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Friday, March 23, 2012

A Lackluster Road Trip; SXSW 2012

Columbus' own Lackluster went down to Austin, Texas, to play a show during the SXSW musical festival.

Lackluster's main troubadour, Jon Hayes, is guest blogging today about his adventures to and from Austin.

Day 1
So, we've packed up the van the night before. Jimmy keeps it at his place so we can pick up the drummer in morning after I donate plasma. Let's get this one thing straight, since a gas station attendant found my pre-paid visa card from the plasma center "admirable." I don't give plasma for fun. I do it because I have lots of it and it's worth something; that and the van doesn't run on plasma, so it's a necessary step. 

So we continue on to Springfield, Missouri for our first stop. Springfield is a nice town. It's supposedly a big one, but it looks to actually be about the size of the small suburb of Columbus I'm from. My hometown consists of roughly 25,000 people the last time I bothered to look at the welcome sign. Springfield boasts ten times that, but gives the impression that 90% of them are on vacation somewhere. 

Aside from that, the most recognizable thing about Springfield is that there is zero garbage to be found anywhere. The door guy said they had a homeless problem, but appears the homeless there are keeping things tidy, which is hardly a problem. We ran into one homeless guy. He carried a neatly folded blanket and turned down money, only asking for a cigarette. 

The venue was nice, the sound was not, and we played to practically no one so it didn't matter. The first band said they'd bring 50 people. They brought maybe 5 and bailed as soon as they were done. This behavior tends to piss me off a bit. So you gotta wake up early in the morning? So what? Take 45 minutes to support the band who gave you the show, and who you lied to about your draw. 

Afterwards we continued our trip to Austin, driving through the night.

Day 2
We roll into Austin around 2pm. We throw all of our gear into the hotel room since we plan on heading downtown as soon as possible. We're immediately greeted by "The Masters," upon arrival. They're a rap duo from Oakland who have a slight scent of Outkast to them. They're nice guys, so we tell them we'll give them a lift. We all head down in the van. 

Now, if you've never been to Austin for SXSW let me explain something to you, it's enormous. Are you from Columbus? Do you think Comfest is too big? This is big. It takes about an hour to go the five miles from our hotel room to the downtown area and park. Austin closes just about all of its downtown area, which is about the same size (if not slightly larger) than Columbus. The 3 streets that I stayed on for the majority of our trip were taking up by nonstop venues. In fact, aside from the occasional gift shop, it was pretty much 3 solid streets of bars... with bars stacked on top of them. Every one of them had a band playing. 

At first this seemed incredible. I thought I was about to hear some amazing music from all over the country. What I actually heard was the same music, modern rock, from all over the country. I almost killed myself, but fortunately heard a band from Chicago called "The Break." they had a faint sense of early Fountains of Wayne about them, and certainly stood out in the crowd. 

Almost no bars down there have patios, which forces you to sit in a bar and finish your beer before stepping outside to smoke. If you have a tab running this can be a problem, since the musical onslaught happening just outside can make you forget that you have a beer and credit card waiting for you inside. Fortunately the army of crappy modern rock bands sent back inside with a quickness. 

Afterwards, I headed over to the Dizzy Rooster to catch The Andy Shaw band. Don't let the name confuse you, there are 3 members of the Shaw family in this band. I'd never heard them play before, which is odd because they play all over Columbus all the time. I think they play something like 12 shows a day, but the rock I hide under at home is cool and comforting, so this was my first listen. They were fantastic. They had a tinge of reggae to them, which I can only typically take in 10 second doses like once a year, but they were fantastic. I definitely look forward to catching them around town. 

Almost immediately afterwards we head across the street to catch Phantods. A great thing about SXSW is that's it's a terrific equalizer. You have your big names roll into town in an effort to steal some thunder, but for the most part no one is any bigger than anyone else. The great thing about this is that people are constantly walking into different bars to listen to whoever might be playing, so you're almost guaranteed to be playing to a great crowd if you're in the downtown area. Phantods killed it, even busting out a "My Sharona" cover. If you've not listened to this band yet, you must be living under the rock next to mine. Go check them out. Take your rock with you if need be. 

