Off the Record
Chaos and Creation
Judging only from the local television news coverage, the 25th anniversary of South by Southwest last week looked like the brink of some hipster apocalypse. To an extent, it was.
Hundreds of fans trampled past the barricades for the Strokes' free performance at Auditorium Shores on Thursday, March 17, not unlike the scene that erupted at Scoot Inn for a day party headlined by L.A.'s ubiquitous brat pack Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. Juvenile pricks at an unannounced Death From Above 1979 reunion at Beauty Bar on Saturday, March 19, assaulted security and Austin Police Department officers, who subsequently made one arrest.
Even worse, Ben Weasel of Screeching Weasel punched a female audience member and Scoot Inn co-owner Stephanie Crutchfield at an official showcase Friday, and that same night, a 350-pound camera boom dropped into a Stubb's crowd waiting for OMD. SXSW representatives said that the camera crew responsible, On Slot, was hired by the showcase sponsor, Steve Madden, without the Festival's approval.
That's not even counting the permitting and sound ordinance issues Jovita's, Home Slice, and South by San Jose faced with the city (OTR will open that can of worms next week). All of those instances indicate that serious growing pains are impacting safety and security at SXSW.
In the grander scheme of events, all of that was swept up in a flood of music that included 2,000 acts and roughly 16,350 registrants shoehorned into 79 venues. Numbers of that ilk helped SXSW host a 12-hour marathon that raised more than $100,000 for American Red Cross efforts in Japan.
From Jack White's two-song parking lot set next to Frank on Wednesday to mtvU's live broadcast of the Woodies and the Austin Music Awards at the Austin Music Hall Wednesday and Saturday, respectively, SXSW served as a real-time listening party for the global music community. Foo Fighters premiered Wasting Light in its entirety with epic bombast at Stubb's Tuesday, while Queens of the Stone Age pounded through the heavy-trance and cocksure sleaze of its 1998 debut at La Zona Rosa the next night.
Torches were passed between generations with reverence as when Jim James of My Morning Jacket and White Denim's James Petralli lilted the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's Austin City Limits taping at ACL Live at the Moody Theater on Thursday, and Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears were blessed by both Dallas' gospel-funk congregation the Relatives and Motown guitarist Dennis Coffey. Even that paled in comparison to the scarred soul and concrete redemption of Charles Bradley, backed by Daptone's Menahan Street Band.
After Saturday's triumphant Austin Music Awards, whose fireworks kept getting bigger and brighter – the bucking Wagoneers into local SXSW breakouts the Bright Light Social Hour, which ignited Bubble Puppy's ensuing "Hot Smoke & Sassafras" – there was only the Plastic Ono Band at Elysium.
Atop a sevenpiece band that included Fig (Yuka Honda and Wilco ace Nels Cline), Japanese duo Mi-gu, and Greg Saunier of Deerhoof, SXSW interview subject Yoko Ono and Chimera Music label head Sean Lennon summoned some sort of secular trinity – mother, son, and holy ghost – in an avant-psych whirlwind of screaming ecstasy. The two performed as much to each other as with a tangible sense of familial pride throughout the 45-minute procession, which ended with what sounded like a dramatized version of "Yer Blues" from the White Album.
"We want some sort of an excuse to be with our children," Ono reasoned to OTR.
Topping it all off that same night from 1 to 4am, Seaholm Power Plant hosted the most hyped event of the week. While OutKast's Big Boi kicked things off there on Monday, Kanye West shut it down Sunday morning with an invite-only bash starring Jay-Z, Justin Vernon, and Mos Def that ultimately pissed off more people than it pleased with its RSVP withdrawals.
If SXSW has indeed reached what The New York Times on Monday called "critical mass," a maximum saturation point of bands and brands, that's only going to thicken. Any space not used by SXSW will be wholly consumed by outside corporate interests, which by and large are far more chaotic and unorganized, due to their transitory statuses. No one's ever going to get the genie back inside the bottle; all that can be determined is who pours.
Pinetop Perkins (1913-2011)
Joe Willie Perkins may not have written "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie," but the local pianist came to embody its barrelhouse rhythm and resilience. Perkins was one of the last of the great Delta bluesmen, with a legacy that stretched from slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk, protégé Ike Turner, and Sonny Boy Williamson's historic King Biscuit Time radio show in the 1940s to B.B. King and Eric Clapton, both of whom appeared on 2008's Pinetop Perkins and Friends. He passed away on Monday, March 21, at his home in North Austin from cardiac arrest.
"To the whole community, he was such a bright spirit, just a beautiful soul," said Susan Antone within hours of his death, later evoking her late brother Clifford, who was instrumental in convincing Perkins to move to Austin in 2003 (see "When I'm 64," Feb. 4, 2005).
A Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Perkins, 97, is best remembered for his role in the postwar Chicago blues scene and as the pianist for Muddy Waters' last great band, starting in 1969, a tenure that included essential comeback albums and an appearance in the Band's final 1976 concert, captured in Martin Scorsese's The Last Waltz. More telling was how Perkins carried himself with a Southern gentleman's style and grace, always sporting his trademark hats and custom cane. He made the piano keys, in his words, "roll like thunder" until the very end, earning another Grammy with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith for 2010's Joined at the Hip and performing at the SXSW showcase for Mississippi's Bobby Rush on Saturday, March 19.
"I had to come up the hard way in the world, playing music, doing the best I could," Perkins told OTR in 2007. "I do the best I can. I hope the Lord can forgive me."
Services will be held at the Cook-Walden Funeral Home on Monday, March 28, at 5pm, followed by a tribute celebration at Antone's. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Pinetop Perkins Foundation, PO Box 1916, Clarksdale, MS 38614.