SXSW For Free: Day Two, Thursday, March 19

Crowds and lines outside venues were a common sight during Day Two

2:00 p.m. — If Day One was a zoo, then Day Two was chaos. Uncontrolled, unrepentant, unequivocal chaos. People of varying degrees of drunkenness and weirdness were everywhere, a nightmare for the claustrophobic, agoraphobic, and OCD-suffering; a dream for music fans with so many shows across many genres. Thankfully, I fell on the latter, South By Southwest 2009 firmly becoming one of the better experiences I've had at a festival due to sheer volume of choices and free things to do.

After scoring a primo spot under I-35 at 5th street on Wednesday, central to many of the day and night activities, I spend the first portion of Thursday walking a mile from my downgraded parking status on 7th and Comal (far, far away) to the Austin Convention Center.

The layer of sweat and any lingering road-rage quickly evaporated when I got to air-conditioned Austin Convention Center. Several familiar faces awaited from Halifax, Nova Scotia, my former home. After passing J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. on the escalator (him going down; me going up, staring), I caught the last few songs of the set by Jenn Grant at the Day Stage. This was a badge-only show, but a film pass hooked up from a friend-of-a-friend earlier in the week entitled me to access.

Thank goodness for the hook-up. The always affable Grant showcased songs from her just released Echoes — plaintive, heartfelt and artfully arranged songs on love and loss with a magically charismatic voice to make it all go down easy. For those not in the know, Jenn Grant is one of those musicians who quickly make a home in your heart.

Jenn Grant worked her wonders, as usual, at the SESAC Day Stage

I once compared her to Leslie Feist, which in hindsight, was a bit of an unfair statement. Grant's tunes are entirely more organic and a slightly more melancholy. She also has grown into her own distinctive voice, her lilting tone inviting listeners to get lost in her . Of course, that fiery, straight-outta-Anne Of Green Gables mane of hers adds to her whimsical beauty.

As you can probably tell, I'm a big fan. When she started off playing little clubs on the East Coast, I predicted in the national music pub, Exclaim!, it would only be a matter of time before the rest of the country knew her. The same could be said in the U.S. if she could get on the indie-folk blog-love train inhabited by M. Ward and Zoey Deschanel these days. A few good words on the right dot-com, and Grant would be well on her way to gaining a solid following south of the 54th parallel.

2:45 - After a sing-along with Jenn and her fellow Haligonian compadres (check out Ruby Jean and the Thoughtful Bees, one of the many side-projects by Jenn's bassist, Sean MacGillivray, a band quickly garnering mad respect in the indie-dance world), I checked out the trade show and loaded up on schwag. Stickers, potential jobs, free magazines, free Twinkies, lots of good ideas and hopes for the health of the music industry going forward come from the hour spent at a trade show I could have easily spent all day in.

3:45 — A wonderful spell in an air-conditioned environment, I walked down to Mohawks for the Rhapsody Rocks party. I noticed the crowds were much thicker than the previous day, the lines to get into venues way longer, and the choices of events to see, too many. Easily the longest line of the week goes to the Radio Room on 6th, actually two lines stretching down the street in either direction. Is Superdrag really that good, people?

I got into the Mohawk just as Scotland band Glasvegas finished up their set. Too bad too, as the much-hyped about act sounded great in line. The last song by the group recalled Oasis with a thicker accent, and that's a compliment. Eerily, the lead singer was a spitting image for the late Joe Strummer.

Glasvegas is in the latest round of UK It-Bands

3:50 - I debated waiting around for â?¦Trail of Dead, but decided to grab a quick bite and head over to the Red-Eyed Fly for Viva Voce. After a jalapeno brisket taco from Stubb's filled my belly, and a smoothie cooled me down, I saw the last few songs by Alberta Cross, a mix of Led Zeppelin and Queens of the Stone Age at their most stoner-rock. I also got to see the first few songs of Rumspringer, a bluesy-rock duo from Los Angeles that brought the energy levels up with huge riffs and a great dynamic between drummer and guitarist.

4:30 p.m. — Portland, Oregon's Viva Voce took the stage after an extended soundcheck, new songs in tow from their forthcoming album, Rose City, out in May. Viva Voce was one of my great discoveries of 2006 with the Barsuk release Get Yr Blood Sucked Out , an album of mysterious alt-rock, the kind that builds in psychedelic waves, slow-grooves complimenting melodic riffs. Kind of like the Dandy Warhols without the ego and penchant for hard pharmaceuticals. Highly recommended.

Essentially a husband and wife duo in Kevin and Anita Robinson, Viva Voce was filled out by an extra guitarist and drummer for the Red-Eyed Fly performance. It was one of their first performances in a while as the Robinsons were busy building a studio, Kevin recently produced a few albums, and Anita went on tour with the Shins as a back-up vocalist, even appearing on Saturday Night Live.

Viva Voce showcased songs from upcoming album Rose City at Red-Eyed Fly

From all told, the new songs sounded great, especially the title track from the forthcoming album. Anita had the prettiest guitars I've ever seen, a pink Gibson and another model inlaid with roses. Pretty might give the impression of soft, though Anita was anything but, churning out the hooks with the might of anyone twice her size. The only problem of the set came from low vocals, a problem half-fixed when I politely asked the band to turn them up. Overall, the performance left many excited for things to come from Viva Voce.

5:15 p.m. - During the l last set I made a few new friends. Yvonne, a Roller Derby cheerleader (for reals) from Austin, and Marissa from Brooklyn, NYC. They decided tag-along to see the Von Bondies back at the air-conditioned(!) Austin Convention Center. After checking my email and Twitter accounts, we headed towards the Bat Bar, where Detroit's finest were about to film a set for television in front of a live audience.

