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Tuesday, January 16, 2007
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Monday, March 21, 2005
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the insider one daily report

Report #1: SXSW 2005 And Its Hall Of Mirrors

Neumu Senior Writer Kevin John reports: For anyone trying to make peace with U.S. capitalism's repulsive overproduction, South by Southwest 2005 is not the place to sort shit out. The commodification of information has already revealed the lake of quicksand under our platforms. But SXSW goes one further by colonizing individual experience, and they do it better than any other festival. Think about it. At film festivals, there's still the hope that you can see the film at a later date. But live shows are a lot less easier to float around through the international marketplace. So you scurry from one venue to the next, praying your time was well spent. And spent it will be, because the effect is the same as sitting at home and listening to every record ever made. We're all microprocessors (some of us are pretty major ones — after all, food gets dressed up in novelty drag too) wondering if there's a time and a space outside of capitalism's hall of mirrors.

That's why I couldn't bear going to the Demo Listening sessions at the Austin Convention Center yesterday (March 16). For one thing, I don't have a demo to hawk to media professionals (and I pray to the gods of Das Kapital that I never will). But peep this nugget from the Sears-like SXSW schedule catalogue: "While not every session can assess every submitted band, you will undoubtedly learn something about how to present your music just by attending." Just attend! The unofficial SXSW motto. Hell, the unofficial motto of capitalism. But really, who wants to gaze upon those pretty young boys (well…) with Cross Country Van Trip written all over their bodies as they sit dejected next to some inhumanly large and engulfing convention center window with unheard, expression-choked cassette tape in hand? They attended but they still didn't get their chance, kinda like those pretty young things on "American Idol" who complain "I didn't get enough face time." Hey, who does? Aren't we all just looking for a little face time so that we can repeat ourselves (literally, our selves) in front of those who can get us ahead?

Cornpopping from event to event last night, I suddenly contracted vertigo thinking about all this. 6th Street became a veritable landmine of chance meetings, missed opportunities, and things (and people) you'll get to. Who will I run into? Who will recognize me? What genius band will chop down trees in an empty forest? What crappy band will play to far too many people? (Answer: Jennifer Gentle) I feel like Kanye West on the last track of The College Dropout (or, just to hedge my bets, Bela Lugosi in "Glen or Glenda?"). So no demo listening for me. Besides, I've already seen "Christmas in July" and "The Palm Beach Story" a million times. (Gawd, Preston Sturges could have made another masterpiece in downtown Austin this week.)

Actually, the vertigo started from the very moment I picked up my badge. With said badge, you get a free bag of goodies, which I hear is much bigger than the ones the folks attending the film and interactive portions of the fest received. Positively vomiting with magazines, flyers, sampler CDs and assorted gewgaws, the bag was an aesthetic experience unto itself. I contemplated staying home and just reviewing the bag all week. It would certainly take that long. But as it is, I've barely sifted through it. A friend had to tell me that an envelope of party invites was shoved in there somewhere. But kudos to the team of volunteers who put the thing together. I hear it was an orgy of scientific management.

I spent most of the day putting together my schedule (more vertigo), arriving at Emo's around 9 p.m. for the Sub Pop showcase. Aforementioned Jennifer Gentle were a bored My Bloody Valentine. I heard good things about the A Frames, but I didn't hear good things during their set. Really, I was there for The Thermals. They mix their albums hot so that their punk has a startling intimacy to it. But the live sound warmed out their two-minute spurts. Disappointing. My friends and I spent much of the time enjoying a game of In A Band/ Not In A Band (guess which festival participants were in a band).

I walked to the farthest freakin' festival venue, Tambaleo, determined not to miss Palomar. Like so many indie (rock or pop — pop in this instance, methinks) bands, the drama of their show inhered in the unlikely fact of these people simply being on a stage. These aren't untouchable icons; they're on our level, quite literally (no raised stage here). So the performer/audience divide is confused. Most of us accept this fact and try not to invade the band's awkwardness with direct stares and overly-effusive responses. But some revelers break this contract and do things like dance lasciviously right in front of one of the band members or tell them to sing louder. Them's the breaks and it's exhilarating to watch how a band will deal with such breaches (mostly with nervous stares in another direction or telling that jerk in the audience "YOU sing louder!"). Fortunately, Palomar are one of the precious few indie types with great music as a great deflector. Their albums are maddeningly inconsistent. But they have several masterpieces under their belt ("Knockout," "Up!" and "Albacore") and they played them all. Too bad drummer Dale W. Miller's vocals got lost in the mix, because his harmonies with the three gals up front are crucial to the band's Brady Bunch vibe. Only the New Pornographers do something better with massed vocals. Their voices choked me up anyway. And Dale already wins hottest indie boy of SXSW 2005, drumming in socks and grinning at the band's intermittent brilliance.

I skipped Sleater-Kinney to see United States of Electronica at Maggie Mae's and I was sooooo NOT sorry (and I say this with Call the Doctor as my third favorite album of the 1990s). Imagine house music played with guitar-bass-drums and you're halfway there. Throw in some Doobie Brothers. Throw in some French disco (à la Stardust's "The Music Sounds Better With You"). GARGANTUAN party vibe. I boogied my butthairs off. More on the band later since I intend not to miss their free show on Saturday. But be forewarned — if this Seattle rainbow collective doesn't take over the world, it'll be YOUR fault. Sometimes, a hall of mirrors is fun. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't.

More to come…

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