Dancing About Architecture
That Was the Week That Was
Pacing yourself was a must, which I did pretty well, except for a frazzled Saturday getting everything together for the special -- and wholly successful, I might add -- Daniel Johnston appearance at the Atomic Cafe that night. Paul Leary and Atlantic Records' Yves Beauvais came backstage to congratulate Johnston afterwards, and the latter was heard discussing hopes of big name guest stars for his next album. Johnston has previously invoked the names of everyone up to fan Eddie Vedder as potentially making appearances. Ironically, for me, the last-minute organizing of that showcase was like a calm spot in a sea of total madness.
I mean, did you expect to be able to go through a festival with over 700 (official) acts and know what you were doing? Look at all the "variations" that popped in and out of the SXSW gene pool: You had Steve Riley appearing with C.C. Adcock, Exene Cervenka onstage with the Old 97s, and Fear's Lee Ving showing up for both Choreboy and a pre-SXSW Descendents appearance earlier in the week. The Dust Brothers, who turned down an "official" showcase because they just plain don't play live, made an "afterhours" appearance at a small club on Congress, while the Masters of Reality mastered a day party at Emo's, and World Party appeared at a party at the Iron Works (where most of the world was crammed in) before getting their own last-minute showcase. Contrast that with Kelley Deal, who guested with the Supersuckers even though her own band had to drop out of their showcase! Then there was the Utensil party, which featured such unlikely stage-fellows as Trouser Press' Ira Robbins, Amy Rigby with Elliot Easton (doing the Cars' "Just What I Needed"), Mark Eitzel, and Lisa Loeb. On the recording front, Jane Wiedlin got together with Johnny Goudie for some tunes, while the Derailers hit the studio with Dave Alvin.
Then there were serendipitous surprises to stumble on, which for me were Shark Chum, a shirtless punk trio who actually know how to hurl insults and spit and be charming about it, and Dilli (hey, I'm so cool I get welcomed into the Blue Flamingo with a badge), whose catchy alterna-radio-ready songs made me feel like I'd heard them before and wanted to hear 'em again. To complete the chaos, there was Velouria -- or was there? After their showcase came reports that their van had broken down and left them stranded far, far away from the festival, and that their tourmates Gluey had taken advantage of the mishap and taken the slot by identifying themselves as the chosen band. Hey, would you know Velouria on sight?
On the Corner of Hollywood and I-35My own biggest celebrity spotting was Peter Wolf endlessly walking up and down Sixth on Wednesday, but the stars were out in force during the week thanks to the SXSW film festival (a big success this year) with reports of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke unashamedly engaging in P.D.A. (Public Displays of Affection), and Quentin Tarantino spending time at the Dog and Duck. Also spotted were Sandra Bullock, Forrest Whittaker, Mira Sorvino, Brendan Fraser, Mary Stuart Masterson, and the star of the best movie of 1996, Kingpin, Woody "the Hempster" Harrelson. One can safely say that most of them, along with the rest of the city's visitors, were led to wonder what "Texas Friendly" was supposed to mean after running across the masses of people wearing the Wannabes' brilliant and omnipresent T-shirts, which bore the simple, bold statement: "Don't Move Here!"
Music superstars (and lesser-known treasures) were naturally in evidence as well. On the uplifting side, Tony Bennett stories abound; the crooner did a sketch of K-EYE's Nanci Wilson as she interviewed him, then signed it and gave it to her afterwards. Bennett also startled KVRX/KGSR/Austin Music Network's Jenn Garrison when he ran into her at KGSR and quipped, "Hey, I know you! I've seen you on TV!" SXSW's Dave Thomson, meanwhile, used some quick and nimble thumb placement to avoid startling Bennett -- after he realized that the badge he had proffered for the singer to sign bore a large, proud "Fuck You and Your Stupid Band" sticker (courtesy of the Fuckemos 97). Winner of the "What is he doing here" prize at the Austin Music Awards show was Steven "Little Stevie" Van Zandt, who, seen prowling around backstage, was just begging for someone to shout "No, Steve, the Van Zandt tribute is for Townes!" Producer Andy Paley, who has worked with Jonathan Richman, Brian Wilson, and even some people who aren't eccentric, was out and about over the week. Meanwhile, SXSW volunteer Dan Carney spent the majority of his afternoons snooping around insistently trying to find out if the manager of the Tuvan throat songs troupe, Yat-Kha, was actually Lu Edmunds; in the end it turned out that he was right -- it was the former Damned/Public Image/Shriekback member and current Mekon. Oh, and of course, Beatle Bob was everywhere.
