SXSW is a private event marketed as a festival. While there are plenty of great opportunities for small bands, the official SXSW showcase situation is as corporate rock as such an entity gets. Which is a good thing in some cases, that’s why your Ryan Lewis and Macklemore ticket was free, complete with complimentary Doritos sunglasses and Miller Genuine Draft beer. Just don’t forget that you are willingly consuming a marketed product in a market that requires you to consume for it to survive. And major label music is not surviving.
The difference between an independent label showcase at an Austin bar and Kendrick Lamar (brought to you by Fader, brought to you by Converse, brought to you by the letter M) is one thing: partnerships. Small bars help out small labels. Giant companies help out other giant companies. Sure, you may have free beer and free tacos, but you also are taking away money from local businesses that support other small businesses. There are a lot of awesome little venues that offer any variations of cheap/free/byob beer and low/no cost shows that exist primarily so that you can enjoy them. Again, I’m not saying that the Hype Hotel was bad, but I am saying that someone decided this is the band they want you to see, while consuming the beer of their choice, while your picture is taken to prove to some investor that money can be made off of you.
Yada, yada, yada, consumerism. Not important. Lord knows I ate my fair share of free tacos. What really pissed me off was that this corporate entity also actively decided that you can’t see that band that you really like because you aren’t a member of the press and your ability to promote their product–a band–is somehow less valuable than anyone without an industry pass. And that’s insulting.
Sure, I joked about it, but it’s sad that I got to see that band you really liked and you didn’t. Most of the times you waited on line you never had a chance. A few times we didn’t even have a chance! We got kicked off the line for quite a few shows ourselves and we paid for our passes! That’s right, small, independent publications don’t get into shows for free either [editors note: our passes were discounted]. So who does? Industry folks.
SXSW is a magnet for shitheads. The term showcase and festival are not interchangeable. Festival implies a group celebration. At a true music festival, you can see any band you want as long as you find a way to get in eye sight of the stage. If you camp out through two bands you don’t like just to get up close, your diligence is rewarded and you get the see the band. However, at a big-name showcase, your admiration is not respected. Too many times did I go to a passes-only show just to see people sit around and drink the beer and ignore the band. It was like watching disgruntled employees sit around in their retail store after hours; the product means nothing but only a guarantee of a paycheck if someone walks in to make a purchase.
And I wanted to defend the journalists, too, I really did. I wanted to say, “Why are these shows industry only? Are they just jerking each other off behind closed doors thinking about sales? Let me see the goddamn band and I’ll write about it!” But then, I remembered the fiasco at the Hype Hotel when the sound system started failing during the Foxygen set and the audience literally started booing them. That audience was entirely press and industry passes! What the fuck?
The music industry as we know it is dying because the biggest names are always the most cynical, self-aggrandizing assholes who don’t look at you an audience, they look at you as consumers. The worst show I went to was the Consequence of Sound showcase on my second night of coverage. All of the bands were phenomenal, only problem was there were only 20 people there to see them! It was badges only and $5 Miller High Life (not even tallboys) from catering in a rented party hall. But why was this show badge only? CoS didn’t have exclusives on coverage, they certainly weren’t loosing money on beer because they were overcharging for cans. Was I in the middle of a music blog pissing match? Can the editors really be as terrible as the mythological evil record executive? Am I the only person who saw Almost Famous?
I genuinely think these pricks get off knowing that you can’t get into these shows. It’s elitism on par with Hunter S. Thompson’s The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved. Careless drunks reveling in their own privilege. Next year, I am going to go out of my way to make sure I only go to truly independent venues, the ones who are just clinging to the coattails of the SXSW zeitgeist. I’d rather pay a small cover for a show, my beer of choice, and homemade tacos then empower the assholes who try to make what is basically a boat show at the local convention center sound like Bonnaroo.
