Notes from South-by-Southwest 2001
Music & Film Festival -- Austin, Texas
Stephen T. Bradley
March 13, 2001 -- Greetings from South-by-Southwest
Ah, Austin. The self-proclaimed "Live Music Capital of the World."
This week I'm buying it. The ghosts of Stevie Ray and a hundred other local legends are palpably haunting every alley, tattoo parlor and beer-soaked blues club this week.
I'm sitting in the shadow of our great nation's great (??) leader's ex place of business. He traded up, but it doesn't reflect any sense of bitterness; of being cast-off for another. It stands just as tall and proud as ever. Governors come and go. Some make it to the big leagues. Just like musicians. Writers. Directors.
For today, I'm just thrilled to be sitting in the shadow of the Triple-A stadium. Even if I am, once again, only the bat boy.
Since many of you share my enthusiasm for what South-by-Southwest is all about, and have asked me to keep you posted on developments, I thought I would take a moment to briefly check in. Many of you have also been helpful in directing me to some of the more must-see things while I'm here. Thank you.
So far, the week has been for the film makers. This festival has rapidly become one of the top film festivals in North America -- after Sundance, and alongside Toronto, Telluride, Seattle and a handful of others. I have heard some say that it is actually the best for VIEWING new art (meaning, I suppose, it is not yet as commercialized as some of the others). But I wonder if it is maybe not commercialized ENOUGH when, for example, last year I can see the premiere of a stunningly hilarious movie called "The Independent" (starring Jerry Stiller and Jeanine Garofolo, with bit parts by Ben Stiller, Rob Reiner, Ron Howard... the list goes on) only to find out THIS year that it has never been (and may never be) picked up for distribution!! If you want a real treat, check out Morty's (Jerry Stiller) site at http://www.finemanfilms.com (be sure to go to the MortyPlex and click on "All Films" to get the full list of Morty's 427 independent film titles -- including "Asphalt by Candlelight", "Bald Justice", "Boy Eats Girl", "Cage Full of Waitresses", "The Despot Removers", "First Lady Chatterly", "Groovy Hippie Slumber Party", "Lawn Honkie", "Love is the Right To Leave", "The Man in the Iron Lung", "Pull My Finger", "A Stranger Wears My Pants", "Supermodel Carnival III: Adam and Evil", "That's President Draft Dodger to YOU!", "A Tube of Forgiveness", "Thai Food Mary" and "Assassin in a See-through Blouse"). My, that's good fun.
After Neil Young released "Silver and Gold" here last year, there seems to be a flood of concert film hysteria. Led by the always-engaging Penelope Spheeris (Wayne's World, The Beverly Hillbillies and The Little Rascals being among her "mainstream coups?!") in a retrospective featuring four music documentary films that offer a unique perspective on the social movement of the last 3 decades through a focus on the era's live music. When I arrived Sunday night, I did so just in time to hear about (and go see) her latest flagship, "We Sold Our Souls for Rock and Role" -- a spectacular trip into the land of Black Sabbath and the "Ozzfest" tour. It was "This is Spinal Tap," only better -- as they say, truth is always stranger than fiction. While there were in fact countless mind-numbing, psycho-metal bands involved in the film -- most of whom had all manner of large, sharp metal objects protruding from various points of interest on their bodies -- the fans here were the stars here. As well as the modern-day side-show "freaks" -- which were frankly too grizzly to go into description here. Penelope got up in front of the SRO crowd of the Paramount Theatre at the beginning of the film to make her introductions, and then much to my surprise, walked back and plopped herself in the one empty seat in the theatre -- right next to me. So I got to listen to her whisper interesting tid-bits to her non-eavesdropping entourage throughout the film. Rubbing elbows with the creator of Wayne and Garth would have been enough in itself to make my whole week -- and I had only been in Austin an hour! Penelope offered that at the film's second (and final) showing of the week, Ozzie himself would be there. And that the owner of the theatre had actually requested that Ozzie urinate on the theatre to commemorate the event. A can't-miss!
