Tuesday, April 10, 2007
I didn't write about going to Pitchfork's party during SXSW. And I probably wouldn't have gotten in at all if I hadn't hunted down my good friend Mark Richardson, who had to claw his own way back into the venue. The line to enter into the Pitchfork party at Emo's stretched in one direction up Sixth Street, down Red River in the other.
I couldn't think of the last time I had been at Emo's, but it had to have been nearly seven years ago. Thankfully, little had changed (meaning that the Wilma and Betty lesbian bondage montage still adorned the interior wall). Back before they expanded into four separate locations on Sixth Street (with the surreal Emo's Las Vegas in the works), Emo's was the locus of innumerable transcendental concerts for me in the nineties.
I can recall that fateful night back in high school, on a whim driving up to Austin well below the legal drinking age and experiencing the Jesus Lizard. My HS friends and I knew Goat already, quaking slightly at the thought of seeing such a band in the flesh. Even the openers were monstrous. Some scuzzy band Johan Kugelberg mentioned in SPIN called the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion; the sight of drummer Russell Simins hammering his kickdrum into the floor was frightening, but that was nothing compared to Spencer's climactic squall of the theremin. None of it could compare to when the Jesus Lizard finally crept on, though. David Yow was shirtless, looking as if he'd been drinking Boone's down by the river all day. Duane Dennison's aluminum guitar glimmered like cougar teeth under the stage light. With neither signal nor count, the Jesus Lizard pounced on our throats with "Boilermaker," the crowd now a blender of sweat, feverish bodies, ecstatic screams. Somewhere in the miasma of the night, David Yow's orange-sized testicles got whipped out, pressed against the microphone. Did anyone hear it?
Drinking in daylight with Mark and Scott Plagenhoef, I conjured up the wasted nights I had spent at Emo's in my past, experiencing Stereolab, Fastbacks, Brainiac, Unwound, Palace...but what meant the most was seeing my friends play there, toiling haplessly in obscurity, never to make it out alive. There was no hope. Sure, people can boast of seeing the bands named above, witnessing these bands in the era before the internet, before such instantaneous networking made word of mouth spread like Hill Country brush fires, but who was going to invoke Gut, Glorium, Multitude of the Slothful, American Psycho Band, Big Horny Hustler, Brownie Points? Austin bands that killed it/ fucked up/ sucked ass/ blew ears and minds on any given night at Emo's, only to be lost irretrievably down the memory hole.
It's hard to argue for who had the most hype coming into the Pitchfork Fest. Was it Girl Talk? Pipettes? Marnie Stern? Peter, Bjorn, and John? I went to see Deerhunter, after the incessant gushing about their "insane live shows." Standing in a venue where such a presentation was necessary just to avoid getting blown off the plywood, to the point of being a given, I wonder where the insanity is during Deerhunter's rather pedestrian performance. Am I at the same show as my editors and peers, who get glassy-eyed by set's end and proceed to hosanna about them online?
Perhaps not. But as I get this Deerhunter assignment, I find the disc more enjoyable, though nothing brilliant. It's a good start, nothing less or more. Hopefully it augurs well their next few years, allowing them to really do something, but for now, they remain just this pretty good rock band. Why do they deserve such a shitstorm of praise following them everywhere?
During my phone interview, I ask singer Bradford Cox about what it means for Deerhunter to be deemed 'insane.'
Cox asks me upfront: "When you saw us were you let down?"
“Sorta. I mean, I didn't see what anyone was talking about.”
"That’s because you're a rational, sane person," he laughed. "You wanna know the secret? You're probably a nice dude, that's what it is. It's your problem, not mine, buddy. You're too nice, rational, and smart. Let me tell you why. If you wanna know what this 'insane live show' boils down to is: people have never seen a skinny person before get on stage and not be shy about it. I don't have to do anything. I just have a weird appearance."
Such is hype.