The pedicab passes a bar called Café Mundi, and the sound of live music spills through the small crowd congregated outside. Weingarten cranes his head to look. “Who’s playing?” he howls. Nobody answers, and he sits back down. The pedicab stops to ask directions from a postman. “You know,” Weingarten says, “we can probably hoof it from here.”
In early March, Weingarten posted a couple of tweets on 1000TimesYes referring obliquely to an upcoming act of “stunt criticism.” It turned out that Rollingstone.com had hired him to tweet-review a hundred concerts over the four-day music portion of SXSW. By the time I met up with him, less than two days into the conference, he had already seen over thirty shows; while the pace wasn’t nearly as strenuous as his All Tomorrow’s Parties trip in 2008, it was nevertheless beginning to take a mental toll. “They all blur together,” he said. “Things that happened earlier in the day seem to have happened yesterday.”
In addition to his Rollingstone.com assignment, Weingarten spoke at two panels during SXSW, one about online tastemakers and music curation, the other about music journalism in the post-print era. At both of these, he reiterated the themes he introduced last year at #140conf: the industry is screwed, rock critics are dying, you gotta do what you can to stay alive.
Former Chicago Sun-Times rock writer Jim DeRogatis attended the latter panel, and was unimpressed by Weingarten, whose work he dismissed as “verging on annoying gimmickry.” Weingarten noted this on his Twitter account, “In other news: One of my absolute favorite music crits called me ‘annoying’ in the Chicago Sun-Times . . . #killyridols?”
“I mean, what annoys me most is that it comes from Jim—a rock writer who I totally respect and adore,” he told me later in an e-mail. “Like, duh, no shit, I’m gimmicky. I mean I basically took something I loved doing—writing about bands—and put it in a fun concept that non-nerds could enjoy. But the thing is, I never dumbed down my writing or compromised my integrity.”
When he finally makes it to Cheer Up Charlie’s, a cinderblock building on Sixth Street, Quasi is still playing. “Oh, God, what number am I on?” Weingarten asks, to no one in particular. He pulls out a Flip camera and hurriedly makes his way toward the stage. As part of his deal with Rollingstone.com, he is expected to videotape each band he sees from two different angles. “I gotta get the camera out fast,” he explains. “If I don’t ‘get’ the band, I don’t get to use the review.”
It takes him about ten minutes to ‘get’ Quasi. (“#SXSW 37)QUASI: Sam Coomes seems really psyched to play a sunny, gravelly field on a rickety stage. Maybe he hasn’t done it in a while?”) He heads out while they’re still playing, stopping on the sidewalk to greet an acquaintance. This happens often; SXSW is something of a yearly reunion for America’s music critics. “Yo, Julian!” Weingarten exclaims. The two men slap hands.
“What’s up, man?” Julian asks.
“I gotta walk.”
After a brief stop to hear a Spanish quartet called Delorean (“#SXSW 38)DELOREAN: Fluffy, intimate, bass-bursting glo-punk party in secluded field within throwing distance of a mile-long FADER Fort line”), he stumbles upon a venue called The Music Gym & Lounge, a small bar just east of the highway. An obscure Seattle rap group called Shabazz Palaces is playing a sparsely attended set on the outdoor patio, and for the first time since we met, Weingarten seems surprised by what he’s hearing. “Is that a kalimba?” he asks, referring to the wooden thumb piano being played by percussionist Tendai “Baba” Maraire. He bobs his head and grins broadly as he videotapes the group. “This is fantastic!” he says.
There are no more than twenty people at the show. At least half of them are music critics, most of whom seem to know or recognize Weingarten. A bunch of young music writers from Seattle gather around him to introduce themselves as the band finishes up. “I really enjoyed that,” one says, talking about the 1000TimesYes project.
“What part?” asks Weingarten.
“The part where you debased yourself for a year on Twitter,” says another, smiling.