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Sia and Spoon at SXSW 2008, Austin Texas. I had attended a few South by Southwest music festivals back in the nineties, when it was smaller and friendlier. But after returning a decade later, it has grown into a massive corporate show crammed with people, impossible to get into any shows unless you spend hundreds of dollars on hard-to-get wristbands.

Heading on up on the first full day of SXSW 2008 on March 13, 2008, I decided to forgo the impossible-to-get wristbands, and take in two of the free shows. Austin is usually a very crowded city, but when you add in tens of thousands of music enthusiasts it becomes an absolute zoo.

The first show was an early evening affair at the Bat Cave in the Auditorium – only a few hundred people to see Australian pop singer Sia. She’s a fairly upbeat, breezy performer that sounds similar to Jem or Jewel or Dido. Even though she’s been singing for over a decade, she only recently hit it big in the US when one of her songs appeared on the show Six Feet Under, and her fourth album in early 2008 peaked at an impressive 26th on the Billboard Top 200.

Small venue, easy to get fairly close to the stage, although it was frequently too dark to get a good photo with the low shutter speed on my camera. Sia and her backup band opened with one of her hit songs ‘Buttons’ wearing neon dayglo outfits in the dark, then the lights came up for the rest of the set. The performance was being recorded for a DirecTV broadcast, so there’s plenty of videos of the show online: (Link)

After that, it was down to the shores of Lady Bird Lake for the massive outdoor venue set up for the major show headliners. As thousands upon (tens of) thousands of people filed in in the fading sunset for one of the big shows of the whole year – Spoon. They had just swept the Austin Music Awards with seven awards, including Best Band, Best Album, and Best Song for 2008.

Spoon is one of Austin’s most successful bands of the past decade, toiling away in relative obscurity until breaking out recently with a number of TV appearances and hits. Starting out as a jangly, noisy Pixies clone, they have dramatically refined their sound, comparable to Pavement, Arcade Fire or Elliott Smith. Their fifth album, ‘Gimme Fiction’, debuted at 44th place on the Billboard Top 200, and their sixth album in 2007, ‘Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’, debuted at an astounding 10th place.

The show was huge, the lakeshore was packed, and Spoon put on a great show. Playing several of their most well known songs as well as songs off their recent album for about an hour. It was completely dark, and I was very far from the stage, and my camera very limited, but I did my best and got some nic fuzzy-yet-interesting shots. There are tons of videos of the performance available online: (Link)

After that, I headed downtown to try and catch some other shows at various venues (especially the international performers), but it was quite impossible to get into anything with anything less than VIP status. So, I decided to call it a night and head back home.

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