There’s nothing quite like the sheer hell of the Austin airport on the Sunday morning after South by Southwest. Tousle-headed, sunburned-but-still-oddly-pale cred cops who, three short hours ago, worried only about how to see the Ting Tings play the Dell Computers and Vitamin Water Presents Corporatemusicsucks.com after-afterparty in some creatively converted warehouse, now slowly re-enter a world in which Garnier Fructis gifting-suite sculpting gel is not allowed in one’s carry-on. A place where the competitive pastime of choice is no longer Who Will Be This Year’s Breakout Adorable Swedish Band? but Which Strung-Out Drummer Should I Not Be Standing Behind on the Security Line? This is reality’s waiting room, a way station between the nirvana of indie-rock sensory-and-barbecue-overload to remembering that we have to go to work tomorrow morning. The dull panic of wondering whether we actually saw enough replaced by the dull panic of wondering where our apartment keys are, all while trying not to throw up. We are mostly made of beer at this point.
This is where information gets processed and synthesized and starts to actively disappear, where we try and make sense of an experience that, when broken down into real-world terms, makes none. Did I like Neon Neon? Did I see Neon Neon? Does walking past a band and pausing for three-quarters of a song at 3:30 in the morning count? What is the bare minimum amount of time music can be experienced and still be judged? How many Most Awesome New Things Ever am I missing in the time it takes me to order this coffee?
Memories blur, individual mini-sets become one long, hazy fugue state — I saw No Age three times, but none of those were the guerilla show on the bridge at 2 A.M. Friday, but I can kinda picture it, so maybe I was there? I know I spent the better part of yesterday apologizing for being underwhelmed by Fleet Foxes. And I know that I’ll probably be waiting an hour on line to see them next year. And that we’ll all be bored of them the year after that.
After being asked 67 times and fumbling for an answer, I can now say with some certainty that the best thing I saw was My Morning Jacket on Thursday night, although it seems like that answer shouldn’t count. They were a known quantity, not oddball underdogs in town to get their names on important lips. My best-of list is full of boldface names and old people: X at the Spin party, the first half of R.E.M., Motorhead. Standing next to Lou Reed watching the Lou Reed tribute. I wish I had a more satisfying answer, I feel weirdly guilty for not gulping down any buzz band’s Kool-Aid, although word on the street is that no one really did this year. Other lasting impressions are really just flashes of epiphanies: Don’t watch Pissed Jeans while violently hungover, Black Tide are the Muppet Baby version of Metallica and might wind up better than Actual Metallica before they’re old enough to legally binge drink.
I seriously don’t know where my keys are.