Afterwards I hand out what's left of my free merch to people on the street and we head back to the hotel. After getting back to the hotel I decide to set some fireworks off in the parking lot. Okay, I decided to set off some smoke bombs I found in the van. There was a band hanging out a few floors up that yelled down to us from above. We spent the rest of the night drinking with them, trading band stories, and setting off some more "toddler safe" fireworks. The band was "Deerpeople." They didn't bug us to listen to their music. We reciprocated. Instead we just hung out. 

Let me say that we're not "friends" with a lot of bands in Columbus. We know people in bands, we talk to people we know in bands when we see them out, but we never hang out with them in our free time. 

Why? I don't know. I just get the impression that most musicians I meet around here are either suffocatingly pretentious or insanely jealous of anyone who gets the slightest bit of attention. We don't get much attention, but we do get the slightest bit, so that includes us apparently. We're really not jerks; we just really don't like jerks. I should note that none of the Columbus bands I talked to down in Austin are in this category. Andy, Chris, and Jim Shaw are some of the nicest people you're likely meet who aren't being paid to sit behind a counter or on the other end of phone line to be that way. Oh, their guitarist's name is John Liberatore. Not only is he also nice, but he has the most awesome non porn star name ever. I'm assuming it's pronounced "liberator." I didn't ask. 

Day 3
We played early. I mean, we played first. I normally dislike this, as do most bands, but I was optimistic since we were in Austin after all. I wasn't disappointed. We had a nice crowd, a couple people taking cell phone pics, and some generous feedback afterwards. Oh, and the sound was freaking unbelievably good. That's not just our show. The sound EVERYWHERE was incredibly good. 

But anyways, we leave our gear in the back room at the venue and venture off to take advantage of corporate giveaways that aim to take advantage of us. We eat and drink for free, and by that I mean we eat and drink things that can be (and are) tossed out of the back of a truck. I don't mind. 

I sit and watch an outdoor two stage spectacle for a while. Two stages, one band plays the other sets up. The bands seem to be in competition to out dress one another, but sound exactly the same. We recall the Deerpeople had mentioned they were playing at 8pm just out of the downtown area, so we all jump in the van to head down there. They put on a helluva show. For the last song the singer strips down to his unmentionables and climbs on the bar. This might not sound like the most intriguing thing in the world, if you regularly strip down to almost nothing and climb on things, but this fella personifies this behavior and the rest of the band makes music to back it up. I wanted to say there was a hint of Decemberists and Arcade Fire there, but it was actually more like Deerpeople are the ones who won their balls in some late night drunken bar wager.

We hung out for a minute after before they had to head out to play another show. Note to self, book more shows at SXSW next year. While hanging out on the patio I get an e-mail from a lady asking if we'd like to play this bar. The bar is right up the street. Half our gear is still downtown. The other half is back at the hotel. So, I call. The lady has no idea what I'm talking about. Never mind that she sent ME an e-mail. She says she'll pass on our info to the event coordinator. That guy calls me back, but I missed the call. So, I call back. I get voicemail, but it says something like "You've reach Pure Lame Label and Promotions..." I don't leave a message. We decide to go meet these people in person since it's right down the street. 

We arrive at the venue and I track down the event coordinator. He's wearing a pink silk shirt, hipster glasses, and a pony tail to provide visibility of his Bluetooth earpiece. I don't tell him he looks like an asshole. Instead I ask about the show. Apparently they had to shut down because their permit only allowed for music up to 70db. I've farted louder than that. 

Anyways, this resulted in the police showing up and shutting down the music. The bands all scrambled and they had nothing. We say we don't mind and we'll play, even though my singing is probably louder than that. He asks when we can be ready, and I say 11pm... which is in an hour. Amazingly we fight through traffic to the venue downtown, get our gear, fight through traffic out of downtown to our hotel room, throw the drums in the back of the van, and fight through traffic going back downtown. We arrive ten minutes early. It's a SXSW miracle. Wait, who's the other band talking to our event guy? This is a band from who knows where. They're dressed nice. We were clean at the beginning of the day, but we just ran all over town. We probably looked like garbage. The owner of the venue is out there as well. This is never good. He tells us that they asked this other band to play too and that they wouldn't be needing us after all. 

