On a bus south of sunny Austin, TX this morning, a 20-something woman in huge sunglasses and a thin, black dress flipped through pages of band schedules that had been smothered in yellow highlighter. The younger, orange-dyed woman across from her, wearing headphones around her neck and a color-splattered summer dress straight out of a Spongebob episode, struck up a chat: "You're going to South-By, right?"
Indeed, both were on their way to Austin's annual South By Southwest Music Festival, whose official concerts begin tonight but whose unofficial shows around town kicked off shortly before noon. Black dress declared herself a freelance photographer from Brooklyn, NY, while rainbow dress hailed from South Carolina by way of Victoria, BC, Canada, now repping a radio station in the area. Formalities out of the way, the two got to business: "What bands should I see?"
The conversation wasn't fruitful (rainbow recommended indie mainstays Broken Social Scene; black audibly sighed, as if to prove she'd tooootally heard about BSS, like, four years ago), but, to be fair, I didn't contribute. I was on my way to see Toro Y Moi, the performing moniker of South Carolinian Chaz Bundick, and I didn't want another body in my way at a show I expected to be packed.
More and more tourists—like black dress, rainbow dress, and, yep, myself—descend upon SXSW every year in a hipster take on the 1840s gold rush, and most comers forgo the official badge and wristband fees, settling on the overload of free, non-endorsed parties around town. Doesn't matter that it's a weekday, or that most of the local student population is gone for spring break. Every club that unfurls from the corner of 6th Street and Red River has a line out the door. In a scene that almost looked like a zombie survival film, a parking garage party, hosting the new Shins/Danger Mouse supergroup Broken Bells, had fans hanging from the outlying chain link fence at 1 p.m.
Broken Bells sounded fine through the fence and hanging bodies, but I was dead-set on Toro Y Moi's set. Bundick's recent publicity, as much in blogs as in magazines, was enough to fill the indoor room at Austin's The Mohawk, but his vivid mixture of early '80s R&B beats, post-rock aural manipulation, and candied falsetto vocals kept the tightly packed crowd dancing. Many SXSW bands might not benefit from a room too full to see the stage, but Bundick's magic wasn't particularly visible as he stood idly behind a keyboard rig. The sound system took center stage, blurting his bass pulses through hundreds of bodies while his voice, layered upon repeating beats as songs unwound themselves, floated in muggy air that smelled of polyester tees and Lone Star beer.
So, to black dress and rainbow dress, I'm sorry I didn't share my recommendation on that sunny bus ride. I would've been happy to dance with eyes closed next to y'all so that we could all tell our friends in four years how passe Toro Y Moi is.