2005 marked my ninth or tenth sojourn to South by Southwest (I honestly can't remember), but it was the first year that I decided to make no advance plans. Making too many commitments has always led to my disappointment – after all, one person can only see so many bands. So I was off to Austin, Texas, with a only a handful of friends' cell numbers and two goals: have a good time hanging out with friends and business associates, and see M.I.A. perform. (The former was a success; the latter was ... well, read on.)

Anyone who's even remotely a fan of music is familiar with the South by Southwest conference (2005.sxsw.com), and anyone who's ever been there knows that it is absolutely insane. SXSW is really just too much: 1,200-plus bands "showcasing" over four days to all sorts of "industry" folk, plus unofficial, label/corporate-sponsored daytime parties that have turned from hair-of-the-dog gatherings into full-on hype machines for well-funded artists, easily making every day an 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. affair. That is, if you feel obligated to be everywhere at once. Thankfully, I was under no such obligation, but I still managed to see great stuff.

But first, a little disclaimer: The fine folks at Fighting Records sprung for my plane ticket and gave me a bed to sleep in.

And a bigger disclaimer: Most of this accounting is incredibly self-referential and far from comprehensive.


Rode in on the same plane as Rick Wheeler (Axis magazine), David Beame (local entertainment lawyer) and Dan Verduin (of the ever-craptacular Big 10-4). The best part was hearing Verduin schmooze the girl sitting next to him with hoary business-speak: "I don't have a showcase or anything … I mean, I might play a couple of acoustic sets or something. My manager and lawyer are gonna be there, so, you know, I'm just gonna be networking and stuff."

He probably got himself a record deal by talking like that, but I still thought it was funny.

Got off the plane, headed straight downtown – with luggage in tow – to start making up for lost time, since things had officially started the day before. Found Dan Stone (assistant program director at WTKS-FM, 104.1) and Bradley Kaschner (ex-Padallock Grafts guitarist, current door guy at The Social and occasional roadie/tech for Bloom) at Emo's, where they had just finished watching a set by Pedro the Lion. Hitched a ride with them back to the hotel where we were all staying, dropped the bags, ate a meal and headed back downtown.

First up, Biirdie, featuring ex-Gainesville-ian Jared Flamm along with his girlfriend/keyboardist/minor celebrity's sister Kala Savage. They made an impressive album, but put forth a less impressive live presence. Maybe it was the fact that at 8 p.m. I wasn't in the mood for their organic, downtempo chamber-pop. Within the next 20 minutes, my mood was definitely improved: I saw a decent, if somewhat nostalgic, band from Reykjavik (Ske), the last five minutes of the Austin Theremonic Orchestra and three bananas walking down the street.

Although Bloom got stuck in one of the many shitty, ad hoc venues at SXSW, they put on a powerful show to a decent-enough crowd. Except for Jim Abbott (from the Orlando Sentinel; working waaaayy harder than I was, inspiring a brief moment of guilt on my behalf), the band's crew and me, almost everyone was from the United Kingdom. Apparently, there's a ton of U.K. interest in Bloom, and attorney Peter Button (Sex Pistols, Daft Punk), publicist Mel Brown (Ambulance LTD, Robbers on High Street) and other notables were there to see the band in advance of their May tour in Blighty. (Some of these folks wound up signing Bloom to their rosters.) Being a hardworking journalist, I convince one of those Brits – Paul Connolly from The Times in London, who interviewed the band – to go drinking with Stone and me. He agrees but wants to catch Louis XIV first. "But they suck and it'll be packed," I whine to no avail.

Vindication comes when we arrive at La Zona Rosa and the line to get in is a block and a half long. "Hey Paul, can we get a drink now?" We had several, and our largely political discussion was the most intelligent one I had all week.

Speaking of stupid lines, the one outside Elysium for M.I.A.'s set was ridiculous, especially since the venue was nowhere near full. "Oh well," I said after hauling ass over there. "I'll just see her at the Vice party tomorrow." The Fates rolled their eyes.

Next up: the Guided by Voices tribute at Emo's, where Bloom turns in a high-octane version of "Surgical Focus" that gets an enthusiastic reception, even from the GBV guys. Jason Falkner is there. He likes Bloom and even expresses interest in working with them in the future. Bloom bassist Devin Moore responds by telling Falkner that he's heard he's an asshole in the studio. For some reason, this makes Falkner like them even more.

On to Stubb's for Graham Coxon and Fatboy Slim. I see friends from Astralwerks and Warner Bros., but what's cool is Bradley – he's all atwitter at seeing Coxon, and it's cute in a wish-I-wasn't-so-crusty kinda way. According to my Astralwerks friend, Damon Albarn is backstage, a fact that Dan finds ironic in some way connected to Fatboy Slim, but I'm too drunk and cold to stay with his logic. I shiver and nod.

We split in order to make it to the Merge showcase in time for the "Special Guest." "It's Dinosaur Jr.," I self-assuredly proclaim. "Wait," I say later. "It's totally Arcade Fire." (I say these things in a state of drunken cluelessness.) The band starts to play and Dan says, "Is that Spoon?" "Dude, it's totally Spoon. I so knew that." So did Michael McRaney (The Social) and Chuck Dinkins (House of Blues), who were cool enough to be there and smart enough not to think Arcade Fire was playing.


