After about a 20-minute wait, I got in, was immediately handed a coupon for a free PBR and took in the NPR-ness of it all. They had a pop-up command center in the back of the room where they were broadcasting and Ann Powers was holding it down for NPR music. I was too late for a tote bag. Guess I'll have to wait for the next pledge drive. I had missed Tuneyards, whose rando capitalization I will not reproduce faithfully here, and I had no idea who was up next. That turned out to be Khaira Arby, and oh my.
All the way from Mali, NPR dude whose name I forget said by way of introduction, and just phenomenal, Arby was my first great and unexpected surprise of the festival. In addition to having amazing clothes, Arby and band were energetic, tight and just a joy to watch, matching majestic vocals, intricate, funky rhythms, heavily chorused guitar solos and occasional blasts of percussion, including one instrument that looked like a giant gilded bowl. The last song they played had an almost Joy Division-like bass line, a couple of crazy tempo changes and some of the most precise, outside-the-beat drumming I've ever seen. It was like postpunk meets Afrobeat meets Qawwali meets math rock, and I would pay $20 just to see them play that song again.
After Arby were the reason I chose the NPR party in the first place: Wild Flag. I don't really like the term "supergroup," but a band — Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney, Mary Timony of Helium and Rebecca Cole of The Minders — that doesn't even have an album out yet but packs a showcase at 2:45 in the afternoon on their indie-rock bona fides alone should qualify. Brownstein worked for NPR for a while, and she seemed a little weirded out by playing her former employer's party. She joked that everyone who currently works for NPR music is also forming a band, and will play next year's show. Anyway, I'll write more about them a bit later, but let this suffice as my review for now: I'm going to see them again tonight. (They're playing Mercy Lounge on Tuesday, and NOT going to that show is a bad idea.)
The Joy Formidable were up next, and while they gave an amazingly energetic and charismatic performance, I couldn't really get into it, and I'm kind of at a loss to describe it. They sound extremely British, and, if this makes any sense, they're the kind of band that would make sense at The Cannery or 12th & Porter. I'm not doing a very good job with them, so I'm going to stop. I stayed for about two songs of The Antlers, who were apparently playing an album of theirs in its entirety. It did nothing for me, and I wandered out into the sun to meet up with Team Goldgers at Pitchfork's #Offline party in a dusty-ass lot on the other side of highway 35. If you closed your eyes and tried to imagine what the crowd looked like based on all the hipster-hater blogs you follow, then you've pretty much got it right.
I got there just as J. Mascis was starting a solo set. As I sat on the stoop of a mobile barber shop, he surprised me by calling Edie Brickell's Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars an album that he hated for a long time and then eventually realized was "fucking amazing." He covered "Circle," which made perfect sense as a J. Mascis song, but it was all downhill from there, with a boring, noodly performance full of noodly guitar noodles. We all took off and wandered through the green-shirted, green-hatted, green-facepainted streets in search of some pre-Strokes grub. On the way, we came across none other than Eminem signee YelaWolf, popping ollies and whatnot in front of a building on Congress.
Right after I started taking pictures, he stopped skating, then took off across the street. That made me feel like a jerk a little bit. We finally made it to an intersection with two Asian-Mexican fusion taco carts, where I opted for two Korean beef tacos and OH MY GOD KIMCHI FRIES. Y'all can have your cheese fries, your chili-cheese fries, your nachos, your whatnot, I just want to eat these every day forever. Bulgogi, kimchi, spicy mayo, cheese and sriracha on top. Saliva is arriving as I type.
So The Strokes were playing a giant outdoor show that was open to the public, and the public turned out in waves of seething masses of droves. The entire area was swarming with humanity, and with idiots in stupid fake Irish shirts. When we showed up, the gates were shut, and we were told the venue was at capacity. DPR and I took off, while Gold stuck it out and eventually got in to meet up with D-Paul. I'm sure he'll tell you all about it in his end-of-fest wrap-up. From there, DPR and I, after much deliberation about the best course of action for our evening, headed over to the Village Voice party at Austin Music Hall.
Whatever band was playing when we showed up was the worst band either of us had seen all SXSW. Horrible. Wretched. And the place was crawling with St. Fratty's day assholes knocking into people and trying to start chants. And the sound was shitty. (Side note: I'll admit a twinge of sadness seeing all the giant music covers from the various VVM papers hanging around the balcony. The Scene was a VVM paper in a former life, and I imagined some of our covers would have been up there. Such is life.) DPR took off, opting for whatever he wound up seeing — this is where we parted ways, and I never saw him again for the night. I stuck it out for Rocky Business, who took mall rock and rap and, uh, combined them. They get the crowd-pandering award of the evening for leading a chant of "Let's get fucked up!" I don't really know how Marz Lovejoy was, because her vocals were mixed so low that I could barely hear her. Maybe she's a good rapper in that bratty, nasally way, but I'm just not sure. By the time Trae the Truth took the stage, the douche factor in the audience was more than I could take. Didn't these people know that Coyote Ugly was open every day during SXSW?
I got a text from former Scene staff writer PJ Tobia, and we went and drank whiskey in east Austin for a bit. Well, I drank whiskey. If you're not familiar, ol' PJ left Nashville for Afghanistan, and has been working as a reporter in Kabul for the last few years, writing for the BBC and The Christian Science Monitor and generally being awesome. He really, really hates the Mets, so the guy at the bar with the ironic everything and the "Mets Rule" T-shirt caught the full brunt of his disdain. After some catching-up, PJ took off to find three of the soldiers featured in Where Soldiers Come From, the documentary that premiered at SXSW and was directed by PJ's main squeeze, Heather Courtney.
I wandered off to find the Next Big Nashville showcase at Maggie Mae's, outside of which Myrryrs told me I had to check out Twin Shadow. Maybe I will! I chatted with Jason Moon Wilkins about some potentially very cool things in store for NBN, caught sets by Tristen and The Kopecky Family Band, nearly fell on my face because of this weird railing at the end of the bar that ends abruptly, and was given a message to pass along to my editor, from Chris Scruggs: "Don't call me moon face!" And with that, I stumbled off to the shuttle stop, where a group of Norwegians who looked incredibly healthy and well-adjusted were talking about something in Norwegian.