Last night I saw a film called "Karaoke Fever" which documented the long and broken heart-lined path to "Karaoke Fest 2000" in Los Angeles (what's with all the "Fests"??). While I do myself have some experience with Karaoke's more serious element -- this film was a startling testament to an entire sub-culture. There was angst -- when one contestant pulled out of his jacket mid-song a picture of his dead wife to whom he was singing in hopes of moving the judges; there was heart-ache -- when half of the leading duet team was arrested for jumping bail and jailed the night before the finals; there was heroism -- when the tiny man born with multiple birth defects, barely able to speak and walk, rose above it all to take third place and ultimately prove he could "be somebody" to his father. The film was more than a little disturbing in its hilarity. It was often hard to know whether to laugh, admire or just be puzzled throughout.
Some of the short films have been highly entertaining, as well. Some have been extremely interesting and creative. And then some, well... One was about a future World War where the only thing to remain were... pancreases. Yes, pancreases. Pancrei? Which subsequently multiplied, took over the earth, created bad TV programming and... well, you get the picture. It reminded me of a whole college sub-story, but well... those of you who know what I'm talking about will know what I'm talking about... It's too scary to re-articulate.
One of the best things I'm finding in the films is that many of the documentaries cast a light on some fascinating element of our world that might be right in our back yard, but we would never otherwise know it exists.
I'm anticipating my favorite film of the festival to be one I'm seeing later today -- called "Okie Noodling." This film is about a handful of WAY back-water Oklahoma residents who participate in a most unique form of catfish hunting -- called "noodling." Noodling involves "hand fishing" for catfish the size of small ponies (I didn't even know they came that big!). No hooks. No lines. No nets. Just a bare-chested Okie diving into the water and pulling out a catfish bigger than he is after a (literally) bloody battle. The tournament is held at Bob's Pig Shack. I can barely contain myself.
But it's hump day. The day that most of the events begin to transition to the heart of the show -- music.
There are several bands I'm excited to see down here already. Some of you have taken a look at the list and given me great suggestions of new acts they may know. If you have a moment, I would REALLY like any other suggestions -- if you feel like giving the list a gander and steering me to something special. I'd appreciate that more than you know. The somewhat-current list can be seen at http://bands.sxsw.com/2001/DATABASE/.
I'm most excited to catch acts such as The Black Crowes, David Byrne, Monte Montgomery, Yngwie Malmsteen, Fastball (again!), Lucinda Williams (again!), Eric Johnson (again!), Blake Babies, Junior Brown, The Silos, Delbert McClinton, Buckwheat Zydeco and Podunk. Just to name a couple out of the 1,000. For you pop-heads, Evan and Jaron were supposed to be playing, as were my #1 pick of SXSW 1999, Dexter Freebish, but those guys are all unhappily last minute no-shows. I think sometimes that happens when a band suddenly gets too "big" and realizes that even then, they STILL only get the standard $145 performance fee that any other band here gets!
Well, enough update for now. I feel like many of you are here with me in spirit, so I wanted to share a bit. Maybe I'll have time for another update later in the week.
March 15, 2001 -- Okie Noodling and VH1 Real TV
Forget Barnum and Bailey, this is the greatest show on earth. Where else can you find a spike-punked new wave bongo-boy in a psychedelic space suit standing next to a backwater, beer bellied red neck fish wrestler? And tied together at the hip by their linkage to the same piece of art?
Such it was at the screening of this festival's "Audience Choice Award" winning film, "Okie Noodling." Complete with both the stars of the show, as well as the primary providers of the films' music, The Flaming Lips, flush from their 36 hour non-stop drive from Bean Town to Austin to make the screening.
Having finally seen the film, I now know more about the fine art of "noodling" than I could have ever hoped for... and so I think it's only fair to share just a bit. Before seeing the movie, I understood the basic premise was hand-fishing for large catfish. After seeing the movie, I now understand that the hands are not only used to catch the fish -- they are actually used as BAIT. In a nutshell... imagine, if you will (in your best Rod Serling voice, which is not altogether inappropriate as it turns out) wading through mucky, snake-infested mud water, with your nose just above the waterline, reaching your hands into the blackness searching for large holes where female catfish might be guarding their nests. Then, upon finding such a hole, you dive under the murky water, feeling down deep in the hole for evidence of the great beast. When you find your quarry (by feel alone -- you are still holding your breath under the water), you wiggle your fingers in front of its nose, taunting it in hopes that it will... uh... bite your arm. When it does, usually thrusting its jaws half-way to the elbow, you grab hold of its insides and start pulling the fish out of its nest and, one hopes, subsequently out of the water. Assuming, of course, that you CAN dislodge the fish and don't get trapped under the water with your arm in a fish's mouth and no air left in your lungs. Oh... and yes (as you may be wondering), catfish have teeth. And many of them weigh more than 40 or 50 pounds. So plan on plenty of blood, scars and other such manly evidence of your craft. The film was an amazing document of this most unusual practice, and the unique individuals who continue to pass it on from generation to generation. Indeed the rarest of treats.
