Friday was a madcap, bipolar sort of day at South by Southwest. On one inkstamp-stained hand, there were several highlights that reminded me why I never grow tired of seeing live music. On the other tweet-cramped hand, there were also some maddening low points that reminded me why I always grow tired of SXSW every year on the third or fourth day and at some point harrumph, “This festival is over!”
Low: Reports of ungodly long lines at the Fader Fort and several other supposedly private events suggested that the RSVP has become the wristwatch of SXSW, a tool rendered useless by technology. We got stuck in one waiting for Bright Eyes’ “AOL Pop-Up Show” at a historic opera house, where Austin Police officers were telling a thousand people toward the back of the line they wouldn’t be getting into the 300-capacity venue. Asign of SXSW’s delusions of grandeur, they still didn’t leave. We did, because we didn’t want to miss three or four other showcases waiting for the security issues to finally be resolved. Tonight's party with Kanye at the Seaholm Power Plant should be the pinnacle of this madness/lameness. ... High: One long line that was nice to see was the one through the lobby of the historic Driskill hotel for Minnesota music vet Dan Wilson, who has been living with his family in Los Angeles of late and writing songs with bigger-name pop stars. Apparently, Dan’s name still carries a lot of weight, too. So goes SXSW: I’ve been over to Dan’s house but I couldn’t get into his showcase, which reportedly included appearances by Tracy Bonham and Jeremy Messersmith.
Low: Friday’s annual Spin magazine party outside Stubb’s BBQ included lackluster sets by a band that’s usually a powerhouse on stage, the Kills, and another by a group that has been largely inactive for decades, OMD. Alison Mosshart and her Kate Moss-marrying Kills partner Jamie Hince struggled with sound issues and never really seemed . The two OMD guys played to pre-recorded beats and backing vocals despite having a full band on the road with them, which didn’t exactly speak highly of Spin’s importance. Moby joined them on bass, which didn’t exactly liven things up or add a youthful element. … High: I thought TV on the Radio, the Spin party headliner, might also give a half-hearted effort following those other two acts, but these guys always seem to be all-in. “Wolf Like Me” again erupted through the crowd, but the quintet – now curiously addled with a trombone player – also debuted a frantic, rolloer-coastery new song that could become the centerpiece of their shows from here on out.
Low: I was disappointed in a couple buzz bands over the past two nights, including: British wunderkind James Blake, whose music resembled Auto-Tuned whale calls with electronic beats left over from Radiohead's incredibly boring new album; and Canadian roar-rock duo P.S. I Love You, who simply sound way better on record. … High: Several newbies lived up to the hype, including: bouncy, Feelies-on-energy-drink-like New York band Beach Fossil, who trashed their venue verbally (“sucks in every possible way”) but still tore it up musically; and Los Angeles soul-pop party band Fitz & the Tantrums, who were playing their third even of the day outside Lance Armstrong’s bike shop Mellow Johnny’s and still firing on all cylinders.
High: All the friendly faces and camaraderie at the well-attended, all-Minnesotan day party from First Avenue and City Pages’ Gimme Noise blog at Skinny’s Ballroom certainly had a security-blanket kind of comfort amid the mayhem, and the high-energy sounds of Sick of Sarah wafting up into the parking garage was pretty cool, too. … Low: I can’t keep track of which bands were on the lineup for that party vs. today’s Minnesota Music showcase from Vita.mn at the Beauty Bar, except I do know I can finally see Dessa on stage today instead of the three or four times I’ve run into her in completely random places around town.
See photo galleries and more reports from Austin at www.startribune.com/sxsw