SXSW 2009 in Review
We kicked things off Friday at Habana Calle 6, lured by the false promise of free drinks. Portland’s Parenthetical Girls took the stage at noon and unleashed their moody brand of experimental pop on the small but attentive audience.
I’m still not sure how I feel about frontman Zac Pennington’s singing voice. It’s a bit of a mixture between Morrissey and Julie Andrews, which can be hard to swallow. I do appreciate his commitment to character though. Sporting a patterned sweater vest over a mint green button-up shirt, Pennington had no qualms hopping off the stage and skipping through the half-awake crowd as if prancing through hills alive with the sound of music.
We stayed for a handful of songs and then made our way to Domy Books where local Austin band Weird Weeds was setting up in the backyard. This is my favorite type of SXSW show – with the sun shining down, a relaxed crowd lazing in the grass, and kegs propped up next to the garden hose. I’d been hearing good things about Weird Weeds for a few years and was happy to finally see them live. The pretty melodies and interweaving guitars reminded me of a noisier Very Secretary. The lead guitarist also had a hysterical laugh that made it easy to guess how they came up with their band name.
When Mirah showed up with borrowed gear and a few mates, the crowd behind the bookstore quickly grew. Despite the limitations of the makeshift backyard stage and a hasty soundcheck, they sounded great. She tested out a handful of brand new songs and then treated us to “Cold Cold Water,” the standout track of the Mirah canon. It was a perfect way to ease into the afternoon.
Next up was Richard Swift at the Mohawk. Vanessa and I have been gushing about the curly-haired crooner for years, yet somehow he’s always playing second fiddle to somebody else. Usually that means opening up for acts like The Walkmen or Vetiver, and at SXSW it means playing the tiny indoor side stage at the Mohawk.
We were thrilled to see Swift in such an intimate setting. Flanked by his usual band of merrymakers and a double-stack of keyboards, he filled the room with a mixture of timeless piano pop and a modern take on 50’s doo-wop. The highlight of the set, a soulful tune called “Lady Luck,” showcased a remarkably rich falsetto that climbed through the rafters and magically attracted a whole new set of onlookers to stumble down from the upstairs patio.
Beaming with glee, we left the Mohawk and shuffled across the highway to an Ethiopian restaurant for more music. Olympia trio Polka Dot Dot Dot was playing on a patio, charming a small but exuberant crowd with lovely folk-pop tunes filled with handclaps, ukulele, banjo, and color-coordinated outfits. The harmonious trio has been known to play such random venues as public parks and schoolyard playgrounds, so it was no surprise to see them set up on a small patch of plastic patio grass drawing wide smiles from all in attendance.
After the set we opted against Ethiopian food and instead sniffed out a backyard taco bar appropriately called Shangri-La. Mike Toschi and friends joined us as we refueled with tacos and Lone Star before heading over to Beer Land for the final showcase of the night. It was the Vivian Girls, a name I’d heard but hadn’t yet put a side-ponytail to.
The youngsters took the stage looking like they could’ve been on their way to a slumber party. Instead they rocked loud, fast, and hard, inspiring a mosh revival that spun the night towards a rowdy and delirious finish. Not satisfied with the seven shows they’d already played that day, the Vivian Girls then invited everyone to join them under a nearby bridge for a post-show show. I’m sure there are people stronger than I who actually had the stamina to make it there.