South By Southwest

SXSW 2022: The Recap

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20220315 Los Bitchos

This was the year that the Panic Manual made our semi-triumphant return to Austin for yet another SXSW. This one, would of course be a bit different than other editions – worries about Covid hanging over our heads, work responsibilities clashing with SouthBy funtime, and, oh yeah, the fact that we’re all three years older than the last time we set foot in Austin would obviously all have an effect on our time here. But it was a joy to be back nonetheless and as usual, here is our annual recap post wherein we try to make sense of everything we experienced this year.

Best New Discovery

Gary: Pillow Queens

Ricky: Self Esteem – the show was fun but after listening to the band some more, I’ve determined that I really like them.

Paul: It’s hard to pick just one as there were many great new discoveries – Blackstarkids, Hotel Lux and Crows were all great and Ryder The Eagle was definitely the most memorable and unusual of all the new acts I saw. But maybe the best discovery of the week for me was the latest project of a veteran musician. Catching Mike Watt’s new project MSSV at an unofficial Sunday evening set as part of Chili Dog Fest was definitely a nice surprise. And an incredible performance too.

Best Act

Ricky: No act blew me away this year like The Comet is Coming did in 2019, but there were several notable fun acts. I mean, it’s really just hard to top Dolly Parton but that’s a given. Best new act for me was probably Working Men’s Club, if only because I really dig their New Order vibes.

Paul: I’ll have to second what Ricky said, both in terms of Dolly being hard to beat live and on Working Men’s Club being fantastic. I will also give a shout out to Los Bitchos for putting on a great show – they’re a lot of fun live!

Gary: Hamish Hawk

20220319 Hamish Hawk

Biggest Disappointment

Ricky: My biggest disappointment stemmed from my own inability to separate work and play as I had to work during the festival, but let’s unpack that another time. I was also disappointed that not enough people attended Enjoyable Listens’ afternoon showcase as that was super fun.

Gary: I didn’t have much expectation going in… I also gave up on seeing people wearing masks. That helped, too.

Paul: After three years away from SXSW, even the worst band I saw was still a pleasure to see live – listening to live music in the Austin sun with a beer (or White Claw) in hand makes it hard to be too disappointed in anything. I will admit though that I’m a bit disappointed in myself for missing out on shows from Beck and The Lemonheads during the week, but then again I caught some great new acts (or just caught up on some much needed sleep) in place of them, so again, no real complaints.

Favourite Moment

Paul: Seeing my comedy heroes from Kids In The Hall on a panel discussing the documentary Kids In The Hall: Comedy Punks was pretty great. Also, seeing Geezer Butler and Sebastian Bach talking about the “enduring power of metal” was cool and almost makes up for the near total lack of metal on this year’s (and the past few years’) Music lineup.

Ricky: My Favorite moment was during MEMES’ showcase at Swan Dive, when during the outro part of “Cheer Up”, the lead singer went into the small crowd, got everyone jumping up and down and handed the mic off to either a friend or some fan who then proceeded to go on stage and sing the rest of the song. It made me realized how much I missed that live show energy and was a bit cathartic.

Gary: When Saturday rolled around and 6th Street shed the tumbleweed feeling, I was elated. And a split second after reveling in the moment, realized I best get out of there.

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How did it feel to be back at sxsw again after 3 years (and during a pandemic)?

Gary: A surreal pride that it came together after all, despite the disastrous hypotheticals. Except for Film, which benefits from avoiding timetable clashes with Music once the films are online, SxSW does not work virtually. Plus, it just feels wrong if I’m not a walking billboard for some music production company!

Ricky: It was weird to have some semblance of normal, and quite great. Also, a realization that we are all three years older and so can’t go as hard as possible anymore. Live music is amazing and i’m happy to have seen so many acts.

Paul: It definitely felt strange. But good. But, yes, definitely strange. Starting off slow, the first few days felt a lot lighter than past years, but by the end of the week, the crowds were more or less back in full force … which also felt weird. Still, it was nice to get back into “the thick of it” as KT Tunstall said during her Wednesday night set and I look forward to hopefully going back again for 2023, when things will presumably be a little more back to normal.

SXSW Film Review: Pez Outlaw [Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel]

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Steve Glew has been waiting to tell his story for 20-odd years. It’s not because Johan Patek, his Viennese competitor, labeled him a loser not worthy of a documentary spotlight. To a large segment of the population, many of the people featured in Pez Outlaw are “losers”. The magnitude of this repulsion is in direct proportion to their nonsensical hobby, some would say addiction, of toy collecting, specifically Pez dispensers.

And that is where most people are sorely mistaken. Specialty collecting can be immensely lucrative – for a rarefied, elevated example of the same phenomenon, look no further than the fine art world. But one does not need to trade in 15th century masterpieces or 12 ft tall dog sausages. With the right reputation, provenance, and hype, even childish, mass produced plastic casings moulded by Soviet-era factories can become hot commodities. And those who traffic in hot commodities can get rich very quickly.

