The worst thing that ever happened to my life was me learning how to entertain myself. I go to shows by myself all the time and rarely talk to others. The thought of networking horrifies me. Yet, here I am at the biggest entertainment industry event in the world with a pocket full of business cards that weighs less than it did in New York. I blame the booze.
At this point, my beer budget was running low and I needed to find a quick fix that would give me my money’s worth. Luckily, Mike was covering the Hype Hotel, which was under-packed at the time due to sound problems. The event was sponsored by Miller and Taco Bell, as was most of SXSW, actually. I never questioned why Doritos felt the need to be responsible for the majority of the festivities. I enjoyed my consumable S.W.A.G. more than I would have enjoyed a tote bag.
My first taco became three tacos, not even by my own choice. “Take two more,” said a southern smile. “I love you,” said my lack of self control.
I sat down by the emergency exit and ate my tacos and beer while Mike continued to do that journalism thing.
“Hey, man, this is a fire exit! You can’t sit here,” said a security guard. “Have these two drink tickets,” he added, reinforcing my bad behavior. I had spent the whole day alone, entertaining myself mostly through alcohol and feverish head-banging, working up quite the appetite. Maybe, just maybe, if I kept sitting at the fire exit, I could get more drink tickets. I was wrong. However, two tacos turned to twelve–and two burritos, too–and I was due at the Consequences of Sound/Shea Stadium showcase a mile east.
I floundered into the venue and b-lined it for dead center; Diarrhea Planet had already started their set and I’ve been trying to catch them for over a year. The Nashville alternative-rockers with a goofy name don’t fuck around when it comes to music. Their arsenal of four-guitarists assault with shredding, harmonies, fret-tapping, and general ass-kickery that sets venues on fire. Plus, their lead singer sounds like Jim Ward of Sparta/At the Drive-In, which is always a plus for me. These guy are exploding, which is great because their sound and attitude are some of the best in the alternative scene right now.
With a few kicks to the head and the Taco Bell coagulating in my stomach, I began to loose control of my body during the So So Glos set. The Brooklyn born Pop-Punkers, with their aggressively earnest vocals are one of my favorites. With a new album on the way for April, the boys were going insane with fresh hits and a loving crowd of Brooklyn transplants. I really do love these guys.
I woke up on the outdoor patio of the CoS show after the So So Glos had left the stage. Apparently, I had blacked out and didn’t realize it, as you do when you black out. It was 12:45 and I only had a few minutes to catch my Austrailian friends from earlier in the day. I raced up Red River Road when I heard someone shout at me, “Hey, aren’t you going to help her?”
I turned around to see a someone trying to wager some help from a parking lot security guard for a drunk girl stuck on the ground. It seems her boyfriend had been trying to carry her noodle body when her lack-of-bones became too much for him to handle. And the security guard was without remorse.
I don’t know why trouble finds me when I’m drunk, but I can’t resist it. Next thing I know, I am helping this guy carry his girlfriend to his car so she they can sleep and not drink and drive. I believe him and we make it about three blocks before we’re stopped by a man with a giant Lemmy-beard.
“Wow, No Doubt! Tragic Kingdom is such a good album.” Clearly the reflection from my chrome-plated No Doubt t-shirt has blinded him and he cannot see that I am in the middle of some late night human-trafficing.
“You know if you listen to that album after you break up with a girl it’ll just rip your heart out because it’s the girl’s side of the story!”
I totally agree with this idiot, butI am not my usual, ska-praising self. We loose all of our strength and gently flop the girl to the ground. She’s fading fast, so I run off to get some water and let the happy couple talk to their new friend about the nuances of Gwen.
I make my way to a burger joint, but there is no one in sight. The patrons are literally sleeping at their tables. I hop over the bar, grab a bottle of water and hop back over while tossing a dollar bill onto the counter.
Back at the scene of the crime, our mustached friend has been replaced with two cops who also don’t seem to care about this poor couple. I squeeze my way between the officers and try to give some water to the girl, who starts hysterically crying now because she can’t remember how to drink. Her boyfriend begins to cry, too. The cops radio for back up and I take that as my chance to leave.
Austin had slowly become my Vietnam.
By the time I realize my good deed has broken my free pair of Dorritos sunglasses, I’m already at Head Hunters, and my friends from Australia, Strangers, are setting up stage. A fellow by the name of Richard introduces himself to me. He has had a few too many drinks and shows me the same amazing video on his iPhone several times. Richard is a documentarian specializing in drone-helicopter footage and he’s been working a documentary/extended music video for a new Strangers’ single. The footage covers the 10,000 kilometer (or, approximately one billion miles, as he translated for me) tour Strangers’ took of the Australian coast.
Jesus Christ, did Strangers destroy that little patio. Their mix of punk rock and metal surged through the woodwork with an explosive energy that reminded me of classic Rage Against the Machine without the bullshit. Lead singer, Ben Britton, climbed the side of the staircase and hung near an American flag before landing on his feet in the middle of the audience. “I don’t know if you call that lattice in America, but I just broke it.” My new compadre, Mark, wailed about on his guitar in just underwear and Ugg boots, with the gust of his amps blowing his hair into the dark Austin sky. The whole band took power stances as Ben sat down on the bar, casually reached behind to grab some liquor for a swig, and dove head first into the band’s rented drum kit.
After the gig, I hung around and talked to all the guys. Ben, who I hadn’t introduced myself to before, must have gave me half a dozen hugs. The tall man with the slick haircut whose stage presence was both impressive and intimidating was really a kind bloke. This is what I came to see at SXSW, a humble band that was there to play their damned hearts out. Music isn’t actually about breaking things, or stealing booze, its about an expression of pure energy for yourself and your fans. Would the shirtless guy with the mismatched shoulder tattoos mosh to any band tuned low enough? Probably. But Strangers was so thrilled to be at a show in America that they beat the shit out of themselves and had fun doing it. Punk-Rock is not a genre, it’s an eight-fold path to enlightenment.
Strangers are coming to New York at the Knitting Factory on March 25th. Be there.
As I finished up my last beer at 3 am, I met up with Mike again and we floundered two miles to the nearest Jack in the Box. The drunk man in front of us ordered 24 tacos with complete sincerity We chuckled to ourselves before remembering the taco idiocy that had been my life mere hours before. I was silent the entire cab ride home.