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SXSW 2007: The Very First Review

The South by Southwest Music Festival is a never-ending stream of bands, booze, and laminates that barrels through Austin, Texas, each spring. Just because you’re not going doesn’t mean you can’t review it.

It’s good to be back in Austin, Texas—hometown of Stevie Ray Vaughan, breakfast tacos, and several Real World celebrities, possibly all named Dan. Back in New York, the wind is howling and homeless men are pissing into the subway grates. But here in Austin, the sun tickles my bare shoulders, and homeless men are pissing into fields of bluebonnets. Also, I’ve got a Shiner Bock in my hand. Wait, scratch that. Daniel Johnston just stole it from me, but he left me this beautiful napkin drawing of an alien with three boobs.

Each year, one of the most challenging, but gratifying, activities is looking at the festival schedule and choosing which shows to attend. Ten thousand bands is a daunting number, and selecting between them is like searching for a needle in a haystack, or trying to figure out which member of Bloc Party gave you an STD. Here is a trick, borne of a decade of SXSW experience: When selecting between four bands at a venue, always choose C.

Wednesday, 11 p.m., Lily Allen

It’s a sign of a good set when I run into so many music critic colleagues; it’s a sign of a great set when I run into so many of them masturbating. But thus is the allure of Lily Allen, the English songbird du jour, who was wearing a purple ‘50s prom dress and Converse through a set that sounded good, but shaky. Still, it’s hard to pay attention when I keep running into so many pals with their hands stuffed in their jeans.

Wednesday, midnight, The Music Awards Show

Wednesday night’s Music Awards show is a SXSW tradition and, fittingly, the same thing happens every year: Spoon sweeps all the local awards. Dudes with long gray hair play blues-rock. And I get balled by Chuck Klosterman.

Thursday, afternoonish, Something-Something Showcase

This morning, before we both split for the day parties, Chuck and I share breakfast in bed—one bong and a giant bowl of queso. We don’t finish the queso, so I pour it into a to-go cup and sip it on the way to South Congress, where I look forward to acquainting myself with some underground gems, like this terrific scruffy Brooklyn four-piece called “The” something-or-other, and a shoegazer group with a hot girl keyboardist. I can Google all that when I get back to my hotel.

Thursday, 11 p.m., Amy Winehouse Show

Folks, it may only be Thursday, but this is the show everyone is going to be talking about. Amy Winehouse is a singer who knows how to light a stage on fire. I mean, she actually knows how to light a stage on fire. Just some vodka and a Zippo lighter, turns out. Before the fire marshal arrives, she also pukes on the audience, shits on the drummer, performs a highly technical surgical procedure on herself (a triple bypass? I lost count), and votes Republican. But still: No encore? WTF?

After watching Winehouse being handcuffed and carried off the stage, I decide to make it an early night. And it was a wise choice, because out on Sixth Street it’s a zoo. Trying to get to the kebab cart, I am saved by two evangelicals, and I think one frat boy impregnates me. But man, I am hungry. As I wait for my food, I see five kids typing away on their Blackberries. Turns out it’s the interns from I’m With Rolling Stone, so I punch each one in the face.

That is all. I just punch the ever-loving shit out of them.

Friday afternoon, Surprise Arcade Fire Show

Before Bob Guccione Jr. lost Spin magazine in a low-stakes game of Texas Hold ‘Em, the magazine’s afternoon party at Stubb’s BBQ was the hottest ticket at SXSW. So this year the true VIPs try to nab tickets to a super-secret concert hosted by hipster high priestess Sarah Lewitinn, aka Ultragrrrl. Last year’s My Chemical Romance show was wicked over-attended, so for this year’s Arcade Fire set, she’s hosting it in her cleavage. Needless to say, no plus-ones.

The Arcade Fire roasts the 10-minute set, but it’s a shame the band has to stop in the middle of the first song. Afterward, David Bowie takes over, everyone files out, and I set up shop next to the free keg. Yuck: Coors. Then it’s back to the hotel for a short nap. I wake up at midnight, when Klosterman texts. Man, it is time to ditch his ass. I’m beginning to fear I may play some role in his next memoir, which he tells me is a wacky, Gen X take about sleeping with a bunch of different journalists at South by Southwest.

