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South by
Southwest: the madness continues

South by
Southwest: the madness continues


Neither rain nor bad sound mixes nor St. Patrick's Day drunks keeps our Austin correspondent from catching one show after another at the fabled music fest

I completely forgot about St. Patrick's Day until I noticed that one of the 20-odd green T-shirts I walked past on Congress actually had the word Irish printed on it. Doh! Lucky for every registrant of the festival, our badges had a small strip of green along the top. Not that anyone tried to pinch me, but I was still technically under protection.

I kicked off Day Three at the Jane magazine party at Beauty Bar, greeted by a buffet of tiny cupcakes--the tiny kind of cupcakes that you can eat 10 of before you stop yourself. Pretending that the secret ingredient was cyanide instead of Diet Dr. Pepper, I made my way into the gold and pink sparkly main room where a free manicure, free Pepper-tinis (pepper vodka with, you guessed it, Diet Dr. Pepper), and a free Armani Exchange-sponsored photo booth were available. All this girly splendor took place to the beat of an awesome '80s-filled DJ set by She Wants Revenge. Dancing happened. It was cool. What Made Milwaukee Famous played to a packed "patio" (read: uneven blacktop with temporary chain-link fence). They busted out indie-boy Jane-centric melodic pop. Note: They're from Austin, so don't let the "Milwaukee" in the name fool you.

Later, just as the first layer of lacquer hit my nails, I found myself grimacing to the uninspired DJs who were up after SWR. Sadly, no one could tell me who they were, leaving me vulnerable to possible future encounters. I tried to be open, but it's tough for any DJ to come back from a set that starts with Eminem. Suddenly, I wanted to get out of there very badly. So, mushy nails and a $5 tip later, I hit the patio for the Of Montreal set, bobbed my head for a few songs, and bolted. When the party's over, it's over.

Looking at my three-page list of parties, I realized that St. Louis band The Living Things was billed to play the Sony party at the Driskill Hotel--at a party that had started just 30 minutes earlier. Racing down Sixth (a near impossibility, as St. Paddy's Day revelers are already out and wasted), I wanted to check the set list on the door and then grab some real food. Alas, the Living Things had Roseanne Cash-ed me! The last strains of their final song faded as I mounted the stairs. I listened half-heartedly to a song or two of Rainier Maria before taking off to grab a snack.

My first showcase of the night was London band White Rose Movement at Stubb's. Sound was muffled and loud at the same time. It seemed promising--but maybe in a post-SXSW, iTunes investigation kind of way? I took off, hoping to catch the last couple songs of The Last Town Chorus from Brooklyn because I've heard nothing but amazing things about singer Megan Hickey's lap steel playing and angelic voice. Unfortunately, I took a wrong turn out of Stubb's and had to backtrack, consequently arriving at the Velvet Spade just in time to see Megan mingling with appreciative fans while the following band set up their gear.

Having a little time to kill, I just barely squeaked into the uber-crowded Time Out-Tower Records showcase at the Dirty Dog Bar and a set by Chicago's OK GO. I'll go with frenetic and leave it at that. Not in love with the music, practically devoid of social skills at this point--and feeling like an old hag because of the long line of fresh-faced kids peering in the open windows--I figured I should motor and give someone who really loved the band a chance to check them out. (A "one in, one out" policy was in full effect.) So I trekked over to Eternal, where my soul was revived by Teddy Thompson, son of Richard and Linda Thompson and, clearly, heir to the talent. There is nothing like hearing a country-infused singer-songwriter utter the poignant lyrics, "Everybody movin' / Everybody bump and grind / Have a good time." Sheer poetry.

Pushing through the postshow crowd, I made my way to see Rodney Crowell at the Parish. Crowell sounded great and did a charming song that told the tale of hearing Johnny Cash on the radio for the very first time while fishing with his dad in 1956. (I did the math. Rodney's been a fisherman for some time, it seems.) He was followed by special surprise guest Lyle Lovett. No time to spare, I bolted to see the very-first-ever U.S. performance by Electric Soft Parade, who have a select following of in-the-know fans who bought their CD a few years back. The show itself was kind of a drag, in the sense that the room (upstairs at Nuno's) was clearly less a music venue and possibly more like a storage space. The acoustics were appalling, but the band had good bones. The band announced that they were playing a set at the convention center the following day, and I made a note to check them out where the sound surely wouldn't make my ears feel like they were filling with blood.

