Tuesday, March 24, 2009

SXSW 2009 - Saturday (Pt. 2): Going Wild And Turning A Blind Eye

Preparing for the last full night of SXSW is always a little overwhelming, and with this year’s reinstated after-parties and after-after-parties, it sounded like it was going to be a night only 30 Rock’s Tracy Jordan could fully enjoy.  I settled in at Stubb’s for the full line-up, starting with White Lies.  Churning out their dark sound magnified by dramatic stage lighting, White Lies played most of their debut album, including “Farewell to the fairground” and “To lose my life,” and unleashed an extraordinary guitar finish on “Fifty on our foreheads.”  When they finally got to their closing anthem, “Death,” it was impossible not to be completely overtaken by the blaring guitars.  This was the moment of the festival that I rocked out the hardest.

Razorlight came out next, offering up a handful of songs told through inflated story-telling; Johnny Borrell shouting “are you really going to do it this time?” over and over on “In the morning.”  When they finished, dropping the Doors’ “Break on through” bass line, they were met with much applause. 

The crowd thickened and awaited the arrival of PJ Harvey, who took the stage in a white tube dress decked out with multiple wide white belts and a three-pronged white piece sticking out of her hair.  Joined by John Parish and a backing band, Harvey spent all her time at the mic or strolling around in a very limited space, crooning or shouting.  There seemed to be a very definite division between old songs and new – the old being full of fiery vocals and the new being more ethereal and whimsical.  While she’s an artist who has continually drawn much praise, let’s just say that I didn’t rush back to my hotel to download her albums. 

Moving underneath Stubb’s porch, I leaned against a staircase and was quickly surrounded by some middle-aged ladies whooping for the arrival of the Indigo Girls.  This was probably the point in the evening where I could have run off to see Janelle Monae or some other brand new act, but it felt nice to relax and listen to “Closer to Fine” and “Love of our lives.”  They played a couple new tracks, bemoaned being on a big label, and generally pleased the crowd with their simple sincere guitar songs.  Not quite Indigo Girls Gone Wild, but nice and gentle. 

When it was close to 1am, the act we’d all been waiting for arrived:  Third Eye Blind.  I’d be lying if I claimed I wasn’t a little excited to be seeing them.  After all, I had once forced my friends to listen to their albums back-to-back-to-back on a long car trip.  Like many people I had nostalgic feelings about their first album, but I also genuinely felt that their follow up albums were full of well-written, shoot-from-the-hip pop gems.  I had been talking with some folks about how 3EB often gets unfairly grouped with lesser ‘90s acts, like Gin Blossoms, Eve 6 and Sugar Ray – though I’d always connected them more with Weezer and Sublime. 

Stephan Jenkins and co. started the set with “Non Dairy Creamer” and filled most of the next hour with new material.  Playing to a crowd that was dying to hear “How’s It Going To Be” and “Deep Inside of You,” it wasn’t quite satisfying to get only a few glimpses of the past – “Never Let You Go,” “Jumper,” and their closer “Crystal Baller.”  The crowd was aching to sing along (and did so to the songs they knew), but it was tough to sell us on new songs like “Why Can’t You Be” (where the female character in the song complains that the narrator is not as good as her shower massager).  For all 3EB’s polish and sheen, the new songs seemed to employ more complicated metaphors that the old stuff, and maybe it was the catchy familiarity that we were longing for.

Eschewing the after and after-after parties, I went to my hotel and did what any Third Eye Blind fan would do – listened to “I Want You” and “Blinded” on repeat a few times and went to bed.  

SXSW 2009 Saturday - Pt. 2

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