The Big Cheese

South by Southwest 1997

Wednesday, March 12

Steamboat, Wednesday, March 12

The phrase "shit-hot," cribbed from some international band's bio, comes to mind when trying to put words to Tito & Tarantula's Wednesday night showcase at Steamboat. The best showcases are usually those you stumble onto by sheer, dumb luck, and when they leave your mouth hanging open, they're the very definition of South by Southwest: discovering the undiscovered. Of course, local director Robert Rodriguez, who featured the L.A. band on the soundtracks to both Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn, would probably argue the "undiscovered" designation, but let's not quibble: Tito & Tarantula is hardly a household name. Maybe you've heard of the Cruzados or the Plugz, though, two bands Tito Larriva led before founding this badass bar band. No? Doesn't matter, because nothing on either of those two soundtracks, nor the band's appearance in From Dusk Till Dawn could've presaged what this band would be like live. In a word, shit-hot. Shit-fucking-hot. Theirs was a performance where you prayed the songs would never end, for as each one ground to a halt, you knew you were that much closer to the end. And believe me, you never wanted it to end. Seated in chairs at the front of the stage, Tito and his crew of six tore into one screaming blues-rock scorcher after another. The third guitarist, who alternated between her six-string and a violin, added more tension to the already-bursting-at-the-seams push and pull of the band's raw power. It's what this town lives for, but has in too few bands. And wouldn't ya know it, guess where Larriva is from: "I'm from Texas," he announced. "I haven't been here in a long time. I can't wait to get to Threadgill's and have a chicken-fried steak." With that, the band launched into the throbbing "Angry Cockroaches (Cucarachas Enojadas)" from the Dusk Till Dawn soundtrack, a version to lay the ol' Titty Twister to waste. Sadly, the showcase had to end, and it did with "Strange Face of Love" from Desperado. "Right about here, Salma Hayek starts walking down the street," said Larriva by way of introduction, and the only thing hotter than that Mexican mama was Tito & Tarantula. Shit-hot, actually. Shit-fucking-hot. -- Raoul Hernandez

Emo's, Wednesday 12

Wednesday's SXSW showcases had the feel of a netherworldly calm before the storm. Venues were dominated by local bands and local fans, so it made perfect sense to catch up on groups like the Paranoids. Not having seen the trio since one of their earliest Blue Flamingo gigs in 1995, I anticipated a certain degree of development. The Paranoids did not disappoint. Though they eschew the dynamics of prog-punk and the swaggering abandon of their more emotive counterparts, the Paranoids' subtle attentiveness to their form and eclectic choice of covers (such as Daniel Johnston's "My Life is Starting Over Again") knight them with the ability to make snotty minimalist garage punk interesting again. Their short set dredged up lovely memories of the Inhalents, another local band with an unpinnable charisma that somehow made them more appealing than the other kids. Perhaps it's the lack of accoutrements like broken bottles and any number of tried-and-true fuck-the-worldisms that gives the Paranoids their cachet. Their Standells-style alienation is sped up just enough to bob your head at a steady pace. Drummer Mark Fagan obviously knows when to leave well enough alone when it comes to anything but the rudiments, and singing guitarist Scott Adair has just enough growl to let you know he means it without taking over the song. They just keep bashing away until you no longer have a need for the bells and whistles. When the Paranoids decide to show us the money, it's nothing but meat and potatoes. -- Greg Beets

Copper Tank, Wednesday, March 12

Halfway through the set, a group of the Adults' frequent flyer fans began screaming "Live Wire! Live Wire!" The band stopped, scratched their heads, and consulted with one another. "Do you give a shit?" "No, I don't give a shit." "Neither do I." With that noncommittal arrival to a decision, they launched into the almost-forgotten Motley Crue chestnut. You can, to a certain degree, judge a band by its covers, and when you're a witty, high-energy band like the Adults, peppering your own songs with tricky drumming and stop-start tensions, you would gravitate to "Live Wire." During their wound-up 40 minutes, they bounced from style to style, often in the same song, tackling funk and bossa nova, yet always returning to a baseline level of Pixies-tinged punk rock chugging, and finishing songs by executing dorky high fives with each other and the audience. At one point, they passed out a carton's worth of "Adults Brand" cigarettes to an overeager pack of fans at the front of the stage, adding, "Those are actually addictive... so don't really smoke them." They know they've got the funny factor working for them, but they also know how to stay on the relevant side of the novelty-act border, using solid musicianship as their foundation. If you've been a dolt about the Adults, as I have, here's the skinny: somehow, over the past three years, they've quietly evolved into one of the best pop-punk bands in town. '97 seems like their year. Start practicing those high-fives. They might just become your rock and roll salute. -- Phil West

Thursday, March 13

Austin Convention Center, Thursday, March 13

"Well lookee here, hello," said Carl Perkins taking the stage at the convention center ballroom. "You're looking at an old rockabilly who backed out of this for a month." Resembling a member of the mob (the Sun Mafia?) in his black/charcoal grey pin-striped suit, the 68-year-old Perkins cut an imposing figure on that stage, lean and square-shouldered, guitar slung across his mid-section like a tommy gun. As his manager had said in a brief intro before him, Perkins had done all he could to get out of his keynote speaker duties. "What's a keynote?," he'd asked over and over. "I'm no keynote." Oh, Carl, but you were. The best keynote speaker in my five years of watching a variety of folks get up there and fumble to say something smart and inspirational to a bunch of groggy musicians and industry professionals. "Chasing that Dream," he titled his 45-minute speech, more of a series of anecdotes than anything else. "I could stand up here all day and tell you about the early days," he said by way of introducing stories about his friend and peer Elvis Presley ("this business never had a more special fellow than Elvis") and Bill Monroe ("the first rockabilly song was `Blue Moon of Kentucky'"). The son of a sharecropper who had dreams of singing at the Grand Ol' Opry, Perkins said he knew he'd finally made it as he sat in a studio watching the Beatles record four of his songs. "Tears came into my eyes," he recounted, "then I started thinking of the royalties I'd get and the tears left my eyes." But it was never easy for him; problems with alcohol, bad career decisions, and worst of all, throat cancer in 1991, which is when he found religion. "When the load gets too heavy for you, it'll be just right for God," he said before playing a bit of "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." In fact, he played snippets from quite a few of his songs, "Honey Don't" and the new and utterly charming "Quarter Horse" for instance. And, of course, there was "Blue Suede Shoes." "I won't ever forget it," said Perkins. "I overheard this guy at a dance tell this beautiful woman, `Honey, don't step on my suedes'." One phrase was all it took to make the better part of Perkins' long and fruitful career, one with many peaks and valleys, but one that found him "keep on keeping on." "All kinds of things will push you back, and all you youngsters reach down... and make up your mind, set your goals high. Remember Carl Perkins said to you, `Winners never quit and quitters never win.'" A cliché, yes, but little else about Carl Perkins was.
-- Raoul Hernandez

Carl Perkins demonstrates rockabilly air guitar at a press conference following his keynote address at the Convention Center Thursday, March 13
photograph by Jana Birchum

