SXSW Wrap-Up

By

Published March 24, 2009

Elegance Personified at Austin. Photo by David Coggins.

After our first visit to SXSW, we drew a few lessons from non-stop concert going. As self-appointed residents of Austin, we’re sharing our hot-spots and our rash conclusions.

Best Venue: Mohawk’s.  An intimate, wood paneled club with good sound, friendly staff, and a stuffed bear in the lounge. Every night they featured a smartly curated selection of bands.  Mohawk’s knows what the audience wants and give it to them.Worst Venue: Prague.  Not fit for band or beast. Over-designed, under-performing subterranean bar with bad sightlines.  How can you deaden the sound of great Jersey rockers The Wrens?  We have to assume it was The Wrens because we couldn’t see a thing.Surprisingly Non-Annoying Sponsor: Miller Light.Miller may not ever catch up to Pabst as the indie beer of choice, but they’re doing their darndest. Drink enough of any light beer over the course of a sweaty weekend and you get used to it.  For true greatness they should return to their classic cans of the ’80’s.  They also gave away ear plugs in a little plastic case-the most useful SXSW accessory beside the pocket schedule.Trend We Wished We Saw More Of: Inter-Band Feuding Onstage.A spat between the singer and guitarist of Bear Hands devolved into name calling and water tossing.  It was all the more startling because it seemed to stem from a over-long tribute to Robert Kennedy, of all people.  This mini-drama was thrown into sharp relief when the following band launched into a song called ‘We Get Along.’ The Most Popular Number: Three.A surprising number of trios made a big impact  From the fierce These Are Powers to the atmospheric School of Seven Bells, good things came in threes. Au Revoir Simone, French Miami, Beach House (a duo who play live with a drummer) also had winning sets with a three spot.  

Most Divisive Venue: Central Presbyterian Church.Some people marveled at the clear acoustics of this eerie suburban-style church.  Though it was the site of some of the most anticipated shows, we were put off by its sterility and the fact that you were forced to sit in pews.

Best Discovery: Michelada.Not a band but a drink.  The Michelada is a godsend to Yankees ignorant of the ways of the Mexican cocktail, and the only drink we know of involving beer and ice. Recipes vary, but it’s typically beer poured over a mixture of Worcestershire, lime juice, soy sauce, horseradish, with a little Tabasco for good measure. Add a salt rimmed glass, plenty of ice, and it’s a strange and wonderful ride. Personally Surprising Backlash: Dirty Projectors.Everybody from David Byrne to the New York Times to NPR loves the Dirty Projectors.  To us their jangle-y guitars clashed with female harmonies and sounded dissonant in a bad way.Best Retreat From the Heat: Hotel Saint Cecilia.Elegance personified. Smartly designed hotel off South Congress away from the maddening crowds. A lap pool, gracious courtyard, and savvy staff made it hard to return to the sweaty clubs. Best Borough: Brooklyn.It surprises us to say this, but as a whole the kids from Brooklyn were quite impressive. School of Seven Bells, Au Revoir Simone, These Are Powers, among others, made this New Yorker proud, and ready for home.