75,000 music fans may have converged on Zilker Park last weekend for the first weekend instalment of the Austin City Limits festival, but the truth is some of the best shows were taking place in the same place they do all year round: the bars and venues of Austin itself.
Infamous haunts like Beerland, Stubb’s and Red 7 around the Sixth Street/Red River area are just the beginning of Austin’s thriving scene. East of the I-35 there’s another treasure trove of great venues, and The Scoot Inn on East 4th Street and Navasota is an archetypal example of a classic Austin venue.
It was here at SXSW earlier in the year that Tyler, the Creator played the show that later saw him arrested for allegedly inciting a riot, and this weekend it was Tyler’s pal Mac DeMarco’s turn to play an anarchic late night set that captured the spirit of what live music can be in a city that really embraces it.
For a start, the crowd couldn’t be more wired. The atmosphere at the outside stage is electric before Mac takes the stage, and when he does they greet him in suitably surreal fashion. First they cover him in silly string, then shouts of ‘Take the cock! Take the cock!’ start emanating from the first few rows until he accepts a porcelain cockerel that’s somebody brought along to the show to give to him. The ludicrousness of the situation just emphasises the fact that choreographed performances can never really match a truly unpredictable rock’n’roll show.
While some of the crowd no doubt also saw Mac earlier in the day when he played at ACL, there’s no danger of boredom. Partly this is because Mac and his band switch the setlist up, giving new guitarist Andy White a chance to play older songs like ‘Annie’ for the first time while also throwing in covers of Deep Purple’s ‘Smoke On The Water’ and a jammed out, distorted version of Steely Dan’s ‘Reelin’ In The Years’.
The proximity of the crowd to the stage allows Mac to indulge in a couple of spots of virtuoso crowd surfing: the first on his back while still playing guitar before the band launch into ‘Rock ‘n Roll Night Club’, and then later during his big finale ‘Still Together’ he stage dives and crowd surfs all the way to the bar building opposite the stage which he clambers onto the room of before diving off backwards and surfing back to the stage.
Perhaps the best example of the freedom that playing Austin venues allows comes when Mac and his band return after their hour-long set for an encore cover of Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’ which ends up going on for at least 20 minutes all on its own.
Backstage after the show, Mac says: “We’re used to being told you have to be off at a very specific time, but here they just said we could play for as long as we want. That’s why we went for the Metallica jam!”
But the lack of jobsworths fretting over exactly when bands need to get off stage is all a part of what makes Austin such a great place to see bands. There’s a sense here that everyone is pulling together: bands, fans, promoters and venue staff are all aware of Austin’s reputation for championing live music and that makes them want to do all they can to make the shows you see here as free and as unique as anywhere in the world.