am very excited to hear some music played by two of the outstanding DJs on the bill for the evening – Diplo and DJ A-Trak. I soon discover that it will be many, many years before I get to see these gentlemen, however, because the line to get in the door stretches all the way to the airport. I receive a phone call from solipsiae: she and her boy _sydlexic_ are piling into a taxi. Take your time, says I, you can arrive anytime before tomorrow afternoon and this line will not have moved. Arrive they do, with a lovely friend who may or may not have a LiveJournal, and eventually we get inside, where we discover that the line for free drinks (a vile concoction made with a horrid-tasting energy drink and three shots of cherry vodka) is about three times longer than the line to get in. But we are drunks, graceless in victory and bitter in defeat, and we brave the Who-play-Cincinnati crush of bodies in exchange for getting our drunk on for no charge. Almost immediately after we obtain our free liquor, the police arrive and end everyone's fun, allegedly for a zoning code violation. This has to be the weakest reason in the history of human amusement for shutting down a party. There is to be no A-Trak or Diplo in our futures, so we drive around for a while listening to Clipse, and I finally drop the rest of the crew off at a warehouse party and go get drunk at Lala's, home of off-duty strippers, indoor smoking, and Christmas lights all year long. Eventually, sometime after midnight, I return to Hayden's crib and get what passes for a good night's sleep.
I head to Stubb's for what I (correctly, as it turns out) predict will be the master-blaster blowout show of the South By Southwest festival this year: a party, sponsored by calamityjon's car, featuring live sets by Ghostface Killah and the god Rakim. It's a long wait to get in, but I pass the time with plenty of SxSW bingo and the pleasant company of oilyrags, who has come bearing gin. Once inside, I take full advantage of the expense account I'm on for this show, and get a drunk on of massive proportions, running up a tab I hope I never have to explain to anyone. I receive some drunk-dialing, as promised, from my fine friend rum_holiday, who is at the St. Pat's parade back in Chic. The first band is L.A.'s Rhythm & Roots All-Stars, who are very good, but don't play very long – at least at first. They are replaced by the abysmal Micky Avalon, who is best described as a very, very stupid version of MC Paul Barman. The one and only compliment I get on my appearance the entire weekend comes from a skanktakular off-duty Hooters Girl in a green wig, who says she likes my shirt. Ghostface comes on stage – with live accompaniment by the Rhythm & Roots All-Stars – and tears it up like he's mad at it; he plays quite a long set, with only a few guest stars (the omnipresent Tryfe included), mixing lots of new Fishscale-era stuff with a few Wu classics and generally laying down one of the tightest hip-hop live shows I've ever seen in my life. Rakim, also backed by the live band (which suits him better than I'd have thought, given the intensely sample-heavy, stripped-down sound of most of his hits), starts out slow, but ends up rocking the joint hardcore. He's not as transcendent as Ghostface, but given the fact that this is a guy nearly 15 years removed from his last hit, he still comes correct in every way and caps off by far my favorite show of the weekend.
After a phone call from garbagedog, Austin, Angie, Max, Twinkle and I pile into the ChickWagon and head for Sound On Sound, where we are assured fun punk rock shows will be seen. In fact, after our eventual arrival, the band playing is not fun punk rock, but dismayingly awful drone-noise, and Allison and her boy have already left. We liaison with them at Veggie Heaven, an Austin fixture that features delicious vegan food and a huge oil painting on the wall of Falun Gong adherents being beaten by the Chinese police with truncheons. Mmmmm, appetizing! I wolf down a massive tray of spicy mushroom dumplings and we go our separate ways: I stop at Snake By Snakepit to see Steaming Wolf Penis (who, okay, fuck, secondperiod, you were right, are fucking insane), and then off to Barcelona to see the Hip-Hop Not Heard on the Radio show. I'm lucky to arrive just in time to see the terrific, underrated Chicago rapper Puggslee Atomz, and even luckier that a full bar is available, so I can rekindle the buzz I'm beginning to lose after the filling meal. Also, this being a hip-hop show, there is plenty of tical, and there is plenty of me willing to smoke it.
Allison has urged me to head back to Sound On Sound to see the Marked Men. She promises that it will not be in vain, and that they are rockin' enough to expunge all memories of the shitty drone act that drove us away from there in the first place. She is as good as her word, as the Marked Men are killer – tight as hell and with distinctive, skillful chops that remind me of the bands I used to love when punk was a lot bigger part of my life. (I did feel a bit out of place among the black-clad parking lot kids, who looked exactly like I did when I was 24, but the Marked Men – who were kind enough to give me a CD – kicked enough ass that I didn't get too self-conscious about wearing boutique Nikes and a neon green Puma tracksuit top. By this point, I was feeling pretty fucked up from nearly two days of continually pumping drugs and alcohol into my system, so I found a café with free Wi-Fi, piggybacked their signal from the parking lot, and did my liveblogging of the festival in the first of many sporadic attempts to earn my keep.
Mrs. Bea's is the venue; Hella is the band. I have never been disappointed when seeing Hella – they're truly one of the most intense, skillful live bands I've ever seen in my life – and any qualms I might have had about their ability to maintain that level of brutal, pinpoint energy now that they've gone from being a two-piece instrumental band to a five-piece vocal one were dispelled the minute they stepped on stage. They were as tight and as deadly as ever, and played an amazingly good set, with tons of new material from the new 666 album but also with older material retrofitted to go with their new lineup, and it worked a lot better than I would have thought. I drank a lot at Mrs. Bea's, but Hella has the capacity to thin the alcohol content in your blood through the force of their sheer awesomeness. If it wasn't for the existence of Dennis "Ghostface Killah" Coles, this would have been the best show of the festival.
While I've never had a bad experience seeing Hella, I've never had a good experience seeing MC Chris. The first time I went to see him, his flight was snowed in and he had to cancel, leaving me to suffer through a shitty opening act for no pay-off; the second time, my ex and I had a big fight and we ended up going home before he played. This time, it was nothing so traumatic – he just sucked. He put on a dull show with no energy and very little crowd rapport. Still, I got drunk, finished my liveblogging, and found an accommodating place to stay the night.
This was everyone's getaway day, myself included. I did have one interview (details coming soon, but it was a good one with a very talented musician) and saw one show (a mediocre acoustic-country guy whose name I've already forgotten) before blowing some of my take on used books from Book People. I had hoped to see Steaming Wolf Penis again – yes, I am the sort of person who wants to see a band called Steaming Wolf Penis twice in one weekend – but they weren't playing until Sunday night, and I had to get back and write all the stuff that people were paying me to go to this stupid clusterfuck for in the first place. Before I made the trip, though, I had a very fine lunch at the INTERNATIONAL House of Pancakes with Fayrene Smith, her husband, and the lovely and talented Whitney Pastorek of Entertainment Weekly, where we discussed the ingenious business plans that will make us all rich. I went home and didn't get in a car accident and die and I decided that I would do the 2007 Crappys this week, since I'd already been ingesting poison for 72 hours straight.
All in all, a pretty great weekend: expense account booze, free meals, lots of great bands, a minimum of frustration, a chance to sleep in strange beds, zoot weed, good friends, and all told, I probably made about $1100 more than I spent from my three different SxSW freelance assignments and the crafty though illegal sale of my wristband. But you didn't hear that last part from me. Thanks again, Austin, TX, and thanks to everyone who hung out with me, put up with me, allowed themselves to be seen in public with me, and in all other ways withstood the shameful burden of my company. And thanks especially to those very special people who gave me money to do all this! You're the salt of my earth, ensuring that nothing will ever grow again.