The “Roony” in question was actually Rooney Mara (she of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fame). Also in the crowd were Win, Regine and William of Arcade Fire, and though we never spotted Malick, free booze and oysters were indeed had by all. A couple friends and I had ventured out via exceptionally slow pedicab. Why? Because a significant part of the SXSW experience is freebies, and I hadn’t yet indulged in enough of those. And if we could hear some Tristen tunes, “mothballs” jokes and Madi Diaz tunes (she played some of her pristine pop numbers right after Tristen) while a lady dressed in a giant oyster costume served us cocktails, then why in the hell not?
Saturday was, of course, St. Patrick’s Day, and the sea of inebriated, green-clad street-roamers wouldn’t let me forget it. I started off at 40 Watt for some sort of Georgia band-centric showcase. I checked Dead Confederate’s sludgy, grungy, down sort of Southern rock for a bit before heading around the corner to Beerland for punk blog Get Bent’s showcase. Memphis’ Ex-Cult (formerly Sex Cult) was playing post-punk that sounded like hyped-up Television Personalities. It was a little bit far-out, and full of melodically entwined guitars and just a few subtle pop and New Wave touches.
Back at 40 Watt, it turns out I'd missed Nashvillians Heavy Cream and Heypenny, but Georgia’s Ponderosa was playing big, anthemic, arena-ready, U2- and Radiohead-cribbing rock, constantly milking anticipation and build-ups. Not bad, but strangely completely unlike all of the recorded material I've heard from them. Seems like maybe they're switching gears? Or maybe the tallboys were affecting my perception. ... Nah, couldn't be! Regardless, our old hometown hero Jonny Corndawg was just about to do his thing at the 40 Watt's side stage. It's hard to think of Corndawg's material as novelty, comedic trad country when it features such a remarkably gifted backing band (from Josh Hedley on fiddle to Spencer Cullum Jr. on steel and everyone in between). But it still remains as hilarious as the first time I heard it — a feel-good, mirthful hoedown, and clearly a delight for the many folks who hadn't heard JC before. I mean, "Where her belly ends and her legs begin / There's a fork in the road where my journey ends"? Hearing a grown man sing that in a voice as earnest as all get-out is worthy of some LOLs. The sizable crowd agreed.
I finally managed to catch Bass Drum of Death back at the Get Bent showcase, and their Mississippi garage rock — now a three-piece, but still no bassist — was fast and loose, but well played in the dingy, End-like setting of Beerland. Then it was the front patio for Texas' own Bad Sports, who play a relentlessly up-tempo, Ramones-y style of punk rock, and released a single just last summer via Nashville's Dead Records.
After that, my pals and I scurried south by foot and painfully slow pedicab for the aforementioned oyster-centric soiree. The private party was at capacity, and just as I was determining whether or not climbing over some trashcans and hopping a fence was a reasonable call, my pals and I were waved through. From sheer frustration to utter glee — free cocktails and oysters Rockefeller, not to mention the opportunity to leer at Arcade Fire and check out the swanky digs in which Tristen and her compatriots were staying.
Anyway, incorrectly typing Lucky 13's address into my phone as "West Sixth Street" rather than "East Sixth Street" — not to mention a sea of drunken freaks and some guy yelling about Jesus atop a footstool — set me back a solid hour. Thus, I missed opening sets by Snowden and Turbo Fruits. I did hear a bit of the Fruits' psychedelic rock 'n' roll while waiting to be sneaked in the back, however. So Nashvillians The Kingston Springs make tight alterna-rock with bluesy riffs and slick lead vocals, and their tireless onslaught certainly seemed to go over well before a sloppy-drunk and increasingly weary crowd. But honestly, personally? I can't remember any Kingston Springs songs. I've seen them live around a half-dozen times, watched videos and downloaded tracks, but their melodies don't always stay with me. That said, they played well. "Killed it," you might even say. And good for them; it was a big gig.
As I slowly discovered more and more Nashvillians peppered amongst the crowd — from the Cream's own hard-partying Seth Graves and the belly-brandishing Sean L. Maloney to label reps, photogs and plain-old Music City pals — I decided to stay in the VIP area overlooking the stage. Believe me, I most often prefer to mingle with the proletariat at rock shows, but the level of St. Patty's day drunkenness and the fact that there was an open bar were enough to make a young man feel old. Nevertheless, The Weeks had some diversity in their tunes, with a bit of gospel organs over hard-rock and pop arrangements. Moreover, they were clearly excited to be there and to be a new part of the Serpents clan. I believe it was Maloney who said something about The Weeks' material sometimes landing in Sunny Day Real Estate territory.
Apache Relay was up next, and I'll be honest: When listening to Apache, I've always heard more Mellencamp/Bruce-influenced Bruce influence than actual Bruce influence. Knamean? But as far as the evening's headliners went, I will never stop going to bat for The Features. Why? Because The Features will never stop climbing onstage to deliver pitch-perfect, poppy indie rock with guts and electrifying performances from each member. Even when half the room appears to be too inebriated to recognize the combination of technical proficiency and smart, pop-savvy songwriting they're in the presence of, The Features will still play like it's their last set ever.
So then it was stumble-homeward time, and a few Zs before my flight home with photog Eric England. Serpents and Snakes honcho Seth Riddle busted us sleeping on the plane, but can you really blame us? No. You can't.