It used to not start until Thursday. Then Wednesday night showcases became the norm. A few years ago, Wednesday daytime parties caught on like wildfire. And now come the Tuesday shows. For the first time in its 25-year history, the South by Southwest Music Conference is officially a five-night festival. And if ever there was any doubt that attendees would show up for the earlier start time, Tuesday’s festivities produced one of the longest, most ludicrous lines I’ve ever seen in my two decades attending the fest (yes, me and SXSW grew up together in Austin; and now we could both afford to lose a little weight).
Fans were lined up outside Stubb’s BBQ, around the corner and nearly to I-35 on Tuesday for a surprise appearance by the Foo Fighters, which was kept mum until that morning. Not mum enough, though. Driving straight there from the airport did us no good. I hear the Foo played the new album, “Wasting Light,” in its entirety followed by a handful of hits. We had better luck getting into Emo’s for the tail end of No Joy, the Montreal band with two feedback-wailing, fuzz-pop-loving young women as leaders. They ended with a whir of noise, and I hope to catch a whole set by them this week (they have about five more shows).
We skipped the rest of the Pitchfork-adored bands at Emo’s to soak in the vibe and sounds of Austin itself for a SXSW warmup (Austin, if you didn’t know, is an entirely different entity than SXSW). As always, you can find more local flavor down on South Congress Avenue, where Austin's soul-grinding funk-rock stars Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears returned Tuesday to the club they rode in on, the Continental, to host the release party for their second album on Lost Highway Records, “Scandalous.” The new tunes sounded grittier and rockier, especially the Current-spinning single “Booty City,” which the more cocksure Lewis delivered with some James Brown-ian moves. These guys are not to be missed at the Cedar Cultural Center on April 3.
For an opening act, the Continental dug up an old blues/R&B vet from Waco by way of Lake Charles, La., named Classie Ballou, who used to play with Ike & Tina Turner and now has a daughter, son and two young grandsons as his backers. Hearing Bellou bellow out “What a Wonderful World” might be the most perfect SXSW kickoff moment of all time, At least as Tuesday night kickoffs go.
See all our SXSW 2011 coverage at www.startribune.com/sxsw