Saturday was my last SXSW hurrah, my final day of the Texan musicfest South By Southwest before returning to my regular, everyday life. Once this long lost weekend was over, I'd be eating veggies again (no, nutrition-conscious SXSWers, potato salad doesn't really count as a vegetable); kickstarting my morning with a mug of green tea instead of a couple cans of Sparks; and, most depressingly, probably seeing a whole lot fewer bands during the course of any given day. So I knew I had to make Saturday count and go hard before going home--even if my poor feet, head, and liver were already begging for a respite from this week's rock 'n' roll revelry.
The afternoon began over at the Feedback BBQ hosted by celebrity chef Rachael Ray, a calorie-laden event that ensured I'd be forgoing leafy greens and tofu for yet another day. But I worked off those calories boogie-ing in earnest to the about-to-blow-up-bigtime Fitz & The Tantrums, a supercool Motown-style combo in the Mark Ronson/Sharon Jones/mid-period-ABC vein. (Imagine if Amy Winehouse were salt-and-pepper-haired, male, and sane, and that's frontman Fitz in a nutshell.) The ultimate fun-in-the-sun party combo, F&TT's soul-revival revue (which included a funky reworking of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams" and an attention-grabbing rendition of their indie hit "Money Grabber") had the crowd going crazy in the Austin heat. I just don't know how Fitz managed to remain so cool in that mod suit of his. Despite the manic energy he put into his performance, he never let the audience see him sweat.
Next up at Rachael's soiree were the Bravery, pleasant-surprisingly playing quite a few hits from their first (and best) album--like "Unconditional," "No Brakes," "A Honest Mistake," "Public Service Announcement," and the weather-appropriate "Swollen Summer." (Did I mention it was damn hot at SXSW this year?) "I f***ing love South By Southwest from the bottom of my heart!" declared frontman Sam Endicott. "Especially the snacks. The tasty, tasty snacks!" Of course, the stick-figure-skinny Sam didn't look like he'd pigged out on Texas BBQ, or even eaten solid food of any kind, in a good long while, but maybe that's just because he probably torches a few thousand calories every time he rocks the stage, judging from the Bravery's frenzied Feedback performance.
I hung out a little bit after that with rising indie girl duo Uh Huh Her (pictured right, looking adorable), who like Fitz somehow stayed stylishly cool in the heat. But I needed an escape from the sun, so I fled to the refuge of the Spin Loft, a 6th Street artist-hangout oasis of swag, fish tacos, free booze, comfy beanbag chairs, and, most importantly, air-conditioning. Honestly, I never wanted to leave. And when I found out that Cults, one of the buzziest buzz bands of SXSW 2011, would soon be playing on the tiny makeshift stage only a few feet away from the beanbag upon which I'd mercifully plopped myself, I didn't really have a reason to leave. The film-school-bred, retro-'60s twee-pop outfit, led by painfully cute it-couple Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin, might have been as tired as I was ("This is our last day at South By Southwest; if we fall asleep onstage, scream or something," they joked), but in the chilled-out atmosphere of this lazy loft, their low-key vibe worked perfectly.
Eventually, reluctantly, I peeled myself off that beanbag cushion and bravely ventured back out into the heat, making a quick pitstop at Filter magazine's crowded compound to catch dreamy Swedish synthpoppers Little Dragon, then heading back to my hotel for a disco nap before SXSW's final night. Because with two of the festival's biggest bashes taking place back-to-back in the evening, I needed all the rest-for-the-wicked I could get before my planned Saturday all-nighter.
Saturday night began all right, with the annual "One Night In Austin" megaparty hosted by Perez Hilton/Samsung Focus at the new ACL Live inside the W Hotel, which boasted a lineup of the glossy pop diva types Perez usually goes for, including Danish chanteuse Oh Land and Mark Ronson-endorsed hipster chick MNDR. One of the party's standout starlets was endlessly energetic New Zealand electro-rocker Zowie--who, despite her name, is not related to David Bowie, but considering her spiky Spider-From-Mars shoulderpads and out-there stage persona, it's understandable that this cool Kiwi might be mistaken for Ziggy's long-lost spacechild. Wowie, Zowie, is all I can say about this dynamite Down Under wonder, who really ought to become a superstar on this side of the equator soon.
Two other great ladies of the evening, so to speak, were DJ Mia Moretti and violinist Caitlin Moe, whose simple but smart shtick--Mia spun much-loved hits by MGMT, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Sia, and Daft Punk, and the comely Caitlin shredded along on her strings--had the audience going absolutely wild. Apparently violins are the new guitars.
