Those numbers don't take into account the mass of musicians and music lovers who pour into Austin for hundreds of alt-SXSW parties and showcases that turn every available space into a music venue, from the art deco power plant that West, Jay-Z, John Legend, and others took over Saturday, to the Broken Neck, a punk-rock warehouse hosting a dozen Philly bands, including Golden Ages, Slutever, and Creepoid, on Thursday.
Hip-hop represented, with Snoop Dogg, Diddy, Big Boi, LL Cool J, and Philadelphia's DJ Jazzy Jeff. The gridlocked festival seemed pushed to the breaking point, with fans breaking barricades to join 22,000 at an uninspired Strokes show, and 1,000 West fans promised, then denied, entry to his show.
High points included white-hot Austin R&B revue Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears; Ohio heartache singer Jessica Lea Mayfield; south-of-the-border electronicistas Mexican Institute of Sound; Philadelphia rockers Kurt Vile & the Violators; and Brit dubstep man James Blake. Excerpts from my SXSW experience:
Thursday, March 17: I used to think SXSW was still not too big. But that was before I went to see the Strokes. I didn't actually see the Strokes, except on a distant screen at the band's free (and massively overcrowded) show. Their fourth album, Angles, comes out Tuesday.
What I saw a lot more of were ads from sponsors: Levi's, Monster Energy drinks, Sam's Club. Sam's Club? Really? "The Strokes, brought to you by Wal-Mart."
With the growth of the Interactive festival, and the makeover of the music business, SXSW is increasingly about musicians seeking TV, film placements, and commercials. And companies using music to draw crowds and market every way they can.
Since (almost) nobody's making music selling recordings anymore, the musician- marketer alliance is inevitable. But when you can't walk the street without being handed a flier from a cell-phone provider or an allegedly life-changing mobile app, you get to feeling like a tool of the man. And the Strokes' Julian Casablancas sneering rebelliously when he sang "New York City Cops" sounded hollow, to say the least.
After that inauspicious beginning, I had an 11-to-2 hot streak worth bragging about. First to the Bat Bar for Lord Huron, the bubbly Los Angeles tropical pop band. Then to the Swan Dive for Those Darlins. Their second album, Screws Get Loose, comes out March 29. It's a Ramones-y garage-rock sound, with a touch of twang and growing songwriting skills.
From there, off to TV on the Radio. The Brooklyn art-rock band releases Nine Types of Light in April and plays the Electric Factory April 8. Tunde Adebimpe and crew's new stuff was as captivating as older faves like "Staring at the Sun." Killed it.
Friday, March 18: Quick: Whose song is No. 1 on the Billboard dance charts this week? Hint: She has reached that spot with her last six consecutive singles. Lady Gaga? No. Lady Yoko. Yoko Ono, 78, chart-topping dance diva, chatted at the Austin Convention Center Friday morning with Austin DJ Jody Denberg.
John Lennon's widow described her singing as "infamous" and said it was the cause of Lennon's wilder-than-usual guitar playing on her solo recordings. In charge of one fourth of the Beatles' business for more than 30 years, Ono offered this advice: "If you start to create art for money and don't get the money, you feel like a fool. But if you're not doing it for money, and you don't get it, you won't be disappointed. You know what the value is. You're doing it for art."
Saturday, March 19: Philadelphia rockers Kurt Vile & the Violators were clear SXSW standouts this year. They supported the excellent new Smoke Ring for My Halo at day parties throughout the week, launched the big Bright Eyes-headlined all-day extravaganza at Auditorium Shores Saturday, then bolted across town to shut down the Waterloo Records outdoor stage. The hirsute guitarist plays Wednesday at World Cafe Live with J Mascis. . . .
After fortifying myself with a lunch of pulled pork in a waffle cone made of bacon - the Austin lunch truck culture is amazing - I ducked into the Convention Center to see Last Days Here, the documentary about metal legend and Pentagram leader Bobby Liebling. The deeply Philadelphia-connected project is by filmmakers Don Argott and Demian Fenton, who made the Barnes Foundation doc The Art of the Steal. Pentagram's new album, Last Rites, comes out April 12 on Metal Blade records.
. . . Your feet hurt. You're living on beer, caffeine, and ibuprofen. SXSW is a forced march, a sleep deprivation fest, where thousands navigate the massive crowds on Sixth Street, where every day is seemingly Halloween and sometimes St. Patrick's Day, too. Everyone is determined to find the great music they know is out there, damn it.
On Friday night, I began well with the always awesome Waco Brothers at the Yard Dog Folk Art Gallery and laid-back Laurel Canyon-style Portland country rockers Dolorean at 9. And I closed the night with a riveting set by Austin heroes Okkervil River at Antone's. But in between, as I roamed the streets of Austin with Fresh Air's Amy Salit, whom I rely on for guidance in all things, we couldn't catch a break.
Praise be that Okkervil River, whose I Am Very Far comes out May 10 and who play the Trocadero June 3, came through in the end. Will Sheff, an unusually emotive, articulate, and hard-rocking band leader and songwriter, saved my evening.
Sunday, March 20, first day of spring: At an event guaranteed to be the most talked-about of the festival, Kanye West and guests, including Jay-Z, John Legend, Mos Def, Kid Cudi, Pusha T, and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, commandeered the derelict Seaholm power plant for a three-hour-plus gig meant to showcase West's Good music label.
It began at 1 a.m., after fans waited outside for hours. Five hours of your SXSW life spent waiting for, and then watching, Kanye and friends. . . . How many scuffling bands, who need the exposure much more than West, performed somewhere in Austin during those same hours? Hundreds.
It turned out to be a briskly paced event that drove the crowd into escalating episodes of delirium. West hit the stage at 2:30. Except for a costume change, from black leather to blood red, he stayed there for the next hour and a half, prowling the stage and spitting rhymes with relish.
Legend sang his lush ballad "Ordinary People" solo and also sang the hook to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy's "Blame Game." Vernon sang the mournful, soul-searching second-to-last number, "Lost in the World."
The highlight was "Runaway" - the one with the "toast for the douchebags" line - which West sang as much as rapped. It's also the song in which West freely admits to his lovers (and haters) that "you been putting up with my s- just way too long." Indeed we have, and SXSW got a big dose of it this week. But "Power" explains why we keep taking it: "I got the power to make your life so exciting." That, too.
Contact music critic Dan DeLuca at 215-854-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org. See more of his reports from SXSW, including photographs and videos, at his blog "In the Mix," at http://www.philly.com/ philly/blogs/inthemix.