If any of you are interested in giving this purest-of-all game fishing a try, I can direct you to where the 2nd Annual Noodling Tournament is being held this June.
But I digress...
The big news of yesterday was the opening of the main event -- the Music Festival. To kick things off, I had the pleasure of attending the Austin Music Awards ceremony in the Austin Music Hall. There was some amount of people standing up to receive various awards in some obviously televised forum, but it was hard to make out over the general din. From where I stood, about all I could get was that Bob Schneider of a band called "The Scabs" pretty much took home all the local goods for "Best ..." you name it. I heard something about their original song being "something about someone doing something nasty to somebody..." and I sort of tuned out again. After the painful but mercifully short awards presentation, Lucinda Williams played selections from her new, yet-to-be released album entitled "Essence." Lucinda, dubbed by the venerable Tom Waitts as his favorite current song writer (reportedly... I mean, I didn't really talk to him or anything...), was outstanding. While she has not achieved broad national appeal, she is certainly the queen of Austin -- and at least from what I heard, that title will not be repealed any time soon. Her new CD promises to deliver some sweet, genuine, highly listenable from-the-heart songs. I'm going to recommend it in advance, as well as likely purchase her last, highly acclaimed, effort.
Following Linda was the night's headliner of Jimmy Vaughn, joined by the ripping blues harp stylings of James Cotton. This was a great, straight-ahead blues performance with some of the true veterans of the biz. James Cotton was probably the most spectacular element of this performance. At the same time, while Jimmy Vaughn is and has always been his own man, and an awesome blues player in his own right, I couldn't help feeling a strong melancholy for never having actually been able to experience brother Stevie, the true god of all Austin blues gods, in person myself. I did fly on a plane to Austin with him once, but that's... another story, and not quite the same thing. Stevie's ghost still permeates this town thoroughly.
After leaving the Music Hall, I took a brief tour through the more obscure and ran into a couple of minor treats. One in the form of "Death Ray Davies" who were playing a unique brand of pop/punk metal, fronted by -- of all things -- a Theramin! Many of you may not know what a Theramin is, but you can trust me... it's not something often found sharing a load-in with a punk band. I also heard another band that caught my attention from across the street -- the Coffee Sergeants. I only heard the last song of their set, but it was a spectacular U2-ish haunting rock thing. Certainly good enough to check out again, if I could.
I ended my evening, I'm only slightly ashamed to say, by taking the low road. I truly had every intention of seeing Yngwie Malmsteen -- the Andre Segovia of rock guitarists. As likely to play Bach through a Marshall stack as anyone probably ever will be. But alas, Yngwie's 1am performance was outside of town and would have required a cab ride there and back. So I "settled" for an old favorite, Fastball, who was playing just around the corner from where I would ultimately lay my head. Fastball was a fun show. They opened with new material and they were great when they stuck to what they do best. Straight-ahead, very melodic ditty-like "Songs" (note the capital "S"). They were not great when they appeared to be testing the waters by veering off into something more edgy. They are not an edgy band. Mercifully they kept the experiments short and put on an overall delightful, if unsurprising, show.
