SXSW: Timing Is Everything

AUSTIN - I'm not going to say Night One wasn't a success ... it was just more of a learning experience. The layout for the South by Southwest festival is perfect, all within a few very walkable blocks that are closed to traffic. There wasn't much I was dying to see until later in the evening on Wednesday, so I spent a half hour people watching. Lots and lots of dudes who look like Charlie from "Lost"; the ladies had more variety. Everyone is constantly text messaging/Blackberrying/insta-blogging/etc. Walking on the street, inside a club, during a performance, it doesn't matter - it's a very wired and well connected SXSW.

Badges and lines are the big hassles. [Boo-hoo, poor David -- Ed.] The hierarchy of show-goer here seems to go: 1) Badge-holder, 2) Wristband-wearer, 3) Cover-charge-payer. But just because you have a badge doesn't mean you can waltz right into a show. [More violins here for Mr. Put-Upon Big-Media Music Critic -- Ed.]

I ended up at Antone's for the Domino Records showcase and, after making the common rookie mistake (just let me tell myself it's common, OK?) of waiting in the "wristband" line instead of the "badge" line, I finally made my way to the front after a 15-minute wait. No matter, the band I wanted to see, These New Puritans was scheduled to play at 9 and it was only 9:10. Two songs later, they were done. After waiting in line I wasn't about to leave right away so I waited around hoping for a quick changeover and another early set start. Didn't happen. Lightspeed Champion spent half an hour sound-checking, so it was 9:45 on my first night of SXSW and I'd seen a grand total of two songs.

That number didn't increase too much thanks to Lightspeed Champion being pretty awful. The quick summary: Former dance-punk dude goes singer-songwriter route, writes lyrics that are more annoying than clever, has violin accompaniment for some reason. His "After this show only 10 more SXSW shows to play!" line got a deserved laugh, and we'll revisit the constant gigging later. But we won't revisit Lightspeed Champion.

After the long wait there I figured I better hustle over to Stubb's to stake my place for R.E.M., which was sure to be one of the most popular shows of the festival. Plus, some British dudes in the elevator of my hotel had already said the line was enormous by 4 p.m. I bypassed Elysium, where the Slits were playing, figuring I couldn't catch their 11 p.m. set and also get in for R.E.M.'s midnight show. So of course I get to Stubb's and walk right in. It means I got to see Dead Confederate, who played a bombastic updating of grunge by way Brit-rock. My goal from the outset was to simply see as much good music as possible. Thursday and Friday better deliver.

By David Malitz |  March 13, 2008; 2:02 PM ET SXSW
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Saw Dead Confederate over the summer at AthFest, and they really rocked the 40 Watt. Seems like a healthy sprinkling -- beyond R.E.M. -- of Athens bands at SXSW this year. Athens resurgence? The Whigs put on a good show, too, if you've got some spare time to check them out.

Posted by: polly | March 13, 2008 2:19 PM

I realize this is your first time at SXSW, but did you do any research before you went?

You need to haul ass to get to as much as you can. You will be tired.

And the big marquee night stuff ain't really where it's at. I hope you're out hitting secret day shows today.

Posted by: MRK33 | March 13, 2008 3:16 PM

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