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SXSW Friday: Kings of Leon Will Make Beer Irrelevant

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Leon_lHowdy from Austin, where it is not only the last (full) day of SXSW, but also Saturday, and also St. Patrick’s Day. These factors together have combined to create lines the likes of which this reporter has never seen, and sightlines so abysmal I might as well be watching from Dallas. (Hello, the Walkmen! You sound good from the end of this hallway!) But if I’ve never said this before, now is the time: God bless Beerland, where I’ve walked in and grabbed not only a barstool, but all the free wireless a girl could ask for, and a punk hoedown courtesy of the Goodnight Loving. If I sit here until 5:30, I get to see the Black Lips, who are high on my list of band cravings. Beerland, you are a friend to me.

Also a friend to me: The Kings of Leon, whose skinny legs rocked Stubb’s yesterday afternoon with the best set I’ve seen at this festival. Caleb Followill and his band of brothers tore into a sweaty, PBR-filled crowd with a vengeance that grew as the afternoon wore on and more and more people abandoned their beer in favor of jumping up and down. “I thought this was gonna be a s—ty crowd,” Caleb said about halfway through, “but I was wrong.” They closed with “Slow Night, So Long,” and it seemed way too soon. I wanted more, more, more! I didn’t want to have to give my heart to another band right away! That’s the hardest part about this stupid festival: Just as you’re getting into something, the set ends, and you walk to or run to or stand in line for something else, and you never get to savor anything. It’s like wolfing down your barbecue, something else I’ve done plenty of lately. Damn unsatisfying.

In general, SXSW Friday could claim to be the day where everything reached a fevered pitch. You were in my pocket for all of it, PopWatchers, so won’t you come along now and see what you saw?

Last time we talked, I was blogging from the yard of Stubb’s in anticipation of the Fratellis‘ rumored guest star, the mayor of SXSW, Mr. Pete “I’ll Just Stand Back Here and Jam” Townshend. And refreshingly, he did in fact appear, joining the Glaswegian boys on one of their songs and then laying down a pretty great version of “The Seeker.” This made the Who fans go wild, and everyone who didn’t bother to haul their butt out of bed by 1:30 very, very sad. Having been there — and having seen Townshend every single day so far — I found it all to be somewhat of a non-event. But mark the Fratellis down in your books, kids, cause they’re gonna be ones to watch, even after that iTunes ad stops running.

Fratellis were followed by the excellent proggy soundscapes of Mew, a band I’m still trying to figure out but like very much in parts, especially when their da da das soar to the heavens. Then I ducked out during Galactic’s set to go pick up the new Jack Ingram album from his management office, as I must review it by Tuesday (it never stops, PopWatchers), jumping in a cab to make it back in plenty of time for Kings of Leon, who did the aforementioned rocking of my world — seriously, those pitter-pattered lyrics just make my knees weak from dancing.

Perry Farrell introduced the afternoon’s headliners, The Buzzcocks, referring to them as “one of the seminal punk rock groups of all time.” And where some may have had their concerns — how would this slightly paunchy, marginally balding group of middle-aged men ever recapture their punk glories? — I’d seen them open for Pearl Jam back in 2003, and was fairly confident they’d remained in fighting shape. I wasn’t wrong: They turned it out, and especially when they pulled into the home stretch of their set– “Orgasm Addict,” “What Do I Get,” and “Ever Fallen in Love” — at least one person had spilled PBR all over her feet after kicking over her beer while thrashing around too much. Oh. That may have been me.

A little bit exhausted– and wanting a chance to remember the afternoon fondly — I left Stubb’s with no real destination in mind and started wandering the streets. My meandering path ran me smack into Spoon frontman Britt Daniel, walking in the opposite direction on 9th Street, wearing Ray-Bans and carrying a bag of what looked like takeout. Spoon’s been around Austin so long they used to play the Anti-SXSW, so I had a lot of questions, and he was sweet enough to let me stick a tape recorder in his face while he talked. More from him later; whatever we don’t use for our wrapup in the print magazine I’ll get to you guys here online. (UPDATE: The promised Spoon Q&A is here.)

After dinner with Endelman, the long night began with one of my favorite discoveries from last year: Margot & the Nuclear So and So’s, who I described to someone yesterday as a mopier Broken Social Scene, but that seems overly simplistic. There are eight of them: Frontman Richard Edwards, plus another guitarist, bass, violin, keys, trumpet, a drummer, and a multi-percussionist/danceman, who flails around with his crash cymbals and tambourine like a Cabaret-era Liza Minnelli got trapped in the body of a trucker hat-wearing hipster. And all eight of them are vital to the sound, which fluctuates from pop to screamy you-are-breaking-my-heart emo, and tosses in the occasional song with meows for a chorus. Despite an arduous soundcheck, they powered through a set that was thick with gut-punching moments of beauty, and thus I will forgive them for not doing “Jen Is Bringing the Drugs.”

From there, I took my friend Josh’s recommendation and saw good-natured Seattle foursome BOAT at Parish II, a set that I would have really enjoyed had I known all the words and been able to sing along like the 10 or 15 hyper loyalists in the front row. They seem a bit like a band that started as a joke but then accidentally discovered they could write really hooky, literate songs (one of them appeared to feature the line “I’ve got ninjas sitting on the couch in my room”) and just kept playing for the hell of it. Bonus points to them for making shakers out of rice duct-taped into Dixie cups and pegging them at the audience. Those of us who did not have a beer knocked into our lap were very happy to shake along!

Penultimate stop of the evening was all the way across town at La Zona Rosa, where, on a hot but ultimately once again inaccurate tip, I sprinted to see a surprise set from the Flaming Lips. Because of the sprinting I got there in plenty of time to see the second half of Amy Winehouse, who was using her gnarly teased hair and her very attractive backup singers/dancers to entertain an enormous and effusive crowd (“We love you Amyyyyyyyyyyyyy!”). I suppose if Lily Allen is not here to save us all, Amy Winehouse will have to do, and while I find her loungey style appealing and her band tremendous, I was a little underwhelmed by her in the flesh. Then again, if I was playing 97 shows at SXSW, carrying the weight of the indie world on my shoulders, and had been drunk for what appears to be weeks, I’m not entirely sure I’d be able to sing at all, let alone captivate hundreds and hundreds of people.

So Winehouse finally off my checklist, I hustled down to the front and ducked into the photo pit to prepare for what was to be the surprise Flaming Lips show. Once again, there was no reason to think it wouldn’t happen — Wayne Coyne is definitely in town, I’m told, covering the festival for the Tonight Show — and PopWatchers, I want you to know that had it been the Flaming Lips, you would be able to see incredible pictures on our Flickr page.

Instead, please enjoy more pictures of effing Razorlight. God, that was disappointing.

Anyhoo, I was too heartbroken to walk all the way back to the other side of town, so I stumbled into a pedicab and flew wide-eyed down the streets of Austin, trying to keep my laptop from flying into a pothole. Jittery and confused, I made my way to the Dirty Dog to try and see Sloan, but really the best I could do without being crushed to death was watch on the Jumbotron. It was at that point I decided I’d had enough.

And that was Friday! Whew, I’m tired again just remembering it all. Here at Beerland, though, it continues to be relatively uncrowded, and the terrific CPC Gangbangs are going on next. Watch this space for more later today, when I’ll finally get around to writing up that “In the Attic” thing from Thursday. I know you have nothing better to do with your weekend than sit around and refresh this blog. Awesome.