7 A.M. WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14 -- O'HARE AIRPORT EN ROUTE TO AUSTIN, TX
For 21 years, South by Southwest has been the music world's version of
the Sundance and Cannes film festivals combined, with equal measures of
spring break and the sort of glorious anything-goes bacchanal that hasn't
been witnessed since the heyday Roman Empire.
I've made the trek from Chicago to the Texas capital every March for the
last 15 years — all in the course of journalistic/critical duty, of course —
and every year, I've reported that this year's festival has been the biggest
yet. SXSW XXI is no exception.
Conventional record sales may already be down 15 percent this year, and
the major labels, giant retailers and mainstream radio chains continue to
consolidate and downsize more aggressively than the Detroit automakers. But
sales of music via the Internet is increasing more than proportionally to
offset those losses, and the number of artists eager to make themselves
heard is growing just as quickly.
All of this leads to some staggering numbers: 1,400 bands from around the
world performing at more than 55 venues over the next four nights for more
than 10,000 registered conference-goers. (That's not counting the estimated
30,000 more representing people who come only to hear the music, hang out
and crash the parties sponsored by some 150 mostly independent labels and
small publications or blogs.)
In other words, this is one massive undertaking, with independent music
essentially invading and occupying one small corner of Texas for one long,
loud, freaky and fun weekend. And I saw evidence of that even before I got
on the plane.
Sitting at O'Hare at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m., I can't help noticing
that with the exception of one very sitcom-normal-looking Midwestern family,
everyone around me is clearly a SXSW-bound rock 'n' roller.
There's the punk-rock grrrl dressed in calf-high combat boots, a
black-and-white leopard-print skirt and a black hoodie and lost in the pages
of Mainlines, Blood Feasts and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader (bless her
There are the two obvious record-company employees, one from New York and
the other from Chicago, who meet at the gate and greet each other with,
“Hey, it's not to early to talk business, right?”
And there are the concert promoter and the booking agent who hold an
in-depth discussion about the difficult decision of whether indie-rock
superstars the Arcade Fire should play two shows at Radio City Music Hall in
New York and one at the smaller, cooler United Palace Theater, or two at the
United Palace and one at Radio City.
(The problem, it seems, is that the New York unions charge an arm and a
leg just to load the equipment in and out: $8,500, according to these
insiders. With tickets priced at $35, the band makes much less of a profit
playing one show instead of two, given the expenses. For the record, the
Arcade Fire is playing three shows at the Chicago Theatre, May 18 to 20.)
Ah yes, even at this very un-rock 'n' roll time, the mania has begun, and
the madmen have taken over — all except for that one very Midwestern family.
But it turns out they were waiting for the flight to Louisville.
7:30 P.M. WEDNESDAY
AT THE AUSTIN CONVENTION CENTER
The conference-launching keynote address by a venerated musician used to
be the one conventional part of this most unconventional convention.
The artist would take the stage; make a nervous joke about how he or she
was used to making music, not speaking to such a large crowd, and then
regale those in attendance with fascinating tales of dirty deeds behind the
scenes in the music industry and inspirational talk about how the act of
creating made enduring all the crap worth enduring. Sometimes, they’d even
punctuate their chat with some poignant snippets of song.
Two of my previous SXSW favorites: Johnny Cash and Lucinda Williams.
Unfortunately, for the last few years, festival organizers have had a
celebrity pseudo-journalist interview the keynoter rather than letting him
or her speak for themselves. The results have been dreadful, since even the
most free-form expression of whatever’s on a great artist’s mind is
preferable to listening to somebody "guide" them through their career while
imitating James Lipton on "Inside the Actors Studio."
This is a long-winded introduction to saying that this year’s keynote by
Pete Townshend was a big let-down, partly because Bill Flanagan (rock
journalist turned VH1 executive and author of one of the hands-down worst
rock bios ever, U2: At the End of the World) blew the
opportunity to dig deep into the psyche of the Who’s legendary auteur.
An example: Townshend casually mentioned that the recent Who reunion tour
came about "because of money problems" -- as in he needed some.
What? How can that be true? And even if it is, doesn’t that raise
the question of whether that’s an awfully cynical reason to make art --
especially from an artist who professed, during the talk, to disdain
Alas, Flanagan never asked that follow-up question; he was too happy with
the long-winded queries he’d scripted. Nor did he touch on Townshend’s
controversial brush with the law in 2003, when the 62-year-old musician was
arrested by Scotland Yard for allegedly possessing child pornography. The
investigation was dropped three months later, and no charges were filed.
