South by Southwest is half done, with plenty of great sets from Yuck, Cloud Nothings, Toro Y Moi and others already in the books. Expect a more comprehensive rundown of music highlights at some point, but here are a few elements of the Austin experience so far.
Going to church and enjoying it
Having attended a show in St. David’s Historic Sanctuary on Wednesday, and one in the Central Presbyterian Church Iast night, I have at present spent as much time in Austin churches as in bars, although I expect that ratio to change going forward. Do churches make all music sound better? No, actually, as the cavernous ceilings of the Central Presbyterian unfortunately left Twin Shadow more muddled and echoey than befitted the band’s sleek, tightly-wound pop.
But for groups relying more on the space between sounds, church acoustics have a wonderful way of adding extra gravity to those little gaps. Low, a band that has perfected drawing emotional resonance from weighty silences, sounded fantastic, performing a set of mostly new songs for a packed St. David’s house. The Central Presbyterian seemed, too, like an appropriately somber venue for James Blake‘s minimalist R&B, and his vulnerable voice called to mind an electronics geek version of Antony Hegarty. tUnE-yArDs‘ Merrill Garbus started out songs at their most stripped-down before transforming vocal snippets and drum samples into intricate loops, building an enveloping world of sound on the fly.
Is it just the acoustics, though, or is there something in religious iconography and architecture — a giant cross hanging above a stage, a devout audience sitting in pews — that makes a church show feel especially meaningful in some way? Or is it simply a novelty thing? The easiest/most likely answer is a little bit of everything.
Consumption, overconsumption, and regret
It will surely disappoint no one stuck in SF to read the anecdotal observation that there seems to be less free stuff just floating around SXSW this year. I’ve spent plenty of cash on daytime party beer in two days, although yesterday’s late afternoon discovery of free Sailor Jerry rum products came at exactly the right time: with enough room left to reinvigorate a buzz, but not early enough time remaining to do oneself a mischief.
If free stuff is less available generally, the promotion of new Sparks flavors is striking in how inescapable it is. They are literally giving this stuff away in large quantities, which seemed like a good idea until the moment my taste buds reacted to the first drops of Sparks Lemonade, Mike’s Hard Lemonade’s emotionally disturbed, creepy-at-family-gatherings cousin. And yet, committed free stuff consumer that I am, I drank a whole can before moving on to Sparks Iced Tea, a simply vile beverage that may have singlehandedly put me off liquids entirely. Sparks Iced Tea’s taste would suggest that the flavor design team tried to find something that would pair well with actually eating the can.
Finally, a brief plea to SF: in the days before I return, somebody needs to set up the necessary infrastructure for a robust breakfast taco business, stat. Why are we not taking better advantage of the inherent low-cost deliciousness of corn tortillas, eggs, and additional fillings? This is a head-scratching oversight, and places like Tacodeli show you can avoid pork products and come up with some delicious combos.