By Eric Pulsifer (@supercooleric)
Zynga, the San Francisco company behind FarmVille, Mafia Wars and Words With Friends, knows how to throw one hell of a party. Setting the bar high for freebie-filled events in the days to come, the browser-based game developer’s shindig at SXSW Interactive last night is among the most impressive events I’ve attended in my six years of South by Southwest-ing.
Last year, Zynga’s music event was held at the Fader Fort in East Austin the Tuesday night before SXSW Music and featured Metric and The Constellations. This year, the party was moved to the Zynga Dog House, (a.k.a., Whitley Warehouse, where we saw Chromeo Sunday night). Though I’d just been in the space 24 hours prior, the transformation was remarkable. Zygna painted the blank concrete canvas with splashes of red light, photobooth flashes, and the the joyous glow of vintage arcade cabinets and skeeball scoreboards. There were multiple bars and a lounge area in the center of the main room offering guests a place to nibble on food while watching the main stage. Entry was difficult, to put it mildly, with the wait-list line stretching on for blocks.
The drinks and food
My rant against freebies yesterday? Forget what I said—I’m a changed man. If Zynga’s lineup would have been Courtney Love reading the Bible aloud and a Spin Doctors ska cover band, I would have waited in line an hour just to get in.
Zynga went beyond the usual mid-shelf level booze and usual beer suspects with catering from Austin’s Word of Mouth Catering. The buffet was a culinary gang bang of amazing eats: ribs, grits, empanadas, sliders, tacos, fried pickles, onion blossoms and red velvet cake bites.
Sleigh Bells started off the three-hour event in full effect with seizure-inducing strobe lights and booming blasts of electric kick drum. Backed by a towering wall of amplifiers, the duo of Alexis—wearing a sleeveless tee, American flag spandex pants and white Keds—and Derek—in a letterman jacket—came out to uproarious applause.
My initial reaction was that the sound wasn’t as loud as I remembered—the bass at their Carniville show during SXSW 2010 was so tremendous, I nearly vomited on more than one occasion. Then I realized I was wearing earplugs. I temporarily exposed my raw ears to the full impact of the band’s sound for a few moments during “A/B Machines” and I’m pretty sure there’s now a broad range of frequencies I’ll never hear again. Loud is what Sleigh Bells do, and they do it well.
Derek made his way to the amps to push out some squelches of ferocious feedback, and, though her voice was slightly weaker than I remembered (likely the result of more than a year of regular touring) Alexis still managed to scream and tantrum dance the crowd into a frenzy. She also spent some time leaning into the crowd (and appeared to repeatedly hit one dazed-looking attendee in the head with her breasts as she threw herself around).
Flying Lotus came out for a brief DJ set between the two bands. Smiling ear to ear, he stayed hunched low, laboring over tweaking knobs and sliding levels with his head bobbing rhythmically along to the trip-hop beats, harmonious cacophony and hand claps. FlyLo ended his set with a sincere thank you to the crowd and seemed truly humbled and grateful for the warm reception.
TV on the Radio closed the evening out with an equally noisy set of tunes, including some evolved takes of “Staring at the Sun” and “Wolf Like Me,” and a couple songs from their upcoming album, Nine Types of Light, including “Will Do” and an unidentified track which bordered on spoken word and was sort of awful (by TV on the Radio standards and, granted, first listens are tough at a live show when everyone is clamoring for the hits). The crowd turned into a mosh pit during the later parts of the set, a nerve-racking moment for my size 13 feet but evidence of the crowd’s enthusiasm.
Notably absent was bassist Gerrard Smith, who was recently diagnosed with lung cancer and is undergoing treatment.
TVOTR didn’t return for an encore, but the crowd at the Dog House stuck around for nearly an hour after the last note was played. Rumors persisted that Radiohead’s Thom Yorke would be making an appearance for a DJ set (he made a surprise appearance with Flying Lotus just days before in L.A.) but as the lights turned on and the crew broke out brooms to sweep up the floors, it proved to be nothing more than another SXSW rumor.
This afternoon, my ears are still ringing loudly, a preview of the days to come. Maybe there’s still hope for a Radiohead surprise performance during the week, but with no Thom in sight, it seems a little less likely (and chances were pretty damn slim to begin with).
Photos by @supercooleric and @sxswdiet