Are you ready for the fallout?
SXSW 2003, Woo-hoo!
You know, except for the sputtering economy, pervasive national anxiety, and impending war, you'd swear it was 1998 all over again. That's because the greatest amount of intrigue heading into SXSW 03 seems to be surrounding an arty Brit pop band whose lone American hit was a Nirvanaesque fluke. No, the conference hasn't roped in Radiohead (if only), rather Damon Albarn, out of the Gorillaz suit and handling guitar duties for a Graham Coxon-free Blur. Granted, you won't see the charmless men anywhere on the SXSW grid, but consider that Think Tank, the band's first album since 1999's 13, is due in May, and that scarcely a month after SXSW, Blur is playing in California's Coachella festival. Albarn has also been an especially vocal critic of President Bush's foreign policy, so he could presumably use the trip to dig up dirt on first partier Jenna Bush. Showcase sponsor MTV is keeping things mum, evidently so they can set about making Blur the next Coldplay. Besides a late-breaking Producer's Panel addition in Pharrell Williams of the Neptunes and N.E.R.D., the conference's other big get in these last remaining moments of serenity is potty-mouthed princess Liz Phair, who'll perform a short acoustic set and be interviewed by new Recording Academy President Neil Portnow next Thursday. Phair likewise has a new album out soon and will appear at a non-SXSW party Friday, while Portnow is presumably visiting Central Texas to interview candidates for the local Grammy chapter's vacant executive director post, for which everyone with a valid Texas driver license is said to have applied.
Ask the SXSW-perts
As with every SXSW, the list of performing acts might as well be Aramaic to most casual wristband-wearers -- incidentally, the price goes up to $115 Friday -- so "TCB," who will be front and center for the Drive-By Truckers' set midnight Saturday at Cedar Street Courtyard, sought the informed opinions of the beleaguered SXSW music staff. After insisting that all he cares about is caustic Houston caterwaulers Rusted Shut, Craig Stewart mentioned the Strokes/Interpol brood of young Canadian mods the Stills, locals Fozlur and This Microwave World, Denton garage-howlers the Faceless Werewolves, and the "MC5 meets James Brown" of Jocasta. Julia Ervin selected the authors of her "new favorite CD," New Jersey popsters Spiraling, before tossing in the Tora Tora Toras, Washington Social Club, and "18-year-old pretty boys" Local AM for good measure. Darren Klein's tastes range from the "straight-up catchy pop-rock" of Roger to the "ADD" of Estradasphere ("anything from gypsy jazz to death metal"), with female acoustic-guitar virtuoso Kaki King, bluegrass firebrands the Hackensaw Boys, and post-Sunny Day Real Estate outfit the Fire Theft falling somewhere in between. Hip-hop specialist Isa's picks were Bay-area consciousness MCs Auditrons of Kimetic Sunz, Arlington Dirty South ballers Epatomed, Atlanta's Good Company, and Austin's own Flo Mob and Dirty Wormz. Boss man Brent Grulke played it safe, remarking, "I'm proud of every band we have -- I don't want to rank 'em." Grulke has plenty to deal with anyway. "I just got a call from a band being held up at the border," he sighed. "For all practical purposes, it's started." Next time you read this column, it has.
