A SXSW stop, way back, meant a single showcase, but as the day party scene grew to what it is now – a barrage that has to at least equal the night-time show saturation – just about everybody plays a lot. A three, four times a day brand of a lot.
Our band (The Mynabirds) had about a half dozen things scheduled – parties, a showcase, video/radio stuff – which, to be fair, is probably pretty well under average. Nevertheless, it’s kept us plenty busy, plenty sweaty, plenty re-acclimated to the wild, frantic world of playing at SXSW.
We started off with a non-Mynabirds booking Thursday – our bandmate Rebecca Marie Miller had a stripped-down set booked at a day party at one of the now-staple-type off-campus SXSW venues: looked like an abandoned building, way off the path, makeshift stage, makeshift sound system, thoroughly keeping Austin weird. The stage’s one monitor blew out after the second song and started belching a fuzzy, static-y noise that no one could figure out how to squash. We consequently unplugged completely and quieted down further to finish out the set. It’s a fairly classic SXSW hello: stuff gets weird, you roll with it, laugh, play and chalk it up to experience.
We rambled quickly and directly to our first Mynabirds day party, a shindig at Jackalope downtown; the room was tight, the backline gear was particularly metal band-suited (we’re not a metal band, so much), the setup was frenzied. But even with a not quite best-case-scenario lead-in, we played what had to be one of the most fun sets we’ve had at SXSW or otherwise. The crowd was warm and welcoming, the fest energy palpable. It’s sets like those that remind you of why you keep coming back to this multi-day shindig – feels like a whole city’s focused on one thing, and that one thing happens to be the thing you do and love, so the air just seems to buzz with celebration. At least early into the fest, before it kinda lopes with hangovers.
Friday, we spent the afternoon at artisan sausage spot Frank for a taping with Transistor Six, who are locked down doing analog video captures of lots of folks throughout the fest. Their setup is distinct and cool: the video footage is captured on Super 8 film, the stills they take afterward with Lomo cameras. Leads to a vibey finished package; we’re excited to see how ours turns out. Transistor Six’s deal also underlines one of SXSW’s fun growing facets: A ton of creative audio and video and media folks are out capturing sets, interviews and scenery. If the mass of humanity at SXSW scares you off, good chance you can experience a whole lot of it from home, sometimes, like in Transistor Six’s case, with a more visually interesting twist than you would’ve gotten in the room itself.
Friday evening brought the official Saddle Creek showcase at swanky eatery/club Lamberts; we caught sets from labelmates Icky Blossoms (propulsive, dance-y and hook-y pop that’s stocked with youthful energy) and Big Harp (bluesy, expressive and expertly played rock). There was nary an inch to move in the place, so our setup – which on this tour is fairly complex, with samplers and tons of extra percussion – was cramped, sweaty, rushed and a little nerve-racking. Once again though, as things kicked up, the fest-fan energy soothed nerves and amped up spirits.
We’re playing sets stocked almost entirely with new songs (from our new album, Generals, which is out in June). That can be a little scary, since people often like to hear stuff they know. But here, again, SXSW’s general thrust is warming. People come to this festival looking to see and hear what’s new and next, so the crowd at Lamberts offered much-appreciated, enthusiastic support for the new songs. We left the stage that much more excited to see the album make its way into the world, to play these songs for folks who’ve gotten a chance to make their acquaintance.
We left sweaty and tired, too, but beyond that, thoroughly appreciative that we get the chance to be part of this loud, busily moving mass of music, that we get to take in some of the energy and excitement about new music that permeates it. There’s plenty of SXSW cynicism to go around here, too, but overwhelmingly, it still feels positive and optimistic. Since the music industry in 2012 can be a little complicated, a little optimism hits hard and deep.
Tonight, we play our last party – a late-night thing at a club called Peckerheads – and then we roll back out into regular dates. It’ll be healing, not running to show after show, maybe getting a little more sleep, a little more silence. But it’ll be a little sad, too, leaving such a fervent celebration of music. Suppose, as a performer, that’s one of the things that draws you back to SXSW year after year – you know the pace will knock you around, but you know it’ll fire you up just as thoroughly.