Mess With Texas Party 3 gives SXSW Day Four a run for its money

27 03 2009

What’s that I smell? Is that animosity stinking up the spring freshness of Austin? Animosity doesn’t smell too terrible when mixed with the booze breath and weed/cigarette smoke polluting the air at SXSW, but every once and a while you get a strong whiff that’s enough to knock you on your ass. The Mess With Texas Party 3 was enough to knock me from behind AND make me raise an eyebrow. Talk about blowing the official SXSW shows out of the water (besides P.J. Harvey at Stubb’s, of course, which I didn’t even attempt to get into when I saw the line for badge-holders was halfway down the block).

As a SXSW virgin this year, I had no idea there would be so many good free shows happening all around Austin. I was also oblivious to the fact that some Austin locals aren’t exactly pleased with the thousands of industry big-wigs and crazy journos who infest their city for private shows, but it makes complete sense (sorry guys). From the French Legation Museum and Ms. Beas to the Fader Fort and Paste Magazine parties at Radio Room, Austin residents not wanting to dish out precious bucks for wristbands (seriously, who does that?) had plenty of free options this year. Out of all of them, though, the Mess With Texas Party featured the most impressive line-up.

Sponsored by Austin’s Transmission Entertainment and Los Angeles’ F Yeah Fest, Mess With Texas raged hard from noon ’til ten (supposed to be 9, but they were running behind) on March 21 at Waterloo Park. Headliners included The Black Lips, The Circle Jerks, Akron/Family, Kid Sister, Cursive and The Thermals. This wasn’t some minor D.I.Y. effort at a dive bar — this was a major event with two stages, tons of vendors and thousands of attendees. And it was completely free and open to the public. What a revolution — an event during SXSW without a pushy doorman toting a hierarchal V.I.P. list!

After catching an uber-short, mind-blowing performance from Janelle Monae, I hauled ass across town to Waterloo Park. I was praying Akron/Family would still be performing when I showed up, and it seems as though the spirits were feeling extra generous that day. The Pennsylvanian freak-folk rockers were doing the tribal thang when I joined the rambunctious crowd, like always.

photo by Jillian Mapes

The last time I saw Akron/Family (at the Nelsonville Art and Music Festival), they were joined on stage by intoxicated, maraca-toting members of the grunge-grass band O’Death. This time around the drummer from Atlanta rap up-and-comers B.O.B., named Alien, was busting out some beats on the high-hat while Akron/Family jammed onward in a psychedelic haze. Two female fans sporting marijuana leaf head bands danced in the periphery as well. Not surprised.

I am consistently amazed by Akron/Family because they find innovative ways to incorporate what can most clearly be defined as world music into indie rock. Experimental brethren Animal Collective are masters of this style as well, but Akron/Family’s music is certainly less atonal. I’ve never seen a group of young show-goers so interested in African tribal chants and circle dances as those in attendance at the Akron/Family performance at Mess With the Texas 3.

From what I could tell, the band played mostly new songs from their May release, titled Set ‘Em Wild, Set ‘Em Free. I was praying they’d play “Don’t Be Afraid, You’re Already Dead” from their last album Love is Simple, but it didn’t happen while I was there. Akron/Family did, of course, break out their signature tie-dye American flag during the performance.

As I waited for The Black Lips to take the main stage, I caught most of B.O.B.’s performance on the side stage directly following Akron/Family. The rapper Bobby Ray, who was joined on stage by guitar-and-drum-toting cohorts and uses the alias B.O.B., mixed The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” with uh, much more typical beats to create an infectious track that kept my head bobbing. I’m not typically into “crunk-punk,” but I was vibing on the guitar lines framing B.O.B.’s rhymes.

As for The Black Lips, I was completely underwhelmed. I don’t know if I was just completely exhausted or if they were just off on Saturday, but I found myself sitting on the sidewalk dozing off. I was specifically waiting around to see the garage-punk buzz band tear shit up at Mess With Texas because they are known to pull some outrageous live stunts like nudity, pyrotechnics, etc. All I could do was slump over like a sleep-deprived zombie (which I was by day four of SXSW). Even the songs I recognized from their albums just seemed blah to me. I’m thinking it was because I literally had no energy left, so I definitely want to see Black Lips play live again to reassess. The most interesting part of the show was that there was a line of fans crowding the back of the stage for the entirety of the performance. I’m sure the band’s energy was more dynamic from such a view.

photo by Jillian Mapes

As I began to drag my sore, tired body to exit at Waterloo Park, I stopped at the side stage one last time, knowing that once I left Mess With Texas my first SXSW experience would come to a close forever. The performer was none other than Chicago hip-hop home girl Kid Sister, whom I had heard horrendous talk about earlier in the week. I was just waiting for her to make me cringe, make me want to flee the scene, but she didn’t. Sure, she seemed really into her nails and even admitted to having a sore throat and weak voice, but she and her brother J2K from Flosstradamus got me tapping my feet. Which got me dancing in place. Which eventually gave me the energy to make the long trek back home to our crew’s SXSW digs. For that, all I can say is thanks, Kid Sister. — Jillian Mapes

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