I don’t mean to say that, given an incredible 40-year career, that should
have been the first question. But Townshend devoted most of his talk to a
glowing homage to the Internet (more on that in a moment), speaking as if it
was bringing only joy, light and previously unimagined possibilities into
our lives. He never touched on the fact that there can be a downside, such
as the instantaneous spreading of scandalous and ultimately false rumors
that could permanently tarnish a person’s reputation by lingering in limbo
on the Web forever. Again, this was a natural question a journalist would
have asked. Flanagan didn’t.
As noted, Townshend essentially used his keynote as a platform to hype
his new project -- everybody at SXSW is hyping something -- a Web site
called the Method set to launch in late April. He claimed that the site will
use sophisticated software to create a "musical portrait" of a person --
physical looks as well as personality -- as the subject "poses" at their
computer. In the end, they’ll own one third of the copyright of a new,
original song. (The first example of any of this can apparently be heard at
the start of "Fragments," the opening track on the Who’s last album,
Yes, it sounded as weird, fantastical and unrealistic to me when he
talked about it as it no doubt seems to you while reading these words. We
can’t the bugs out of Windows after all these years, but we can pull
"You enter data about yourself, you share some stuff about how you feel,
and you get back a piece of music," Townshend insisted. "There was no
computer in 1971 big enough or powerful enough to do what I wanted it to do,
and of course, there was no Internet."
At times like this, when talking about the Net, Townshend sounded like Al
Gore, who was unjustly accused of claiming he invented it. But ol’ Pete
believes that the possibilities of online communications were predicted and
sketched out in his rock opera "Lifehouse," the aborted follow-up to
"Tommy," way back in 1970.
Here are some choice quotes from Townshend’s talk.
• "The gathering that the Internet offers is meditation. You lose
yourself when you’re listening to good music."
• "What do we do with [live music broadcasts on] the Internet? We
delay them! You can have it later, when it fits into your work day. F---k it
-- I want it live! [Live music] is the moment we make that contract between
the artist and the fan. We need more of that."
• "I think the Who are an anomaly, like the Stones. Bands today
shouldn’t even go there. It takes time to build something like that, but now
record companies just ask, ‘Where’s the hit?’"
• "The chemistry [that the Who has] today is completely different
but just as effective [as the version of the band with John Entwistle and
• "Before I came to Austin, I spoke in New York to a big record
company CEO, and he said, ‘Rome is burning.’ "
• On a recent performance with Lou Reed at Joe’s Pub in New York,
(part of his Internet-televised "In the Attic" series with girlfriend Rachel
Fuller: "It was fantastic. At one point, Lou asked me if he could sit down,
and I said sure. You don’t know how f---ing huge it was to Lou Reed that he
could sit down and play. He’s a couple of years older than me!"
• On the state of rock today: "I now realize that these big,
noisy violent acts, I don’t think they’re appropriate anymore. If it’s going
to be political, let’s make it f---ing political. Part of the reason [I
didn’t do that with the Who] was that I didn’t understand politics at the
time, although I’m not sure if I do now, either."
• On why he ultimately prefers "Quadrophenia" to "Who’s Next,"
the album that came out of the derailed "Lifehouse" project: "It’s purer.
It’s full of energy. It’s also simply a story of a kid who has a bad day. It
rains and he goes and sits on a rock and he contemplates the future and the
present. He decides to do something he’s never done before: He prays. That’s
the end of the story."
• And, completely contradicting everything else he said: "Music
is about congregation, gathering and sharing. F--- the Internet -- I want it
2:15 A.M. THURSDAY, MARCH 15
EXHAUSTED AND BACK AT THE HOTEL
The first night of musical showcases started slowly, at least for me, but
I’m not complaining: It wasn’t all that long ago that the non-stop sounds
didn’t even kick off in earnest until Thursday night.
My first big revelation of SXSW XXI: Wolf & Cub, a quartet from Adelaide,
Australia, consisting of two drummers, a guitarist and a bassist, making a
mix of old-school trippy psychedelia and modern, rhythmically jagged
dance-rock a la TV on the Radio. Signed to England’s prestigious 4AD
Records, their debut album "Vessel" was just released in the U.S. on March
6, but I hadn’t heard it before I stumbled upon the group’s fiery set at
Austin’s coolest punk club, Emo’s.
