Home, Home on the Range (Where the Deer-Bands and the Antlers Have Played)

For four days, amidst the whirlwind of countless bands’ Winter/Spring 2010 tours, Austin becomes a refuge for exhausted musicians. The break from the road brings with it the brief sensation of a homebase; there are no long roadtrips, no draining car rides, no daily scrambles to find a cheap hotel. Just four days of playing music for as many people in as many places as possible. It’s a task that seems insurmountable in foresight, but an immeasurable relief from life on the road, if only for a little while.

I may have questioned the sanity of those who were charged with our well being and, with that in mind, booked us eleven shows in four days for our first year at South by Southwest. I may have even been embittered by the idea of having to run from venue to venue with as little as ten minutes between sets, leaving us little time to decompress in between. Once we reached Austin, though, and the four days of what Jeff oh-so-eloquently calls “throw ‘n go” began, all of my doubts subsided. Our first show at the Paste party was hectic and spectacular, and the Galaxy Room was filled to the brim. Our second at the Fader Fort was surreally rockstarrish due to an incredible and superhumanly efficient stage crew, loads of free gear from Levi and Converse, a massive stage cluttered with cameras and engulfed in fake smoke, and a surprise headlining show by Damien Marley and Nas. By the end of Day One, I was nothing but excited and fearless about the remaining nine shows.

Day Two began with a quick interview, followed by an early outdoor set at the Eastbound and Found stage and a late BBQ breakfast over at Yard Dog for Schuba’s annual SXSW roundup. The former was unbelievably energetic given the early set time (1pm is early, right?), and the latter felt much bigger than the cramped stage seemed to allow thanks to a particularly enthusiastic audience. The day ended early for us – by about 5pm – and left plenty of time to go see some other bands. Mer and I spent the early evening out at Ruby’s BBQ with my parents, and washed that down with some Lone Stars at Stubb’s massive outdoor stage. We had a chance to check out The Besnard Lakes (psych-folk) and The Soft Pack (pop-rock) before losing steam (unfortunately prior to either Drive By Truckers, Band of Horses, or Broken Social Scene) and heading back to our hotel. Day Two ended with a feeling of tentative satisfaction mixed with a nervous energy for what was ahead.

Our third day at SXSW was by far our busiest, consisting of a grand total of four shows. We had tapings for two acoustic performances to start the day…one on the outskirts of town for Rock Feedback TV, and the other downtown Austin with NPR’s All Songs Considered. Each lasted roughly an hour, at which point we had some time off to go hang out in the Spin loft…a massive party filled with ping-pong, video games, acoustic performances, photo shoots, free Stetson boots and hats, and an online radio station doing constant interviews for Spin and MySpace Music. Shortly thereafter, we had to be across town at the Gibson Studios for a live performance on Seattle’s 90.3 KEXP. I messed up twice during “Starring,” and got characteristically down on myself – not a good thing to feel prior to our show later that night. As if I hadn’t been nervous enough about performing live on the radio, we had to leave from there to immediately load-in to our “official” (whatever that means) Frenchkiss/Mom+Pop Records SXSW Showcase. It was the only show all week for which we had a lengthy and thorough soundcheck, and by the time the doors to the backyard tent were opened we were ready to go. I had been as nervous for the showcase as I have ever been for any show, but in the hour leading up to showtime I managed to successfully calm myself down, turning most of my negative nervous energy into a collectedness that translated into optimistic confidence. The set was our most powerful and energetic and fun, and though the crowd beyond the front few rows was disconcertingly still during the songs, they more than made up for it with near-deafening enthusiasm in between them. We were followed by a stellar performance by Local Natives, a doozie by An Horse, a rockfest by Suckers, and a moving powerhouse by The Antlers. Les Savy Fav fittingly dominated the last slot of the night, while our tourmates Bear in Heaven brought down the house with what I would consider their best performance of the tour at Emo’s next door. It was a late night, a party night, and Day Three came to a close with pride and relief and anticipation of our final day at SXSW 2010.

Day Four was almost as busy as Day Three, and about twice as hectic. We began the day with a recording of an acoustic Daytrotter Session at Stubbs, which was also hosting Rachel Ray’s massive and gourmet-BBQ-soaked day party. After being denied free roaming around the venue and any delicious “VIP ONLY” BBQ, we hungrily recorded our set and wolfed down some egg and bean tacos before running down the street to The Mohawk for the MOG party. We had only thirteen inputs for our instruments (we usually use about eighteen or more), only fifteen minutes to set up, and another show ten minutes after our set at MOG down the block. Despite these obstacles, we had been well prepared by Jeff to throw ‘n go. The MOG show was our most raw, most pointed, and most visceral performance of the whole festival, which often happens when we’re running on fumes.

Immediately following the end of the set, we broke down and arrived at the Coffee? No Pants! Party only ten minutes late (luckily, Avi Buffalo covered for us and switched spots so that we wouldn’t have to cut our set short…thanks for that!) We waited patiently to play our eleventh and final show, and once we took the stage it was with an ease and confidence the likes of which I’ve never sensed in this band.

As we hit the last note of “Location,” all of the exasperation excitement exhaustion exhilaration that I’d staved off for four days hit me like a wrecking ball. I found the nearest Lone Star, the nearest couch, and promptly began to decompress. We capped the week off with a group dinner at Ironworks BBQ for a meal of the best smoked ribs and brisket that I’ve ever eaten. Why do my entries always end with some sort of food wrap-up? Well, next to the music, it’s the best part of being on the road. Especially in Texas.

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~ by Jacob Hyman on March 22, 2010.

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