Saturday, March 18

I awoke to rain and lots of it. Dreams of a breakfast on charming South Congress Avenue were dashed. Instead, I had lukewarm hotel buffet at the Intercontinental Hotel and a block-long sprint to catch the 30th anniversary screening of the movie Heartworn Highways, booked to promote the release of the soundtrack to the DVD. The film (and soundtrack) feature never-before-released recordings by Rodney Crowell, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Earle, and the like. Highways boasts beautiful cinematography and haunting music, especially the Townes Van Zandt segments, which seemed so prophetic.

True to my word, I arrived at the convention center to see Electric Soft Parade. Much, much better! In fact, I could actually hear the singer (who sounded like Morrissey) and the keyboard-guitar combo was shimmering and powerful instead of ouchy.

Consulting my schedule, I realized that I'd yet again missed Jose Gonzales and the Rakes in the past day. With no agenda in mind, I text-messaged some friends and met them at Antone's for a band whose bawdy name sounded like fun. Once inside, I learned more. To call Goblin Cock a "side project" of Pinback member Rob Crow is being a bit generous. Band members took the stage dressed as Druids and began their assault. The singer had a voice modulator that put the vocals somewhere between Darth Vader and the screamier parts of System of a Down. I guess a cursory read of their profile in the SXSW guide might have tipped me off: "The live show features cloaks...."

Fate smiled on me as I ventured to Waterloo Records just to check out this highly esteemed record store. As the cab dropped me across the street, I focused on the list of in-store performers. Scanning, scanning--Jose Gonzales, in 15 minutes! Gleeful, I spent the time browsing the racks of the store, wishing I could carry (or afford) all the amazing CDs I saw. Waterloo unlocked that seldom-touched part of me that wants to binge-buy records and hole up for a couple days and immerse. However, there was no time for that. Jose and his guitar took the stage. He sang and played beautifully. I had to agree that the critics got it right--Nick Drake to the core, with a slightly Spanish guitar. The two girls in front of me held hands, and I glanced around to see a number of couples drawn closer together. Jose spoke between songs even more quietly than he sang, as though he didn't trust his English well enough to get all loud about it, so I missed all his commentary, even though the room was dead silent with only the cash register offering any competition. Afterwards, I bought the CD and he signed it for me. This was done quietly also.

This encounter pretty much sealed the deal for me. Anything else seen or heard would be icing. Happily, unhurriedly (for the first time in days) I made my way back into the throbbing heart of Austin.

The last show I broached: Andre Williams at the Continental Club. I got there too late to gain admission, so I watched (with a group of another 20 or so badge-wearers) from the sidewalk as Andre did his thing. Andre has been called the father of rap, and while I couldn't make out all the lyrics, they were definitely (a) crude and (b) crowd-pleasing. All of this happened with a buxom and scantily clad woman gyrating on stage. It was more burlesque than strip show, I should point out, yet clearly, I could see how his "rap" and the overall presentation related to the modern interpretation.

Satisfied, well-fed, tired, and ready to chill out and reflect, I hailed a cab. As The Pretenders played Stubb's, Mary Lou Lord busked on the sidewalk in front of the Driskill Hotel, and Vice magazine's after-hours party launched to an audience undaunted by a $12 cab ride, I perched on a barstool at the Intercontinental bar and recapped the shows with a few like-minded individuals, who were also done for the week.

Sunday March 19

Sunday morning's flight back to Los Angeles was just as packed as my outbound, only the passengers were much more subdued. Volleying between the crumpled piles of hungover festival goers were occasional audible bursts of the names of festival highlights. Artists like Japanese band Dorian Gray, the Sounds, Ghostface Killah, and the Presets. Fatigue notwithstanding, listening to everyone comparing notes ("Which Flaming Lips secret show did you see?") it felt pretty incredible to have been a part of one of the best live music events in existence today.

Back in Los Angeles and fully rested, I actually have notes on how to get even more out of next year's SXSW. Better event mapping, a more focused list of party RSVPs, and a Costco-sized carton of Airborne should do the trick.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Jane Herren