SXSW: A Slight Return and Some Crystal Ballin’

The truth is that SXSW doesn’t slow down. It goes and goes and goes and stops. When it’s over you feel you’ve been tossed from a train. So with that in mind let me tell you about some things in order of importance.

I decided to not risk getting thrown out of Depeche Mode, so I left my camera behind. But then once I was inside I realized it would have been no problem at all. It was OK, though, because I gotta admit it was the best to stand chest-flush against a barricade in front of a three foot stage and a mere five feet or so from Depeche Mode. Am I making this clear enough? Depeche Mode.

Although physically wearing his years much moreso than his one-time contemporaries in Duran Duran, each of whom probably have rotting portraits of themselves in their attics, Dave Gahan slithered like a snake uncoiled, and his hip-writhing was positively Jagger-worthy. Martin Gore seemed frail, and the one song he played by himself was so immodestly earnest (“Whenever I lose myself in somebody/ That’s when I find myself”) I was embarrassed he’d written it.

But Depeche Mode has never written a mediocre lyric. They’ve always been great or awful. And the set veered largely toward the great, with “Personal Jesus” and “Walking in My Shoes” being stellar and the closer being “Enjoy The Silence,” only second in my hopes that they might play “Everything Counts.” But they played nothing at all like “Everything Counts.” For a band known primarily for its synth-pop—at least in popular imagination, not necessarily among fans—they pulled that rug out from the start and concentrated on their grimy, kinda-sleazy guitar tunes. It was worth every hoop jumped through.

The currently buzzy Chvrches (Yes, with the “v”. I know. It’s whatever. Maybe they took Latin.) played a nice afternoon set at Spin Magazine’s show and provided every bit of the synthy goodness I needed if I wasn’t gonna get it from Gahan and crew.

While hanging out after Chvrches I randomly met a guy who does editing for Terrence Malick, the director being an Austin resident himself, and we had a pleasant chat about how The Tree Of Life was a defining and singular moment for each of us.

Skipping around now… later Friday night—this is Friday we’ve been talking about if that wasn’t clear—I caught maybe five minutes of Athens’ Yip Deceiver who, for some reason, don’t seem to have gotten much shake in The Classic City, but on the road? Damn, son. The duos show was packed with dead-eyed models and doe-eyed indie kids, and it seemed like everyone knew all the lyrics to their songs.

I slinked out to catch Malibu, CA party-rapper Shwayze, who opened up for the other biggest goofball on the block, Riff Raff. Are you blanking? Didn’t anyone watch MTV in the past five years? You’d have seen them both. Cliff’s Notes: Smokin’-n-drankin’-n-$#@%^*-n-smokin’ some more. Period. That’s it.

In some weird twist of the universe I wound up back at Buffalo Billiards, where Mayer Hawthorne was DJing in between acts; I’d wanted to see him ever since my cousin told me I looked like him. He didn’t really do anything super special, just spun some tunes and kinda oversaw things until the pretty humble but sometimes too-damn-down-to-earth rapper Asher Roth came on. The crowd was tiny at first but eventually swelled to at least 75 or 100. And since the room probably holds 500, things were pretty comfortable. This is no slag on Roth. Or, really, the crowd. The fact is that if you don’t come in to SXSW with some sort of current buzz or established legendary status your shows will probably not be packed. However, when I’m here I see tons of bands with no buzz and tiny audiences. So, I dunno. Asher Roth seemed to be having a fine time.

Saturday started off with a set from the uber-chill Chrome Sparks, and I know that all the guitar dudes like to bag on computers and keyboards, but when it’s done right it’s absolutely some of the most enjoyable stuff for me to hear. And like I haven’t heard a billion guitar dudes play utterly atrocious “songs” in more traditional guitar-bass-drums set ups? Exactly.

Biggest success of Saturday so far was the whammo-punch of Fear of Men (England) and Parquet Courts at the Fader Fort by Converse. I’d wanted to see Fear of Men for a least a year and their semi-dark, totally charmed and moody—God, I don’t wanna say indie-pop, but dammit—indie-pop was exactly as I imagined it would be. Parquet Courts name is on everyone’s lips right now and somehow there’s this idea that they sound like The Modern Lovers, but they totally don’t. But singer Andrew Savage absolutely looks like a young Robby Benson, the actor. (Famous before you were born. Don’t worry about it.) He was easily the most dynamic performer I’ve seen all week. The bands spindly, two-guitar attack was less an affront to any specific audience and much more a thing borne from the ill-conceived twins of ennui and hope.

And that, my friends, was SXSW 2013. The narrative jumps around, and the editorial component is high, but we were looking to do something different this year and I think we did.