But a funny thing did happen on the way to the Forum... er, Stubbs. As I stood there doing my usual groovy dance-without-lifting-your-feet-off-the-ground thing to Fastball's hip licks, I started to notice more and more people around me who looked like Rob Thomas (MatchBox 20, Smooth, etc.). I was pretty sure that none of them actually WAS Rob Thomas, but then all of a sudden I noticed a sea of TV cameras, lights and furry boom mics racing around following half of the Rob Thomases with a crazed, maniacal sort of fervor. It was then I realized I had suddenly landed myself square in the middle of the next generation of "REAL TV!" This was not something I had bargained for. I was unprepared. Although I'm at least relatively certain I didn't have anything objectionable dangling out of my nose. But it did provide a great deal of amusement for the remainder of the then very late evening. The show that had immediately preceded Fastball, as it turned out, was actually a VH-1 sponsored "Real TV" show following the emergence of four bands they are promoting and following around in a sort of modern day battle-of-the-(made for TV)-bands. There were all manner of loud, drunken spiky hairdos, just being "all that" -- with a sea of camera and sound people swimming around their every move to ensure they did not let so much as a belch escape un-digitized. And these people were SERIOUS! (I mean the people behind the cameras, not those in front). It was certainly interesting to watch supposed "Real TV" at work. Well, it's real -- but not SO real. The interactions are real. The people are real. The relationships are real. Sort of. But watching from the outside in, you quickly realize how much "acting" is actually being done. It's not that the kids are TRYING to act, so much as it is just that you can see their personalities, actions and interactions billow with the hot air created by all the lights. It's like they start to feel like superhuman characters. They think they are being real, but how real can you be when your every move is being hunted viciously by 2 camera persons, a sound person, a light person, and a sea of startled, staring gawkers (uh... that was my role, I guess). You get the sense that if they don't make each entrance like Liz Taylor, they will again slip quickly down the slope of obscurity.
Anyway, you just can't buy that kind of entertainment. Look for me in the upcoming episode of "VH-1's Bands on the Run" meets South-by-Southwest. I'm the one in the back curiously tempted to test the flammability of alcohol-laced Spandex.
Well, I hope one or two of you have lasted this long... thank you for the therapy.
And SPECIAL THANKS to those who took the time to look up and steer me to new acts! Thanks, CJ -- I had missed Matthew Sweet on the list, as he was a late add to Saturday's line-up!
March 16, 2001 -- Monte Madness
Once again... great thanks to those who keep checking the SXSW database (http://bands.sxsw.com/2001/DATABASE/) and feeding me with new suggestions of which artists to go see!
It's now officially a zoo here. It's become quite difficult to move around the streets of Austin between the hours of 6pm and 3am without wading through a sea of the more bizarre and wonderful elements of humanity.
Included in the more bizarre is the rather surprisingly heavy population of pan-handlers. Maybe they just fly in for the event. Most of them seem to be male, ages 18 - 40, and able to outrun and outsmart just about any but the most agile and evasive tourist. Go figure. It topped it for me when one offered me a Sprint phone card worth 30 minutes of free calling in exchange for "a cup of coffee." I guess this town really has gone high tech.
Last night was, for me anyway, all about Monte. Monte Montgomery is to me probably the best kept secret (outside of Austin) among acoustic/pop/rock artists in the world, and last night did anything but disappoint. Playing a midnight set at the legendary Antone's, the epicenter of Texas blues, Monte added layer upon layer of rich acoustic textures to his tremendously listenable pop repertoire. Add catchy songs to virtuoso guitar licks and rich textures, and mix with an energetic performance that is simply unrivaled -- well, that's Monte. In a performance made all the more amazing since he lost his bass player, Steve Bernal, in a huff only last week (happily his original trio bassist stepped in and was great). Monte plays an acoustic guitar that's so beat up you figure it must be held together by the web of basement-built custom electronics that seem to be poking through in various places. Oh, and Dave -- sorry. It's an Alvarez, not a Washburn. I win the blue Montego. He works it as easily as if it were the slipperiest of Stratocasters. And he has so many layers of voicings and textures going on at one time that just when you think you have finally grasped it all, you discover yet another thing happening -- all with the aid of only 10 digits (I'm assuming -- I didn't actually count).
The bonus was that for reasons unexplained (except that maybe the Austin crowd is mostly focused on non-Austin performers just now), the place was only half filled. That made for easy access, and a nice opportunity to hang out with Monte after the show. And for an added treat, Jimmy Vaughn was hanging there, as well. Yeah, just me, Monte and Jimmy. Hangin' in the 'hood. Sippin' brews. Just like old times. Except, well, for the "me" part. And to think I was actually accused me of NAME DROPPING in my missives today!
