There's the oft-quoted William Burroughs line that "Kerouac opened a million coffee bars and sold a million pairs of Levi's to both sexes." The marketing department at Levi's has figured out that rock 'n' roll moves plenty of denim as well, hence the Levi's Fader Fort. Located on the other side of the train tracks from the central SXSW conference sites, and its own separate entity, the Fort is an large enclosure with multiple stages that manages to also incorporate a full Levi's store. The fact that you can see many of the SXSW bands perform during the day, in more of a party atmosphere -- and without an expensive official credential -- is very attractive. It also means means long lines to get in, but it can be worth it.
Case in point: The Handsome Furs, who offered a short, explosive set at the Fort yesterday. The husband-and-wife Canadian duo combined Clashy guitar (him), distorted programmed beats and synths (her) and dueling vocals that offered plenty of energy without making you feel like you'd checked your brain at the door. All this bodes well for the Handsome Furs upcoming show at Brillobox, on March 31. (The fact that it doesn't seem to be showing up on the Furs' MySpace schedule doesn't look quite as good, though.)
The highlight of the evening shows for me was Grizzly Bear, who filled the cavernous Central Presbyterian Church with their majestic vocal harmonies. I never realized that sitting in a pew for an hour or so in respectful silence, before heading back out into the mayhem, could be so refreshing -- is this what people go to church on Sunday for? I also checked out bands from the Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar/Dead Oceans family of labels, including These Are Powers, who recently played the Lava Lounge. The band Foreign Born, in particular, seemed much improved (and with an expanded lineup) over the last time I saw them, opening for St. Vincent at the Andy Warhol Museum. (Which reminded me that one of the things I need to do tonight is see St. Vincent again ...)
This weekend, I'll get to check in with some of the local Pittsburgh bands playing down here, and see how first timers are navigating this massive music blowout. For me, anyway, the second time through feels very different than the apocalyptic rush of being thrust into it without knowing what you're in for. To get an idea of what that experience can be like -- and probably is, for first-timers like Kim Phuc guitarist Eli Kasan, and singer-songwriter Emily Rodgers, for example -- is in my feature story from SXSW 2007.