Austin Convention Center, Thursday, March 13

The be all end all. Not Bennett, but Sinatra. The American standard begins and ends with Sinatra. The only thing better than Frank is Frank when Nelson Riddle does the arrangements. Tony Bennett is just a coattail riding hack. Or so I once thought. But here it is in print: I was wrong. After sitting through Bennett's informal question and answer panel, I have a new respect and admiration for the man. He is a person of tremendous integrity. He is a man with reverence and love for his peers and for his craft. He is gracious and appreciative with Lyle Lovett sincerity. And he has a genius of a manager in his son. It was his son's idea to get the elder Bennett on MTV, an appearance that helped the crooner cut across all demographic groups and trigger a tremendous resurgence in his popularity. It could be the career move of the decade, but Bennett's made good career moves before. Decades back, he took a prolonged hiatus from recording, because Capitol wanted him to record "hot" songs that the label could cash in on. Bennett, by contrast, only wanted to do material that would endure. Bennett assessed those obsessed with money by noting, "Well there's Woolworth, then there's Tiffany's." The record companies are going to sell something, it's their choice whether to sell crap or sell quality, and Bennett, following good advice, was never going to let them turn him into crap. The advice? "Don't even compromise for a second." It came from Bennett's biggest fan -- Sinatra.
-- Michael Bertin

Stephani at the Tejano Concierto y Baile at City Coliseum Thursday, March 13
photograph by John Carrico

Electric Lounge, Thursday, March 13

Throughout this year, Peglegasus bassist Henry Duys has worked at a feverish pace on a project called "The Chemical Wedding." The multi-disciplinary, "new age punk opus" examines the alchemic connections between colors, planets, elements, Greek gods, and the auteur's personal life in a way only Duys can explain with any justice. Though the daunting logistics pushed the start of the show well beyond the scheduled 3:33pm kickoff, it became engaging once underway. Each song (one for every planet) featured guest musicians tinkering away on everything from Theremin to Moog to vibes played with flaming mallets by Rey Washam. Stylistically, the music was all over the map. A dreamy trip into psychedelia might be followed by collegiate pop seguing into teen-age hardcore. The performance was further accentuated with film, dancing, and Duys' wry humor. Near the end, Dizzyluna sax player Trevor Wallace climbed up on a barstool and put a noose around his neck for a simulated onstage hanging. It looked about as safe as going over Niagara Falls in a trash can, and Wallace's expression confirmed that sentiment. Then Sean McGowan (the Chumps) came out dressed as Satan, kicked the barstool out from underneath Wallace, and began pulling him up and down while a bodybuilder flexed his muscles. It certainly made for compelling theater, but the audience was oblivious to the fact that the rope constricted around Wallace's neck, causing him to black out. Wallace's rope burns were a sobering reminder of what happens when you blur the distinctions between art and reality without adequate forethought. Fortunately, Wallace was okay except for a case of jumbled nerves. Though this horrific climax was not quite what Duys intended, a lot of people left "The Chemical Wedding" with a renewed lust for living that afternoon. -- Greg Beets

Emo's, Thursday 13

SXSW is entertaining for sure, but not always for the right reasons. Take Emo's, which Thursday afternoon hosted a party for Malicious Vinyl Records (presumably a sinister offshoot of Delicious Vinyl) featuring three bands, who were either too early (Slowburn), too Brit-sounding (Lit), or too slow (Masters of Reality) to keep me out of the beer garden, where all kinds of trouble was going on. That's where the real action was. Rasslin' action. Fat people in masks and tights slamming and pinning each other while the appreciative crowd hurled tortillas into the squared circle, making the afternoon almost indistinguishable from a Texas Tech football game (most of the Red Raiders are fat and wear masks, too), except that Tech never started guys named "Harley Racist" and "Ku Klux Klown." One rassler, Dr. Loco, didn't appreciate the job the referee (whose job seemed mainly to consist of conveniently looking the other way whenever Dr. Loco got hammered by a chair) was doing, so after he lost, he took it up with the ref, bodyslamming and suplexing the zebra until he decided he'd rather eat some of those tortillas. At least he quit while he was ahead: That ref was in better shape than any of these so-called wrestlers. Rasslin' has always been Texas' lowbrow theatre of choice, and its popularity at SXSW is promising. How 'bout moving it to the outdoor stage next year? That way more people can experience the pleasant sensation of SPIN writers coming down from New York City and wandering around town with those dazed "What the hell is this?" looks on their faces. That, alone, is always worth the price of a wristband.
-- Christopher Gray

Emo's, Thursday, March 13

SXSW 97: The Year of the Day Party. And so in one of those only-at-SXSW happenings, the Masters of Reality played their first Texas show ever at 4:30 in the afternoon to a room full of musicians, rock critics, and industry hanger-ons -- the same three entities that treasured their brilliant Def American debut nearly ten years ago. Back then, the rest of the country passed on the notion of a psychedelic blues explosion, even after the album got a second chance with a Delicious Vinyl re-release. Nonetheless, Ginger Baker joined the band for a follow-up, and now, several years down the line, Malicious Vinyl is pushing a new Live at The Viper Room greatest hits disc, complete with a cameo from Stone Temple frontman Weiland. Neither Baker nor Weiland showed up at this semi-exclusive Emo's gig, but that didn't matter; the Masters of Reality were about no build-up, no let-up. And as it should have been, it was all chords and attitude, from the opening "Blue Garden" to the closing medley of "Ants in the Kitchen/Going Down." The former was the type of sludge Alice in Chains can only dream about, while the latter take on a song so clichéd its stench still lingers on Guadalupe was the stuff Austin has built dreams upon. Within 40 minutes, it was obvious why the live album is so necessary: These are songs that less soulful practitioners like Jon Spencer and Metallica have managed to make relevant again. And yet for as good as it was, one couldn't help feeling like it was a waste to see the Masters left preaching to the same hundred or so folks who got the album free in 1988. Only a real showcase might have broken the cycle, and this wasn't.
-- Andy Langer

Texas Union Ballroom, Thursday, March 13

Tuva, deep in the heart of Siberia, is primarily known in the musical world for a particular type of singing called "khoomei" (also known as throat-singing), in which a vocalist sings between two and four notes simultaneously by specifically emphasizing the natural overtones that exist when a single note is sung. Traditionally, this singing is the folk music of a nomadic people who call the geographical center of Asia home. Yat-Kha, however, mix this unique vocal style and technique with cantering guitar lines, deep, round, pulsating bass and pointalistic, primal percussion. Albert Kuvezin (the lead vocalist and a founding member of group Huun-Huur Tu) performed the khoomei singing flawlessly, blending his beautifully haunting vox in this new electrified context, adeptly alternating the extra overtone note from a high-pitched flutelike sound to an otherworldly deep drone dirge that would make a death metal singer cry with envy. This is visceral music; when Yat-Kha performed a song about lament, I didn't have to understand the language to know the sadness conveyed -- I felt this pain. Each subsequent song met with increasingly fervent applause until Yat-Kha received a standing ovation from an enthralled crowd wanting more. Combinations of eastern and western musical techniques, forms, styles, etc., have existed for at least a handful of decades -- some with questionable results and some with sublime results. Yat-Kha are clearly and firmly in the second group.
-- David Lynch

