SXSW '10: Ain't No Easy Way: Vagrant Records Showcase: J-Roddy Walston and The Business, School of Seven Bells, Murder By Death, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ La Zona Rosa, 8pm, 3/19/10
It was about 6pm when we got out of the Spin Party, and next up we had a mission. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was playing at La Zona Rosa, and although it was a badge/wristband only show, we were going to go early and try our luck.
When we arrived, we followed a sign telling GA people to queue up next to the box office, which was also next to the bus. There was only one guy in front of us, so we thought our luck would be pretty good. We’re sitting there sharing NIN stories as the line grows behind us. I watched the now familiar faces come and go on the BRMC tour bus, and discover that this will be Ronda’s first show of theirs. Yay, I get to break in another BRMC virgin! The guy in front of us has some friends show up with pizza and they share a slice with Ronda- it’s starting to be reminiscent of a NIN line. And then it really gets that way when someone that works for the venue comes out behind us and says we are in the wrong line- so the people behind us get to go and queue up first, alongside the badge and wristband people. We’re thinking, ‘seriously? this would not fly at a NIN show’, but we don’t really do anything about it even though we’re about 25th or so in line now.
It’s pushing 8pm at this point, and I’m starting to get on pins and needles about not getting in. Everyone is getting antsy. Since I’ve already seen them 4 times over the past few weeks, I know I won’t die if I don’t get in, so I try to enjoy the kind of ‘is it going to happen or not?’ energy. At about 8:30 they start letting in the badge holders, then the wristband people. We watch them walk by with our puppy dog faces. Then I hear a screech, and look over and a pedi-cab has just been hit by a large truck backing up. This is the third time this has happened to me (though the others were car accidents) while waiting in line at a show.
Finally they start letting our line in. It gets to us, and soon we’re in after paying the $25 cover (the most I spent at any show at SXSW). We get inside and amazingly, it’s not very full around the stage at all. People are chatting at the far ends of the venue by the bars. At that point I remembered that SXSW is really about the networking for most people, while for me it’s still about the music, or more specifically, how much music I can consume in a short period of time. Ronda and I stand at the left corner of the barrier, but then notice that there’s a blank spot closer to the middle, so we go hover and then quickly end up snatching it up. We’re pros at this 🙂
J-Roddy Walston and The Business really impressed me, even though I think they need a shorter name. A pure rock ‘n roll band, they gave a really impassioned performance that won me over. The highlight was definitely the bassist, who wins the HRC award for ‘Most Metal Bassist Not in a Metal Band’. I mean, he and his handle bar mustache just shredded; helicopter headbanging, metal screaming, etc. Their guitarist was really good as well, I geeked out on his technical prowess a fair amount, The vocalist, who played piano for the final song, ended the set by falling over backwards on the bench and laying there for so long that I thought he might really be injured.
Next up was School of Seven Bells, and Ronda immediately recognized the guitarist from Secret Machines. The band features two very pretty girls, the kind that walk out on stage and immediately make me feel gross- which I kind of was since I’d been standing in the dirt at Stubb’s all day and then outside of the venue for hours. I also overheard all the guys around me talking about them- fanboys! Ah, the tables finally turn. They took forever to set up all of their doodads- and were not happy with the sound. I had mixed feeling about them- I kind of liked their dreamy electronic pop rock, but at times it felt too basic and the guitarist’s playing too minimalist.
After the set, one of the stage guys, who must be an Austinite, came right over and offered us a water bottle. I was so confused by this act of generosity that I just looked at him like, ‘What?’ and someone else grabbed it. Texas guys……
When I originally looked at the lineup for this showcase, I was excited to see a band called Murder By Death on the bill. However, this is not a metal band. They are country rock, and not the kind I like, like Shooter Jennings. I really tried to like it, but just couldn’t- but the Austin crowd was way into it, which made sense. Instead I zoned out on the cellist, who’s skeleton cello had a sticker on it that looked like Eddie in a Krishna setting. Then I noticed the bassist had a sticker on his bass that said ‘How’s my Fucking? Call 1800-Tremendous’, which I thought was really weird. Then the vocalist mentioned that the drummer was playing even though he had crushed his hand in a lift a week before. Metal! Oh wait, no.
After that set, the same stage guy came and went to hand us the set list. We were like…uh….we don’t want that…but Ronda grabbed it and gave it to the fan behind us.
I was so excited to round out my mini-BRMC tour with a perfect 5 shows in my old home town. Suddenly I wasn’t at SXSW anymore, I was in one of the best clubs in city, thinking about how this would be my life if I lived here again. I was also happy because I had told myself that if I got into this show I would stand on Robert’s side for a change, and amazingly that actually happened.
I see the setlist posted, but can only make out that ‘Aya’ is on there and that it’s not too terribly short even though this isn’t a normal show.
Finally the guys come out, and I’m immediately taken by how different it is to experience the show from Rob’s side. That, in turn, reminds me of why I go to multiple shows again- because it is a vastly different experience each time. And that thought came at a good time, because I was starting to think about how they might think I’m a little weird since they have seen my face a lot lately….oh well, I don’t care! I love them.
This set had the best sound of everything I saw at SXSW. I think we were three songs in when Ronda turned towards me and gave me a hug. The power of BRMC!
I got totally lost in watching Rob play. I generally have always been more drawn to Peter’s songs and his bluesy style of playing, but Rob…he’s kind of an animal. He’s really energetic and intense, and he changes up what he’s doing a lot. He crouches down and plays in this really loving way quite a bit, and one time- now this could be me projecting here- leaned his head over the strings and slightly stuck his tongue out almost touching them. This was all happening right in front of Ronda and my faces, so it was a little intense. OK, a lot. He would step up to the lip of the stage and just taunt us with his guitar or bass. I loved every second.
It also made a difference in how I heard the set, as Rob’s tones were much more prominent in the sound. Especially with ‘Aya’, watching him make the guitar moan.
That’s the thing about BRMC…these two guys are so different, yet play the same music and it’s really hard to describe, but it just works. Since I’ve heavily reviewed this band over the last few weeks, I’ll spare you any additional commentary on their work, and just say that if you haven’t seen them you really, really should.
Towards the end, one of the crew told them they needed to wrap up in what I think was 6 minutes, but they went on and did ‘Shadow’s Keeper’ and ‘Open Invitation’, which goes quite beyond that. Way to Rebel, boys.
As they left the stage, I tried not to get overwhelmed with knowing that was my final show with BRMC for the time being. And it definitely helped that the lovely stage guy came and gave me the setlist, and then came back and gave me a pick, which I gave to Ronda since I already got one at another show.
“There ain’t no easy way, no, there ain’t no easy way out”
Afterward, we walked across the downtown corridor back to Ronda’s car, making a few pit stops because her poor feet had given out over the course of the day. On one of the stops I found a tree with a plug attached to it, so that I could charge my dead phone and send a few final tweets. People walked by me sitting on the sidewalk taking a picture of the setlist with my phone plugged into a tree like it was something totally normal.
SXSW, I love you hard.