The best shows I saw all weekend were not necessarily official SXSW shows. Some were listed in the official program guide but were open to the public at a small cover fee without any sort of pass. Again, these were the shows that were marketed to people who actually enjoyed finding new bands, not going to some over-glorified dog show. Almost every band I truly enjoyed, like Diarrhea Planet and Numerators, were there to play dozens of shows, regardless of any super-hip-industry shows they may or may not have been booked in. I genuinely feel bad for a great new band, like Foxygen, who only had official showcases to look forward too. These well-promoted but under utilized shows did nothing to help these bands expand their fan base.
And if Green Day‘s show was a stunt, at least it was marketed to right investors: the fans.
The Green Day show used a lottery based ticketing system that was open to the public–meaning you had to enter your name into hat to see the show, even if you had a press or performer pass. With a line out the door and around the block of old fans and new fans (with their Moms), I knew this was going to be an interesting show. Of course, this was the first show since Billie Joe you know what happened blah, blah, blah.
Here is what’s important: Green Day still fucking slays and you no longer have the right to say “Green Day sucks.”
Quick detour because no one else is writing about them: Stickup Kids put on a great show. They are energetic, fresh, and super eager to be performing. The lead singer stopped their set for a moment to say “I got a text while I was in English class asking if I would like to open for Green Day in Austin. I had to walk out of class because what was I going to do, just sit there for another 2 hours?”
Okay! So Green Day still kills and you no longer have the right to say Green Day sucks. Yes! They slay. Green Day literally exploded onto the stage with “99 Revolutions,” you know, that one song you never listened to from that album that you didn’t buy because you hated it, the same one that literally thousands of people around me were singing louder than I could sing “Welcome to Paradise.” You can’t make fun of it anymore. You abandoned that right when you didn’t pay for their new material. Fuck, I didn’t even have the courtesy to download 99 Revolutions because I was too busy being cynical. That’s right. I am guilty as charged. I actually went as modern Billie Joe Armstrong for Halloween three years ago and wrote “iTunez” on the back of my leather jacket.
I walked into that door engulfed in my own cynicism pouring out my ears, but then these weirds things kept happening. First, Billie Joe grabbed a kid from the audience and brought him on stage for a hug. This kid looked exactly like me when I was 12. A chubby babyface, curly hair that couldn’t be properly spiked, a big metal chain thing on his neck that later on will make him never want to look at pictures of himself before high school ever again. This kid didn’t think that new Green Day sucked, and why should I? Also, Billie then kissed the kid on the forehead… then the mouth. Seriously. He probably shouldn’t have done that but we’re not here to talk the semantics of boy-kissing.
A few songs passed and I had no idea what any of them were, I was the minority. What the fuck was “Stop When the Red Lights Flash?” Had it really been over 8 years since I decided I didn’t like American Idiot? “This is a song I wrote in 1993, it’s called Burn Out!”
1993? That was twenty years ago. Most things that I wrote last year I would never, ever want to read again, let alone outloud in front of people. Do you really expect a band to perform the same songs with the same honesty for twenty years?
See the real problem with Green Day isn’t the band, it’s the older audience. Half of the older crowd took these old songs as an excuse to relive their glory days and mosh. I was actually pretty embarrassed. This mosh pit was all silver-haired men with press passes, drunk and stoned, no one my age or younger participated. I go to shows all the time with my other 20 something friends and we mosh. I even did it in quite a few places over SXSW. And these kids didn’t seem to mind but they didn’t participate. It just might not be a part of their culture anymore. The bigger problem was the other half of the adult audience: the new fans/parents who were freaking out. I mean, the-angriest-eyes-you’ve-ever-seen-in-your-life mad.
People are flying everywhere and these moms and dads are giving “how dare you” looks to everyone above the age of 16 while Billie Joe is shouting for everyone to “go fucking crazy.” This 40-something woman who is there by herself gets hit in the nose and starts screaming. A young girl with a heart-grenade tattoo on her arm turns to her and says “You’re at a punk rock show. How did you not expect this?”
