A PROJECTMILL Divided. Hot Freaks at SXSW.

Apr 1, 2009 at 11:55 am

Disclaimer: I have, in the time since our trip, been informed that I am not yet a member of the PROJECTMILL and any pretense to belonging I assume over the course of this and/or any of my previous blogs is to be taken with that proverbial grain of salt.

A few hours have passed. I’ve put the blood and baths behind me and am once again curled up next to Josh on our king sized bed. Pete has joined us while Mandy gets ready and we are all, I shit you not, engrossed in an episode of Matlock.

The dick English prof has been murdered and though the dick basketball star is quite the prime suspect, we really don’t know where to assign the blame because the harlot blonde who was balling them both is too obvious, having told the professor mere minutes before his murder he will pay for spurning her advances. The assistant English prof is out as he is just a turd and truth be told, I don’t want to know who done it. I am not alone in thinking so, because we are all just so enjoying the ride.

Pressure is off for Friday. Though the PROJECTMILL has to film both today and Saturday, we are simply videographers and bear no responsibility for our work beyond recording the gig. Said gig is another noon-7 p.m.ish show/party put together by a collective of blogs (one of them being yesterday’s Gorilla vs. Bear) known as Hot Freaks with which the show shares a name. I can tell that Josh and Pete are more than slightly disappointed our involvement is to be so minimal (this could have something to do with it), but the glimmer of hope on the horizon is that we will actually be getting paid for this one.

As we pack up the car I give my buddy Zach a call to relay to him what I can remember of the night before. A guy wearing big black cargo pants and Oakleys gets in Mandy’s and my face with a video camera, asking, “Are you guys in a band too?”

“No. I’m not in a band, I am on the phone.”

By Friday morning I have successfully convinced the crew that we should make Track 10 off of Wee’s super-sensual You Can Fly On My Aeroplane, “Try Me (45 Version)," our transitional “going to/coming from the job” theme song and I am extraordinarily pleased with this accomplishment. It must have increased our gumption/satisfaction at least 5 percent each day. Pete puts it on repeat the whole way, even.

Folks, it’s really about time I tell you about Moloch. Moloch is the name I have (perhaps incorrectly) dubbed for the charismatic and slightly disturbing owl-esque Frost Bank Building in downtown Austin (see my pics below). I’d first heard of the structure from this girl when, in ’06 she befriended me on Myspace and subsequently led me into a year-long fascination with 9/11 conspiracy theories that has yet to totally peter out. I couldn’t quite tell you why this building now has an association with gun-totin’ Texan blondes who wear, “Show Me The Video Of The Plane Hitting The Pentagon” T-shirts, but without checking my facts I’ll just go ahead and put it out there—the Frost Building was built by the Illuminati. Everyone knows the Illuminati (Bill Clinton and Bush Sr. are members) burn effigies every summer at the Bohemian Grove outside of San Francisco in front of a giant statue of the Babylonian Owl God, Moloch. The net’s dimmer corners are full of Ron Paul-loving, Federal Reserve-bashing and generally well-informed “alternative theory” theorists who have planted the seeds that will convince me, the drunker I get, that this building is somehow related to the behind-the-veil plotters of 9/11 and each morning I awake to find a shitload of pictures of Moloch on my camera. This, in turn, always prompts me to snap a few more of her along our daily sojourn into downtown Austin. Today is no different.

When we reach our desination, the Mohawk and Club De Ville, two adjacent clubs that will play host to the Hot Freaks party, the worry sets in. Our boss, Jason, doesn’t seem to have everything sorted out. He tells us he’s short a camera and to top it off he keeps talking about how he had all of these top notch professional cameramen ready to go to work for him, but that he chose to work with us because of his somewhat vague past relationship with Pete. To make things worse, Pete, who is essentially on this trip, our dad, won’t be filming with us today as he has made commitments to help out at a different showcase some ten or twelve blocks away. As has become the custom, Pete begrudgingly saves the day, offering one of PROJECTMILL’s own cameras we unwisely hadn’t packed up with us that morning that he and I are then forced to retrieve. It is a clumsy start to our day.

Upon my return to Hot Freaks, I have only 20 or so minutes to take the venue in. The two clubs are this sort of continual expanse of indoor and outdoor bars, stages and overlooks filling an entire city block in what seems to be an old stone quarry. It is a drunkard’s playground. Austin’s topography is not unlike Cinci’s (though not quite as severe) in that it has its fair share of hills separating its various neighborhoods. The hill along which our clubs rest has been blasted away, the buildings nestled into the sheer rock face. I am to shoot at Club De Ville, the more exposed/outdoor of the two, with Mandy. Josh has been separated from us and over the course of the next two days will work up a kind of unofficial top-dog status over at the Mohawk.