Electric Lounge, Thursday, March 13

It was inevitable that the guy with guitar and emotions-on-his-sleeve era was going to end soon. The modern rock stations don't know this yet, but it's no accident that the first great buzz band of this year's conference was the furthest thing from that sensitive animal. Clearly, it's time to give the machines some, and who better to deliver that than the most extreme, cold, and relentless electronic band going today? Berlin's Atari Teenage Riot call themselves an anti-fascist band with their multi-gender/multi-racial makeup backs that up, but the vehicle is perversely and poetically fascistic. The driving drum beats sound like an amphetamine army in a high-speed parade, the dense mix of tones and samples a disorienting whirl, with the strobe lights leaving the audience rooted to the floor, proverbial deer in the headlights watching Atari's two frontmen fire words into the air. It's a strange sort of spectacle -- most spectacles focus attention on the doer, not the watcher. But Atari Teenage Riot is such a pure assault on the senses, on the emotions, and on the very expectations of what music is supposed to be, that constant internal vigilance is required. At the most intense moments, you find yourself navigating the crush of the crowd, strangely compelled to both stay and run, seeking out other audience members' reactions to confirm your own confusion. When the band's set ended, the tag-team mixing session started, led by Atari frontman Alec Empire, who showed no signs of slowing as 2am loomed. Those lower-level beats and samples were a skeleton of the Atari sound, lacking the noise, lights, and forward momentum to make it a maelstrom. It merely hung in the air, a vague and eerie presence, hinting that the sonic assault could start up again, on its own, at any time. -- Phil West

One of the Frogs sprouts wings at Liberty Lunch Thursday, March 15
photograph by Michelle Dapra

Hole in the Wall, Thursday, March 13

Chicago's Waco Brothers are the "World's Tuffest Country Band," proclaimed in loud type to be "Chicago's #1 Wasted Swing Band." Self-generated superlative monikers aside, they put on a show that was well worth cramming into the cracks of the paneling at Hole in the Wall. Though it's a great place to see roots-derived music like this, the Hole's stage was just too small (these are no shrimpy gents), and that constricted and cramped the band. Claustrophobia aside, Jonboy and Deano traded off vocal duties, alternating between Midwestern-forced-drawl and mutated brogue on songs that would scare the shit out of any Nashville resident. "This song is about trade unionism, very trendy!" mused Deano as they took off into "Plenty Tough -- Union Made" from their Bloodshot debut ...To the Last Dead Cowboy. In one of three Jon Langford appearances in town this weekend, he and his Waco Bros. were all about a good time for everyone. Halfway through their set, they cajoled the comfortably seated crowd to get up and push all tables and chairs aside so that those outside could come in for the show, breaking every fire code imaginable but furthering the "up up up with love" atmosphere of "Too Sweet to Die," a definite adrenal highpoint of the show. "Bad Times Are Comin' Round Again" seemed a forecast of a not-so-awful impending doom, and it only got better as they went out with a rousing and generally underused Bo Diddley beat. -- Christopher Hess

Austin Convention Center, Thursday, March 13

This panel had the potential to be truly awful. Think about it, a bunch of old hippies sitting around saying, "Boy, Austin just hasn't been as much fun since the Armadillo World Headquarters closed, blah, blah, blah... " Jeez, why go to the Convention Center? You can hear that crap on the back porch of Showdown. Yet somehow, this panel turned out to be thoroughly entertaining. There were the requisite jokes about being too stoned back then to remember any stories today, but the panelists did a beautiful job of capturing the magical feeling of that time. There were fond remembrances of a true community that dared to merge rock lifestyle with traditional country music. There was also a painful, realistic assessment of the fallout: "The good will kept it alive," said Steve Fromholz. "Then the cocaine killed it." The highlight of the panel was former AWHQ bouncer/poster artist Michael Priest, whose show-and-tell with his posters vividly connected each with specific memories that were dear to his heart. "We set about trying to destroy the generation gap," he said, "and when Bill Monroe played the Armadillo on a Tuesday night, we knew we had done it." They had a cultural gap to bridge, as well -- mean rednecks generally didn't take too kindly to peace-and-love hippies, giving Priest a hilarious description of the era: "Austin was the first place that had big, broad-shouldered, ass-kicking hippies. They wouldn't start a fight, but they'd damn sure finish one!" What do these forefathers of alt-country think of the No Depression generation? "I hope this new generation gets to have the same thing we had," said Priest. "We're as tickled about them as Waylon and Willie were about us."
-- Lee Nichols

Katie Bloom's, Thursday, March 13

Short of free meals, nothing's better about SXSW than the opportunity to stumble into something new and noteworthy in an hour of aimless club-to-club wandering. At this BMI showcase anchored by El Flaco and Spoon, New Yorker Andrew Dorff was the sleeper you dream of finding: a charismatic frontman (even if he looked like Ken Leick on a bad day) with a tight backing outfit, and an obvious dose of nervous energy that managed to hint more at punk unpredictability than impending disaster. And although Dorff would substitute "This is another song," for real stage patter, it was simply one of the conference's rare moments of truth in advertising -- where hype didn't matter. And really, there was always "another" song, each better than the last. In fact, the BMI slot should have been the tip-off, in that publishing companies by nature showcase artists with "songs," and with "Supercool," "I Splash," "Overneath," and on to the brilliant "InseCuriosity," Dorff showcased songs that not only brought Lou Reed, Cracker, and Helmet together, but were also simple and catchy enough to remember by their chorus afterwards. On the way out, people were snickering that Dorff's brother, Steven, is the Hollywood heartthrob, and that this Dorff was only 19 and had played the Bottom Line less than a year before he inked a huge Sony deal earlier this year. SXSW discovery? Okay, maybe not. Happy accident? Yes. Supercool anyway? -- Andy Langer

Friday, March 14

All the way from Okinawa... Cocco! At the Tropical Isle Friday, March 14
photograph by Jana Birchum

Austin Convention Center, Friday, March 14

Except for pornography, noted Requestline Online Executive Editor Hans Eisenbeis, there's no bigger affinity group on the Internet than music. As a result, music-related websites have gone well beyond the point of "Let's just get something up there" into the more discriminating arena of creating a website that gives the fan something unique and gives the band a return on their investment. "Now people are saying, `Show us the money,'" quipped Rolling Stone Online Editor Robert Levine. Although the title of this panel gave the impression that it would be a critique of existing websites and why they do or don't "blow," it was actually more of a discussion of what the focal point of a music website should be. Silicon Valley couldn't have asked for a better cheerleader than Block manager Richard Luckett, who said the band had obtained a German licensing deal and heavier rotation on M2 as a result of their website. However, when it came to online sales, both Luckett and Sub Pop General Manager Amy Seidenwurm acknowledged that their respective websites only accounted for a small percentage of overall sales. As far as downloading music directly from websites, the panel consensus was that the hype is still a few steps ahead of the common man's hardware. Slow downloading is the predominant barrier, followed by poor sound quality and the fact that sitting at a desk with your face in a monitor isn't exactly a pleasant way to hear your favorite music. The bottom line seemed to be that the Internet in its current form is not the cash cow Microsoft would have you believe. However, assuming you already have a computer for other purposes, a simple, well-honed website can be an excellent, inexpensive promotional tool that doesn't require you to lick a single stamp.
-- Greg Beets

