John Lennon once said, "If there wasn’t a fight, it wasn’t a good gig." So, what is it if no one even moves? Lennon was clearly arguing that a sterile show is never good and sterility is exactly the problem with SXSW Live 2007. The DVD is a collection of songs from shows at two Austin venues, the Bat Bar and the Lonestar Lounge, during SXSW back in March. While some of the artists offer decent performances the clubs and the crowds hardly have a pulse.
The Bat Bar was certainly the lesser show space. The stage was right out of Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve and so was the crowd. Most of the performances were stiff, likely dulled by the lifeless audience. The Automatic Automatic’s Alex Pennie jumped down into the crowd, but even this failed to invigorate them as he returned to the stage almost untouched. An impressive performance from Aqualung, pushing the boundaries of pop, didn’t fare any better. Bowling for Soup, a band I’m sure well used to a rowdy crowd, had a few people jumping up and down, albeit carefully as not to crowd their neighbors. Even Polyphonic Spree’s revival-fueled show got nary a heartbeat from the crowd. I have to wonder, do those people even like rock music?
Things got a little better at the Lonestar Lounge. It’s really a sad comment on the Bat Bar that a place that looks like a Texas Roadhouse restaurant is a step up. The filming is much better during this segment, because it focuses on the artists rather than this lackluster crowd. Marc Broussard hits his groove with no help from the audience. Annuals push the envelope as if everything depended on their set. Mando Diao feed off of each other for an energetic performance. Joe Purdy manages to separate himself from time and place and lose at least a little control. But Lee "Scratch" Perry seemed as old as he is even if his message was current. His band, though younger chronologically, seemed even older. Kraak & Smaak had a soulful groove, but their stage presence was almost non-existent. Mostly, the artists lacked any of the edge that you’d expect them to have in the make-or-break environment that an event like SXSW supposedly is.
With all the hype surrounding SXSW each year, I expected that it was a great event, but if this DVD is indicative of what it’s like, and worse yet what the future of rock and roll holds, we’re in for some lean years. Most of the bands probably expected to make an impression with the right clothes and a safe set rather than taking the chances that have traditionally driven rock music, and all art, forward. The best I can say about this collection is that you might find a few artists to check out if you can try to picture what they would they be like at a real show.