Mandy and I dick around with and eventually achieve a passing familiarity with the badass Panasonic HVX-200 cameras we will use today and tomorrow and I get time to see just who we are filming and am stunned. My ignorance with the Gorilla vs. Booze lineup is turned on its head for Hot Freaks. Obits, the opening act, I do not know, but the rest I have, at the very least, a few songs by on my iTunes, if not entire albums. I’d always felt Dan Boeckner held the better set of pipes in Wolf Parade and was particularly keen to see the Handsome Furs play after seeing this a few days before heading to SXSW. They were infinitely cute, making out like, after every song and managing to connect with the audience better than most of the bands that day, despite being uncharacteristically sober, according to Mr. Boeckner.

American Analog Set had the biggest balls (I should know, I filmed directly below their towering frontman, Andrew Kenny) for playing the softest, slowest set I’ve ever seen at an outdoor festival. The Thermals, whose 2006 The Body, The Blood, The Machine holds one of my favorite ever opening tracks, “Here’s To Your Future,” also did not disappoint. I think my best shots of any band that day were of them.

The Hold Steady were undoubtedly a great live band, but Josh summed up my thoughts perfectly with, “If I wanted to listen to that, I’d put on Springsteen.” Their lead singer said something between songs that struck me, “Everyone’s a critic. And all those guys are DJs.” I loved the truth therein, to be sure, but it was strange to hear from a guy whose band is undoubtedly a critics darling (9.0 club on Pitchfork, perfect ratings from The Guardian, Entertainment Weekly and Alternative Press). Maybe I can’t understand the follow-up pressure he has to face. I really enjoyed filming them play, but nothing inspired me to go out and buy their album. No, that urge would only be coaxed by a borderline religious experience yet to come tomorrow.

At the end of the day Jason said he loved my shots, but that as a whole, tomorrow we would need to get tighter. I said goodbye to Justin, a fine young pro videographer from Queens, who I alternated filming positions with throughout the day. (Side question…why must all “real” videographers and photographers dress in khaki cargo shorts, t-shirts and trainers? They stick out like sore thumbs when they get in your shot, no matter how legit they look. I’m not saying my garb put the performers more at ease, but maybe so and I don’t think I sacrificed much in terms of maneuverability. I mean, how many groupies asked HIM if he was friends with the band? Oh. OK. There it is.).

We leave Hot Freaks to meet up with one of Mandy’s friends from college and I have to use Josh’s ID to sneak into the bar since I have accidentally left mine and my credit card at the Econo Lodge. It’s almost as if subconsciously I know how much I love saying, “Gee, I must have left it in my other pants,” so I unwittingly sabotage myself. Mandy lies, telling her friend that Pete has finished so we can leave early and then proceeds to get really impatient and girlfriend-y when we do leave because Pete is not finished. He has like, an hour to go.

We hike up to the showcase where Pete is helping out, this really quaint park that overlooks the city. Pete is drinking keg beer with Wavves. Wavves is throwing ice at people and telling the newcomers how wasted he is. Oh, kids. I leave the gang to call my Grandma at the behest of my mother and to watch the sun set. Before we leave the park, I impossibly toss my keg cup from the second story of a barn into a wastebasket seated at the base of the steps leading up to it, reassuring for Mandy that there is in fact, a God. I like to think I do this for plenty of women.

I opt not to join everyone else in the festivities that night as to get some writing done and spend a little needed time alone. I finish up my second piece on SXSW and head back to Bagpipe’s for a drink and dinner. I instantly regret it. Of course, Shelly isn’t there—she works the day shift. And it only takes me minutes to realize, Bagpipe’s is shit. Who the fuck hangs out at a strip mall Irish joint where they make their waitresses and bartenders dress up like Irish Catholic School girls on a Friday night? Apparently I do.

Saturday, I wake up grouchy and not wanting to return to Hot Freaks. All of us feel this way, which is nave, considering I will be shock-and-awed by the time the showcase comes to a close. A certain bitchiness with Pete sets in early when he asks me to pack up my travel bag so he can pack the up trunk. Sometimes I just get sick of Pete when I shouldn’t. Sometimes Pete gets a free pass he doesn’t deserve. This irritability will inevitably flare up again over the course of filming and the drive home.

When we get to Hot Freaks (of course, after jamming to “Try Me (45 version)”), we are relieved to find Jason has his shit more put together. Pete automatically assumes a semi-alpha-dog position that does not seem to threaten Jason, perhaps because his help and advice only serve to benefit and streamline the filming over the course of the day. For Jason. Pete and I eventually get into an argument because he feels I am not taking his framing advice seriously. It goes something like:

Pete: I know you’re Caleb and you’re not going to really listen to me because you’re going to do what you feel like doing even though what I am saying will help you and help the editors when they’re trying to use your shots.

Caleb: To an extent that’s true, but your assuming that I won’t take what you’re telling me at least partially to heart is unfair and misplaced. I obviously want to incorporate what you’re telling me into what I already feel I should be doing.

