Whoops. Noon — the hour by which Back Pocket Memory had resolved to be downtown distributing flyers for their show — has come and gone and the band is still shuffling gear between vehicles back at the hotel. Fuel has a backline, necessitating consideration of what needs to be driven downtown and what can remain in the relative security of the hotel parking lot. The band isn’t thrilled about this — least of all Jason, who is less than enthusiastic about the idea of playing somebody else’s beat-up drum kit — but such is the nature of the rock & roll beast.
After braving the abundance of traffic and shortage of parking in downtown Austin during South By Southwest — if you’ve never been, everything you’ve heard is true — band and gear are safely ensconced at Fuel’s, giving me time to slip away and catch the tail end of Sugar Tongue Slim’s set of mellow “Atlantadelphian” hip-hop at NPR’s day party at The Parish. (This is where I am glad of my press connections, such as they are — that line is a beast.) Slim connects well with the assembled crowd, whose accompanying chants of “All I know is women, weed, and what to wear” during his closing song, “WWW,” stand in stark contrast to NPR’s somewhat stuffy public image. I had hoped to catch a little of the next act, Polica, as well, but once it becomes clear that that they won’t be done soundchecking in time for me to see any of their set, I reluctantly cut my losses and head back to Fuel.
3/15 3:02pm – Back Pocket Memory @ Fuel
Back Pocket Memory’s first SXSW show is underway! As the buzz of electric guitars rends the air, the tiny bar quickly fills up with friends of the band — most in bands playing the festival themselves — and curious civilians drawn in from the street by the muscular alt-rock emanating from the corner of Fuel. Said corner is a little too tight to contain five rock musicians, and so Chris and Ian spill out into the impromptu crowd at regular intervals. Jason has overcome his reservations about Fuel’s kit and, aided by Rob, is laying down a solid rhythmic foundation over which Eddie’s assertive power chording and Ian’s tasteful leads complement Chris’s clean vocals nicely. This is the first time I’ve seen the band live, and I wholeheartedly recommend the experience to anybody who finds the idea of a less self-serious Dredg — or perhaps a punkier Incubus — appealing. Mercifully nobody loses any teeth to roaming headstocks, and once the tight set is concluded — and some more Lone Stars drunk — I make my way back to The Parish to catch NPR’s last act of the day.
3/15 4:16pm – The Magnetic Fields @ The Parish
And now for something completely different. After a brief debate with a doorman who doesn’t believe in double entrances, I’m in and soaking up The Magnetic Fields’ vibe, which is something of a 180 from BPM’s high-energy rock show. Frontman Stephen Merritt is quite possibly the most deadpan human being I have ever encountered, at one point introducing a deep cut as a song that was left off the band’s debut album, Distant Plastic Trees, because it “didn’t fit with the hardcore techno-pop” of that record. The band’s second singer, Claudia Gonson, is tragically stricken with laryngitis and so Merritt is largely flying solo on vocals, his languorous baritone wrapping itself around a backing of acoustic guitar, cello, ukelele, keyboards, and harmonium. Nevertheless the painfully hip crowd drinks in the band’s set appreciatively before reemerging blinking into the Austin sun. At this point I rejoin the band for dinner and drinks — luxuries that are so easily overlooked during the frenzy of a music festival.
3/15 10:20pm – Attaloss @ The Blind Pig Pub
Attaloss, another LA-based band with whom the members of Back Pocket Memory are friendly, could hardly have asked for a better venue for their show than the rooftop patio of The Blind Pig, the lights of Austin’s skyline providing a picturesque backdrop behind the stage. Singer Danny Aguiluz plays the role of rock star to the hilt, removing his shirt early in the proceedings and more than once jumping into the crowd to serenade — screamenade? — female audience members face to face. We harbor hopes that an acquaintance of Rob’s might be able to get us into Bruce Springsteen’s “secret” SXSW concert, but after it becomes clear that this isn’t going to happen, the members of BPM and I meet up with Orange Country’s Bristol To Memory at Lucky 13 Cocktail Co. for a pretty decent consolation prize.
3/15 11:03pm – The Used @ Lucky 13 Cocktail Co.
Yup. A set by The Used. Well, half of them at least. Extenuating circumstances apparently prevented the band’s rhythm section from making it to the show, leaving singer Bert McCracken and guitarist Quinn Allman to play an acoustic set in front of a now-ironic row of amplifiers. What initially seems like a drawback turns into something quite special, with McCracken taking advantage of the occasion to reminisce with his audience about the early days of the band and offer words of encouragement to aspiring artists in the audience, at one point sharing an anecdote about getting arrested as a teenager: “I decided then to find God or join a kick-ass rock band. I went with the rock band.” Judging by the crowd’s reaction, many of them can relate.
More info on South By Southwest
More info on Back Pocket Memory
Black & White Photography by Khris Poage
Crappy Photography by Ben Gill via Instagram