SXSW For Free: Day Three, Friday, March 20, part two

7:15 p.m. - Exhilarated by an afternoon of great music, my friends and I sought out even more, a nighttime of activities ahead of us. We walked to the Bat Bar in the Austin Convention Center to find out the scheduled shows for that evening and possibly score tickets to Echo and the Bunnymen the following day.

The wonders of air conditioning awaited us as well as comp tickets to see L.A. synth-rockers, Shiny Toy Guns. Whereas the first album, We Are Pilots, relied on 80s keyboards and even trance and electro dance, it was apparent from the setlist at the Bat Bar the band had headed in a new musical direction, leaving behind much of the electronic flourishes in favor of emo guitars. The group looked great, however, and was in fine form when it came to inter-song banter.

Bad photo alert: no flash allowed during the taping of Shiny Toy Guns at the Bat Bar

“How cool is it that Third Eyed Blind is still kicking ass?” said bassist/keyboard player Jeremy Dawson, tongue planted firmly-in-cheek, between songs. Amazingly, the middling, once-radio-friendly quartet, most famous for lead singer Stephan Jenkins' former relationship with a pre-Monster Charlize Theron, filled the Bat Bar to capacity for their TV taping. Third Eyed Blind is back, baby! Let's face facts: we all still listen to “Semi-Charmed Life” when no one else is around. We can come out of the closet now.

Shiny Toy Guns failed to get much of a response from the crowd, only getting a reaction when the band played its better-known singles including “Le Disko” (featuring fine vocals by Sisely Treasure), “You Are The One,” and “Ricochet”. The worst of the set were the straight-ahead alt-rockers with goth undertones that only enhanced the emo posturing, not to mention the weak vocals of Chad Petree. Whether Shiny Toy Guns can find a place in the hearts of the emo demographic remains to be seen.

10:00 p.m. — A quick refuel session at Rappollo's Pizza (pepperoni and jalapeno is much better than one would think), and it was onto the M for Montreal party, sponsored by Canadian Blast, the organization that hosted many of the events involving bands from the Great White North. The showcase at El Sol Y Luna featured some of the better-known Montreal rockers and a couple of rookies.

The biggest disappointment hit me hard on arrival. I missed out on the Poutine Mixer at the start of the night! No Shiny Toy Guns show compares to the sweet, sweet taste of poutine. A traditional Quebecois dish, poutine is deep-fried French fries, smothered in brown gravy, topped by white cheese curds. Yes, it's sounds entirely disgusting and a heart attack waiting to happen, but I assure you, it's tres manifique, a veritable French-Canadian food orgasm.

My pomme de terre depression quickly subsided as I caught Final Flash, a psychedelic, roots-rock quintet. Heavy on the Neil Young and Seventies influences, Final Flash is supposedly the upcoming band from Montreal, but it's hard to say they standout from anyone else trading in the same Can-rock sound. Songs such as “Chosen Generation” do have a certain throwback appeal, much like the band's thrift store wardrobe. I would have liked to see the band more energetic when selling itself onstage.

Final Flash at El Soy Y Luna : If your sound were clothes what would it look like?

Side note: It's completely hilarious that the Canadian Blast headquarters was located in a salsa bar. Red Canadian Blast posters adorn the Latino-art, pastel-colored walls, like some bad art school project. It was like a scene from NAFTA: The Musical, free trade set to music. A bartender told me Canadians kept asking her for Canadian beers (we detest American suds, way too close to water for our tastes) and attempting to practice their shoddy Spanish.

11:00 p.m. — I decided to head out to meet a friend based out of New York City at Vice down 6th during the set change. The crowds were probably the thickest I had seen all week, thousands of people in a dozen-block radius. Through the ocean of humanity, my friend told me easily the funniest and creepiest story of the week.

She had rented a house for the week on Craigslist. It was lovely, but the owner slightly off. She didn't think too much of it. On Friday afternoon, she called him to see if he was going to be home to pick up some stuff. He told her that wouldn't be possible until later that night, that she couldn't come back until later. When she reminded him she paid for the accommodations, and should be able to have access to the house whenever she needed it, he came clean.

Come to find out, the guy was a lead in a film being shot in his back yard. Perhaps inspired by the SXSW Film Festival, he was shooting gay porn film in the garden. He told her that he'd put a stuffed giraffe on the porch to let her know when they were filming. Obviously grossed out, she claimed her baggage and found another place to stay that night. I guess that's what happens when you rent a place on Craigslist. Besides, who rents a house for SXSW?

We were at Vice to check out Freeland. It turned out to be one of the better surprises of the SXSW music festival. At first impression, I thought it might be some singer-songwriter type. Instead I got Nine Inch Nails-meets-Depeche Mode, lots of loud, heavy synths, buzzed out vocals, and airtight live drums. It sounded like earlier Ministry, Big Audio Dynamite, a bit Love and Rockets, and it got the unsuspecting crowd — most who were there because it was free cover — dancing and jumping around like a kindergarten class at recess.

Freeland was one of the few new discoveries at SXSW 2009

Freeland is a project by electronic artist Adam Freeland, who will release his album Cope in June. The album took two years to make, he has an American singer, and Tommy Lee did drums for the record. The UK-based musician is also world-class DJ, playing several turntable sets over the course of the week. It was a great show and I walked out of Vice, my ears buzzing.

1:00 a.m. - Unfortunately, when I got back to the M for Montreal show, I had missed a few acts, including Melissa Auf Der Maur. Most people know her as the one-time bassist for Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, but she's a decent solo performer and noted visual artist in her spare time. SXSW was a showcase of her comeback project, MAdM, touring behind the This Would Be Paradise EP. If you're a fan of either of her previous groups, you'll be a fan of MAdM.

On the flipside, I returned just in time to catch most of the Sam Roberts Band. These guys — all the songs are written by Sam Roberts, duh - are huge north of the border, parlaying catchy commercial rock into big success in their homeland. Songs such as “Brother Down” and “Don't Walk Away, Eileen,” from the highest selling independent album in Canadian history, Inhuman Condition EP are hooked-filled, Beatles, Springsteen, and Neil Young influenced gems. The same can be said for all Roberts' albums and it's this pedigree that landed him a taping of Austin City Limits a few years back.

The Sam Roberts Band is a rock star in Canada, but so is Bryan Adams

It's not so much the music that makes Sam Roberts and his band of hearty musicians palpable. It's the killer live show he puts on. They were in top form, at El Soy Y Luna, despite poor sound quality. That problem could be chalked up to a club not used to hosting rock shows, the soundboard a miniscule version than the ones found in the larger venues. Regardless, Sam Roberts made for a great way to end the day of free music, not a cover charge in sight and a happy wallet in my pocket.

Goal: Spend under $100 over the course of the festival
Money spent so far: $65. $10 on food and $15 on beverages on Day Three + $20 from Day One + $25 on Day Two.
Free stuff, Day Three: Entrance into five venues, 50 percent off a pair of Spy Sunglasses, several free drinks bought by friends, a comp ticket to Shiny Toy Guns.
Pedometer, Day Three: Over 13576 steps (7.6 miles).


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