It’s 6:30 a.m. Friday morning. I find myself staring into my reflection at the Econo Lodge’s employees-only lobby bathroom watching blood pour from my nose and drip all over the sink, diffusing into the water and I ask myself, “How did I get here?” Looking to the floor I admire still more of my blood, peppered across the white tile. I feel scandalous.
After a 15-minute stint trying to ebb the flow and tidy up after myself I emerge to find the middle-aged Indian couple who run the joint eyeballing me from the top of the stairs that probably lead to their home. I decide to skip on the continental breakfast, assuming I have probably committed some cardinal Hindu sin by bleeding all over their shit. That and it feels like someone is pushing chopsticks into my stomach. Wooden ones. I get back to room 218 and step over Pete and Mandy, run myself a bath and slip in, thanking Vishnu I at least had had the good sense not to menstruate all over their half bath. That could have been ugly. Needless to say, whipping up my manifesto on the day prior’s raucous events is out. Oh Thursday, how thou hast betrayed me!
It’s 8:45 Thursday morning and I am preparing myself for the first real video work I’ve done in nearly two years. The singular reason I am here in Austin at all is to assist the PROJECTMILL in filming the annual SXSW Gorilla vs. Booze party, curated by the popular music blog Gorilla vs. Bear and sponsored by Red Stripe. The mission is simple. Four Cameras. Seven Bands. Film everything. My job is hunt down the thrills and random debauchery and also to get ancillary band footage when nothing interesting occurs outside. Pete and Josh mostly hang out stage right and left, respectively, with their two small HD cameras, while Mandy stands on a barstool in the back and taps that master-shot.
The venue where this was all to go down is a bit of a paradox. The Peacock is a small dive bar decked out with chandeliers and deep aqua walls complete with Victorian, white wood panel detailing. The bar is gilded in white leather to match the bar stools and a stuffed peacock looks down from above it. The floor is untouched cement. Soon 100-200 sweaty hipsters will pack the joint to the breaking point while the likes of Here We Go Magic, Wavves, Harlem and Vivian Girls rock said hipsters from noon til dusk, the Red Stripe free until the last bottle has been cracked. To be fair, White Denim, Girls and The Golden Filter rounded out the line-up while DJ Sober spun during the downtime between sets.
Most of these names were just names to me. I knew Pete had just spent a month across the sea documenting Wavves’ first European tour and was I intrigued to meet him, though until this point I had found his music a tad too abrasive and under-produced (characteristics I normally gravitate towards. His record is really rough). This would change. Here We Go Magic had just been introduced to me about a week prior by best bud and former roommate, Brad WonderFlucked. When I found out I’d be filming them, I rubbed it in his face. All things considered, I was going into this thing fairly wet behind the ears, so I did what any greenhorn would and loaded up on free Red Stripe. I think I must have had eight over the course of the gig. OK, not eight. Five. Maybe.
I soon gave up on trying to film random happenings in the crowd, as it was too packed inside to be anything but a major pain in the ass to everyone I was trying to squeeze around. Outside I was just getting lots of people looking at me like the douchebag I probably looked like. So I settled in against the railing directly by the front door, usually in front of the bassist and/or keyboardist and the drummer. I sweated along with the bands during their sets, then exited after to air-dry and capture the in/out interactions between the bands' peers and their fans. The best thing I got was the man-mountain of a drummer from Here We Go Magic making out for at least a minute with his girlfriend (I think) on the sidewalk in front of Peacock.
Bandwise, The Golden Filter rocked my shit. Every shot was golden (yes), as I would pan from their sexy frontwoman sashaying around and doing cool shit with her mic stand to film their sweetly-fauxhawked keyboardist spinning knobs on his mini-Korg and occasionally adding back up percussion on his snare. To be sure, The Golden Filter knew best out of the bunch how to look genuinely cool whilst playing and interacting with the audience and I have a feeling their set is going to drop some balls on our DVD.
Wavves won me over when he walked into the bar just before his set wearing mesh shorts, tapping me on the shoulder, shooting his goofy stoner grin into my camera lens. His set was awesome too and it and lent itself well to granting a greater appreciation for his album’s sound. That and his rattail.
Here We Go Magic was another standout, though the entire show was an exercise in progressive giddiness. The shame I felt in not having heard most of the bands before was excised as each performance blew my increasingly drunken mind. Vivian Girls capped it all off with a short, sweet set that included a Wavves cover. They seemed to be friends and had apparently recently stayed at his house when they last played in California. The girls were really funny and friendly and talked and joked with me on camera after it was all over. Hopefully DVD dynamite.
