SXSW 2010: Lost in Austin

Two bikes, four chords, and the truth
By P. NICK CURRAN  |  March 24, 2010

SLEIGHER! Sleigh Bells dropped their fuzzed-out club thrashings at Levi’s Fader Fort.

The Phoenix's complete coverage of South by Southwest 2010.
I can’t resolve an obsession with a sound until I find it live. Twenty minutes after my cab ride from the Austin airport, we’re at a loft show in a University of Texas co-op. Outside, a crust-punk girl in a pink tutu sits on shards of broken beer bottles under a street lamp sipping a 40-ounce. Inside, THEE OH SEES are smashing the crowd with a handful of cutthroat power chords — more an inspiration to rage than an attempt to perform. It’s just what I’m looking for: the portal to a musical exorcism. With no badge, two bikes, and few bucks, videographer Addison Post and I are at our first South by Southwest. We’re in search of a truth. [THEE OH SEES: SXSW Bridge Video | SXSW Photos]

A week later, barely conscious back in Boston, we’re still not sure what that even means. But over six days, five sleepless nights, and countless beers, we came close to finding something. We found BEAR IN HEAVEN on Friday at Lovejoys. This band has swum in my periphery since their song “Lovesick Teenagers” captured and abused my imagination. In person, they’re staggering: a sound like an amalgam of My Bloody Valentine’s brute force and the Knife’s subtle texturing. Each bass hit dove through my chest and unhinged my ribs, a massage for my insides. [BEAR IN HEAVEN: SXSW Video | SXSW Photos | Interview]

After Bear in Heaven soothed my perpetual hangover, JAPANDROIDS provided the afternoon jet-fuel that kept us wired for our late-night pursuits. At the legendary Austin club Emo’s, these two Vancouver dudes dropped atomic, four-chord epiphanies on love, drunks, and girls with wet hair. Our first day at SXSW ended on the morning of the second, far from the downtown mayhem, where we found Thee Oh Sees surrounded by 300 moshing kids along the narrow Lamar Pedestrian Bridge over Lady Bird Lake. The bridge buckled the way the floor bounces on your friends’ back-yard balcony. I got dragged into the pit while trying to take photos, thrown into the keyboardist, and roped back out by the clasp on my backpack. I went to bed tired and wired and woke up on a hardwood floor. [JAPANDROIDS: SXSW Video | SXSW Photos | More Photos]

A bruise-speckled sunburn first appeared on Friday, and by Saturday, my night of reckoning, it was blazing. At eight o’clock came the fuzzed-out club-thrashings of SLEIGH BELLS at the enormous Levi’s Fader Fort (later that night, at another gig they played halfway across town, their goddess of a singer fell into my arms while crowd surfing), immediately and inexplicably followed by BONE THUGS-N-HARMONY (yes, they played “Crossroads”). Then we jetted across town to catch a noise show at a bookshop. A few hours later, I stumbled into a rager at a warehouse outside the city. It was 3 am again and the line bent around the corner of East Fifth Street. But two hours of free booze later, NO AGE took (and tore apart) the stage — and what was left of my mind. It was Sunday morning. I watched the sun rise with a beer in hand. We’d pursued crazy for four days. Now I’m back to waiting tables. But it’s like STEPHEN MALKMUS said: “You gotta pay your dues before you pay your rent.” [SLEIGH BELLS: SXSW Video | SXSW Photos]

To see video of the performances described above, go to Follow P. Nick Curran on Twitter @P_NickCurran 

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