For you New Yorkers, Monte is playing the Mercury Lounge (217 E. Houston) on Tuesday, March 27. It's his first trip to New York, and I would call this a MUST-SEE for anyone in the vicinity! If you want another treat, try either of his latest albums "First and Repair" or "Mirror". Pick either one, you won't be disappointed. I won't tell you they quite rival the live show -- but they are outstanding all the same.
While hangin' in the 'hood after the gig with the boyz (you know, Monte and Jimmy...), we all caught the next act which was in fact worth noting. "Mad Bobby Rush" presented the venue with an intense cultural juxtaposition. There were more than 10 African Americans on stage; there were a total of 0 in the audience enjoying Mad Bobby's (there I go again) intense funk-a-doodle. Yes, this is Texas -- ain't it great? Kinda reminded me of the Blues Brothers classic -- "Live music? Sure, we got both kinds -- Country AND Western!" Now, Bobby educated us that he has been in the biz for 49 years and has made more than 200 records (huh??), and that he apparently had a Grammy-nominated album this year. Maybe so, but it was hard to see much past the Borox-white, rhinestone studded zoot suite wardrobe, crotch grabbing and high leaping (pretty good for a 60+ year old guy!). But the music was grand, indeed. And nothing was quite as bizarre as the two large ladies in extremely skin tight outfits that would groove on either side of the man, himself. Occasionally to turn around on Mad Bobby's cue to present their derrieres to the audience and, for lack of a better description, "play" these formidable instruments of considerable proportion to the groove at a most frenetic pace. I'm not exactly sure, but I think this was supposed to whip the (good ole) boys in the audience into some kind of over-heated frenzy. And if these quarters were in fact "instruments," they were surely not sopranos... if you catch my drift. The rather disturbing visuals aside, the music was well worth listening to. Even the good old boys were riveted. Or perhaps aghast -- I couldn't quite tell which (with classic lyrics like "I'm in love with a big fat woman; meat be shakin' on her bone").
Simply to document the one other act I happened to catch last night worth noting, I will highly recommend the Latin salsa-style hip hop act, Ozomatli (officially from LA). These guys know how to put on a show! And I guess they should, as I understood they tour the far reaches of other worlds south of the equator quite heavily. Charlie -- do you know these guys (they are on Interscope)? In the category of bands-to-be-sure-to-miss was the much-hyped "Honky." Imagine Billy Gibbons meets Rob Zombie and you're right there. I didn't even finish my beer before the door was hittin' me in the ass -- which is saying something.
Finally, under the seen-about-town heading, just for fun (since I am already half way to Liz Adams at this point)...
Remember Rob Schneider of the Scabs, whom I last told you took home most of the Austin Music Awards (specifically Musician of the Year -- second to Monte, by the way -- Best Male Vocalist, Best Singer-Songwriter, Best Songwriter, Album of the Year -- for Lonelyland, and more)? Well... turns out his main squeeze is Sandra Bullock, who has finally been spotted sneaking around town incognito. Just trying to keep you E!-types engaged here... just in case that is meaningful news or something remotely juicy.
Alright, the Sandra Bullock is giving me a little indigestion, and I hear Junior Brown cranking up the amplifiers next door at Waterloo Park. So I'm off again, to dive into the bliss of it all. It's such a great week to be alive!
March 17, 2001 -- Crowing at Speed
It's important for me once a year at this illustrious event to remind myself how much about music I do not understand. It serves to keep me humble, which can at times be a greater challenge that I would like to admit (as many of you will no doubt be more than glad to attest gleefully). I found myself during a part of the evening last night with a little "time to kill" between acts I knew I wanted to see. And my feet being just about ready to burst from inside my Tom McCanns after about 60 miles of hiking around the streets of this town, I decided to duck into a couple of close-by metal-head hangouts (Emos and The Metro) for my annual taster. B-Movie Rats (LA), Disengage (Cleveland), The Streetwalkin' Cheetahs (LA), God Forbid (Austin) and Anger Management (LA). I'm not making this stuff up. The pin cushion faces changed slightly, but that was pretty much it as far as I could tell. Each presented the same wall of guitar, shirtless tattooed drum wizard and buzz-saw sound that blended from "song" to "song" (as I guess they would call it) and, for that matter, from band to band. And while I couldn't tell really any difference between them, there were certainly many in the audience that appeared willing to toss themselves off a trade tower for one group, while being willing to hurl only aspersions (or perhaps their prior 14 ingested beers) at the others. I told you there is so much I don't understand. But I shall pick a winner among the lot in any case, and it is... "The Street Walkin' Cheetahs" (but don't tell that it's only because their fans all wore fuzzy hooded head gear with cute cheetah ears)!
