I did NOT want to get up on Thursday. I was exhausted from a long birthday, and from riding around on my bike so much for the first time in ages, and I really just wanted to stay in bed with the covers pulled up to my chin, thankyouverymuch. After a back and forth on what bands we wanted to see that day, Zack and I had agreed we’d start out with a gig at 3PM, so I was in no hurry to get moving. In fact, part of me planned on skipping out on the 3PM show because I was feeling so lazy. However, at three minutes to two, Zack texted me:
I was sold, and had exactly 30 minutes to shower, put on makeup, and grab my things before biking over to Cedar Street Courtyard. By the power of the SXSW gods, I made it — and, trust, this was truly a magical feat for a girl who typically needs an hour, minimum, to make it out the door — and I got into the venue just in time for the set. Particularly since Zack had selfie’d with Coleman, this was the point at which this brand-new band started to feel like “ours,” at least for this festival. We went from passively enjoying the music and dancing around to actively rooting for these guys to have a break out year. After their first-ever set, we were able to sing along to some of the lyrics on the second run, like during the chorus of “Comb My Hair” where we all get to basically scream at the top of our lungs, “JUST COMB MY HAIR!” Or during what I assume is called “Dive,” where we get to sing “Diiiiiive!” in a billowy melody. Still, we really let ourselves get down during “Animals” and “Hollow Life” at the end of the set, and I think in that moment, Zack and I made a non-verbal agreement to see Coast Modern as many more times as we could, because sometimes a band just needs some bodies in the crowd moving around to inspire more bodies to move.
Continuing our theme of stalking our favorites, we headed to Cheer Up Charlie’s for another round of PWR BTTM. Zack stayed for the first few songs before heading out to catch another act, but I enjoyed a whole additional set, standing by the gender-neutral bathrooms — this added an olfactory component to the set that was not altogether pleasant, but I just kind of shrugged to myself and embraced the grunge it added to my experience. In between songs, I noticed a girl standing near me who caught my eye — this is because it was Emmie Lichtenberg, the host of “Slumber Party @emmieshouse,” a show where Emmie gets in her PJs and interviews her favorite musicians a la your middle school sleepovers, with fun games and lots of pizza. I fan girl’d out for a moment, and then whispered to her, “Emmie, I’m so sorry to bother you but I just have to tell you — your slumber parties are so fabulous and I just think you’re so cool!” She was incredibly friendly, thanking me for saying something and asking me my name. Being a lady in the music world is not easy, and I just swell with love for badasses going for it and doing what they love.
After more sweat and glitter from PWR BTTM, I made my way back over to the east side of Austin, near where I live, for a local show featuring a band called Your Friendly Ghost. This is a band that features some of Zack and my friends, a band who christened our apartment on the east side after I moved in with Zack by playing an acoustic set at our housewarming party. A lot of our friends turned up to support YFG at this local bar that’s been our off-and-on home, and the familial feeling of the whole thing was really, really nice. One of our friends who attended the set, the wonderful and thoughtful Kelsey, bought me a delicious belated birthday cider, and this gesture was particularly moving to me and made me feel like a real part of “the gang,” as it were.
After the show ended, I was tired again and hungry, to the point of causing grouchiness towards Zack very unnecessarily, so I ran home to regroup before we headed out into the night together on good terms again. The lineup for the night at Easy Tiger was spectacular — The Big Pink, Wye Oak, Lucius and Wolfmother were all scheduled to play the intimate venue. Zack had smartly grabbed a skip-the-line pass for the show earlier in the day, but it was the last one, so he was able to go right inside of the venue while I waited in line for what seemed to be no reason at all — at first we thought it was down to a one in, one out capacity situation, but then randomly they’d let a large group leave, so I’m not really sure how they were keeping track of headcount. In any event, we made it inside just in time for the Big Pink, a band I’d fallen in love with right around the time Zack and I met.
I’d seen the band live a number of times before, so I felt like we were in good hands with this show pick. However, the lineup is almost completely different these days, with lead vocalist/guitarist Robbie Furze acting as the only remaining founding member. It seems clear that he’s ready to redefine what the band is going to sound like moving forward, and I always try to get on board when I really love an artist, because I know I’d feel horrendous if someone kept asking me to repeat old art and not give something new a chance. However, I was disappointed in the band’s performance at Easy Tiger. The performance of old favorites — they opened with “Velvet,” my absolute favorite Big Pink song, and ended with a re-imagined rock version of “Dominos” — felt sloppy, with Robbie mixing up some of the lyrics. The newer songs were much tighter, but they blended together so much more than on past records A Brief History of Love and Future This. I’m not done with the band, by any means, and I’m hoping these are just the growing pains of a new lineup — I still intend to check out the new material when it gets released. But of the three live Big Pink shows I’ve seen, this was definitely at the bottom of the list. It didn’t help, of course, that we were surrounded by chatty drunks who decided they’d rather scream over the music.
