SXSW 2011, Wednesday: Suspect Devices, Don Draper and Bacon at 3 a.m.

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Sharon Van Etten at Swan Dive
  • Sharon Van Etten at Swan Dive
From my room I can see the pool and, through tinted windows, the gym, which is full of people on treadmills and stationary bikes who are working out in a hotel. The thought of getting on a machine and walking in place, which always seems weird to me, seems extra hilarious this morning. More on that in a moment. My flight to Austin was uneventful, except for the partaking in the miracle of human flight part, and the curiously delightful moment when one stops reading The New Yorker and picks up the Sky Mall. I love that moment. Once on the ground in Texas, it didn't take long to encounter what I imagined must go on in the hearts and minds of many Austinites but hoped not to conjure myself: As I stood in a long line of people waiting for taxis, the woman in front of me asked the woman behind me if she wanted to share a cab to the Convention Center; "I live here. I'm not going to the Convention Center," the woman behind me said with a half-hearted eye-roll, as she sized up the long queue of invaders. It included people obviously in a band who were dragging a road case the size of a pool table, and me. I was part of the problem.

I'll spare you the details, but my $25 cab ride from the airport to the hotel definitely did not take the most direct route, and the fact that the car smelled like someone was pouring gasoline on the floorboards every time it got over 40 miles per hour didn't help. We passed a billboard on the highway that said Coyote Ugly would be open every day during SXSW, which made me chuckle a gas-fumy chuckle. My $1.50 bus ride from the hotel to the Austin Convention Center was an amazing bargain by comparison, not to mention better for the environment and my per diem. (JK, we don't get a per diem.)

Once I got my badge, I texted the rest of Team Cream to get their 20: They were at The Phoenix watching Tristen. I started off before realizing I didn't know where The Phoenix was. So I pulled out my phone, launched the handy SXSW app and attempted to get my bearings as I walked along the bustling Austin streets, trying not to bump into anyone else who was walking around looking at their phone and being a big stupid tourist dumbass. I was part of the problem. And I really needed a drink.

"To The Phoenix! Which is, uh, this way," I said to myself. As luck would have it, by the time I got there, Tristen and The Ringers had just finished up, and so it was off to Stubb's for the ridiculously stacked Raphael Saadiq/James Blake/Duran Duran show. We passed a guy we recognized from the Internet on the way, and that was really weird, for some reason. The line at Stubb's was probably 100 people long, and the club was already at capacity. I mulled it over but decided I needed my first South-by beer much sooner than however long I was going to end up standing in that line. Choosing between Duran Duran and OFF! was like deciding which childhood I felt most nostalgic for. And that's the point of this festival, right?

Anyway, D-Paul and I hoofed it over to Emo's, where I discovered the joy of $3 tall boys of a Costa Rican cerveza I had never heard of before called Imperial. The can looks kind of like the hood of a '77 Firebird Trans Am, which, obviously, is awesome. So I finally had my first beer as Trash Talk was finishing up in the main room, and we awaited OFF!, the project of former Black Flag/Circle Jerks frontman Keith Morris, who has approximately three really long dreadlocks twisting off the sides of his mostly bald head and is a punk legend. If you're not up on OFF!, it's Morris with guitarist Dimitri Coats (Burning Brides), bassist Steven Shane McDonald (Redd Kross) and drummer Mario Rubalcaba (Rocket From The Crypt/Hot Snakes). They are an incredible live band. With Rubalcaba driving the whole apparatus with unbelievable force and precision, Coats and McDonald just go off with a delectable fury. But what really makes OFF! great is Morris, who is the band's mouth but, more importantly, its heart. Plenty of dudes can scream their heads off, but you can feel that Morris is living it up there. There was moshing, and between songs, Morris would tell stories. At one point he ran down a list of seminal punk L.A. punk bands — The Germs, The Bags, The Dils, and so on — and someone in the crowd yelled out "Red Hot Chili Peppers!" To which Morris kindly explained that no, RHCP weren't really part of the early California punk scene.

I stuck around for Bad Brains but I'm going to let The Spin Seth relay that to you a little later on.

A sobering walk, for sure.
  • A sobering walk, for sure.
I took off for the Brooklyn Vegan showcase up the street at Swan Dive to catch Sharon Van Etten. She played with the same band that performed at The 5 Spot back in January, and the place was packed. A bit of a gear-shift going from the pit at Emo's to the introspective Van Etten, but I did not regret my decision. All the touring has only made SVE better, and the crowd loved her. I chatted with her and bassist Doug Keith for a bit after the show, and talked about Chicago neighborhoods with her publicist. Van Etten told me that Jon Hamm was at the show, and I was like, "Oh, really?" and nodded like I knew who she was talking about, even though I didn't. Then she said helpfully, "You know, Don Draper." So I was rubbing shoulders with celebrities (besides Van Etten, that is) and didn't even know it! Now that I think about it, that dude did look familiar, but I couldn't place him. I'll try to do better next time, Dear Reader — if Christina Hendricks shows up at a JEFF show, I will definitely notice, since she's from Tennessee.

Around 1:30 I tried to find Gold, who said he was over at Barbarella watching Rooney, but I couldn't find him. I wasn't in the mood for whatever was going on over there, so I figured I'd head toward the hotel and flag down a cab on the way. I never flagged down a cab, and ended up walking what Mapquest tells me was 3.5 miles. About three-quarters of the way there, DPR texted me to tell me they were selling breakfast tacos and Dr. Peppers in the hotel lobby. When I finally got there, it was almost 3 a.m., and the vendors were counting their money. I grabbed two "bacon sliders" (more accurately, "tortillas with eggs and bacon in them") and headed to my room.

This morning my feet hurt, but this is no day for the meek — I RSVP'd to more parties than I can remember, and hopefully I'll end up at the one with free food, since, like I said, there ain't no per diem for Team Cream.

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