Buried among the hundreds and hundreds of hopefuls (and Duran Duran) on this year's South By Southwest roster, one name stood out: "Tapes 'n Tapes, Minneapolis, Minn." Who? Precisely.
Every March, the Austin, Texas, music, film and tech monstrosity crowns a few kings-for-a-week, and in 2006 — my last trip there before last week — TnT was royalty. The quintet had just released its Pixies-dusted proper debut, The Loon, and it played to packed rooms every day, sometimes thrice a day, rocking the Austin City Limits television studio in the afternoon and closing dive bars on Sixth Street after midnight. After one substandard follow-up, 2008's Walk It Off (they couldn't), the band was an afterthought. Five years later, it's a cautionary tale.
The SXSW program is both soothsayer and graveyard, a pocket-crumpled testament to the rickety state of the recording industry and the fickle nature of music fans. Revisit the thick brochures of years past and the red-circled names you obsessed over — or the ones you didn't — become more glaring with age. Dr. Dog parlayed 2005's Fader coronation into two record deals and a legion of adoring fans. Its partner-in-hype that year, Bloc Party, went on hiatus in 2010.
Louisiana representatives seem to operate on a different plane at SXSW, old hats at this kind of temporary invasion. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, as always, were legacy ambassadors, performing a Thursday night ACL Live set at the Moody Theater and appearing Saturday in Danny Clinch's film Live at Preservation Hall: Louisiana Fairytale, which captured the band's French Quarter confab with My Morning Jacket in April 2010. (Hirsute buds Ben Jaffe and Jim James chatted in the crowd before a Wednesday night rooftop set by Empress Hotel at Light Bar.) Park the Van showcased new signees Empress Hotel among a six-pack of rockers on Friday at Mi Casa Cantina, including a punchy, revamped Generationals lineup that was ubiquitous (its 1 a.m. headlining gig was the band's seventh in four days). Ponderosa Stomp founder Ira "Dr. Ike" Padnos dissected bluesman Bobby Rush in a Saturday interview, and bounce icon Big Freedia broke it down at a Thursday lecture ("The Importance of Bounce Movement") and bowed to breakout star Vockah Redu on Saturday at Kiss & Fly. In a shrewd scheduling move, Quintron and Miss Pussycat closed the week with a cop-killing puppet show and smoke-shrouded outdoor set at Mohawk in the wee hours Sunday.
Elsewhere, there were the obligatory surprise appearances by stage-crashers Erykah Badu, Billy Gibbons and Jack White; J Mascis taking time out of a solo set to cover folkie Edie Brickell (she's coming to Republic in May); and a panhandler offering "haircuts from the future" (despite everyone looking like some variation on Daria or Russell Brand). The single best gig may have been Pitchfork's stunning Thursday showcase inside the Central Presbyterian Church featuring Tune-Yards (imagine an aboriginal Theresa Andersson), Glasser (Bjork as a possessed marionette) and Louisiana native Julianna Barwick, whose Asthmatic Kitty debut The Magic Place, a self-looped choir of pearly gates entrance music, started and summarized the evening.
Then there was Kanye West — whose Saturday night concert inside the Seaholm Power Plant was the week's worst-kept secret — getting served by New Orleans country sweethearts Hurray For the Riff Raff in the pages of The Wall Street Journal. Alynda Lee on Kanye cutting into her audience: "If Lucinda Williams was playing at the same time, we'd be screwed." The faux beef encapsulated the wacky world of South By Southwest, where even unsigned bands get to upstage the world's biggest stars now and again. Don't lose hope, Duran Duran, Birmingham, U.K. There's always March 2012.