As South by Southwest 2011 ran the music industry version of the bulls of Pamplona through Downtown Austin, up north at the Travis County Expo Center, a two-week load-in of 2,000-pound horned beef specimens launched cowboys over/under/sideways/down at the 74th Rodeo Austin. Pig races, mutton bustin', livestock, clowns, country music, barbecue, rock & roll: Austin's overlapping rites of spring are kissing cousins.
SXSW chute: Duran Duran, OMD, Men Without Hats. Eighties nostalgia also reared its horns at the rodeo, only this time as a guitar/bass/drums reminder that not all the New Wave of 30 years ago was exclusively English, Canadian, and/or synthesizer-based. Joan Jett's Blackhearts included a keyboardist, but at least one quartet of discerning backstage meet-and-greeters came to know the hat-and-scarf-wearing gentleman plinking at the back of the mobile, rotating stage on the Expo Center arena's dirt floor as the punk icon's manager of decades, Kenny Laguna.
Before the show, Laguna wondered whether PETA and bull riding could coexist. Given Rodeo Austin's eight-figure contribution to the local economy every March via 300,000 or so visitors, plus the nonprofit Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo's scholarship program, rock & roll could use more such wild Westerns. Better yet, in its second week – the one after SXSW – Rodeo Austin matched up two of three headliners who demonstrated key commonalities in arriving there.
Somewhere not so deep in the annals of music business bookkeeping, there's a formula predicting guaranteed audience percentages over an artist's lifetime in the aftermath of a No. 1 hit. If your tune tops the Billboard charts, there will always be X number of pilgrims seeking that song. In 1981, Joan Jett and Rick Springfield released albums that in 2011 still allow them both to ride/straddle/tame a concert hall full of thrill seekers.
Joan Jett's sophomore solo album, I Love Rock n' Roll, dropped a dime into the collective record machine with its title track, a cover of the 1975 single by UK glam group the Arrows that stayed at No. 1 for weeks. Her follow-up 7-inch, an iron dandelion take on Tommy James & the Shondells' "Crimson & Clover," also went Top 10, peaking I Love Rock n' Roll at No. 2. Even so, the disc's Jett/Laguna co-writes, "(I'm Gonna) Run Away," "Victim of Circumstance," and "Be Straight," held their own among the Coasters ("Nag"), Dave Clark Five ("Bits and Pieces"), and, yes, "Little Drummer Boy." At the rodeo, Jett's brick wall off I Love Rock n' Roll, "Love Is Pain," hit midway through her 14-song chant.
SXSW 2010 Film headliner The Runaways, executive produced by Jett and Laguna, helped to permanently contextualize the former's blitzkrieg set list, here opening with the headbanging Freaks and Geeks theme, "Bad Reputation," then charging into Runaways rally cry "Cherry Bomb." Jett next introduced "Light of Day" by recalling its cinematic namesake and her co-star in it, Michael J. Fox, though not he who wrote the song for the film: Bruce Springsteen. Topped by her enduring ownership of Gary Glitter's "Do You Wanna Touch Me," Jett's anthemic appeal bookended the show's call-and-response midsection with the end run of "Fake Friends" and the Runaways' "School Days," both I Love Rock n' Roll singles, and closer "I Hate Myself for Loving You." Thanks for the hug backstage, Joanie.
Rick Springfield descended center stage two nights later and climbed into the bandstand for a wild mobbing from women of every age during "Don't Talk to Strangers." The 61-year-old Australian, who looked two decades younger in a raunchy recent guest spot on Californication, hasn't lost any of his TV appeal, but neither has his musical moment thawed into live ennui.
Half his life ago, Springfield seized his heartthrob moment on daytime soap General Hospital by introducing his first wife – rock & roll – on Feb. 24, 1981 with Working Class Dog, whose debut single, "Jessie's Girl," went to No. 1 and won a Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. A cover of Sammy Hagar's "I've Done Everything for You" followed up by charting No. 8. Past kickoff "Who Killed Rock n' Roll" from 2008, Springfield's entire set was drawn from Working Class Dog and its immediate successors. "Don't Talk to Strangers," in fact, went to No. 2 aboard Dog's follow-up, Success Hasn't Spoiled Me Yet, and "Love Somebody," eighth of 10 songs here, landed at No. 5. One-, two-, three-, four-hit wonder and counting.