Continental Club, Friday, March 14

The V-8 land yachts were parked in front and the club was packed before showtime. People were ready to be transported back to the seedy rhythms and strip-joint jazzy blues of the Fifties and Sixties and the Naughty Ones' sleaze-to-please, power lounge music did not disappoint. With Mark Korpi on guitar, Rob Douglas on bass, Michael Sweetman on sax, Donna Pearl on percussion, dancing, and vocals, Mike Buck on drums, and Ted Roddy on vocals and bongos, the Naughty Ones put on a good show, galvanized by Johnny Reno's guest appearance on sax and vocals. Reno threw a gasoline shot on an already hot fire with his performance of "Mellow Saxophone," which, along with "The Boulevard of Broken Dreams," was one of the high points of the show. This kind of music demands that you relax and get into the flow of things and it was clear that this band is more comfortable with the freedom of a longer set. The short time slot prevented the cohesion of a full set and resulted in a to-and-fro juxtaposition of jumpin' jive songs to mellow pieces instead of a gradual buildup of musical intensity. It's not that I didn't dig the slower tunes, it's just that with such a short set, the intensity flow was paramount. Perhaps more direct communication with the audience between tunes would've helped, but then again I wouldn't be inclined to speak much with a video-cam stuck right in my face, either. Bottom line: great band in a less than ideal situation. -- David Lynch

Jerry Harrison, Margo Timmins, and Jimmy Webb (above), and Peter Wolf (below) at the "Well, How Did I Get Here?" panel at the Convention Center Friday, March 14
photographs by Martha Grenon

Liberty Lunch, Friday, March 14

Nowhere is the stand-to-be-seen element in such high attendance as the big indie label showcases, and never was this more true than at the Matador bill. Boston's Helium filled the middle spot on the all-Matador night, though they were there to be heard. Which is a good thing, because there wasn't a hell of a lot to look at. Those in the crowd who were paying attention were constantly craning to make sure they were looking at live people and not props. The sound was impeccable, once the feedback was resolved, and the band was as crisp and crunchy as you could hope for, one-upping their finest recorded material sound-wise. They mixed it up between sparse and heavy grinders and more upbeat and rolling tempos, and when they cut loose on a bouncing backbeat it was amazing the restraint it must have required to remain so utterly motionless. I think Helium must be antennae. Mary Timony's voice floated in the upper registers (similar to, but more consistently lilting than labelmate Liz Phair), providing sugary dissonance for the crunching guitar and bass lines, the severe melodies of the faster songs shocking in their emergence. For the last song of their set, they locked onto a riff from a pre-Matador tune and squeezed every ounce of life out of it in true finale fashion, only it sucked because it ate up at least enough time for two more songs. A trip into something from the largely ignored The Dirt of Luck would have been a more welcome ending.
-- Christopher Hess

Tropical Isle, Friday, March 14

A scruffy contingent of music-minded busybodies invades the Austin branch of a New Orleans show-us-your-tits shooters bar to see a quartet of cute Japanese women pay firey tribute to the Anglo-American punk axis. It sounds like a bad party joke, but Tokyo's Lolita No. 18 was as serious as the inherently goofy nature of their genre could (or should) allow. Imagine the Lunachicks led by Alvin, Theodore, and Simon Chipmunk and you'll understand the basic aural element. The band was about as tight as you could expect garage punk to be, not to mention louder than hell. At 3:30am, it still sounded like a 737 was making an emergency landing on my eardrum. Joining in the fun with Lolita No. 18 was Austinite Sheri Lane (the Horsies), who delivered sizzling organ accompaniment on "Shakin' All Over." The band also won kudos with impressive Japanese versions of "Hang On Sloopy," "Summertime Blues" (as performed by the Who), and the Ramones' nugget "Wart Hog." This is all well and good, but what really takes Lolita No. 18 one step beyond the realm of novel is the hyper-animated stage persona of vocalist Vo. Masayo. Her amazing high-end warble, high kicks, and slapstick facial expressions make for a highly infectious potion. Masayo throws herself into every song as if they were amusement park rides. Lolita No. 18 shreds with the best of 'em, but at gig's end, you're left with the happy glow of affirmation instead of a nihilistic lugee in the eye. On an unseasonably cold Friday night, such a glow provided at least as much warmth as the "Horny Gator" drink being served at the bar. -- Greg Beets

Outdoor Stage, Friday, March 14

It wasn't exactly a marquee line up, and it was cold, but in the past, bands with absolute zero name recognition have played to a filled street. Even though regular Austinites may have become fairweather freeloaders, making for possibly the smallest crowd in the history of Outdoor Stage, the Governor's Suite of the Driskill Hotel (the room with the balcony that overlooks the stage along Brazos) was packed. And why not? Posh location, two bathtubs filled with cold beers, a full bar, fashionable people. And it was all free, courtesy of the folks at SPIN. There was conversation and booze. The NCAA basketball tourney was on the tube, cell phones were ringing, and, oh yeah, there was music, too. Those self-appointed purveyors of all things cutting-edge, who bring you the hippest of the hip, were chatting things up with their cronies, while down on the stage Bill Janovitz played. He wasn't fantastic, he wasn't amazing, he wasn't unbelievable. He's not the next Beck. He's not the next anything, but he was worth listening to. Playing primarily material from his first solo record with just a couple of additions from the Buffalo Tom catalog, Janovitz showed how a handful of chords, and smart use of phrasing, space, and lyricism can yield moving songs, whether done solo, acoustic, or with full band (as he was backed by Maine's Lincolnville for about half of the set). While the pretty people in their plastic clothes debated about who could be the next big thing, they were completely ignoring a darn good thing. The whole scene turned Janovitz's closer "Gaslight" into a unintentional joke. He sang the line "And it's me you look at down your nose," but nobody was. Looking? They weren't even listening. But hey, what a great party. -- Michael Bertin

Scholz Beer Garten, Friday, March 14

It felt like the words coming from the outdoor stage were meant for us diehard music lovers: "Nothing is getting easier/Everything is getting harder..." You got that right, Mr. Sherman. It's gets harder to enjoy music when the temperature is hovering around 40 degrees! Yet the English reggae master reminded us -- a predominately healthy, employed, and warmly dressed crowd -- how good we've really got it. "Everything is never enough," he sang, and we remembered to forget the cold and let ourselves feel the jazzy, ambient reggae plied by Sherman and his band, a bassist, keyboardist, guitarist, and a conga player. The congas grounded the rhythm section in a recognizably spiritual place, and the universal message was anchored by Sherman's lyrics. But, when a Sixties-era synthesizer sound was layered on top, or a slow groove thing was created by the bass, or a simple rock & roll melody was played by the guitar, or when they all joined in on jazzy harmonics, that's when you felt you were in a disco rather than at a reggae festival. Which may explain why Beggars Banquet selected the crossover-ready track, "Goldenlocks," as the single from Bim Sherman's album, Miracle. Live, the song was a slow ambient groove that sounded more like the Orb's "Little Fluffy Clouds" than anything, especially with its chorus, "I want to touch the rainbow!" The audience certainly tried to! Sherman moved the dancers easily from "Acoustic Dream," a lullaby-like melody, to classically metered reggae and later to an acid jazz sound, and back to "Alien Out of Control" -- dub at its finest. After one more short jam, it was time for the German beer garden to close shop, and the international show ended on a warm note.
-- Melissa Rawlins