Seeing the line-up, I wasn’t as struck today as I had been Friday. Only the second to last band sounded familiar. Sebastien Grainger…hmm. Mandy reminds me he’d been the drummer/singer for Death From Above 1979 and I instantly perk up. I absolutely loved certain songs off of “You’re A Woman, I’m a Machine” and genuinely regarded the entire album with affection as it had scored the later end of my drug-taking days. More recently an ex and I had formed a more specific attachment to the album closer, “Sexy Results.” Though DFA 1979 will probably never net any of my all-time best lists, I was to say the very least, intrigued to see what Mr. Grainger would do with a full band behind him.

What he did do more or less decimated my recollection of all preceding Saturday events. His charismatic quartet took the stage with the largest crowd of the day in front of them, partially thanks to The Grates, the enigmatic band who had performed just before. Each band member had a sense of humor regarding his appearance. The keyboardist had a Jew-fro and porn-stache, completing his look with the typical headband and aviators. The bassist looked like a meathead Kurt Cobain wearing plaid and a Jaws t-shirt. The drummer could be seen throughout the set playing with a lit cigarette in his mouth. Sebastien Grainger, in Mandy’s words and sure, my own, one tall-drink of water, wore American flag ray-bans, tight grey jeans with a chest-hair endorsing t-shirt and suspenders. It wasn’t because this man and his band were so handsome and clever that I fell in love with them. It was because they screamed everything and were so damn good at it.

His self-described “fuck rock” fucked me. Hard. A cathartic borderline metal experience I hadn’t known I’d been pining for for possibly years. I am not necessarily a hard music kind of guy anymore (I’m writing this to Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire De Melody Nelson), but I count Queens Of The Stone Age’s Songs For The Deaf as one of my all-time favorite records and Sebastien Grainger and the Mountains’ lineup of songs definitely reminded me of QOTSA. That said, nostalgia will only get one so far. This band put all of themselves into their performance—I’ve got the saliva-covered clothes and camera to prove it. Honest to God, their bass player Nick Sewell foamed at the mouth.

Three songs til the end of their set, Grainger jumped off stage and began to rooster strut towards this girl in a leotard who’d been prancing around with a 20-foot streamer during The Grates’ set. She began dancing/streamering again seductively in front of him and the crowd bore witness to some primal boogie between man and woman archetypes. When Grainger & Co. launched into the next song and I maneuvered right up next to him, capturing his band going apeshit on stage while he roared in the foreground. It’s an image burned in my brain alongside the light handful of other all-time great rock performances I’ve been privy to. The show ended in a wall of white noise as Sewell hung his bass on his amp and kicked it, Grainger coaxed feedback against his own amp and drummer Leon Taheny and keyboardist/guitarist Andrew Scott huddled over the Roland, twisting nobs and sliding dials. It was beautiful.

Afterwards I got the chance to interview them and I guess the idea is that Jason’s production company will put all of this up on Myspace Music once it’s edited. Grainger lamented the cancellation of a barbecue at Tom Cochrane’s Austin estate he’d been invited to and that Cochrane has a dog named Highway (given this fact, if you can’t recall who he is, look him up). He relayed the story of how and why he’d destroyed a guitar on stage the previous night and then informed us all that he’d been the final of his mother’s three c-sections, going on for entirely too long about the fitness of his mother’s vagina. I told him to tell her congratulations for me and ended the interview, barely able to contain my glee. Call it a man-crush. Call it whatever you want. All I know is that I’m saved from stalker status by the journalistic umbrella The Morning After has granted me.

We filmed the last band (definitely a massive come-down), after which I went to the VIP lounge to help myself to two days worth of free and delicious tacos since I’d been too busy to make it up Friday. We packed the rest of our shit up, said goodbye to Jason, and hit up the GPS for the nearest record store, which turned out to be Waterloo Records.

Waterloo was one of the better stores I’ve been to. For twenty minutes, the staff attempted to hunt down Death’s …For All The World To See for me, but to no avail. I had to settle with Mr. Grainger for the long ride home and while waiting with Josh in the checkout line, I decided I recognized the face of the guy in front of us. Had there been a few choice bruises on said face, I might have known it was the lead singer of the Von Bondies before one of his buddies snapped a shot of him posing in front of his band’s in-store poster. I didn’t know what to make of that. I’ve since come to the conclusion that it was a tool thing to do I would definitely have done.  

We say goodbye to Moloch and hit the road, discovering some 45 minutes out that our FORT wristbands would have gotten us into Kanye West’s secret performance at SXSW. Wristbands now in the possession of Mandy’s little sister and her girlfriends, who’d decided to hit up Austin on a whim on their way to a Mexico spring break and were now having their love locked down. We hit up a zany truck stop for gas and I get my roommates each a souvenir. A shrunken alligator head for Ian and a demon on a skeleton motorcycle for Maija. I know that the 18-hour drive ahead of us is going to suck, but the concern weighing heaviest upon my heart is that I was never able to find a “Keep Austin Weird” coffee cup for my mom. The place wasn’t even that weird, truth be told.