Spring Break was supposed to be something like The Best Week Ever (not the show, just its literal title). I had a job working 6th street in Austin, Texas where the biggest music extravaganza would be taking over. Make bank, watch a few bands, mock crazy drunkards. Spring Break! 2010! Let’s go!
68 hours of work and one show later, I don’t have much but a decent check with overtime, lost sounds of music emanating from venues (to note: YACHT, Javelin, Califone, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Frightened Rabbit, Acid Mothers Temple) and the bizarre image of drugged out frat boys crawling across beams to the tunes of Maps and Atlases. This particular free show (lovingly dubbed South by South Mess) took place at the 21st St. Co-op, a place notorious for its outrageous (and partially nude) parties, and Friday’s event (leading up to the night’s headliner, Andrew W.K.) proved no different. If only I could explain the shape and architecture of this labyrinth, but upon late arrival (nearly 1 a.m.) I can only remember throngs of people spilling from the streets, from every door, spooling around corners into the backyard and up the stairs until eventually an impatient line broke forth into a jittery group of college students ready to rock out. And that they did, in mesmerizingly unique and gradually hostile ways: as the band (obscured by the freakishly tall gaggle of kids that positioned themselves directly in front) broke out into “Every Place is a House,” limbs flailed and crashed into each other with varying levels of force and execution. The young woman I found myself positioned to at the beginning of the set took no mind to how much space she was allowed, lightly trotting back and forth like a flower child admiring her garden. (I would later find this woman shrieking in the corner, “Stop staring at me!” So.) The mess of boys in the middle of the crowd tried (unsuccessfully to the sober and aware; quite successfully to anyone this blitzed) to start a mosh pit and instead managed to create a giant oval to which they could stumble drunkenly into the girls making out on the side.
Yeah. I can’t even remember what the band played. Just know: they were awesome. I’ve never been too big of a fan of the band’s technical-savvy, finger-tapping grooves (disclosure: I had come to see A Sunny Day in Glasgow who were following) and found myself approaching the show with slight trepidation. The album barely held together, how would a live show? With fucking aplomb, that’s how. The band fed off the weird energy of the crowd and spewed forth immaculate machinery, a tumble of nuts and bolts that seemed to tighten with each logical progression of chords suddenly so intricate and full-bodied that it’s a wonder they don’t just package live shows like this and market them. The band seemed to agree as much. Before they closed with “ONE! MORE! SONG!” (chant), the band’s wonderful breakout pop song “You and Me and the Mountain,” Dave Davison stated matter-of-factly, “Best show ever.” Indeed.
And even if the spectacle of the party itself detracted from experiencing this best show ever like everyone else, there was something to be had in marrying these glorious, clichéd images to the unexpected prowess of these songs. One could tell where all the band’s energy was spent when, during an encore the band had to be pressured into, the energy slipped and the band shambled through the song with a sobered touch. It was a touching capper for a fantastic performance and a gentle underscore to the gravitas Maps and Atlases brought to their performance; considering they were playing a free show to drugged out frat boys crawling across beams, it was certainly more than we deserved. And for a kid who managed to surround himself with water, water, everywhere but not a drop to drink, Maps and Atlases proved to be quite the refreshing beverage. Most of all, it was fucking weird man. Just a weird night. Had to go home after that and sleep like a little baby.
“Every Place is a House”
Side-note: Walking down 21st street to the Co-op, my friend and I followed a group of eight or so that walked down the street with such authority we could only follow suit and pray we were on the path with the right group to the right show. This made do for a few minutes until one guy referred to his phone, stopped and called out, “Hey guys, over here,” to which a few members of the pack fell back, and the man continued, “It looks like we don’t go on until 3:30.” The group still marching on in front of us looked a bit nonplussed, as did we: surely A Sunny Day in Glasgow didn’t just call a band meeting behind us?