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The SXSW Experience, Part 3: All Together Now

Neumu Senior Writer Jenny Tatone writes: Bring together 1,300 musicians and 8,000 South by Southwest registrants in Austin, Texas, and strange things are bound to happen.

Sure, it's mostly just a lot of loud bands playing up and down Sixth Street. And there are loads of "industry cool" parties. For the most part, it's pretty run-of-the-mill SXSW junk (really, really fun junk, that is). But after floating through four days and nights of overstimulation, immersed in the chaos, only a handful of memories will define your experience in the end. Here are mine.

The self-proclaimed "conservative-liberal" cowboy cab driver: "I'll let you smoke my weed but I'll shoot ya if you break into my house," says the cabbie, his gruff Texan drawl convincing you he ain't kidding. "There's no good music in town right now," he claims a few blocks later. "Come at any other time of the year and you'll get the real deal."

Leaving Austin's downtown for the residential Eastside neighborhood, the cabbie feels it's now safe to break out the joint. So we drive around stoned and lost. He shuts off the meter and at one point has to pull over to look up where we are and where we're going. We're all laughing hard at something that, in actuality, is not funny at all. But that's the way it goes, right? We finally arrive at our intended destination, the Church of the Friendly Ghost (I know, perfect!) and, even though we've been driving around for quite some time, he says: "Just give me five bucks." I give him 10. This guy may have a gun, but he's the friendliest cabbie I've ever met.

The Church of the Friendly Ghost is, as the name implies, an old church-turned-music venue that has pews outside for seating and a big lawn for relaxing. Today, it is the location of Chunklet Magazine's party. I pray for good music but am too stoned to enter the cramped mess of sweaty people inside. Instead, I stand in line for free amber ale. It is quite possibly the longest line I stand in all weekend. OK, it isn't. But it really, really feels that way. The line for the bathroom is even worse.

Rock from the gods above — and it rapped: This one involves unicorns, MCs, a boulder and a wash out. Unicorns side-project Th' Corn Gangg play an outdoor afternoon set under a big white tent at Club de Ville. At first, I'm disappointed by the boring indie rock barely leaving the stage. But that all changes when three MCs rush the stage and, like, quadruple the energy level. They seem to come completely out of nowhere, like they're some sort of saviors of bad shows — and they are. And as if God above were blessing their arrival, it starts to pour — and I mean pour — perhaps the hardest rain I've ever seen, and it lasts throughout the surprisingly good set, causing a boulder to fall from the rock wall behind the stage and land on the PA (!), just in time for the show to end. How rock is that?!

The only other stuff I remember: No other single show really stands out for me (other than my beloved Dr. Dog of course), but here are a few of the mentionables.

Though I have to wait in the longest line of all of SXSW (and, no, I am not stoned) to get in, LCD Sound System (AKA James Murphy of the "we're so anti-hip, we're hip" production team DFA) is a blast, the only true dance/mosh party I attend all weekend. Stacks of keyboards dominate the stage while the witty, pissy Murphy shares bitter thoughts (calling us whores, etc.) between mighty dance cuts. He is, after all, the guy who made a lot of the "I was there first" hipsters look really stupid (thank you!) in the excellent track "Losing My Edge."

One of Portland, Oregon's best bands, Menomena, puts on, and I hate to admit it, a pretty poor show. I think this is because they — with all their fancy electronic tinkering and heavy sound collage — are much more of a studio band whose songs, while mind-blowing in the headphones, don't translate well live. Sadly, the oomph is missing.

Buzz band Be Your Own Pet are also a little disappointing, something I hardly expected given the incredible punk-rock stamina on their three-song EP. But you gotta give the kids a break. Their average age is 16 (one member still wears braces) and all of a sudden they got deals with XL and a slot at SXSW. It must be overwhelming and, from the looks of the show, nerve-wrecking. It bothers me slightly that, while watching their hot lead singer rock out onstage, the only thing I can think of is the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, especially Karen O. After all, I saw her strut the same stage just two years earlier. But listening to their EP just last night, I'm thinking I'm old and my ears are bitter. So I stop judging and pretend I'm in high school again and dance around. And I love it. They truly have something amazing going on. Watch out.

The always-entertaining Spin invite-only party at Stubb's — a large, hilly grassy area with outdoor bars and picnic tables — is, well, entertaining. Again. Spin of course always boasts the hottest, most of-the-moment acts: Bloc Party, Futureheads, Louis XIV, and one half-alive legend: New York Dolls. The Futureheads are as fun and tight as ever, racing through their XTC/Jam-influenced set of Brit-punk. The perfected '80s dance grooves of Bloc Party are a bit less fun, but still good in a "good background music for conversation and free beer-drinking" kind of way. Louis XIV are what I expected: a boring rock band trying to get attention by being sexy slimeballs with long butt rock hair; it's extremely obvious this band is trying way too hard. And, if one thing ruins a band, that's it. I miss the New York Dolls. But they're really only half there anyway.

Everyone wants to know what's this all about, what's it all for, this SXSW festival? But I don't think you really need to dig that deep to figure it out. It is what it is. It's congregation. It's promotion. It's celebration. It's a cool kids contest. And an anti-cool kid's contest. It's all of these things coming together to make it all look so very complicated. But, in the end, it's clear. SXSW is the perfect reminder of why we do what we do all year long: 'cause we're all in this together.

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