Unofficial SXSW ’10: Friendship Bracelets

March 20th, 2010: As seen on Archive (PDF)

You know you’re in the right unofficial company when a girl opens a suitcase full of handmade treasures full of demo tapes and friendship bracelets handwritten by the band about to hit the stage.  Her pick for me – Foresty vaginas are not my favorite.  Whether or not it’s a fit, I’ll keep a secret.  But it speaks volumes about the energy brought outside of the badge realm, felt from pizza parlors to bridges on Friday, that even Bill Murray was hip to be square about.

Always the best part of these parties, as with the 21st Street Co-Op’s South By South Mess I hit, is the local talent owning the show.  Austin’s Ume brought some of the most sultry garage pop since the Yeah Yeah Yeahs crowned Brooklyn king of the pulse, lead singer Lauren Larson bashing the guitar on her knees for kicks.  A girl elbowed her way to the front of the crowd at one point bestowing a potted plant.  I’d like to hope she was trying to give it some growth.
But that Co-Op, let’s not forget that space.  Despite it’s frathouse, riddled bong and beer can abuse, and fire hazard death trap of a one-windowed concert hall, it served one fine tree-house maze of creative seekers, billing an Andrew W.K. capped evening, stocked with Broken Social Scene protégés, Still Life Still, and fellow Austinites, Zorch, who were bent on reinventing Dance Dance, Revolution with aggressive synth numbers and mics halfway into their mouths.  Residents assured me that they split the chores equally, though.

Earlier in the day, seeking the same vibe, word on the street was that another local fav, The Octopus Project, were setting up to unveil a three-month in the making project called Hexadecagon on the roof of a Whole Foods, of all places.  I knew it wasn’t going to have the same unruly panache as some of the house parties their known for, and I did wind up waiting an hour to get not onto a roof, but a tent in the parking lot of the store.  But the Flaming Lips-type, 8-channel speaker and video sensory overload they put together was worth it.  It was this vast electro-pop landscape whipping around 360 degrees in visual tune to everything from hooded spacesuit blondes in the woods, to button montages.  If there’s such a thing as a happiness seizure, be prepared to have one if they take it on tour.

Rewinding again, the South Congress pizza parlor, Home Slice,  didn’t hit home with the local plugs, but needs a mention for billing Baltimore’s Wye Oak, who previewed new dream pop aggressions from their latest EP on Merge, getting squall and nightmarish with “I hope you die” refrains.  Charming stuff with the amount of families from the hood poking in for some free fun, especially with a side-stage act called Dominique Young Unique, spitting filthy rhymes packed with N-bombs and Missy Elliott innuendos.  Mothers were covering their kids ears.  There were a few diehards getting their shimmy on in the front, though, too.

The best free jewel of Friday came with the annual exodus over to the Lamar Street Bridge, where a handful of SXSW’s most prolific acts – some playing their 10th show of the day – plugged into the pedestrian walkway’s outlets and blasted guerrilla rock free-for-alls.  Catching two bands before the cops shut down operations for the first time in three years, and Bill Murray created a circus of gawkers – the dude just wanted to jam, people – a misfit marching band from Grapevine, Texas called Mt. Righteous threw a punk pep rally that would warm the cockles of any black-hearted hipster, ironically cut short during a song called “Turn Down That Racket,” by a cop using the band’s megaphone to clear people out.  If only I snagged a choice friendship bracelet from the Co-Op for him.

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