I also caught partial sets by
Future of the Left from
Cardiff, Wales (unimpressive New Wave of New Wave, but they dressed neatly
in matching white shirts and black ties) and Seattle’s Tiny Vipers (more
familiar-sounding emo). Then I arrived at a club called Habana Calle 6 just
in time for the end of a performance by Manchester, England’s Bone Box,
whose recent album "Death of a Prize Fighter" is an example of moody,
ethereal but wonderfully melodic Southern Gothic rock, with strong hints of
Nick Cave. (Bloodshot Records’ Nan Warshaw was there and raving about the
That vibe continued in part with the next band, the Minneapolis quartet
the Deaths, who added a big dose of British Invasion pop, heavy on the
Zombies, to their own Nick Cave-inspired sturm und drang, making for an
unexpectedly effective combination. (They have a strong album, too, called
Finally, though I generally try to avoid seeing Chicago bands at SXSW
since I can catch them at home any time, I stayed for the showcase by the
ork-pop group the 1900s, which is building a well-deserved buzz in
anticipation of its first full album, the follow-up to last year’s "Plume
Delivery" EP. The big band came to Texas hoping to find a label to release
the new disc, and it played to a full room of enthusiastic listeners, even
if many of them seemed to be Windy City homeys.
The group’s intricate, violin- and harmony-enhanced folk-pop suffered
from a poor sound mix set, as many SXSW showcases do. But the songs were
strong enough to win the day, and the 1900s had the distinction of boasting
the most amusing stage patter of the night, as singer Jeanine O’Toole tried
to fill time while the sound was tweaked.
"I went to see some Chicago band today that was really great -- I saw a
couple of Chicago bands, actually -- and I realized that I slept with the
bass player," O’Toole said. "Then I realized that I slept with a lot of
Chicago bass players. Now, I’m starting with Texas!"
You go, girl. SXSW can be a heck of a lot of fun, but as with everything,
you have to pace yourself.
4:30 P.M. THURSDAY, MARCH 15
AT THE AUSTIN CONVENTION CENTER
Much of the conversation during the daytime panels here at the convention
center focused in one way or another on the massive changes being wrought on
the music industry by the Internet.
In a witty multi-media presentation entitled “Record Companies: Who Needs
Them?,” David Byrne — one of rock’s most incisive thinkers, even if he can
be a halting and difficult speaker — eventually came to the conclusion that
artists still do, even if the Net is dramatically changing the relationship,
because musicians can’t or don’t want to do the marketing and publicity work
that a record company does.
“I’m negotiating a record contract now with Nonesuch Records,” Byrne
confessed. “I’ve been negotiating for a year. That is what we call
At the same time, Byrne’s talk made clear that the music industry as it
has existed for the last century will never be the same. For one thing,
there won’t be any physical product, or the ensuing costs of manufacturing.
“Within five years, no CDs will be sold anymore,” Byrne predicted,
envisioning an all-digital future. “Or maybe CDs will be sold, but only the
way vinyl is sold now.”
The former leader of the Talking Heads went on to compare digital rights
management to prohibition. DRM is the software encoded on downloadable music
files which prohibits buyers from playing songs they purchased on any kind
of player they might own hardware. He agreed with Apple visionary Steve
Jobs, who recently released a controversial statement declaring that DRM is
bad for music, and Byrne predicted that it will be extinct soon, too.
Contradictions were inherent in even the most optimistic talk about music
on the Net, however. In a rare public appearance, Tom Anderson, the
31-year-old president and co-founder of MySpace, made some dubious comments
while presenting the typically cliched picture of a computer-geek/slacker
turned multi-millionaire entrepreneur, complete with the goofy baseball cap.
Among Anderson’s sillier pronouncements: calling MySpace “a force for
great good in the world,” as if trolling the Net for members of the opposite
sex will lead to curing AIDS or ending global warming, and declaring that
Rupert Murdoch, who recently bought MySpace, “is really a pretty cool guy.”
(You know, for a 78-year-old ruthless right-wing media baron.)
Anderson did make sense when he scoffed at the way record companies are
viewing his absurdly popular networking site, which boasts 90 million
members worldwide. “Friend count does not translate to sales at all, and I
see all kinds of record company A&R people [talent scouts] making that
mistake all the time,” he said. “You can see a great band with 5,000
friends, and a terrible band with 10,000 friends. The difference is just how
they promote themselves.”
