Metric, the Constellations kick off a week of SXSW mayhem

Categories: SXSW
Photo by Stacy Schwartz
Solid Gold looms over Red River St in Austin
Before I even begin, oh my god, will you LOOK at that billboard? As we careened into downtown Austin yesterday afternoon, Solid Gold's Shon Troth turned to us and sheepishly admitted that Green Label Sound had purchased a billboard in downtown to feature its artists. "Let's go find it and get embarrassed," Adam Hurlburt laughed. As someone who has been trying to wrap my head around Minnesota's presence at this week's festival, this was a somewhat ridiculous and humorous way to kick off the week.

The music contingent of the South by Southwest festival doesn't officially start until today, but already swarms of music fans, bands, and industry types began filling the main drag in Austin last night in preparation for the festivities. There weren't any official SXSW parties last night, but plenty of corporate sponsors threw their own parties for the growing masses, including a PureVolume party downtown that featured Neko Case and Jakob Dylan, a set by Motorhead at Stubb's, and a SXSW kick-off party at the Fader Fort with headliners Metric.

Photo by Stacy Schwartz
The Fader Fort
Set up like a carnival for hipsters, the Fader Fort is created to cater to the every whim of the modern music fan; the Fort carries an air of exclusivity (despite the fact that admission is free with an RSVP that is easily found online), the complimentary tallboys and whiskey-Red Bulls flow freely, and a seemingly random collection of games and activies (ping pong, ring toss, a mechanical bull) compete for the attendees' attention between bands.

And then, of course, there is the music. The crowd was fairly light during last night's set by the Constellations, a sprawling blues-rock bar band that reminded me of a more focused version of locals Chooglin', but the crowd swelled into a dancing, pulsating mass by the time Metric took the stage. Lead singer Emily Haines seemed uncertain toward the beginning of the set, prowling around the stage and glancing worriedly at her bandmates as if they might deconstruct at any moment, but as the set wore on Haines became more comfortable and more in control of the crowd's mood.

Photo by Stacy Schwartz
"We're here to kick things off, to set the mood," Haines scoffed, circling her small keyboard. And with that they blew through an airtight, 45-minute set of their best known material, including "Help, I'm Alive," "Gimme Sympathy," and "Stadium Love." As with most shows, the highlights came when all the music writers and industry reps in the audience stopped taking notes and started jumping up and down, and I'm both proud and ashamed to admit that my feet are already killing me despite having arrived in Austin this afternoon and only seen three bands so far.

It's going to be a long week, to be sure, but Metric started it out in exactly the right way: upbeat, danceable, and complete with a ringing reminder that the best part about music isn't found in schedules or Twitter feeds or Foursquare check-ins, it's in the fleeting moments when all of the din fades away and we're free to just hop around.

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