Greetings from the outskirts of Austin, Texas, where we're holed up in a hotel after a long day of music at South by Southwest's opening day. What happened? Well, a few Phoenix bands played their showcases, hopefully making an impression on tastemakers and industry types at this massive festival, which ends up being make or break for a lot of indie acts. I saw sets by Miniature Tigers and What Laura Says tonight (Dear and the Headlights also played in a late slot, but we'll catch up with them later in the week) and both went pretty well. Also, I got a cigar from notorious Texas author (and former gubernatorial candidate) Kinky Friedman. More on that later.
Playing the Radio Room's outdoor patio at 10 p.m., What Laura Says drew about 200 people, most of them young and very few wearing the badges that separate the important and/or well-heeled from the looky-loos who pop in. Those people paid handsomely for the privilege, too, as the cover was $20 and the line took about an hour to get through, despite the club being nowhere near full inside.
WLS made the most of their chance, though: I've never seen the band play better, and I've seen them more times than I'd have cared to. WLS's half-hour set was jammy, chock full of instrumental interludes, including a five-minute stretch when they didn't sing a note and a long percussion breakdown in which second drummer J-Cub played plastic and glass bottles, and an institutional-size tin can. What Laura Says is best when they're twangy, and there was a lot of that here, along with a lot of spot-on harmonization between singers Danny and Jimmy.
An hour later, Miniature Tigers took the stage around the corner at the cavernous Spiro's (imagine 10 Yucca Tap Rooms stuck together by winding cement-floored hallways). The lower-profile show drew about 100, many of them with badges on. The last time we saw Mini T's (read last week's feature on them here), they were gearing up for a tour with Ben Folds in by playing a free Yucca show. They look more seasoned now. Guitarist Darren Johnson of Phantom Planet, who they recruited back in January is bringing a lot to the band, most evident on a newly rocked out "Cannibal Queen." The sound at Spiro's was terrible, and the band commented a lot about feedback, but they got through the highlights of their first record, Tell it to the Volcano mostly unscathed.
The only sad part was that Singer Charlie Brand (who played the set with a feather sticking out of his tuning pegs of his acoustic guitar, by the way) had to miss his favorite show, Lost. That Yucca show in January didn't start until 1 a.m. after initially being pushed back so Brand could catch the show. But, hey, this is SxSW! You gotta go all out.
Also: I caught a set by Jessica Lea Mayfield, an Ohio singer-songwriter who was in town with Annuals last month. A sizable crowd at The Parsh seemed to dig her haunting ballads a lot as she opened for Black Keys singer Dan Auerbach. As I said then, I think she'll be big.
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Also also: I know people hate hearing about this kind of shit, but I have to tell you about how I met Texas icon Kinky Friedman: I was standing on the corner of Fifth Street (that's a block down from the main drag, Sixth Street, which is temporarily closed to cars) when I saw him roll by in a truck, so I left my girlfriend standing on the corner and ran him down the next block where he was stopped at a red light. I just looked over and gave him a thumb's up, but he called me over, asked me my name and gave me a custom cigar with a gold band that says "Texas Jewboy" on it. He also allowed me to take the picture below. Honestly, I thought SxSW was a little overrated before that, but it made my trip.
Also also also: You'd be getting a lot more blogs from me if my seven-year-old laptop and my hotel's shoddy Internet connect hadn't combined to make this a post a four-hour ordeal. Oof. Sorry, kids, instead look for the company-mandated uno per día.