Ray Campi at Antone's Friday, March 14
photograph by John Carrico

Waterloo Brewing Co., Friday, March 14

Well, it wasn't officially sponsored by Peter Blackstock's alt-country bible, but it might as well have been. Albuquerque's Hazeldine kicked the night off, and posed an interesting question: Is alt-country in danger of imploding on itself with sound-alike bands? Coming into the show late, I heard their lead singer's pretty voice and thought, "Damn, they switched the schedule on me. I'm missing Cheri Knight!" Then again, is sounding like Knight a sin? All I know is I really dug their show. Columbus, Ohio's Haynes Boys followed with a loud guitar sound that wasn't original, but sure heated the chilly night up, and showed that so many of these "country" bands are really grunge bands with twang. Ironically, the least grungy band on the night's bill was from Seattle, the Picketts. They opt for rockabilly-ish picking rather than power chords, and Christy McWilson's vocals ache like Loretta Lynn. And that, in turn, makes it ironic that the coolest songs of the set were the Who's "Baba O'Riley" and the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?," so thoroughly warped into their own sound that it took a few minutes to realize who they were covering. Raleigh, North Carolina's Whiskeytown are the new darlings of the scene, and they delivered on the buzz that drew a packed crowd. Their head-thrashing cowpunk showed the difference between wannabes and the cream of the crop, and they are clearly the latter. Son who? Finally, Cheri Knight's showcase actually was a reunion of the Blood Oranges, with mandolinist Jimmy Ryan and guitarist Mark Spencer again at her side. The bluegrass-rock Oranges were themselves scene darlings back in the genre's infancy, and Knight's compositions, a beautiful mix of pain and power, could return them to that pedestal. -- Lee Nichols

Tropical Isle, Friday, March 14

"Were they even singing in English?" was the question asked by a handful of people in the crowd after Husking Bee's intense set at the Tropical Isle's Japan night. The grammar was poor and the enunciation worse, but the trio's guitar player sang in English alright. It could've very well been done phonetically, though, as the bass player had to read such intricate phrases as "Thank you for coming" off a card, indicating that the band's foreign language skills may be suspect. Be that as it may, the point is immaterial, because Husking Bee speaks the international language of punk rock, and speaks it fluently. So the appropriate question isn't, "Were they even singing in English?," but instead "How hard did they rock?" Answer: Very. Also acceptable: Quickly. Husking Bee squeezed 40 minutes worth of music into a set lasting precisely 33 minutes. There was no screwing around on stage, no lengthy monologues between songs. It was step up, plug in, start banging out the bar chords, and do some controlled screaming. A few very unintricate guitar fills were occasionally thrown in to keep things melodically interesting, but the set was fairly straightforward. Compared to the pop stuff coming out of the left coast that passes for a rehash of L.A. punk, it looks like the Japanese are imitating our past better then we imitate ourselves. -- Michael Bertin

Bob Popular, Friday, March 14

"This is a really cool club, there's just a lot of weirdos in it right now," I heard the well-and-truly hammered simian in front of me mutter to his Tri-Delt daterape-to-be. Oh yeah? Then why is there a bar in the middle of the audience? It sure wasn't there to provide faster drink service, but I have to admit, if you were craving test tubes filled with Jägermeister or multi-hued Jell-O shots, this was the place to be. It was also the place to catch a number of up-and-coming electronica acts, including the John Coxon/Ashley Wales duo Spring Heel Jack, fresh off the recent Orbital tour. By its very nature, drum and bass is going to be a tough sell in a small venue like this one. For a while, it appeared as though much of the audience -- especially those on the far side of the bar -- seemed vaguely confused, as though they'd been searching for the Don Walser showcase and wandered into the wrong bar. Up front, jammed together like so many Manchester sardines, the faithful bobbed and eddied, letting the swirling flow of SHJ's punchy, breakbeat-driven music wash over them. In the back, well, either Bob Popular had left their CD player on, or the band next door was really fucking loud. Whatever the case, SHJ sounded pretty much as they would on a decent home stereo: no surprises, but better lights and plenty of fog. -- Marc Savlov

Dave Marsh (right) just before he stalked off the "Can (or Should) the Music Industry Do Anything about Drug Abuse" panel at the Convention Center Friday, March 14
photograph by Martha Grenon

Trophy's, Friday, March 14

By 9pm, the lines at the Continental were already swelling, which made us so damn happy to be down the road a piece at Trophy's on South Congress. The local watering hole filled the vacuum left by Austin's late and much-lamented Outhouse as the SXSW venue for the disenfranchised and sick-of-Sixth-Street. In a similarly charming, unassuming way, Trophy's was the prime place to see a goofy nerd-punk combo from Tucson, Arizona. Named for an old Sixties sexploitation Beyond the Valley of the Faster Pussycat-style flick, the four-piece Weird Lovemakers garnered "Best Alternative Band" in Tucson Weekly's "Best of" issue. This showcase showed why. Here they were, Tucson's favorite fucked-up sons, playing for a smallish (50? 60? people) crowd at a "venue" most folks in town don't know to be friendly to this type of energetic splat. And splat they did. Their particular brand of splat isn't anything you haven't heard before, particularly if your brain is imbued with the Damned, Devo, or Descendants, etc. But despite the obvious hook, line, and sinker references, the Weird Lovemakers played full-on, balls-out punk rock, like Lollapalooza never happened and never should have. So, will folks who receive signals like these via complete shit radio dookie like Green Day and who think that punk had its day and then its second day, comprehend what's special about a little punk band that could, but doesn't go for gimmicks, funny outfits, or smearing/spitting anything on either themselves or the audience? Hmmmmm. This subtle, yet glorious night, the Weird Lovemakers proved that it just doesn't matter.
-- Kate X Messer

Texas Union Ballroom, Friday, March 14

It was still early during the benefit concert for Rainer Ptacek, an Arizonan national steel guitar virtuoso with a brain tumor, and Mark Eitzel was solo under the spotlight when he pulled off a joke that probably couldn't have worked for anyone else. Between the first two songs of his set, Eitzel told the audience, "I thought I had cancer until three days ago." Extended pause. "But it's just a zit." He also burped right into the mike just before playing a new song about a slob who won't leave his sister alone. But the impropriety didn't phase his audience, who seemed to take the burp as a symbol of the intimacy to come. Somehow, when you hear Eitzel's classically simple guitar chords underneath a line that goes, "You hate an innocence that you can't own," it's impossible to view the man on stage as anything less than a gentleman. In fact, he's a lot more. Eitzel is a balding veteran of the American Music Club, and his skillful plucking on your heartstrings belies the awkwardness of his strumming on a guitar that looks too big. His music is as graceful as a sunny autumn afternoon when you have time to watch the falling leaves. And in Eitzel's world, the leaves are pointed, jagged lyrics that have a soothing impact when they touch down. It's therapy his fans crave. Cheers went up when he sang "Nothing Changes," in which he lets you laugh while crying: "Let's go have a drink/Talk is useless/It only makes us seem clever/And nothing changes..." The mood in the big hall changed a bit when Giant Sand joined Eitzel on stage for an old fave, "Helium." Eitzel put down his guitar and devoted himself to singing with intensity -- sending sprays of saliva two feet beyond the mike, and reminding me of my favorite college professor, who tended to spit while explaining Shakespeare. Clearly, a man unafraid of spitting has something valuable to teach, something much more substantive than etiquette.
-- Melissa Rawlins