I left the tearing down to the professionals (Pete, Josh) because I am an asshole and headed to the back patio as I’d seen a girl in a sundress I’d been eyeing (with an eye back or two) sitting with a motley crew that included Mandy. I sat down next to sundress girl and she told me she hoped I would cut all the shots I’d filmed with her in them and I said, “You noticed?” Apparently Craig Bond lines work and we hit it off. She worked for Red Stripe and I stupidly asked if she’d been drinking them today. Eventually I Calebed out and didn’t get her name or number and have regretted it since. While we semi-flirt, Seb calls and apologizes for last night and tells me where they are playing in a few hours, promising me a post-show exclusive. I tear up.
Once we had the camera junk in the Hyundai trunk we set out to BFE, Austin (all of us assuring Pete we were headed the wrong way) to see Pomegranates play at what appeared to be an IKEA annex store called Space 12. It was my first time hearing them and I was impressed. Their sound was strong enough for a man, but made, really, for a woman. I kid. I was surprised by their deft juxtaposition of more tender sounds with a really brainy rhythm section. I dug their matching UPS jumpsuits with Eli Cash-lite face paint and restrained frenzy stage style. It was all very natural and earnest and clever and I can’t wait to see them play here in Cincinnati. Again, they were all perfect gentlemen; charming, friendly, remembering me from the night before and pleased that we came out to see them. Unfortunately, we four had to leave their set early to make it back downtown to see Bad Veins. I slam the rest of my keg-beer, snap a shot of two cool-looking little kids and we haul ass, making it the Myspace showcase they are opening just in time to hear their first song.
Lauren and Chris, Sebastien and Ben’s respective girlfriends get us in with the help of Bad Veins’ manager, though the hags working the tent entrance are none too pleased. They will continually hassle us for the rest of the show. The guys’ set goes well, without any hitches. They play the old favorites and the sort of weird and varied crowd seems to really enjoy them. I drink too many margaritas.
Pete, Mandy and Josh are all starving (we haven’t eaten since the continental breakfast), so as soon as Bad Veins finishes, PM are off to find food. A certain Tex-Mex place is recommended. I hang around for that previously mentioned post-show exclusive, but it doesn’t happen since BV are quite literally pushed off the stage for the next band who are not nearly as good. Ben and Sebastien are then more or less whisked away to meet with the higher-up folks from their new record label, Dangerbird (http://dangerbirdrecords.com/). Seb says he’ll call me later and I hit the Austin streets by myself, drunk as shit and looking forward to nachos.
I track down my PROJECT MILL compatriots and the hostess escorts me to the lovely patio table where they are seated. I order a Dos Equis and the first thing Mandy whisper-screams to me is, “Don’t turn around, Joseph Gordon Levitt is sitting behind you!” I disobey and do turn around, but he is in the other room, though his presence lingers over us for the entirety of our meal.
Wouldn’t you know it, as we are finishing up, Mandy announces JGL is coming our way. When he steps out onto the patio, here’s how it goes down:
Mandy: Hi, Joseph Gordon Levitt.
Joseph Gordon Levitt: Hi.
He makes his way to our table.
Joseph Gordon Levitt: What is your name?
Joseph Gordon Levitt: No, Mandy. What is your full name?
Mandy: Mandy Jane Levy.
Joseph Gordon Levitt: Hello, Mandy Jane Levy.
Mandy: You know, we both have very similar last names.
Joseph Gordon Levitt: I know! We’re both descended from the same Moses.
Caleb: You know, I have The Lookout in my Netflix queue.
Joseph Gordon Levitt: That’s excellent.
Mandy: We all love Brick
Joseph Gordon Levitt: Thank you. You all enjoy your night!
We take his advice to heart, but we have trouble following it. After dinner, Sebastien calls to inform us that Bad Veins and their girlfriends are having drinks at the Four Seasons with the president of Dangerbird Records, but that we are welcome to join them. So we try to find the Four Seasons but get majorly lost. I think I wind up talking to a horse along the way and even though everyone wants to go home, I drag them onward. When we finally make it, there is no room for us at their table, so we grab one nearby and watch them enjoy themselves. I am starting to get pissed. I go and sit down next to the man playing the grand piano and try to explain to him my frustrations and ask if he has any advice for how to behave when your friends are paying more attention to the president of their record label than they are to you, but he’s got nothing. And he really doesn’t like me sitting on his piano bench.
When the Dangerbird/Bad Veins gala is over, Seb introduces me to the silver fox that is their prez and then explains how everyone is tired and that they would have to once again postpone the interview. I am (perhaps inappropriately) furious and I give him a hug, belligerently vowing to bash his band in my blog. I rant and rage the whole way home and take pictures of my hair blowing in the wind.
We get back to Econo Lodge and are all slaphappy, exhausted and grateful to have this, our hardest (but funnest) day behind us. I am freezing as I crawl into bed and Mandy suggests I put on something warmer. I grab the nearest thing I see-a corduroy vest- and dive headlong into our king next to Josh. Pete wraps himself in the cumforter, lying on the couch cushions and Mandy crashes on the pullout mattress. I slip into vengeance-based dreams, not knowing I will awake in less than five hours to bleed.