March 19th, 2012
3:00 P.M. Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day. Julia Massey is playing at Bar Louie’s on 6th Street, and I’m waiting and waiting and waiting for a green beer that does not come. Julia finishes her second to last song, “One at a Time”, and then pauses. There are some claps. She thanks everyone for listening, thanks The Jesus Rehab, whose song “Vertigo” is most excellent, for opening the show, and then says, “Also thanks to Dave of Seattle Subsonic for stopping by.” That means nothing to anyone there, of course, but it’s a nice gesture on her part. I raise my imaginary green beer that I’m still waiting for (twenty minutes now) to toast her mention of me. She smiles, and then breaks into “Brand New Telescope”. It’s a good tune. There’s a guy at a table up front mimicking the playing of a bass guitar adding flourishes when he feels like, a guy next to him bobbing his head. The Jesus Rehab sings along, and afterward, a woman comes up and buys a CD. And that’s what this is all about. It’s a chance to travel cross country for the simple joy of playing music, for some clapping and head bobbing, and well, if a band can pick up a few new fans along the way, sell a few CDs, so much the better.
After Julia’s set, we hug, shake hands, say goodbye, “See you back in Seattle,” and then I wander 6th street, and again, there is so much happening here, too much aural and visual stimuli. There is a metal band head banging and busking on the street, a full band too. They have powered gear and are very good musicians, one guy holding down riffs on the guitar and keyboard at the same time without hardly seeming to realize he’s doing such. He might as well be getting a manicure for the effort he’s putting in, the ease with which he plays some difficult stuff. There’s a most excellent funk band playing in one bar, a big woman with a big voice and bass grooves to match. I don’t know which bar, though. There are so many bars on these streets, and I don’t have my notebook out. Another guy hands me a CD, “What’s this?” I ask. “Free rock,” he answers. I take it and move on. There’s a band marching down the street in makeup and costumes to promote their show later this evening, a kind of carnival rock, one of the woman in the group with her face painted red and white and shorts so short there is little left to imagine. Again, I don’t catch the band’s name. It’s the spectacle that intrigues me. There’s another poppy group playing on a street corner with a sizable crowd around gathered around them. Some clap along, others drop money into the open guitar cases. I make mental note of the name but forget it as soon as I walk away, me, the one who usually takes notes and notes and notes takes nothing today because I just want to experience it all. And most of this is on the street. I’m not even venturing into one of the hundreds of bars. Sensory overload.
Eventually, it is too much so I do what any Seattleite would do, I dive into a grande drip in a Starbucks where I finally take notes and check bus schedules so I can catch up with Sightseer and Furniture Girls at Club 1808. I opt for a cab and meet them in front of the bar where there is discussion of whether to do the gig or not. The neighborhood is a bit run down and the club every bit a dive, and as if to emphasize the point, I’m not there five minutes before all manner of cop cars appear with sirens blaring and lights blazing as they speed around the corner and stop only a half block or so behind the club in the residential neighborhood. I count six squad cars. Then there’s a firetruck, then an ambulance, and finally, a cop on a motorcycle. Not sure why he’s bringing up the rear, but with all the cars and engines and paramedics he hardly seems needed. We’re not sure what happened, but some are convinced not to do the show. There’s more milling about, one more cop car goes whizzing by, more discussion, some jokes about the BBQ place up the street whose slogan is, “You Don’t Need Teeth To Eat My Beef.” Finally though, it’s decided. Rock and Roll will triumph. The gig will be played.
And it is done in the punk rock manner. The room is a square wooden box of an abandoned restaurant with terrible acoustics and a marginal sound system. So the bands turn it up a little louder and play a little faster. The sound is mush, but the energy is good as Sightseer, in the manner of the new Sheriff of Rock Ridge, “Excuse me while I whip this out,” pulls out the Black Crows “My Morning Song” and rips it, and those playing pool in the other room come in to take notice of a great band making the most of a marginal situation. Furniture Girls does the same and closes with “Too Drunk to Fuck” and musicians fall about and drums are knocked over and arms and cheers in the audience are raised. I’m a little reminded of the scene in The Blues Brothers where the band plays at Bob’s Country Bunker and pulls out whatever variety of cover is needed to survive the night.
Afterward, we head north quickly back to the safety of the hotel stopping to get beer along the way. It’s another gig at SXSW, another night shot in the ass, but in a good way, like a vaccination. After all, it’s a gig, and the gig is the thing, the reason we’re all here miles and miles from home, some of us playing, others writing, others helping and selling merchandise, but all of us living for the music in the moment, and wondering if someone died just up the street.