Victory Grill, Friday, March 14

Klangfarbenmelodie is a German word for the technique of dividing a melodic line between a variety of instruments and/or a variety of registers, much used in the work of Arnold Schoenberg, inventor of the 12-tone system of composition. Aleatoric music is that in which the composer introduces elements of chance or unpredictability. In the one piece that comprised the Shipp/Parker Duo's entire set, pianist-composer Shipp's melodies (if they can be called that) began at one end of the keyboard (or in the middle, for that matter) and proceeded randomly around the rest of the instrument. The same was true of Parker's stand-up bass work, especially in one passage where I started looking around for a flute; Parker was demonstrating his skill with harmonics, lightly touching the strings of the instrument at their Pythagorean nodal points in order to produce high-pitched, ethereal tones. The overall tempo was fast throughout, unspellable chords and unpredictable contrapuntal lines racing together in perpetual motion, interrupted from time to time by a chorale figure on the piano which was sometimes answered by an arco passage from the stand-up bass. In psychology we learn that our brains attempt to find order in chaotic systems, like shipwreck victims grasping for floating debris. Sometimes there is no order and our perceptions are illusory. At other times there is a method to the madness, which can be revealed only by repeated examination, much like the stereo images in pointillistic 3-D art. During this first hearing, I sensed three points of reference in the Shipp/Parker maelstrom: a) the harmony (or discord) seemed to hover around the G; b) the chorale passage I mentioned earlier and its subsequent answer in the string bass, occurred at least twice; and c) a five-or six-note octave figure in the piano occurred at least four times. Shipp/Parker music rewarded my hard listening. I think many of those who remained in the room sensed an underlying orderliness even though they might not have been able to put it into words. If you should encounter them, I encourage you to keep an open mind.
-- Don Palmer

Calle Ocho, Friday, March 14

Enter Planet Dust. While the electronica showcase was winding down (or up, depending on who you wanted to catch) over at Bob Popular, Nickelbag Records hosted their own version of the Future of Cool at this smallish Tex-Mex restaurant on Congress. Navigating the formidable gauntlet of bouncers was the chief concern for the huddled masses out front, although uttering the magic words ("Alien Records") seemed to work just fine as the night's semi-secret password. Once past the velvet noose, the throng inside made up three discernible queues: crammed in front of the bar awaiting sustenance, crammed in line at the bathrooms awaiting relief, and crammed upstairs, where all the action was. (Actually, there was loads of action in the restrooms as well, but why go into that here?) The Dusties' considerable fame lies more or less on their remix and production capabilities (i.e. Beck, Beastie Boys) than on any CD of their own, so it was odd to see them doing their own thing, funky, bass-heavy hip-hop with the occasional house undertones. Cool, sure, but weird, too, the same way it can be seeing Philip Glass performing onstage. You don't expect to see the artist in the flesh, just in your head. Recent Nickelbag signee Sukia capped things off past midnight with their own funkified codex of deep grooves and multiple cowboy hats, leaping, grinning, the Marlboro Sardonicus. Best tones, best vibe, best parting shot from a frantic restaurateur: "Give me that drink. It is time for you to go now."
-- Marc Savlov

Saturday, March 15

Emo's, Saturday, March 15

Seeing band equipment in the Emo's yard is strange enough, but Salaryman's particular array of equipment made for an even more surreal picture. It's not often you see a Roland Juno-6 keyboard and a spread of effects pedals sitting on dirt, and it's not often you see a futuristic blue globe (which turned out to be a homemade theremin) plugged into a guitar amp. Salaryman, according to drummer H.D. Kantoff, is an electronics-collecting hobby that's gathered a life of its own. In their better-known incarnation as the Poster Children, the Champaign, Illinois quartet specialize in a high-watt, high-energy guitar rock. So seeing them in this electro-geek guise -- down to plaid shirt, ties, and tennis shoes uniforms for the men -- was a little disorienting, as in "They look so Math Club." They started with a funky backbeat and layered it with keyboard lines and low-level static snarls from a sampler. An e-bowed guitar was the closest they got to "natural" instrumentation or extroverted stage presence. As the set progressed, the Valentin brothers and PC bassist Rose Marshack became more and more fixated on their keyboards or their tiny blue Yamaha sampling devices. And as their reverie deepened, the groove got more and more infectious, culminating with the Eighties cinematic keyboard blasts of "New Centurions." They threw more and more sound into the milieu, keeping it gentle and groove-oriented with a hint of mischief, until they closed it out. But even then, one of the Valentins just couldn't stop. He pressed away at his sampler like a 10-year-old kid trying to squeeze out one more Mortal Kombat game before he had to go to bed, wearing an expression that would have made any parent let him stay up 10 more minutes.
-- Phil West

Central Parking Garage, Saturday, March 15

Wayne Coyne, leader of Oklahoma City's Flaming Lips, generally filters his weirdness through standard guitar, bass, and drums with a full spectrum of electronic effects. His visit to SXSW, however, focused entirely on effects, those of space as well as sound. His call for 30 car stereos to perform a pre-recorded electronic collage at a downtown parking garage brought out Austin's tattoos-and-piercings community en masse, on foot and in their vehicles. Bellowing instructions through a bullhorn, Coyne arranged the cars in an impossible arabesque on the second parking level; it was 45 minutes before the first test tape made its way around the garage. With everything in place, he called, "One ... two ... three ... GO!" Silence. Giggles. A few random bursts of KGSR and 101X. Coyne's disembodied voice began to float from the assemblage one by one, all out of sequence and out of whack. When the second test managed to get all the tapes in order, the crowd burst into cheers, much like an avant-garde take on cheering the sound check at a stadium rock concert. Ninety minutes of shivering cold later, the tapes came around for the first composition. "One ... two ... three ... GO!" Silence. Then, like the breezes that prefigure a hurricane, washes of synthesized strings began to pipe in from every direction. The tones built into a dense mass around an extraordinarily loud and theatrical female orgasm, punctuated by stuttering bass sequences. Coyne closed his eyes and nodded happily, like a conductor proud of his orchestra. The smiles turned to grimaces during the second piece, when Car No. 16 -- the lead -- blew a fuse. The end result was cute electronic pop, which segued into a clamorous and meticulously synchronized drum jam. That's the thing about experiments, though -- those not directly involved may never know it didn't "work." For those assembled, it worked just fine. -- Ken Hunt

