SXSW 2012, Round 1: Alabama Shakes, Santigold, Foxy Shazam, The Drums, Cher Lloyd & Penguin Prison Keep Austin Weird (And Awesome)
Although this is often forgotten amid the haze of Shiner Bock and BBQ grill fumes, the annual South By Southwest conference is supposed to be work. It is a business convention, after all (the music industry's biggest), on the surface hypothetically no different from networking conventions for medical supply salespeople, dental hygienists, or morticians. Business cards are exchanged, hands are shaken, backs are slapped, industry panels are attended, expense accounts are maxed out, etc. And at the same time, this weeklong whirlwind of conspicuously branded hipster soirees, open bars, and Texas-sized barbeque buffets isn't all that different from the mythical seven-day weekend known to frat boys the world over as "Spring Break" (or "Spriiing Breeeaaak!!!!"). But South By Southwest (or SXSW, as it is affectionately nicknamed by those too lazy to type out the whole thing) is different, because in the end, this much-hyped Texan pow-wow is really all about the music, man. At least to me, it is.
Yes, every year, musicians of various genres and varying levels of notoriety/talent flock to SXSW in Austin from all corners of the globe, and whether it's huge acts like Jay-Z and Bruce Springsteen, baby buzz bands like Penguin Prison and Alabama Shakes, or unsigned unknowns looking to land record deals or just gain a few more Twitter followers by busking on 6th Street or playing in the terminals of the Austin airport, they're all there for one reason: to grab their own increasingly unattainable piece of the music-biz pie. (Grabbing a few beers is a very close second.) Additionally, seemingly every single alcohol, soda, junk food, fashion, and tech company with so much as a patent pending heads to Austin to grab that all-important 18-to-49 advertising demographic, so it's basically impossible for anyone at SXSW to strut down a single block of 6th Street without being whacked in the face with more logos and branding that one might see adorning a NASCAR racer. Hey, I guess someone has to pay for all these SXSW parties and showcases, so all these great bands have somewhere to play, right? So it might as well be Red Bull, Doritos, or Tito's Vodka. And if I grab a few free vodkas or bags of chips while covering Austin's events in the name of journalism, let's just say I was doing research.
SXSW's Music's festivities technically began on Tuesday the 13th, when there was a sort of changing of the guard between SXSW Music and SXSW Interactive, as moneyed tech nerds fled Austin and left the city in the probably-not-all-that-trustworthy hands of thousands of drunken rock fans. And thus began the first of many South By Southwest Sophie's choices for me, as I debated between checking out the Interactive Closing Party at Stubb's with Miike Snow and Kasabian, or Music's big kickoff show with La Zona Rosa with Santigold and Theophilus London. (Such is the downside of being so spoiled for choice at SXSW: With great music pouring out of every club and every storefront, it's impossible to see and hear everything. Le sigh.) La Zona Rosa won out, where Brooklyn rapper Theophilus (a man with so much charisma, he could start a second career as a swagger coach) and his Mexican-wrestler-masked hype man hosted an opening-night dancefest with the oh-so-PC party anthem "Let Me See Your T*ties," and Santigold danced onstage with a giant furry white horse while wearing what appeared to be a Burger King crown. And thus, the annual keeping-of-Austin's-weirdness began!
Tuesday night ended over at the Parish, where local hero and Season 1 "The Voice" finalist Nakia thrilled a hometown crowd (which also included "Voice" alums Rebecca Loebe, Whitney Myer, Lex Land, and Lee Koch) with his soulful, belty original music, along with one of his classic "Voice" covers, Kings Of Leon's "Sex On Fire." I was kind of hoping some of his "Voice" cronies would hop onstage with him, but perhaps it was just as well that Nakia got the spotlight all to himself this time. He performed like a real winner this evening.