Only One Public Execution?There were a number of small incidents over the week, like the brawling at Trophy's, the brief chaos at the hip-hop show at Emo's (even the guy who flashed a knife -- unopened -- at Emo was finally allowed in because, hey, he had come all the way from Mississippi for the show), and the sudden and unexpected appearance of a taxi in the waiting line for Yo La Tengo at Liberty Lunch. (Try telling a drunk to take a cab home after that!) Still, the public hanging of one Trevor Wallace at the performance of Henry Duys' Chemical Wedding had to be the week's most gory, vicarious event. Wallace, replacing a very lucky Tim Stegall, had been placed in a specially rigged harness for a special effect during the neo-rock opera, but when his chair was kicked out from under him, the under-arm straps snapped and the noose proceeded to perform its practical purpose. Wallace lost consciousness, but his convulsions were met by appreciation from the audience until it was realized that his acting was too good. After he was let down and regained consciousness, he changed into a clean pair of trousers and the show went on. Wallace was later heard to say that the near-tragedy had at least netted him a lot of free beers and "kisses from girls I don't even know." SXSW's Brent Grulke is quick (and loud!) to point out that the Chemical Wedding show was in no way associated with SXSW.
Is there a Doc in the House?Dr. Ron Byrd, who basically played the part of house physician for SXSW, reports that pretty much all his patients were suffering from the same malady: "Everybody comes to Austin and they have allergies and they freak out because they have a showcase." Among those who received the advice not to talk, smoke, or call Ron in the morning were members of the Jayhawks and Debbie Harry's Jazz Passengers. One patient Dr. Byrd couldn't save was the relationship between his band, Prescott Curlywolf, and Mercury Records. Though papers are still shuffling, he says the band has gotten its master tapes back and is planning to re-release its latest album "properly" -- in other words, to see that people actually know about its existence this time. Byrd's diagnosis on Prescott's showcase this year? He says the best part was having the kids from Radish dancing around up front and telling the band, "We wish there were more cool acts like you on Mercury."
Sign On the Dated LineNaturally, nobody wants to blab about their record dealings so soon after SXSW -- well, almost nobody; the local band Red called to say they had received interest from Sony, Universal, and Mercury (better have a chat with the Prescotts on that one first, guys) following their renegade showcase at the Movements Gallery. Most folks are staying cautiously quiet, so we have to go by who was seen where: Plenty of A&R attention was seen at Kacy Crowley's show, for instance, with one well-known Atlantic A&R legend proclaiming her "Bob Dylan with tits." (We assume that's a compliment.) The Sexton Sextet drew a similar crowd, with the word "no-brainer" heard from the lips of an industry rep. Meanwhile, one local insider pointed to a great show by L.A.'s the Negro Problem with "a line down the block -- but no one wants to sign them because of the name!"
Mixed NotesAll right! Is everybody ready for the big music festival?!? Yes, it's time for Plywoodstock, which is running March 21-23 out at the Zendik Farm. Among the 20-plus bands playing the three-day festival are Brown Whörnet, Blort, ST-37, Texas Philistines, and out-of-staters like Blood Red Black, Third World Lover, and Woodenhorse. A $5 donation is being requested for the whole schmeer -- and no steenkeeng badges. (Remember, Survival Research Labs is next week!)... It's a sad sign of the state of the music industry that Texas Music Office head Casey Monahan was unable to raise the funds to go to SXSW this year. Okay, that was just a joke. Actually, what I meant to say was that the 1997 Texas Music Industry Directory is now available from the Texas Music Office in the Governor's Office. The 424-page TMID lists more than 8,000 Texas music business contacts. To receive a copy, mail an $18 check or money order payable to: Texas Music Office at: Texas Music Office, P.O. Box 13246, Austin, TX 78711. For information, call the TMO at 512/463-6666, e-mail email@example.com, fax 512/463-4114, visit their website at http://www.state.tx.us/agency/301.html or stand on your head in a wastebasket and say the magic words "Legendary Stardust Cowboy" three times....
-- Contributors: Raoul Hernandez, Andy Langer, Margaret Moser