SXSW Day 1, Wed. March 18

As with all conferences, I assume, the whole adventure begins at Registration where you hope your hefty fee will actually result in receiving the magical badge which grants access to everything you want to see. I must have gotten there at prime time (about a half hour after registration opened), as there wasn't much of a line after I finished up.

Wandered through the trade show, but wasn't terribly tempted by any of the vendors. I must have missed all the best free swag.

Afterward I wandered around Austin's 6th St., drinking in the festive chaos. I've never been to Austin before, so to me it looked like all the bars in the city must occupy this one five-block stretch. I am assured that this is not the case.
6th Street

The first bit of live music I took in was the final two songs of Roman Candle's set at Troubador. They're a rocking five-piece from Nashville by way of North Carolina. They were having a great time and I'll have to make sure to check out more of their music.

Next up I drifted over to the outdoor stage set up in the parking lot at 7th St. and Neches. Austin's Snake Skin Prison were setting up, and their start got delayed by generator problems which left the PA unpowered. To kill time, their bassist went on an effects-heavy hard rock jam excursion to the delight of more or less no one. Once the PA finally kicked in, the band had started up a hard rock cover of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" which was pretty uninspired. They got around to some originals afterward, which were built around hamfisted weaksauce wankery and embarassingly stupid lyrics. They appeared to have some local fans, though.

I saw The Van Pelt from NYC on the schedule and the name rang a bell from my indie/hardcore/emo friends listening habits back in the 90s, so I caught the final two songs of their set. They sounded really rich and full, despite having broken up in 1997. The crowd was very enthusiastic, continually calling for "one more". Might not be a bad idea for these guys to keep on going.
The Van Pelt

Finally 8:00 rolled around and it was time for the first show on my To See list: Jucifer on the Emo's Annex stage. I didn't really know anything about them ahead of time and was very pleasantly surprised to discover that they rocked my face right off. Guitarist Amber Valentine (really? "Amber"? in a band that sounds like this?) generates a huge, crushing octave-dropped tone through a wall of bass cabinets AND handles the light show with a bunch of foot pedals. Musically, I could only come up with "crazy powerstoner doomthrash" as a descriptor. They're a two-piece, in the vein of Hella or Lightning Bolt, but apparently Jucifer predates both of them and I have to say I find Jucifer much more interesting. They played with total passion, the drummer hidden behind a wall of fog and grinning like a loon as he smacked the hi-hat with his foot. Go see these guys. They're nominally from Athens, GA, but I talked to Amber after the show and she clarified that they "haven't really lived anywhere for eight years".

Next up was a portion of the Texas Hardcore showcase at Red 7, and I caught Hatred Surge play their short set. They played with admirable passion and intensity, but ultimately the music was, well, hardcore. Which is to say: fast, chaotic and indistinct. The crowd dug it, and the crowd looked very much like hardcore crowds always have. 'X' tattoos, Xs on hands in thick black marker, and one kid actually wearing a JUDGE t-shirt. The venue did have a vendor of shirts and 7-inches, which felt appropriate.

Back over to Emo's Annex (which, by the way, is merely a tent in a parking lot) to see Valient Thorr. I'd been warned ahead of time that they were, well, questionable, and my warning was correct. While they have a highly energetic stage presence, musically they're hair rock in denim vests. Metal fans be warned. I ditched 'em after two songs and wandered over to see...

The Circle Jerks! The badge-holder line was long, long enough that the guys behind me from Time Magazine and Spin decided to give up. But I did make it in, and I saw what I'd estimate to be half of their set. I must say, they were killing it up there. Despite age and the bald patches mixed with dreadlocks on the vocalist's head, the band ripped it up. Plenty of offering the mic into the crowd for shout-along lyrics, as at any good punk show. The guitarist bounced all over the stage, and the crowd clearly felt the Circle Jerks still rage after all these years.
Circle Jerks

Finally, to round out the evening I caught The Decemberists at Stubb's. They were playing the entirety of their new album, Hazards of Love, which was interesting for me as this was the first time I'd ever seen The Decemberists despite being a fan. A friend of mine had expressed some negativity about the leaked copy of HoL he'd heard, but I think it hung together pretty well as a performance piece. My verdict is still out on the album, as I haven't listened to it yet. I'm sure as with most Decemberists stuff, I'll start out mildly indifferent and wind up enjoying it greatly. The band was clearly having a great time, and Colin Meloy rocked out quite a bit more than I would have imagined.
The Decemberists

And that was my day one! I retired to my accommodations with aching feet in anticipation of Day Two. Stay tuned.

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