My body gave up yesterday. After an exhausting albeit invigorating week of music, I was resigned to spend most of the day catching up on lost sleep. A second wind later, I caught several bands perform at the Spider House Rager, set at the twinkling patio café and bar of the same name.
I arrived a little before Ty Segall Band turned the little backyard into a sweaty arena. Segall has his hands in so many projects, ideas, singles and songs that it’s impossible to track. But the Ty Segall Band is perhaps the most instrumentally vibrant of the prolific songwriter’s endeavors. Psych-pop sensation Mikal Cronin wields bass, while Charlie Moothart of Segall’s sludge-metal project Fuzz, shreds on guitar. Emily Rose Epstein shit-kicked the drums — barefoot, to boot — while the crowd spilled over onto the stage despite security’s best efforts. After all, these songs are meant to be felt, not just heard.
The band performed most of their 2012 record, the freewheelin’, aggressive Slaughterhouse, including the heady “Wave Goodbye” and the feedback freakout “Death.” Segall was all smiles, his banter with the crowd especially endearing when he urged them to be careful in the pit, improvising a little ditty with his band boasting the coda “Please be careful/ so you can get Torchy’s Taco’s tomorrow.”
Afterward, funk collective the Coup took over. Often, the group’s politicized lyrics pigeonhole them into a hip-hop category, but the music itself is more a study of rhythm in all its forms. Melding elements of soul, punk rock, and the tenacity of early-’90s-era hip-hop, frontman Boots Riley prowled the stage, provoking the audience into moving along with the beats. Ty is a tough act to follow, but The Coup did just that until the show ended right around midnight.
Shadows loom a bit over Austin after this week. I’ve been thinking a lot about purpose these past few days and if there is any way that the ramshackle-ness of SXSW — with its frustrations, lines and corporate overtones — can coexist with the countercultural spirit that began this event, and that continues to make this experience great. The unofficial events this week were phenomenal, particularly on the East Side and South Austin. There’s a sense that these DIY-style events are put on because of passion, not so much exposure, and that true heart goes into the curation. It makes a difference — the venue, the bands on a lineup. The majority of the shows I attended were well-curated based on location and the style of music (although some were off-putting, leaving talented bands to make the most of a bad situation). I chose to forgo the larger events, the Doritos Stage, etc., because I had the sense that there was something else to discover with the underdogs. But I guess I got lucky, too, because nothing about this experience stands out to me as unpleasant, minus the sleeplessness.
I spoke to many friends this week who are in bands and met many more musicians. Every one of them seemed beat, performing between seven and 17 shows over the course of five days. Some of them were optimistic, but every one of them struggled in some capacity when things inevitably derailed with cancellations, the inability to sound check, or busted amps. It’s no secret that the money-swilling that happens at SXSW could be distributed better amongst the people who travel huge distances to perform.
But amid the frustrations and staying up until the sunrise every morning, I’ll still come back here (I’m also from Texas — I can’t exactly ever separate myself from this place completely). But moreover, throughout the course of this week I met countless talented, passionate individuals, many of them not in the music industry. The panelists who presented with me last Wednesday floored me with their insightfulness. I got to see one of my favorite bands perform on a “bruise cruise.” New bands I stumbled upon serendipitously, including Flesh Lights and Purple, completely blew me away, and I came out a fan. At least we’re able to be here, and I feel extremely fortunate for the opportunity. Inevitably the bigger the sound becomes, the bigger the crowds it will draw. The city of Austin, in light of this year, has much to think about and improve on in terms of logistics, safety and crowd control. Especially with the volume of people that continue to visit and will continue flocking here to be captivated by performance.