Friday, midnight, Polyphonic Spree Show

Leave it to Tim DeLaughter and his merry band of choir-robed hippies to nearly steal the festival away from Amy Winehouse (currently rotting in an Austin jail cell). DeLaughter doesn’t set the stage on fire, but he does successfully convert most of the crowd to Scientology. Afterward, I think I’m buying a T-shirt, but it turns out I am marrying two men in a pagan commitment ceremony. That Polyphonic Spree is sneaky.

Outside, I run into a girl I used to work with at a local weekly. Her shirt says, “Beaver: It’s What’s for Dinner.”

“Have you heard about the Shins after-party?” she asks.

I nearly drop my ceremonial conch. The Shins are playing??

She grabs me by the hand. “Let’s get in a taxi. It’ll take 10 minutes.”

Saturday, 2 a.m., Somewhere in Pflugerville

Did she say Shins? She meant Elbow. They’re easy to confuse. Especially when you’re rolling on cherry Tussin. It takes two hours to knick a taxi from some poor bastard, and we only succeed because that person is Daniel Johnston. The fare to Pflugerville is a whopping $35, but look on the bright side: There are celebrities here. Hey, it’s Verne Troyer and Darius Rucker from Hootie and the Blowfish! And they’re tending bar!

“I’d like a margarita,” I tell Verne. Would it be stupid to say he looks shorter in person?

“This afterparty is sponsored by Malibu rum,” Verne tells me. “We’re only serving strawberry daiquiris.”

My friend is already making out with one of the Fratellis. Sigh. “Then I’ll take a strawberry daiquiri,” I say.

“We’re out of daiquiri mix. All we have left is milk.”

Have you ever wondered how many glasses of milk and rum you can drink before puking on a member of Hootie and the Blowfish? The answer is four. Have you ever wondered how many glasses of milk and rum you can drink before you show your tits to Verne Troyer? The answer is six.

Saturday, 11 a.m., Not Sure Where

Klosterman! Again?????

“Let’s grub,” says Klosterman, flipping off Dirty Dancing right at my favorite part. “Big day today.”

He’s right: Saturday afternoon is a smorgasbord of music. An indie-rock lover’s dream. Bands playing all over the city, David Byrne and Pete Townsend speaking, and Courtney Love handing out free handjobs at Town Lake. Too bad I sleep through all of it, huddled under 10 blankets with the AC cranked to 20 degrees.

“The champagne and queso will be in your room shortly, Mrs. Klosterman,” says the very polite receptionist. “We’ll just put it on your room bill, then?”

Saturday, 10 p.m., Stubb’s Showcase

As usual, the gods of SXSW have saved the biggest and best show for last. The Kings of Leon followed by Spoon followed by the Stooges, for crying out loud. The industry folk are so moved they’re actually trying to text-message their own tears. Iggy Pop swaggers to the microphone—bare-chested, sinewy, face hollowed and mean, Iggy Fucking Pop—and everyone stops talking at once. The crowd was so quiet, so besotted with anticipation, you could hear a cell phone ring. And, of course, one does.

“I heard Amy Winehouse performed a laproscopic surgery here the other night,” says Iggy, swaying back and forth. “That ain’t nothin.” He cackles then, real long and good. “I heard the Polyphonic Spree cleared your engrams and performed several dozen tasteful commitment ceremonies,” he says, and then spits on the front row. “Hack work, my friends.” From the darkened back of the stage, the drums begin to pound. Like a throb that turns to an ache that turns to a feral, uncontained violence, it is almost too much to bear. We cannot bear this. It will not be beared.

“But no one has ever done this!” yells Iggy, slicing off his own head and hurling it into the audience.

If I hadn’t been taking notes, I swear I would have caught it! Instead, some douche from Columbia Records is selling it on eBay now for a million dollars.

And that is how Iggy Pop died at SXSW 2007. Remember, you read it here first.

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TMN Contributing Writer Sarah Hepola is the Life editor at Salon. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Nerve, and on NPR. She lives in Texas with a sweet orange cat who is not fat, he’s just big-boned. If you just read her story about Joseph Gordon-Levitt, she’d like to point that it is fiction. More by Sarah Hepola