A few hours later, it's a brand-new day and I've managed to eat, shower and find myself at the Austin Convention Center. It's typical for me to avoid the panels and trade show action at SXSW (mainly because they're lame), but one thing I won't miss is the now annual Flatstock poster show. The coolest rock poster artists from around the country show off their wares, score some work and (hopefully) sell enough posters to make the trip pay for itself. Ran into Orlandoans Thomas Scott (Eyenoise), Jeff Matz (Lure Design) and Greg Reinel (Stainboy). Greg was kind enough to let me borrow his Flatstock laminate, so I could swipe a pair of the free Chuck Taylors that Converse was giving away.

The rest of the day consisted of: 1) attending the Fighting Records party, which was fun in a conference-room-party sorta way (no, seriously); 2) missing M.I.A. at the Vice party because I stayed in the conference room, thinking I'd see her at the Fader party; 3) missing M.I.A. again at the Fader party because of a dinner engagement; and 4) having dinner with a friend from Sub Pop, along with my peers from The Stranger and San Francisco Bay Guardian, and Italian psych-pop band Jennifer Gentle, whose manager told me that when Patti Smith plays in Italy she plays in stadiums.

Show slate? Limited. Baltimore's Oxbow was heavy and weird and excellent. The first night of Japan Night (which I haven't missed since my first SXSW) hosted i-Dep, a semi-spazzy soul-funk group from Tokyo, as well as The Pillows and other decent bands. But I was beat and relatively uninspired by the schedule, so I caught just two more bands: Big Business and the trashy, predictable Black Lips.


An innocent shopping trip quickly turned into free beer at a party hosted by Yep Roc Records and Harp magazine. Some solid bands played (Chatham County Line, Thad Cockrell/Caitlin Cary), but what was cool was running into people I hadn't seen for years (an excellent writer I've worked with at national publications, my first record store boss and my first publisher). Leaving, I run into a friend who works at Wind-Up Records (can you believe that someone at Wind-Up Records actually likes someone at Orlando Weekly? Me neither!) and an independent publicist I've worked with forever. I head back to Flatstock, hoping to help Dan Stone score a pair of free shoes. Sorry, Dan!

Undaunted, we moved on to a massive party hosted by the folks at New Times. In the past, I've said many bad things about New Times – generic format, high employee turnover, unfair business practices – but I will say this: Those assholes can throw a party. Seeing Be Your Own Pet, a high-energy batch of teen punks from Nashville was the goal, and though we only saw their last two songs, there was free Jack Daniel's and beer! But for some reason, we decide to leave and a few minutes later, we're at the Misra Records party where I get to gloat to a couple of friends from L.A. that Centro-Matic (and Will Johnson) play Orlando all the time, so their set here isn't that big of a deal. More parties, featuring the ultra-awesome Panthers, The Witnesses (great garage rock), Young Heart Attack (good irony rock) and another band (so shitty I've forgotten their name).

Tonight's showcases: Trivium … wait, I'm just kidding. Although I love those Orlando boys, they got booked at the Back Room, which is, like, a million miles away from downtown. (The Kick got stuck playing there last year; blew them off too.) To fill the metal urge, we took in the high-camp Ignitor and the riff-heavy thud of The Sword (see Selections, p. 28) and then headed up the street to see a little bit of Man Man who were supposed to be "weird" and "avant-garde" (always good) but were really "awful" and "pretentious" (always bad).

Sought refuge at Japan Night 2 and wound up disappointed. Suns Owl was so treacherously nü-metal awful, all present agreed that if they were from Orlando, they'd be called Grumpy. (I won't mention who was there, but it doesn't bode well for Grumpy.)

Bolting, we headed up to catch the tail end of Scottish super-weirdos Sluts of Trust (with a quick detour to catch a few songs from perennial weirdo Harvey Sid Fisher) and then turned back for more Japan Night. Although I was totally digging the synth-noise freakouts of Zanzo and the country/western covers of Petty Booka, I knew I was in trouble when someone was kind enough to offer me a beer and I had to turn it down. My tank was topped. I could drink no more. Maybe, though, just maybe, I could make it to one more show. And I'm glad I did, as it was Volovan (from Monterey, Mexico), who put in a stunning set of full-bodied, guitar-drenched alt-rock that was dipped in dissonance while being incredibly catchy. Of all the bands that I saw at SXSW, this is the one that I wish would come to Orlando. (So I can be sure I wasn't delirious when I made up my mind that they were the best band on the planet.)

Although I hung around for a bit of Niño Astronauta's set, it was clear that I was done for the night, so I headed up to a nearby corner to catch a cab. There, I encountered not one, but four familiar faces. One of them tried to steal a cab from me, and when I saw how drunk she was, I gladly allowed her. The cab driver offered to drive me too, so I hopped in, fully expecting her to puke all over me. Thankfully she didn't, and as we pulled into the traffic circle of the Hyatt, who do I see but Erykah Badu and her big-ass head of hair. "That's pretty cool," I thought. My African-born cabbie thought it was really cool and rolled down the window to tell her what a beautiful sister she was and how she was an inspiring light to the world. Badu was gracious (if condescending), but one of her handlers was less so. "Get the fuck out the way, Mbubu!" he bellowed.

It's almost as classy as when I get back to my hotel and I see the guys from Apocalyptica loading their gear inside, I ask 'em how their show went and their only response is a grunt that sounded an awful lot like "Fuck you." Hey, you're welcome, fucker.

So, I saw a lot, but I missed more than I saw, just like everyone else. I missed shaking the guy from Bloc Party's hand (but I hear he's a total limp fish). I missed seeing Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow (but I heard they were there). I missed seeing Bill Callahan making out with Joanna Newsom (but I heard they were so totally doing it). Which is fine. Because at least I accomplished half of my goals this year, which is much better than I've ever done in the past.
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