I'm pissed, but what can you do? He offers us a show next year, comps us a meal and drinks, and asks if there's anything else he can do. I look across the street, notice a huge stage with lights going and a band playing. I say, "Maybe. Do you know the owner over there?" We walk across the street and he tracks down the owner while I continue to look like I just got molested by a sweat monster. The owner of this other venue comes out. We exchange pleasantries and he tells me that, being 11:30 and that his permit only goes until midnight, he can't let us play but invites us to come back tomorrow. We have an Oklahoma City show the next day, so we have to decline. I go back across the street, grab a CD, and head back to talk to the guy again. I give him our disc; he commends me on my attitude and offers some sympathy for the mess across the street. I inquire about a show the next year. 

So, hopefully we'll have two shows. Neither place are likely to forget who we are. We go home. We hang out with Deerpeople again, drinking until 7am. Oh, they're awesome by the way.

Day 4
We get to OKC. 

The "headliner" is already there. They're from LA. they're all late 30's to mid 40's and look every bit ten years older than that. No worries though, they still manage to squeeze into black leather pants and rock Spinal Tap haircuts. 

We play our show to a receptive crowd. Another band from Portland goes on next. The crowd likes them too. The LA band takes the stage next. 

Now keep in mind that OKC is where the Flaming Lips are from. There are Flaming Lips posters on the wall. The Flaming Lips make awesome music. This band sounds like the most asinine rock you've ever heard. Every song sounds exactly the same, three chords, not even a one octave vocal range, and a drummer who either hasn't gotten any better since his second year of playing or is getting paid too much to care. 

The singer is a tool. He appears to be drunk, but I don't think he actually is. He just sways and mumbles. It seems to be a stage act. He rolls around on the ground a bit, throwing the microphone around. Note to other bands, sound guys don't like bands throwing their gear around.

The sound guy immediately dislikes them. In fact, the whole bar immediately dislikes them, as it's practically empty by their third song. The singer doesn't like the look of things. He demands that he be paid attention to, singling out people playing pool in the back, telling them to stop and "get the hell up here." No don't respond. He calls for action, demanding the patrons turn over every table in the place and rush for the stage. It's not happening. 

I can't watch anymore of this train wreck so I head outside. Not five minutes later Jimmy (our bassist) comes out holding Chris. Chris is a machine. It's the brain of our show. We'd rather have a human play keyboard instead of Chris, but the last guy we tried out flaked on us. Guess what his name was? 

Apparently the singer felt it necessary to climb on our gear, which was sitting off stage, and knocked over Chris. He appears to be broken. I plug him in. He powers up, and the meters run, but I can't listen to it. It runs on a hard drive, so I'd have to listen to every song to see if any damage had been done. This makes me upset. 

I go back inside. The second band offers their assistance in rectifying the situation, as does the sound guy. He cuts them a couple songs short. The singer walks off, down the hallway parallel to the stage, and I follow. when he turns around I'm there, towering over him by at least a foot. I express my disappointment in his actions. I don't yell, but he takes me seriously. He offers to do "anything" to make it right.  I don't press what "anything" means coming from a poor LA rock band, so I press for money instead.

We were offered a $100 guarantee for playing. I assumed they were too. Chris is more expensive to replace than that. I tell him to give us his guarantee. He obliges, and approaches the promoter to communicate this new transaction. At this point she takes his check, tears it up, and writes us a new one, for three hundred dollars more. I'm somewhat insulted these jackasses got paid more than we did, but at least I know what they're willing to pay. Next time I'll ask for more. 

Anyways, $300 is more than used Chris goes for on eBay... actually I just check; it's a little less than what Chris goes for on eBay. Still, at the time I thought it was more, so I offered to let him keep some of his band's money. After all, it’s not the whole bands' fault that he's an idiot. He insisted I take it though. So we left making $400 instead of $100, plus merch sales. 

The rest of the band apologized for their singer's behavior. They were nice enough guys, even if their bands sucked something awful. However, their guitarist felt that the most just resolution would be if they kept Chris, seeing as how they were paying for him. I was reluctant. First of all, our whole show is on there. There's something like 30 songs on there that I'd completely have to redo. I have backups, but still. It's a tedious process, and one I wasn't looking forward to doing again. 

It seemed as though the guitarist might pick Chris up at any moment and throw him on the ground, breaking him into a million pieces to prove some point. The singer interjected though, and they left. We waited until after they left before packing up, so their singer wouldn't break anything else of ours, and headed home. Chris appears to be working fine. I felt like Lloyd in Dumb and Dumber, tricking those truckers at the diner into picking up their tab. We weren't murdered miles down the road either. It was a good night.
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