SXSW Report: Day One, Part Two | Bleader

Thursday, March 18, 2010

SXSW Report: Day One, Part Two

Posted By on 03.18.10 at 04:00 PM

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Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan
  • Laura Ballance and Mac McCaughan
If you get off the main strip of SXSW happenings, there are scores of parties and house shows and in-stores and lots of unofficial and even impromptu weirdness. Actually, that's usually the real action—not seeing mega-size bands in too-small venues (this weekend, for instance, Muse is booked at a club they could probably fill 20 times over). In the past few years the parties and daytime unofficial shows have actually become more of the thing that makes SXSW worth going to (especially given that seemingly 60 percent of the bands playing here play Chicago on their way to or from Austin). For example, after a jaunt past the clubs, past the regular-people bars tipping with green-outfitted postwork crowds and another half mile to an upscale hippie mall, I got to see Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance from Superchunk play acoustic to a crowd of 16 at Book People.

When I walked in, they were doing "Driveway to Driveway," a song which has not dulled for me since I first saw them do it when I was in 11th grade and crushed by Mac's squeaky voice. Then they started reading from their book Our Noise, an oral history of 20 years of Merge Records (full disclosure: their book and mine share a parent publisher, Workman). The passage they picked first was Matt Suggs's story of his band Butterglory getting signed to the label, which was good even though they didn't do it in different voices for each character like I was hoping. Then (then!) was the special treat. They played a couple of their favorite songs by Butterglory, and then repeated the process for some other Merge artists—the Magnetic Fields and Spoon—preceding each band's music with part of their tale of their path to fame (or in Butterglory's case, what amounted to indie-rock fame in 1996). You could hear in Mac and Laura's cover versions the reverence they have for the bands—it was a different sort of success story than anything offered in the dozens of industry panels back at the convention center.

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