One of the most intense experiences I’ve had at SXSW so far? The shuttle rides from the hotel into town. The shuttle companies load up these big carrier vans with all matter of random people across multiple demographics and, unexpectedly, many of these folks immediately become carrier van comedians. Banter about classic topics — like European man-purses, hotboxing the car, and labor unions — comes flying fast and heavy, with participants dropping in from as far back as the very last row of these cavernous vehicles. Sometimes, your quip can’t be heard over the din. Sometimes, you really have to shout your quip out. I’ve yet to build up the temerity to join in on these sessions myself, but they are a strange marvel of this “chatty strangers crammed together for short periods of time” situation.
Speaking of people saying things in public — how are our SXSW bands doing with their between-song chatter? (Elegant transition, yes?) I saw what felt like 10,000 bands yesterday in a full day of venue-hopping, and I quickly developed an appreciation for those acts that go the extra mile to entertain their masses. On that note, here’s a quick survey of SXSW: Day 2 stage banter.
After years on the scene, the Detroit rapper broke through last year with his mixtape XXX and is now quickly becoming a personal hero of mine. Yesterday at the Fader Fort, he was fully taking advantage of his Adidas sponsorship, and came decked out in a strangely beautiful frilly-cowboy/track jacket hybrid. And he was angry and focused and totally bipolar. He’d swing between dropping gushy stuff like “I swear to God y'all changed my life” and “I love this shit” to dumping water on a “bitch ass n***a” who threw something onstage. (If Danny Brown could sing and ever felt like fronting a rock band, he probably would make prime angry-era Axl Rose proud.) At one point the Brooklyn rapper Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire ran up onstage, not to do a verse or anything, but just to share in Brown’s hypeness. Danny called eXquire “my fucking brother,” and then they did an old-school running high-five. (Side note: I saw eXquire in the crowd earlier as Santigold brought out some people dressed as a horse, and his "huh" face was really, really apt.) OK, anyway, yes, I’m biased, but this might have been my favorite thing I heard a person say all day: “Fuck that MSG Chinese food they trying to feed us. This is that filet mignon of rap. You like lobster? I like lobster too. Put that lobster in your ear.”
Put that lobster in your ear, you guys. Put that lobster in your ear.
Chain Gang of 1974
I caught these guys while waiting for Hospitality, a Brooklyn indie-pop quartet whose self-titled debut from this year was a total delight. In person they were a little too timid, and pretty much only spoke so that the sound guy could figure out their mic levels (which means that for our specific purposes here I have to deduct points, of course, although I should mention that a few times front woman Amber Papini let loose a sort of modified Pete Townshend guitar-strum arm spins, and that was rad). Their music was the perfect background, however, for staring out the window at the action on 6th Street while feeling smug and satisfied about not waiting in a line. (I also enjoyed the man across the street promoting Hoeks Death Metal Pizza with a “Free Metal” sign.) Anyway, Chain Gang of 1974's front man dedicated a song to “Molly Ringwald, if you’re out there,” which is presumably a stock move of his. Better: Later, commenting on his truly remarkable level of sweatiness, he explained that “my goal for the weekend was to find a girl. Now that’s ruined.” Aww. Hopefully some kind groupie, with access to a shower, has taken pity on our dude.
I was lured into seeing Frank Turner, an acoustic singer-songwriter, at the British Music Embassy party by the promise of free food. It totally worked. It was excellent, excellent marketing. And while I plowed through some sausages and mashed potatoes, Turner went about sounding a lot like Dashboard Confessional back before they were a full band and Chris Carrabba was getting all emo all over everyone all by himself. Meaning: Obviously, I loved it. At one point Turner talked about reading Gene Simmons's autobiography, and about how Simmons knows exactly how many women he’s slept with because he Polaroids each and every one. I felt that this stage banter was both informative and entertaining; plus, that factoid was probably the only notable thing in Gene Simmons's autobiography, so now I forever don’t have to read that. Also, though, I was on my second sausage at the time, so I was already in an unnaturally good mood.
Zola Jesus is a 22-year-old from Wisconsin who makes major league nightmare-pop, and her music inspires makeouts. I know this because during her entire set, a young, loving couple explored each other's mouths directly in front of me. I kept trying to back away but there wasn’t that much room, and they seemed to be moving into everyone anyway. I’m pretty sure the music was having such an effect that if some ambitious fellow had come up and started slow dancing with the pair, all three would have ended up sharing a room last night. Meanwhile, onstage, Zola was proving her voice is exactly as nuts in person as it is on record. She didn’t so much banter as express herself through interpretative dance. At one point she ran barefoot through the crowd, just a tiny ragebag with a huge voice terrifying everyone. Also, on the way out of the show I just happened to run into A$AP Rocky and Schoolboy Q doing “Brand New Guy,” one of my favorite rap songs of the year, at an outdoor stage easily seen from the street. Oh, SXSW: You’ve got some things going for you.
Killer Mike and Trash Talk
This one was all about pain. Lee Spielman, front man for the Sacramento hardcore band Trash Talk, let us know that he was currently walking around with broken ribs. Then he got a circle pit going and dived in a couple of times. If you ever wanted to feel like you were going to die at SXSW, Trash Talk’s set was the place to be! The best part was that there was a taco truck set up at the venue, and the guys in the truck were super into it, filming the set on their cell phones and just basically being like, “look at these crazy motherfuckers.” Killer Mike followed up, explaining that he’d recently had some sort of oral surgery and that he might pop a stitch and bleed everywhere, which was definitely a pretty gnarly image to put in everyone’s head. Then he told a nice anecdote about the stewardess on the flight to Austin asking him what he was heading to town for. He told her he was headed to perform. She asked him what kind of music he made. He told her, among other things: “I make that shit that will make you call your mom and be like, ‘HEY, MOM! FUCK YOU!’”