Most beautiful thing ahout this SXSW: Saturday's tribute to Alex Chilton at Antone's -- while obviously carrying a sad undercurrent (especially when they read a letter from his newlywed wife) -- turned out to be quite a magical and inspiring event, the kind of thing that had me and I'm sure many others thinking, "This is why I'm a music nut. This is why I just ran myself ragged in Austin this week." It also served as a great reminder that Big Star has a lot of kick-ass songs.
The guys who were supposed to play with Chilton that night, co-founding Big Star drummer Jody Stephens and "new guys" Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow (both from the Posies), soldiered on and brought an army of musician fans and friends with them. Auer deserves special props for doing Chilton's guitarwork and vocals justice, including in the show opener "Back of a Car." Original BS bassist Andy Hummel, who flew in from Lithuania and is mmore or less retired from music, got up for a couple songs, too. The highlights among the guest appearances included Mike Mills (R.E.M.) doing "Jesus Christ," M. Ward delivering a somber "Big Black Car," John Doe's affectionate "I'm in Love With a Girl" and the finale of "September Gurls" with Susan Cowsill and the Watson Twins. Other guests included Evan Dando (Lemonheads), Curt Kirkwood (Meat Puppets), Sondre Lerche, Chuck Prophet and Chris Stamey (the dB's). Auer said afterward, "We're really glad we did this, but in a lot of ways this was really hard."
Most annoying thing about this SXSW: Soundchecks. The fest is supposed to run like clockwork, and any band who needs more than to fine-tune its acoustics beyond plugging them in, be damned. Not this year. The Court Yard Hounds had more roadies than the entire contingent of Minnesota bands (and that's counting Romantica's intern), and boy did they put in a lot of work. I also got stuck through long set-ups by Schools of Seven Bells, Fanfarlo, the Very Best, the XX, Mayer Hawthorne's band -- who I never did see -- and many more. Somebody needs to throw the SXSW lawbook at these folks.
My favorite bits of audience heckling: 1) When Zooey Deschanel asked, "How's the food?" on stage at the Rachael Ray party, a guy standing near me hollered back to her, "You don't eat!" 2) After an especially rapid-paced song during Trampled by Turtles' set -- one where smoke was nearly visible coming off the banjo and mandolin necks -- a guy with a Southern accent yelled to them, "Play faster, why don't ya!"
Austinites' favorite thing about this SXSW: Saturday's wintery weather, since the sun is usually as dependable as inflated parking rates during the fest. As one of my friends in town put it, "Good. Now maybe all these (expletives) won't want to move here."
Photos by Tony Nelson. See all the previous fest posts at www.startribune.com/sxsw.