At first I thought I might need a wristband to get in and sure enough, most people in line had them on, or a badge around their neck. That didn't deter my new friends however, who walked up to the desk, and in what was the smoothest diversion I've seen, snagged a comp ticket from the table without asking, giggling as they handed it over to me.

6:30 p.m. — We spent a little time off our feet, waiting in line to get into the Bat Bar aka TV sound-stage. It was a welcome respite. By the time SXSW is over I will have walked the distance to San Marcos and my feet are slowly feeling like I've climbed the music equivalent of Mount Fuji.

The discomfort subsided as the Von Bondies hit the stage for an extended, blow-your-face-off set. The band kiced off with “Swank” from 2004's Pawn Shoppe Heart, lean, muscular and loud, before striding into “Pale Bride,” the first single off the Detroit quartet's comeback album, Love, Hate, Then There's You. Other highlights of the set included a still raging “C'Mon, C'mon” and “Not That Social,” sung by the ladies in the group.

No flash made for tough photos during a killer Von Bondies set. Photo by Marissa Munoz.

While the Bondies have been out of action for the last few years, it's like they haven't ever left. For better or worse, the band's distinctive garage-rock sound left relatively intact. While former members Carrie Smith (bass) and Marcie Bolan (rhythm guitar) left, they've been replaced by two more-than-capable female musicians equally easy on the eyes in Leann Banks (bass) and Christy Hunt (guitar). The boy-boy-girl-girl dynamic — Jason Stollsteimer and Don Blum rounding out the band - always worked in the Von Bondies favor, something appealing about having a live presence that can speak to both men and women in the audience.

The Bat Bar performance equaled anything I saw up to that point of the festival and I overheard a spectator say to a friend afterwards, “I would say the Von Bondies wiped the floor with (unrecognizable band name).” Although I didn't know which other band the guy was talking about, I didn't really need any further explanation. The Von Bondies simply killed it.

7:30 p.m. — Exhilarated and ready for some more, my newest allies and I headed down to Peckerheads for the My Old Kentucky Blog party, featuring North Carolina indie-pop act The Rosebuds.

Birds Make Good Neighbors rivaled any other album as my favorite in 2005, the four-piece live band namely made of the second husband-wife duo of the day with Ivan Howard (guitar, vocals) and Kelly Crisp (keyboards, vocals, tambourine, smiling). Howard and Crisp make the pretty and slightly melancholy music with chiming guitars, soaring vocals and melodious keyboard lines recalling classic 80s college rock such as Smiths and R.E.M, and perhaps the quieter, much-less-layered moments of Arcade Fire. Not surprising, the Rosebuds find their home on the indie-fabulous Merge label, the same as the aforementioned purveyors of funereal alt-rock from Montreal.

The Rosebuds had the most endearing set of the day. Photo by Marissa Munoz.

If the Von Bondies rocked my face off, the Rosebuds made me very, very happy, a smile strapped concretely on my face throughout the proceedings. Crisp came into the audience during soundcheck to chat and show off her adorable designer dress. The personal touch lasted throughout the show with 80 percent of the setlist built from requests taken from the audience, and Crisp high-fiving those in the front row after the first tune of the night.

Most of the songs played relied heavily on fan favorite Birds Make Good Neighbors, such as the gorgeous “Boxcar,” “Hold Hands and Fight” and “Shake Your Tree.” The other songs from later albums were just as good, including “Get Up, Get Out” from the darker, more electronic Night of the Furies (2007), and “Nice Fox” from 2008 release Life Like, which broke down into a hilarious sing-along. Howard called on the guys in the audience to warble the hook, then called on the ladies, and in a twist on the arena rock stunt, then called on his surprised bassist to sing.

There's no doubt the band wanted to keep on playing and only stopped when told by organizers they couldn't play anymore. Those there to witness the most hospitable and endearing performance of the day would have listened to the Rosebuds as long as they wanted to go on.

2:00 a.m. — Lack of food, hot venues, sun, and fatigue took hold after the Rosebuds, leading to an intermission back at my friend's place to recharge and finish my sprawling Day 1 blog entry (now I know why writers only concentrate on one showcase a nightâ?¦). By the time I finished, it was late. But late never means there isn't something to see or do at SXSW.

I decided to catch New York electro-indie act Young Love play at the The House on 3rd Street. By that point, prime parking spots were available and it wasn't much of a walk to the venue.

That brought me to my second disappointment of the music conference, as the powers-that-be at the house refused to accept any RSVPs, only letting in VIP wristband holders to the event and telling the rest of us to come back at 3 p.m. the next day to get our own wristbands for that day's shows. It was ridiculous and a complete waste of time, especially with a half-full venue from what I saw.

A walk down 6th Street led me back to my car, taking in the inebriated sights, the chaos that is SXSW swirling around me, bars slowly shutting down for the night, kid filtering home and to the many after-parties. Amazing thought: two more days and nights of madness left to go with plenty more to see and do, an adventure around every corner.

Goal: Spend under $100 over the course of the festival

Money spent so far: $40. $10 on food throughout Day Two, $10 on beverages + $20 from Day One.

Free stuff, Day Two: Entrance into five venues, free Twinkies, stickers, a comp ticket to the Von Bondies, parking, several job possibilities.

Pedometer, Day Two: Over 14000 steps (over 9 miles).

*Live photos will be uploaded on return to S.A.


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