Hollerin' in Victory
Revenant Records owner Dean Blackwood is happily back in Austin after attending the Grammys, where his label picked up three statues for its Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton box set. Blackwood says Revenant's wins for Best Packaging, Liner Notes, and Historical Album came as a "complete shock," considering Screamin' and Hollerin's major-label competition. The owner attended the ceremonies with his wife, a graphic designer, and one of the liner-note writers, and reports seeing "a lot of heavy make-up and heavily medicated individuals" at NYC's Madison Square Garden. Perhaps in need of something to take the edge off was Bonnie Raitt, seated next to the Revenant party, and who was overheard "muttering under her breath" upon losing to Sheryl Crow. Most difficult, he says, was enduring two hours of honorary SXSW 03 Yardbirds guitarist Steve Vai, who hosted the nontelevised portion of the awards and "gave us some of his most awesomest riffs." At various pre-Grammy functions, Blackwood and company rubbed elbows with the likes of Bootsy Collins and Cyndi Lauper, and spied big winner Norah Jones wandering about looking "dazzled." Besides the excellent sushi, Blackwood says nothing remarkably eventful occurred. "I could say I saw Pink sitting on Yo-Yo Ma's lap while he played her like a cello," he muses, "but that would be an embellishment." While they wait for their Grammys to be engraved, Blackwood says Revenant, which released a CD by late label co-founder John Fahey last month, will resume its "glacial" schedule of one major project per year. Next up is a collection of unreleased Albert Ayler recordings.
The descendents of Central Texas' other chief executive ended nearly 60 years of Austin media ownership when the Lyndon B. Johnson family sold its interest in LBJ-S Radio to Indianapolis-based Emmis Communications. The Hoosiers, who already own Texas Monthly, paid close to $105 million for a 50.1% stake in radio stations KLBJ-FM and AM, KGSR, 101X, Mega 93.3, and Oldies 103. The Johnsons' partner, Virginia airwaves sultan Bob Sinclair, retains the remaining interest in the company... Pawnshop alert: If you see a worn-out Seventies vintage Yamaha nylon-string acoustic guitar, please let Kissinger frontman Chopper know. The lanky singer had the instrument taken, along with his fiancée's car and a copy of the Beatles' white album, in a carjacking outside the Music Lab Sunday night. Because he was leaving a rehearsal for his other band, SXSWers Fire Marshals of Bethlehem, Chopper also cautions "if you hear any songs that sound like they may be by Kevin Carney or John Croslin, they may be stolen."... Speaking of getting jacked, see "Naked City" for the latest APD crackdown on the King of Sixth Street.
Set it Off
Probably the only band with the requisite stones to take on a SXSW-eve slate of the Zeke reunion at Emo's, Michael Hall's Swollen Circus at Stubb's, and the Guided by Voices hoot night at the Mercury is raging garden of sound Audioslave, who lay waste to a sold-out Austin Music Hall Tuesday with Philly's Burning Brides. Guitarist Tom Morello, who when not blasting out "Set It Off" and "Exploder," runs nonprofit activist organization Axis of Justice with System of a Down's Serj Tankian, called last week from Detroit Rock City.
TCB: How do you make your guitar sound like turntables?
TM: You need a guitar with two pickups and two volume controls, and it has to have a toggle switch to go between the pickups. You turn one of the pickups to 10 and the other to zero; the toggle switch functions as a kill switch. Then you rub your left hand along the strings, which makes kind of a scratching noise.
TCB: Some of the lyrics on the album are pretty oblique. Do you ever ask Chris Cornell what the hell he's talking about?
TM: Timmy [bassist Commerford] actually does often ask what he's talking about. I like to enjoy the existential ambivalence of some of the lyrics, but Timmy will often directly ask what the heck the songs are about.
TCB: Who was the hardest-rocking band at Harvard while you were there?
TM: I was in four different bands four different years, all of which were grim cover bands. Probably it was my band senior year, a rock outfit with the awful name Bored of Education. We did a wicked cover of "Crazy Train." I think it was very surprising for the Harvard locals to see us playing Ozzy Osbourne at these kegger parties where they were expecting Prince's "Purple Rain" and "Louie Louie."
Prove it All Night
Conquering hero Bruce Springsteen, along with that guy from the Sopranos and the rest of the E Street Band, returned to the Erwin Center Sunday night for a set that started strong with a fierce reading of Edwin Starr's "War" and stayed that way for a good two and a half hours. In a fast-forming tradition, Joe Ely joined the Boss for an earth-shaking encore of Ely's "All Just to Get to You." Given the Flatlander's history and Springsteen's recent Grammy tribute, maybe next time they could switch to the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go."