Stubb's, Saturday, March 15

The Stubb's sound man had some ideas of his own during the Damnations' set Saturday night, like feeding them one instrument's amplification at a time and bringing the mikes to life at about 20 second intervals. The bass was slightly muffled all the way through, but beyond that, he pegged their sound pretty well. The massive crowd, which had receded to the far reaches of the yard after John Dee Graham's set, surged forward upon hearing the familiar sounds of the Carter family's "I Ain't Gonna Work Tomorrow." From that point on, Austin's Damnations had every one of them in their collective palm. The harmonies -- though briefly quavered by the cold -- were fluid and precise and traveled the Stubb's lot like a melodic disaster warning, allowing no option but complete and startled attention. Rob Bernard's banjo and electric guitar were more restrained than usual, and it worked well, especially on "Kansas," where the background plucking and mild-mannered accompaniment to Gary Newcomb's lap-steel solo sounded just like it should. From Amy Boone's low rasp on "Spit and Tears" to sister Deborah Kelley's Lucinda-esque wailing of the happy woman blues, they didn't waste a single note. But it was consistently Newcomb's lap steel and single guitar solo that pumped the whole sound up to the size of the space they filled. The amount of, "Oh my god! Who are they? They're great!" I heard on the way out afterward combined with the shocking adaptability of their sound to a huge stage makes me, as a fan, truly and selfishly frightened for seeing future shows. If there's been any doubt as to the deservedness of the attention recently paid this band, it should now evaporate like the Saturday evening mist into the pale moonlight. -- Christopher Hess

Victory Grill, Saturday, March 15

Up front, you should know that Big Game Hunter, Austin's world-beat hip-hoppers, have an irresistible line-up: two very alterna-looking young men playing drums and percussion, one kinda hippy-ish upright bass player, a spectacled electric bass player, and two preppy-and-sexy UT students named Ken X and Tiger Lu as emcees. All together, they create a jazz-based hip-hop that has more to do with the mind than the body -- although by calling on the spirits of Das EFX, Guru, and the Fugees, there's no denying the beat! At the Victory Grill showcase, they got right to the point with a little Samba sound and with the "warning call," in which Kenny introduces the concept: "I got to do this type of thing/because when I invoke the spirit/it means that ya'll can hear it...What does this game mean?... It means consciousness... This is what we do/live, organic and direct to you." Organic is one way to describe what happened at the show, where a time-limit of 50 minutes was imposed, to the band's deep regret. But even their public complaints about the constraint worked fluidly into their set; for the first warning that time was running they pulled out a song about time, in which Tiger Lu explained his theory of success: "Time/The infinite immovable juggernaut/We cannot go back, only forward/Marilyn arrived living day by day." After the warning, they tried to move more quickly from song-to-song, but the drummer wasn't always ready to play stop-n-go. Kenny had to remind him: "Spontaneous!" Clearly the band is used to jamming during their regular local gigs at the Ritz. But even so, this short set was a party that deserves many repeat performances. -- Melissa Rawlins

A few of the King's Men: (l-r) Cesar Rojas, Dwight Twilley, and Al Anderson at the Austin Music Hall Saturday, March 15
photograph by John Carrico

Texicalli Grill, Saturday, March 15

While the "No Depression" crowd was having its y'alternative-country thrown down just off the Avenue, a little deeper into South Austin their graying counterparts from an earlier generation were kickin' up some dust with a rip-snortin' hoedown of their own. Ideally situated in the parking lot of Texicalli Grill, right next to a used car lot, the near perfect ambiance had more than one observer noting how this was a throw-back to an earlier, less urbanized Austin when musicians would frequently just set up and play. But this was no ordinary picking session. Nosireebob. When was the last time you heard a band like this? Certified Texas legend Johnny Gimble and veteran Howard Kalish on twin fiddles, Mr. Too Much Fun, Bill Kirchen, and Cornell Hurd on guitars, my homeboy Herb Steiner on steel, Texicalli proprietor Danny Young on rubboard, among others. Out front in fine form was Texas honky-tonk hero Johnny Bush, the Country Caruso, beltin' out those hurtin' songs when he wasn't sittin' back playing drums like he did in his days with Ray Price and the Cherokee Cowboys. In fact, there were enough musicians in the audience to have fielded another all-star band or two. Most of the music was a freewheeling mix of material from Hurd's recent and upcoming albums with Bush, and various well-worn honky-tonk/Western swing standards. I wasn't the only one wiping a tear from his eyes when Gimble, honey dripping from his strings, serenaded us with a soulful "Faded Love." It was sheer honky-tonk heaven and unquestionably the highlight of my SXSW weekend. A big thanks to Pat Jasper at Texas Folklife Resources for helping to make this happen. -- Jay Trachtenberg

Scholz Garten, Saturday, March 15

Remember last year's shitstorm of y'alternative hype? This year it was downright ugly. The conference was barely hours old when a club owner groused, "I'm sick of hearing bands that sound like Uncle Tupelo." At the "State of the Twang" panel, alt-country's best and brightest gathered to tear Jeff Tweedy a new asshole for not sounding like Uncle Tupelo anymore. Then they lit into Robert Earl Keen, who doesn't sound much like Uncle Tupelo either and whose record label would apparently rather not paint the scarlet A of Americana on his bios and press kits. It's a good thing nobody brought up Dash Rip Rock, because Brackenridge probably couldn't handle that many aneurysms at once. Much as the folks at No Depression probably hate to admit it, Dash Rip Rock may be the original alt-country band. They love to drink. They were covering Hank Williams and George Jones when Tweedy and Jay Farrar were still locked in the garage trying to master Black Flag riffs. Instead of trafficking in what a SPIN writer once called "rootless rootsiness," they come from Louisiana and are damn proud of it. Saturday night, they leapt from the mock bombast of Spinal Tap's "(Tonight I'm Gonna Rock Ya) Tonight" to the poppy earnestness of their own "I'm in Love With You" to the whiskey-drenched gospel fervor of Hank Senior's "I Saw the Light" without batting an eyelash. It doesn't matter that most critics see them as barely smarter than their beer-drinking, frat-rat audience -- probably because no, they don't sound like Uncle Tupelo -- or that radio won't touch them except for their fluke novelty hit "Let's Go Smoke Some Pot," which they didn't play. This was Dash's ninth SXSW, so forgive them for not strutting in the dog and pony show. This is one band that gets the joke. It's not the panels, the genre-fying, or what the consultants say. It's the music, stupid, so shut up and have another beer. -- Christopher Gray

Scholz Garten, Saturday, March 15

How was it that the Ohio-based Cowslingers were able to give a Texas audience a few lessons in how to play rockabilly roadhouse blues? Perhaps because they possess a certain edge derived from living in an industrial city such as Cleveland. Rust belt cities have unique forms of angst, energy, and recreation, and the Cowslingers are able to simultaneously celebrate and satire this milieu in their music; their original songs gave a glimpse of the inner lives of Joe Sixpack and Susie Housecoat. And when they did play a cover song, it was bad ass (a better-than-original version of "Sweet Emotion" for example). And most bands could take a lesson from the Cowslingers on how to play a short SXSW set; they went seamlessly from one hot tune into another, keeping the intensity level high for their entire set. When they did stop between songs, it was to give exposition on their uniquely funny lyrics, e.g., "West Virginia Dog Track Boogie" and "The Burro Show." But these lyrics were just the gravy on an already meaty musical plate. The guitarist was simply amazing, his playing replete with knife-edge guitar runs and one of the best guitar-playing faces I've seen in a month of Sundays. The drummer not only beat the shit out of his kit, he also added excellent background harmony vocals, while the lead singer had enough punch and low bellow to support the upbeat tunes, adding a bit of a country squeal here and there for excellent effect. Their music kept you laughing and moving your butt at the same time -- think of a Fifties rockabilly Elvis mixed with Southern Culture on the Skids played at breakneck punk tempos and you'll get a good idea of what the Cowslingers are all about. This band would be well-received in Austin, and if the Continental Club is smart, they'll bring 'em back to town.
-- David Lynch