A bit deflated, Zack and I stepped outside of the crowd and regrouped. Did we really want to stay in this place, with people more interested in alcohol than music, where it was crowded and hard to see? No — we decided that it was not worth sticking it out for 3 more hours to potentially still leave disappointed. We consulted my spreadsheet of shows, and discovered that Oberhofer were playing their final SXSW show just an hour later, followed by one of Zack’s favorites, fellow Chicagoan Ezra Furman. It was settled, so we made our way through the disappointing masses. As we left, I spotted the male half of Wye Oak, Andy Stack, and turned back to Zack to whisper my discovery. When I turned back around, there was Jenn Wasner, my Wye Oak goddess who I had interviewed a year and change before that moment. Once again, with no preparation, I just said her name, and then found myself mumbling about how fantastic she was and how much I loved her music, and said, “I interviewed you a while ago, you wouldn’t remember me, anyway, you’re great!” She smiled and was far kinder than my verbal diarrhea deserved. I turned to leave, and that’s when I realized that we were unintentionally following Wye Oak and their posse outside. ‘Well, this is slightly awkward!’ I thought to myself, as Zack and I continued on, behind Andy and in front of Jenn. Once we were outside, I relaxed a bit…until I realized that the band was STILL going in our same direction. Turns out, they were going to do a photo shoot right by where Zack and I had parked our bikes. You know when you say goodbye to someone and then end up walking in the same direction as them? Multiply the embarrassment you feel by 10, and that’s kind of where I was at in this scenario.
As with all moments, the awkward passed, and we were on our way to the Rainey district — a place I don’t particularly enjoy frequenting, but which is a necessary evil during SXSW. We popped into a bar I’d never heard of before called Lucille, and camped out off to the side until our Oberhofer friends started setting up for their set. I anticipated major antics from Brad, given that this was their final SXSW show for 2016, but the set was more on the subdued side — there was no climbing of rafters, no entry into the crowd at all, in fact. That doesn’t mean it was a low-energy set, by any means — I don’t think Brad Oberhofer is capable of giving anything less than all of himself every single time. But comparatively, I think the band was playing with relief, because they had made it through a whirlwind of shows (by my count, they played six in seven days). Also, unless he was joking, after the set was over Zack and I would swear to you that we heard Brad say he’d been hit by a car earlier in the day. For a guy seemingly unbreakable, it somehow makes sense that he’d be up on stage, playing a show the same day he’d been through such a traumatic event. But I won’t lie — my mom instincts kicked in a little and I wanted to make sure he didn’t need water or a nap or something. Luckily, his friends (figuratively) carried him off to the back of the venue to rest, and we were left thankful that this artist was so willing to share his music that he played through potential pain.
Ezra Furman is an artist Zack’s been supporting for many years. Furman, like my husband, is native to Chicago, so any time he comes through Austin, Zack gets a little taste of home. This time, Ezra brought nostalgia for Zack and me: Thax Douglas is a poet who used to open indie rock shows in Austin all the time with poems he’d write for artists. Before Austin, he was opening Ezra’s shows in Chicago. I hadn’t seen him in a long time, but he was back, and kicked off Ezra’s set with a really killer poem that I couldn’t recreate for you if I’d been filming it. I think Thax’s poetry is best experienced live, right before a rock ’n’ roll show.
For Ezra’s part, I can honestly say this is my favorite performance I’ve ever seen him give. Zack and I discussed this in the car a few days later, musing about why this might be. We agreed that we think he’s happier these days, because he’s coming into his own. I can’t and won’t try to speak for Ezra’s experience. I know what dissociation from my own physical body feels like, and if I could somehow recover from that feeling and have a sense of home in my own skin, I think I’d be happier and feel safer. From this place, and as an outsider to Ezra’s experience, it seems to me that he is feeling more at home in himself, and I certainly hope that’s true.
Apart from his demeanor being brighter and more excited, his music continues to be a rocking good time. Zack and I danced through the whole set, right along with Thax and the crowd that gathered, and there was once again a feeling of family, but for different reasons this time — we were surrounded by people who we didn’t really know personally, but it felt like we were sharing this moment and this feeling as we all “ooh-laa-ooh”’d along with Ezra and his band during “Restless Year.” Instead of being cramped in a crowded bar with people screaming over the band, we danced with friendly strangers and all left with mile-wide smiles.