Working Class Dog ("I've Done Everything for You," "Love Is Alright Tonite"), Success Hasn't Spoiled Me Yet ("I Get Excited"), and third of the triptych, Living in Oz ("Affair of the Heart," "Alyson," "Human Touch"), sliced into the peak pie a cover of "Gloria" before the big finale, "Jessie's Girl," and in Springfield's windmill guitar – adding a sacrificial bouquet of roses to Pete Townshend's trademark move – dwelt Elvis Costello's acknowledgement that the New Wave slipped into the mainstream many an earnest rocker with an axe to grind.
Both Rick Springfield and Joan Jett were long gone by the time George Jones pulled up to the rodeo's full house in a chauffeured pickup truck Friday night, but the 79-year-old country legend's 65-minute video soundtracking served as a cautionary tale for any musician on the tour circuit forever. Nashville's former "No Show Jones," who did to Stubb's a dozen years ago (see "Live Shots," Nov. 5, 1999) what Johnny Cash famously managed at Emo's, played longer than his headlining predecessors, but the native Texan's fine malt Frank Sinatra has all but exited the building. Between the opening thrill of a decidedly raspy "Why Baby Why" and ceremonious closer "He Stopped Loving Her Today" – preceded by the suspect "Golden Ring" and a two-minute mash-up of "She Thinks I Still Care" and "White Lightning" – Jones and his crack sevenpiece fiddled along, Branson, Missouri-like, to a big-screen stream of outlaw images accompanying greatest hits such as "Same Ole Me." When sound and vision occasionally synced into a clear, audible, Jones vocal ("Walk Through This World With Me"), that ringing in your ears wasn't just his own "The King Is Gone (So Are You)."
Crowning SXSW hangover week in every conceivable way was another New Wave-era landmark, Devo, whose biggest hit, 1980's "Whip It," breached the Top 100 at No. 14 and would've reduced lesser acts to late-night television infomercial loops. Not these 1960s Kent State subversives, who by 1978 debut Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! had "devolved" into two sets of brothers, Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh and Jerry and Bob Casale – plus a drummer. All four plus overhanded beat master Josh Freese added another exclamation point Sunday night at the Moody Theater to decades of stomping Austin.
Electrical socket rockers the Octopus Project rightly thanked everyone but Thomas Edison in gushing about the local quartet's two-week trek warming up for Devo, whose 90-minute clamp down went off like a multistage rocket. Marching onstage in soylent gray uniforms and facial prostheses, Ohio's spud boys launched into last year's Something for Everybody, an inspired rejuvenation jibing the quintet's initial three-keyboard/guitar/drums setup here with modern pop's return to musical synthetics. Big bomp hammer downs "Don't Shoot (I'm a Man)," "What We Do," and "Fresh" gave way to the band stripping down to blue drone garb, donning its trademark energy domes (also blue), and launching haymaker greatest hits "Girl U Want" and "Whip It." At the 30-minute mark, yellow hazmat suits and three guitars set off Devo's indelible reboot of the Rolling Stones "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," P.F. Sloan's "Secret Agent Man," and its own pogo explosion, "Uncontrollable Urge." Nostalgic AARP nerds? Indefatigable digital punks.
Devo's Jagger & Richards, frontmen Mark Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale, executed their twin peaks perfectly, the former ripping his bandmates' tear-away suits during primal early bruisers "Mongoloid," "Jocko Homo," and "Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA," while the latter bounced back and forth on bass and harmonic abrasion, the powerhouse performance slamming shut on Freedom of Choice's "Gates of Steel." Hot dog shirts encored that LP's title track and the Jerry Casale-sung "Beautiful World" from 1981's New Traditionalists, Mark Mothersbaugh delivering the song through his screeching "Booji Boy" costume. Electroshock therapy.
Thirty years ago never seemed so now.
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