Austin Convention Center, Saturday, March 15

Mark Rubin has been tested more times than Job. In the last year alone, the Bad Livers bassist has seen a member of his band quit in a New Mexico hotel room, another member's mother-in-law die, and his own stepfather pass away. Then there's the matters of having the band's van broken into, his bass fall apart onstage in Boston, and being hospitalized in Michigan for bronchitis. All of this while the Livers changed record labels, recording a new album (the excellent Hogs on the Highway), and toured almost nonstop. Saturday, Rubin, S.I.M.S. Foundation executive director Peyton Wimmer, and psychology/counseling Ph.D. professors John Hipple (University of North Texas) and Susan Raeburn (UC-Berkeley) convened their "Hard Road" panel to discuss problems musicians have and ways of coping with them. Since Pariah bassist Sims' Ellison's suicide, this has been an acute issue in the Austin music community, but it's hardly a new one. "[Society] doesn't want musicians to be happy," Rubin said. "We want the tortured artist." Yes, but how much torture is enough? Musicians deserve to be treated as human beings, yet too often their audiences and employers (clubs and record labels) see them as commodities to be exploited, like oil reserves or sugar plantations. The advice the panel offered was succinct and effective: Always maintain communication between band members, have a strong support system of family and friends outside the music industry, and make reality checks as often as possible. Still, in a city known for its beautiful losers and hard-luck musicians, a city where the creative aesthetic means ingesting as much booze, nicotine, and pharmaceuticals as possible, it's kind of hard to believe problems like Rubin's just go away after a couple of therapy sessions. They don't, of course. Just ask Sims Ellison.
-- Christopher Gray

Deborah Harry with the Jazz Passengers at Liberty Lunch Saturday, March 15
photograph by Martha Grenon

Steamboat, Saturday, March 15

"I'm happy to be here in Texas with my brothers," said the new Escovedo. The other two we already knew; there's ol' skin `n' bones Al, a musician of some local repute, and there's his younger brother Javier. Jav used to be in True Believers, and cuts a striking figure when glimpsed out of the Hole in the Wall front window, dressing a light pole like nobody's business. He apparently got the best-looking-of-the-siblings gene. Not that Mario, the new one -- the youngest of Alejandro's brothers, the baby -- was a gargoyle; he's got that same disarming Escovedo smile, and he'd flash it after his hard-rocking San Diego band finished each metallic glamfuck. Mario is apparently familiar with Alejandro's alter to Iggy Stooge, though Jav's love of SoCal zeroes punk was evident as well. Whatever the exact mixture, the Dragons were potent firebreathers -- way too much for Javier, in fact. Sacred Hearts had a terrible time following the Dragons. Javier probably wishes he'd never set foot on his old stomping grounds. Whereas the Dragons were at first met with dumb stares from the good-sized audience ("You here to see the Escovedo Festival?," asked one musician), their enthusiasm, energy, and Mario's humble charm won them over by the end of their half-hour set. Javier didn't seem to wanna wait that long, and when his band, an L.A.-based outfit, was greeted with the same stony nonchalance, he clearly lost all his enthusiasm for the gig: "Haven't seen you in a lonnnng time," he said by way of his own introduction. Silence. "Whatever, man. This one's called `I'll See You Around.'" Not likely. Not for a long time, is my guess. And ol' Al? Well, Buick was the same ugly beast it's always been. After the scorching opener, "John Conquest, You've Got Enough Dandruff on Your Collar to Bread a Veal Cutlet," and a fuel-injected version of "Black Shiny Beast," some tech noticed that Glenn Benavides was in danger of bashing his drum kit off the riser, and spent the better part of three or four songs trying to fix it. Unfortunately, his presence disrupted the band's equilibrium and both Alejandro and bassist David Fairchild were clearly annoyed. Fixed, the band roared along happily, egged on by a large, enthusiastic crowd (musta been the out-a-towners), finishing with a "Falling Down Again," on which Mario guested, and a scorched-earth version of Iggy's "Loose." Magnificent, really. Iggy would be damn proud. As proud as Alejandro clearly was, standing on the Steamboat stairs heckling Mario during the Dragons' set, turning to see Javier enter the club, walk over to just underneath where he was, and assume the same look of familial pride watching the baby of the clan do what the Escovedos do best. Play music. -- Raoul Hernandez

Sunday, March 16

Electric Lounge, Sunday, March 16

This ain't gonna be a ego-stroking breakdown on the genius of the prolific purple paisley perverted one. This one is all about us and how much more badass we are then the rest of the world. By the time Sunday night rolls around, most of the 700 bands have already come, played, and left. What are we left with? Michele "Little Bit of" Solberg doing a lusty version of "Sex in the Summer," Christina Marrs and the Jubilettes going almost a cappella for "The Cross," Guy Forsyth and steel guitar for "Delirious," Kris McKay's devastating acoustic version of "When Doves Cry" (the song which incidentally got this whole Do Me Baby project rolling), Seela with a spare "Alphabet Street," Johnny Goudie pulling out a letter-perfect "Little Red Corvette," Missile Command laying down a Killdozer-esque bass line for a rhythm-section-only version of "Nothing Compares 2 U" (complete with the improv lyrics "Since you're gone I can go to Le Fun on Guadalupe and play all those video games"), and the Adults, adorned with crash helmets, going Devo for their take on "You Got the Look." By midday Monday, the laminates were all gone, but this town sets SXSW 365 days a year. -- Michael Bertin

Electric Lounge, Sunday, March 16

Dilemma: Where to take a South African for her first exposure to Austin music on her first day in the Lone Star State on her first visit to the United States and only third visit to the first world? Why, the Diamond Smugglers, of course, Austin's own ambassadors to the dirty, naked underbelly of Mr. "Forever in Bluejeans," Neil Diamond. Joke band? Fuck, no. Despite any original farcical intention, the smarmy stage act has a life of its own -- a sort of "Holly Holy" reverential tribute to the one-eyebrowed Hot August man. While the lead singer, despite tease and hair gel, is too sweet-faced and cherubic to visually convey the arrogant menace of the helmet-haired god, one note from his lips dispels any lack of faith. He nails the fucker. It's scary. Scarier even is the band's knack for going further into cover Hades, tackling such ditties as "Go Your Own Way," "Breakdown," and Kiss' "Do You Love Me?" or "Do You Love Neil?," as they say. The most fucked, however, was their wickedly blasphemous transformation of that Joan Osbourne stomach-churner into "What If God Had Testicles?" Good god. A review of the Smugglers, however, is not complete without at least 1,000 words about the sinuous "Smugglettes," the two-woman tour de force, wiggling their way through background duties with disturbing, Medusa-like composure. One stare from these two stoney sisters and your ass is rock. Word has it that this was the last run of Diamond contraband for these twisted brigands. Was the Carpenters' cover a taste of greasy treacle to come? -- Kate X Messer

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle