Sunday, March 30, 2008

SXSW: Romancing the Sound

From now until I'm done, I'll be posting musical highlights from SXSW on my Tumblog and have the finished product on my Muxtape.

I made the mistake of driving downtown during South by Southwest the first day I went. I spent 45 minutes and $10 before I found a spot and missed DeVotchKa at MPR/the Current's showcase. Oh well. First real stop: the Paste/Stereogum Dell Lounge for performances by Colour Revolt and Delta Spirit. Colour Revolt didn't impress, but Delta Spirit put on a worthy show. Of course, by the time Delta Spirit went on, I had discovered that the good people from Paste were offering free Southern Comfort cocktails, so perhaps I was more receptive.

After Delta Spirit, I wandered down to Auditorium Shores--an outdoor venue situated on the river/lake with an immediate view of downtown Austin as the backdrop--for Del the Funky Homosapien and the main event: Spoon. As the sun went down and the lights of downtown Austin came on, I stopped watching the band and focused on the big screen. Almost every shot featured the illuminated downtown skyline as the backdrop. Captivating.

After Spoon, I met up with my roommate Anthony to head down to the Red Bull Moon Tower. What's a Moon Tower? We weren't sure. We did know, however, that this was to be an exclusive, private party, and we were on The List. The Moon Tower turned out to be an all-night showcase of good music, fun video, and free adult beverages. Musical highlights: a DJ called BT and a trio known as Brazilian Girls. Brazilian Girls took the best of electronica, drum&bass, and pop and smooshed them together into a thumping good time. It was impossible to stand still. Brazilian Girls are a keyboard/laptopist, a really sick live drummer, and a female singer in a tutu (we agreed that tutus are really quite underrated). Irresistable.

Time of departure from the Moon Tower: 4:30am.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Quick Plug for the Pure

Dudes, I just found a sweet company serving up DRM-free mp3: Puretracks. Now, I know that there are other DRM-free sites out there (including Amazon), but allow me to make a case for the Pure and suggest that you look 'em up.

Here's why I like Puretracks:

1. They encode EVERYTHING at 192kbps. 192's the place where storage economy and sound quality meet and play nice. It's what I use for ripping CDs.

2. DRM-free means I can put their mp3s on my iPod with ease. No compatibility issues; no problems at all. Also: unlimited burning.

3. The songs download lighting-fast. I pulled down Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" (a 5.3MB file) in one second. One Friggin' Second, ya'll. No exaggeration.

4. Puretracks is Canadian. That means
(a) now that the USD is back on top of the Canadian dollar, a 99-cent song only costs 97 cents. And it can only get better right?
(b) The licenses are legit. This ain't grey-market, quasi-legal Russian stuff; it's easy on the conscience.
(c) And this is the kicker: Awesome customer service. They respond quickly (sometimes within 10 minutes). They're super friendly. I screwed up my order twice, and they fixed it for me both times. The first time, they emailed the song I needed directly to me as an attachment. The second time, they gave me a PIN number for a free download. Excellent.

UPDATE: Now for the bad news--it's hard to tell whether you're getting the clean version or the original. I ended up with the sanitized version of Winehouse's "Back to Black." Now I gotta buy it AGAIN.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Falling in Love Again

March 8 & 9, 2008: My little bro Caleb gigs with the Des Moines symphony, playing a bit part in a classical concert as part of an orchestral experiment known as Sympho. The conductor: Paul Haas, a young classical director who's quickly making a name for himself. Sympho's mission: make classical relevant again. The execution: REWIND, a 90-minute, non-stop stream of pieces blended almost seamlessly to keep the audience engaged. "Almost," because at wholly appropriate intervals, the live instrumentation yielded to the electronica stylings of Paul Fowler, who recorded the live sounds, replayed and remixed them with fly-by-wire distortion. The show--for it was a show; with the main orchestra on stage, Mr. Fowler lurking below with his laptop and board, and a small breakaway ensemble sitting behind the audience--was nothing short of wonderful.

And I was there. That was Sunday. Little did I know that Sympho would be the first of many musical coquettes that I would meet this past week. After a couple days in Des Moines, I drove back to Austin with the hope of catching some free day parties at South by Southwest. That hope would be surpassed by the most incredible week of courting live music I've ever experienced. After years spent lacking much in the way of real passion for music, I think I'm falling in love again.

Next time: the Paste Magazine/Stereogum Lounge, Del the Funky Homosapien, and more.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sundry Austin Updates

1. Housing: I haz it. My buddy Ben White, the only friend I had in Austin, hooked me up with some nice Christian dudes in the north ATX. I embodied Guy-on-the-couchdom for a few weeks, then painted, added furniture to, and moved into an actual bedroom. Currently sleeping on an air mattress borrowed from Ben.

2. Classes: The day after initial registration, I went back to my department advisers, found that the classes I wanted now had open spots, and rearranged my sched to be much more useful. The times ain't exactly ideal, but the classes themselves are, at least in terms of getting a degree. I really enjoy my Chaucer and biology classes.

3. Job: No job. (It's time for another Good Idea: Bad Idea). I all but sealed the deal at Houston's (where I needed the "Five" words--and had to take an intelligence test), but my funky class schedule is such that they can't get me thru training. The manager invited me to come back once class gets out, and even recommended a few other restaurants for me to try. But the rigors of room remodeling and spring-breaking have prevented me from getting something else.

4. Fun Texas fact: The Texas capitol building in Austin is taller than the US Capitol in DC. Do you suppose that's intentional, hmm?