Then it was time for "icon of rock 'n' roll" Liz Phair. I have to say she didn't look like she'd aged a day since her Exile era (she was lovely and leggy in a uni-shouldered, psychedelic-print micro-minidress and teetering stilettos), and I was pleased that she stuck mostly to her classic girlysounds, like "Polyester Bride," the infamous oral sex anthem "Flower," and my personal favorite, "Supernova," all songs that have aged about as well as Liz has. This was a major relief , since no one really needed to hear anything off Liz's misleadingly titled recent Funstyle album (especially the single "Bollywood," a tune so terrible and lyrically ridiculous even Rebecca Black would balk). "I like my new records, but some of you prefer the older ones," Liz admitted. Well, at least she was honest, and wise enough to give the people what they wanted.
Next Taylor Momsen, aka Jenny Humphrey of "Gossip Girl" infamy, hit the stage with her trash-rock band the Pretty Reckless, in full-on bad-girl mode: wearing her trademark slept-in eyeliner, banged-up-Barbie-doll hair, a slutty corset, and not much else. I've never really thought of Taylor as a particularly good actress or singer before, but I must say, she played the rock-star part to a tee, and I was unexpectedly impressed. This is, apparently, the role she was born to play. And at least watching Taylor prowl the stage in black leather and blacked-out eyes was more interesting than seeing her fellow blonde thespian Gwyneth Paltrow pretend to be a country singer.
As much as I love me some Oh Land, I ditched the Perez party early, before the Danish sensation performed, in order to attend what was supposed to be THE big exciting SXSW event to end all SXSW events: Vevo's blowout at the Seaholm Power Plant with Kanye West, Kid Cudi, John Legend, and Mos Def. This, sadly, was a decision I would soon deeply regret. When I arrived at the scene it had already devolved into complete chaos, and I quickly learned that my press laminate, which was supposed to enable me to bypass the general-admission line, wasn't worth the plastic it was printed on--because there WAS no actual line. In front of the venue, there just stood a giant, spawling, amorphous mob of increasingly grumpy loiterers--some of whom had been waiting for hours and were now being turned away, despite having been emailed guestlist confirmations. Everyone seemed confused about where to queue up, and/or whether to start a riot.
People were shoving. Police officers were hovering. One amateur grassroots organizer yelled out instructions to anyone within earshot, telling the crowd to post nasty anti-Vevo tweets ("Hashtag 'vevosucks'!" she suggested), and several disgruntled people whipped out their phones on the spot and obeyed. It seemed likely that the evening would end in tears. Or possibly in teargas. Ominous visions of the Who-in-Cincinnati stampede, Kanye's Bonnaroo tardiness, and other notorious concert disasters raced through my worried mind, as the angry mob pushed impatiently at the Seaholm gates.
This. Just. Wasn't. Worth. It. Did I really want to spend my precious last few hours of SXSW waiting to shoehorn myself into such an overpacked, under-organized event? I mean, I could only imagine what the beer and bathroom lines inside would be like, if I was suffering through all this before even entering the venue. So I cut my losses and walked away, leaving the glowing Vevo sign behind me and never looking back. Kudos to the Vevo folks for recruiting such fantastic talent for their SXSW party, but seriously, next time, how about they hire competent crowd-control staffers, too?
But you know what's awesome about SXSW? Whatever I end up missing out on, there's always another option, another great gig waiting just around the corner. Case in point: On Saturday I randomly ended up on the rooftop of Maggie Mae's to catch Australia's Operator Please--and the instant they started bouncing and flouncing about the stage, I realized I'd totally made the right decision to flee the Vevo scene. Pretty much the cutest thing to come out of Australia since koala bears, these cool kids cranked out boppy pop that was cheerful enough to make the Polyphonic Spree sound like Joy Division, and it was just what I needed to get me back in a good mood. (Fun fact: OP actually once published a bio that read: "We like lots of things from kitties to cheese, but most of all we love each other." That's how cute and awesome they are.) Operator Please aimed to please, and their tireless teenage dance party spread to the entire crowd of (mostly Australian) revelers, myself included.
And while I didn't get to see Kanye play, I did get my dose of SXSW hip-hop after all, when OP played a genius medley of Kelis's "Milkshake" and N.E.R.D.'s "She Wants To Move" that was hands-down one of the best spectacles I witnessed all week long. Suddenly I had a new favorite band, all was right with the world again, and South By Southwest 2011 ended on a literally happy note.