This is where a 60 year old mechanic, whose OCD manifests as a compulsive requirement to carry a paper towel at all time, comes into the picture. This is ultimately a film about how he floated to the top of the barrel, if you will. And the manner of his escape from that dead-end life in rural Michigan is decidedly simple, to the point of incredulity. Ponder it for a while, and you might agree that only a forthright, un-cynical mind can make it work.

Glew started as a cereal box collector who, at first, generated profit from premium redemption in cereal boxes by reselling the items. The newfound revenue fed his urge to go bigger, in order to lead he and his family out of the mindless motions called a living. With some luck and the help of his son, he made trips to Eastern European destinations such as the Kolinska factory in Slovenia, just after the Berlin Wall fell, to buy rare Pez dispensers that American fanatics have no access to. But since Pez America is an actual registered company with intellectual rights and trademarks separate from its European counterpart, these shady backdoor deals soon began to cross into corporate espionage territory.

This is a tale where roleplaying dumb-hillbilly has everyone underestimating his motives. Even in this documentary, the stories Glew tells seem designed to build an image of a wizened grey wizard – but a wizard, nonetheless. In fact, this fantasy led Glew to craft and inhabit a new persona as the namesake “Pez Outlaw” for which he suffered later. Truth be told, a lot of luck was involved. But the fact that he got away with it, even for just a little while, makes for a fascinating window into the collecting world and its mythologies.

SXSW Review: Anavitoria, Bendigo Fletcher, March 19, Central Presbyterian Church

Posted on by Gary in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

20220319 Anavitoria

I go to (and often leave) shows completely unaware of who was playing in an attempt to maximize my ignorance. So naturally, when two 4-ft tall Asian girls squished into the pews for the Anavitoria show carrying sign-boards taller than their wingspan is wide, I thought this might be a K-pop set. Happily, Anavitoria specializes in folk music.

Anavitoria is a multi-Latin Grammy winning duo from Brazil that has been around since 2016. With solid pop sensitivity, graceful fashion, and simple harmonies, their songs are quite catchy. This performance was nominally in support of their latest release, last year’s Cor. But there were many instances of enthusiastic sing-alongs, which built a soothing atmosphere, yet also led me to the conclusion that there must have been many old singles in the mix. While that album has the backing of a variety of instruments, this set was entirely acoustic.

Formosa is the name given to Taiwan when it was “discovered” in 1544 by the Portuguese, but of course I don’t speak a word of it. So when Ana and Vitoria spoke to an enraptured crowd who bursts into laughter or applause from time-to-time, I can only assume that this feel-good concert came with the bonus “CHIT-CHAT ACHIEVED!”

20220319 Bendigo Fletcher

At the other end of the polish spectrum is Bendigo Fletcher from Louisville, Kentucky, looking as if they were tossed from the ass-end of a grain elevator. It was a huge and interesting contrast. While the harmonies and melodies from their latest album Fits of Laughter were just as warm and catchy as Anavitoria’s soft musings, the lyrics were about dogs, responsibilities, and sugar-cooking – perhaps the same content was shared but lost-in-translation?

Front-man Ryan Anderson loves nothing more than switching keys and upping the scales mid-way to showcase his vocal dynamic range, making these songs light, flighty, and wistful. “Astro Pup” and “Sugar in the Creek” were both brilliant and well type-cast numbers that you’d expect to be, and indeed were, performed with a banjo. But perhaps the best was the last song on their 2015 album, “Wonderfully Bizarre.” And just as funnily, this was the last show at SxSW for me this year. Until the next year, then?

SXSW Review: Wet Leg, March 18, Radio Day Stage

Posted on by Paul in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

20220318 Wet Leg

When you’re at SXSW, you go to see buzz bands. It’s just something one does. And this year, the buzziest of the buzzed about new acts on the lineup was Isle of Wight indie rockers Wet Leg.

The band, led by the duo of Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, has been garnering quite a bit of publicity over the last little while, first coming onto the scene with their excellent ear worm of a single “Chaise Longue” and they’re set to release their self-titled debut album next month. All of this, combined with the fact that they were only playing a handful of times during the week, meant long lineups at all of their shows.

Our solution? Use our privilege as badge-holders to take in their Friday afternoon set at the Austin Convention Center’s Radio Day Stage. After all, those shows are never all that packed and … oh. OK, then.

Yup, even that show was pretty packed, although after a short time in line, we got in pretty easily and waited for the show to begin. But the question remains – did they live up to the hype? Well, in a way, yes and no. And since it’s always better to end on a positive note, we’ll start with the reason why this show didn’t quite make the grade for me. The main drawback to this set was the fact that it was happening mid-afternoon inside of a convention center, which gave it a bit of a different vibe. That’s never the optimal environment for a rock show and so it was probably always bound to fall a bit short of the hype. But really, that’s no fault of the band, so let’s move on.

Despite my misgivings about the venue, Wet Leg did still put on an enjoyable performance that was a lot of fun … though I suspect any of their other sets from this week were likely better. Nevertheless, it was a pleasure to see songs like “Wet Dream”, “Oh No” and “Angelica” performed live. It all sounded great, the band seemed to be having fun with it, and Teasdale made for a charming frontwoman with her soft spoken and deadpan stage banter. And by the time the band ended things off with set closer “Chaise Longue”, it was hard to walk away unsatisfied.

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