My pleasant surprises of the evening included a small Austin trio called DC-9 who was playing at a modest venue that appeared to be the alternative/pop rock spot of the night. They had a nice sound with a better-than-usual ripping guitar edge. It helps that this is the kind of thing that I DO quite understand. A little like (but not AS good as) my hot pick of two years ago, Dexter Freebish -- which is just recently storming the airwaves. To an even more delightful degree, on the cue of another visitor to Austin, I "discovered" Ron Sexsmith of Toronto, a rootsy singer-songwriter who was unpolished and wonderful. He kept reminding me of Neil Young in a way -- maybe it's a Canada thing. The boy couldn't really sing -- but boy, could he really sing (if I make my point)! I will certainly be trying out his CD for size, and I understand he is about to release a new one. Look for a song called "Fool Proof" -- it was unquestionably my favorite song of the trip so far. Just him, a guitar and a crowd of about 400 people hearing it for the first time that went eerily DEAD silent as he sang it. It was that good.
The only unhappy part of the evening was missing so many great acts that I really had wanted to see. Among them, Podunk, and alt/pop rock group I discovered randomly in Waterloo Records last year and have been listening to (their CD "Throwin' Bones") ever since. Evidently so have many other people, as this year they were a showcase with a strong following. Also, the Kim Richey, Ryan Adams, Lucinda Williams line-up at the AMH was a tough one to have to let go. And Jorma Kaukonen, who was playing just outside of town. Any of these acts, at least from what I hear from some of you all (and most here), would have made a fabulous evening in themselves. But... I gave them up, all, for the Crowes.
The Black Crowes have been the hottest ticket down here by far, and being a band I have never seen (but heard volumes), I really wanted to see them for myself. And to say they did not disappoint would be perhaps an understatement of criminal proportion. The kind folks at SXSW were good enough to give them the last (midnight) slot of the eve at Stubbs Barbeque (Best Ribs In Town) and they ripped the joint until after 2am. The sound was awesome; the energy, killer. The closest thing I have seen to something like an old Lehnard Skynard performance in about 20 years. They were "on" -- and they should be. I understand they are about to depart on a European tour with a little band called Oasis. But somehow, I can't quite picture the Crowes doing Wembley. It was nice to see a band that good, having that much fun, and with so obviously little pretension. And another thing... this band is TALL. Really tall.
Well, tonight's last hurrah promises even more potential with bands like Matthew Sweet, Delbert McClinton, David Byrne, Eric Johnson and the Blake Babies. And hopefully even a few more pleasant surprises. I won't get to them all, but I will let you know what I see that is good stuff. Hopefully some of this is useful for either introducing you to, or reminding you of, some great new things to be listening to (and for) this year!
Happy Saint Pats!
March 19, 2001 -- Farewell!
It's with a set of heavy eyelids, sore feet and greatly drained creative resources that I bid you my final report on the latest and greatest new (and some old) music and film to be found in Austin this year. The evening began with a "surprise" show -- and maybe even the best of the evening. Special thanks to Charlie Singer for somehow, by "remote control" from Argentina, getting me into a private party featuring "The Cult." This is a band that has been ranting at audiences for more than a decade. Not a group I have listened to much to date, but after hearing them last night, I'm not sure why. It was good, old fashion rock-star rock-'n-roll. And supposedly the "rock star" is coming back into vogue, so expect to hear more of The Cult's resurgence. This was a very popular show so thank you, Charlie!
From there, I made my way to hear Matthew Sweet at the free outdoor concert at Waterloo Park. While I was really looking forward to this performance, I have to admit it was pretty disappointing. The harsher-than-usual temperatures must have chased most of the crowd to fairer climates after sunset. And they never quite got the sound right. It looked like Matthew was working hard, but this show just never got off the ground.