Before I can hear the end of this conversation, “Long View” picks up and I am flung forward about four feet from the stage. This woman, at least 50, turns around and grabs me by my denim vest. “Get the fuck back, you asshole, I’m standing here!” She tries to push me back and I am pushed forward again instantaneously. “I said get back, asshole! I mean it!” I try to stay calm. “This is a concert! I am not running into you, someone is pushing me and that person is also being pushed!”
She grabs me by the shirt again, but her husband, a rather large man, grabs her hand and lowers it for her. He looks me dead in the eye and points down to the ground. Clinging to the woman’s knees is a scared eight-year-old girl. The music changes and I look up to see another 14 year-old boy on stage. This time he has the mic and he’s singing the chorus to “Longview”, albeit poorly.
And I realized right there that every new Green Day song sounded just like the old songs and vice versa when played live. Everything sounded kinda like “86.” It was easy to see how someone who only knew Green Day from their Broadway plays and live DVDs could forget, or never know that this was the same band that played Woodstock in ’94 and lost a few teeth in the process.
Everyone upfront was part of the band’s fan club, the Idiot Club, and received priority entrance. Green Day was accused of selling out with American Idiot. Before that, Warning. Before that, Dookie was a huge moral dilema to the Bay area punk scene. The fact of the matter is, Green Day makes music people enjoy and when that happens their audience snowballs. Green Day has to play bigger and more expensive venues because that many more people are showing up for to see them now–which is why they’ve been performing secret shows in more intimate locations over the past few years. At least they’re remaining relevant, unlike bands like Weezer, or Blink-182, and almost every other 90’s alternative band failing to sell tickets and make albums that matter to anyone. No one actually liked Neighborhoods, it was just nice to see Blink tour again.
Who cares if they have a video game? Kids do! I would have bought a Green Day video game in a heartbeat when I was 12. Fuck, “Brain Stew” was the first song I ever learned guitar and that was last year. And by the way, I had a Green Day poster on my wall for almost all of my teenage years and I still couldn’t remember the words to “Christie Road” off of their pre-Dookie E.P. Kerplunk!. Never liked that song.
You know who did like that song though? This little buddy who was behind me.
He loved every song because Green Day was his favorite band. Little buddy was at the show by himself and couldn’t be happier. I tried to make this as not-creepy as possible–I asked him he wanted to stand on my shoulders so Billie Joe could see him. He was shy at first, but a lady who neither of us knew encouraged him (very not-creepy, right?). Unfortunately, the band decided to play their own instruments for “Basket Case,” but little buddy not upset. In fact, he was ecstatic for “King for a Day,” singing a long for the entirety of the “Shout” bridge and even “Stand by Me.”
When the band walked off stage after playing “Minority,” he turned to me and said “Don’t worry, they’re going to do ‘American Idiot’ and ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ as an encore.” I asked him how many times he’s seen Green Day and he told me this was first time. I am 25 years-old and this was also my first time seeing Green Day. That’s right. That band I’ve been obsessed with since I was younger than he is, that I criticized openly and disowned radically, I had never actually seen live before in my life.
Let it go. Just let it go. Put those grudges behind us and just let the next generation of fans enjoy what’s rightfully theirs. It’s like making peace with an ex. Green Day, you and I will never have that first listen of Insomniac again, but I can still watch my International Super Hits VHS in my mom’s kitchen.
Green Day SXSW 2013 Set List:
- 99 Revolutions
- Know Your Enemy
- Stay the Night
- Stop When the Red Lights Flash
- Stray Heart
- Oh Love
- Boulevard of Broken Dreams
- Welcome to Paradise
- Christie Road
- Kill the DJ
- Coming Clean
- Disappearing Boy
- Sweet Child o’ Mine / Highway to Hell
- Brain Stew
- St. Jimmy
- Basket Case
- King for a Day / Shout / Stand by Me / Hey Jude
- Encore: American Idiot
- Jesus of Suburbia
- Brutal Love