Once back in town I had my annual run-in with the local drag queen-turned-political-statement, who goes by the name Leslie Cochrane. If you've ever been to downtown Austin, you may well have met this fine and greatly animated gentleman. It would be memorable. Usually sporting pumps and pink feathers in some tasteful arrangement, he seems to have found his niche as homeless-person-on-mission to expose and embarrass Austin's Finest -- the boys and girls in blue. His palatial live-in cardboard shack-on-wheels, usually parked square in the middle of sixth street and doubling as a bulletin board advertising his scathing tale of woe, now also acknowledges his status as a recognized town political figure. It reads "Voted Best Local Eccentric and Best Local Scandal, 2000, Austin Chronicle". Any other week of the year, Leslie would probably be a stand out against the backdrop of the Austin populace. Tonight he pretty much blended right in.
I had my sites firmly set on the almost certainly preposterous David Byrne performance. But with time to spare, I made a brief stop to hear a British band called "The Soft Boys" -- a headline act one would have to describe as quintessentially Brit pop, yet nothing that moved me particularly. And surely a strategic error. By the time I got to La Zona Rosa to see Byrne, the lines were thousands deep and the fire marshals were looming. My master plan was out the window. So I decided to dive into the second most popular venue for the night, Antone's, for the line-up of Delbert McClinton, Bob Schneider (to see what all the hoopla was about) and Eric Johnson. Schneider was intriguing enough. He's not much of a player, but his songs were pretty compelling (I have to admit, in spite of my petty tendency to want to dismiss him as a pan flasher). Strangely, though, it seemed virtually every song was written and performed in an entirely different musical style. I wasn't sure whether to marvel at his versatility, or to be annoyed that I was clearly supposed to be marveling at his versatility. But after having subsequently picked up his album "Lonely Land" this afternoon, which sports some truly awesome songwriting, I have to finally concede that Austin knew what it was talking about when it heaped upon him its volumes of praise. Eric Johnson, who has long been a true guitar player's guitar player, delivered a highly credible performance -- at insane volume. The sound was great -- just loud. And just as I was about to commend SXSW in general for keeping volumes at a sane level overall this year (thus far, I had not had to insert the ear plugs once)! But with Eric's four guitar amps cranking (count 'em -- FOUR) simultaneously, the PA system seemed a little superfluous. For you fellow guitar people -- he had 2 separate Marshall heads, each driving a 4x cabinet, with a twin pair of identical Fender Reverbs. All part of the magic of his unique guitar sound. Also an interesting note that the bass player for Eric's band, Alien Love Child, was Chris Marsh -- the same bass player who was sitting with Monte Montgomery just nights earlier (and apparently part of Monte's original trio).
Much to my dismay, I was unable to make the performance of the Blake Babies -- which had come to me highly recommended. Sorry, Steve. The crowds were nuts last night, and once in Antones, there was no point in moving anywhere (nor any guarantee I would get in). The show ran very late, and we ended the night at around 3:30 with a performance by another Austin-based act I'd never heard of, but who turned out to be an incredibly special treat in his own right -- George Devore. He was like George Thurgood on speed, keeping the crowds pumping even at the crazy late hour with good old fashioned rock & roll, Texas style, including among other things a ripping version of "Magic Carpet Ride." I liked George just about as much as I'd liked anything new I'd heard during the week. It was a nice way to end it.
And that's when I realized it. I just simply love best the music that seems to get born and bred right here in the town of Austin. From the Vaughn brothers and the classic blues players, to the pop hit-churners like Fastball, to Monte and even to many of the new emerging alt/rock artists like Podunk and Dexter Freebish. It's all goodness to me.
Well, thanks to those of you faithful who have kept me company down here in Austin this week by sharing my bulletins. You made it to the end. Congratulations. And special thanks to those who have directed me to some of the acts I've enjoyed. It's been fun. I hope I have been able to share a little of that fun with you -- and maybe even give you a few ideas for new music you may want to check out this year! And for you film people, perhaps give you a flavor of this up-and-coming festival that might entice you to submit your work in the future.
And if I've intrigued anyone enough to want to join me down here next year -- well, you know where you'll find me!