In other words, artists and their support systems still need to do the
lion’s share of the work in order for their music to be recognized on the
Net or anywhere else. This was the key point uniting the diverse
participants on a panel called “Idiots Unite!,” with the idiots in question
being people who still work at and believe in independent record labels.
Now a senior citizen, Seymour Stein — the man who started Sire Records
and signed the Ramones, the Talking Heads and Madonna — brought some
perspective to things: The music business is only 125 years old, and it has
weathered crises spurred by technology in the past, he said. In the 1920s,
the record labels worried that radio would kill the sale of recorded music,
just like they worry about the Internet today. “There will always be a music
business,” Stein said. “Music is something a lot of people in the world just
can’t live without. What we just have to do is figure out how to survive.”
The panelists all agreed that every artist now has the tools, thanks to the
Net, to act as his or her own record company. “There will be 100,000 tiny
indie labels,” artist manager Jeff Castelaz said. But only a few of those
will succeed in the end. One of the visionary computer programmers who
developed Lotus 1-2-3, Yobie Benjamin is now working on a program that will
help all these small new indie labels distribute their music, but that won’t
be enough to level the playing field between, say, a Joe’s Record Company
and a Sire. “Everybody can’t be a businessman,” Benjamin said. “The most
difficult part of the music business is the business, and only
people who are good at that will succeed.”
1:30 A.M. FRIDAY, MARCH 16 -- EXHAUSTED AND BACK AT THE HOTEL
Another night with mixed results in the clubs, though I'm certainly not
despairing: Midway through the festival, there are still 48 hours and 700
bands to go.
My musical explorations started with a band from the indie-rock hotbed of
Besnard Lakes, who play dark, spiraling, ambient folk-rock with hints of
Southern Gothic. (Hmmm, I seem to be typing those words as a prevalent
influence a lot this year.)
The group is winning a devoted fan base for its debut album, "The Besnard
Lakes Are the Dark Horse," but I thought the music was too fragile,
drawn-out, sleepy and uninspiring onstage to sustain a 40-minute set,
especially given that the sextet only played five songs during that time.
With my interest piqued strictly by the goofy/provocative name, I didn't
exactly bring high expectations to the Columbus, Ohio, trio
Psychedelic Horses---. But even those weren't met: This pointlessly
noisy, gleefully talent-less combo would be more aptly named Unlistenable
It's a 1,250-mile, 19-hour drive from Columbus to Austin, and this was
the sort of set that left you scratching your head and wondering why the
Speaking of edgily named bands,
Dead Child is the
new quintet featuring former Slint and Zwan guitarist David Pajo, along with
members of For Carnation and Lords. Punishingly loud, the group aims to
resurrect the golden age of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal - Judas
Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead - combined with Voivod and a more recent
hard-rock a la Mastodon. That's a tall order, but the guitars and rhythm
section came close, while the anemic vocals were a definite weak spot.
I saw parts of several other sets as the night wore on and I walked up
and down Sixth Street, but nothing else was nearly as worthy of attention as
120 Days, an
electronic/dance/art-rock quartet that's the best band the New Wave of New
Wave scene in Brooklyn has yet produced - even though the group actually
hails from Kristiansund, Norway.
120 Days released its self-titled debut album on Vice Records last
October, and it's a strong disc, but the group's sound is best appreciated
live, where the driving drum-machine rhythms blend with live percussion and
great, sweeping waves of heavily echoed keyboards and vocals to create an
all-enveloping swirl. Their performance was as strong a set as I've seen at
SXSW, and one of those is all you need to make your night.
5 P.M. FRIDAY, MARCH 16 -- AT THE CONVENTION CENTER
As part of the lineup of panels on Friday, Chicago Tribune rock critic
Greg Kot and I had the privilege of interviewing Booker T. Jones, the
legendary organist of the Stax-Volt house band, Booker T. and the MG's,
which played on some of the greatest recordings ever made ("Sitting on the
Dock of the Bay" by Otis Redding, "In the Midnight Hour" by Wilson Pickett)
as well as scoring a timeless hit of their own with "Green Onions."
Jones' accomplishments didn't end there, and his resume contains many
other high points; he produced Bill Withers' "Just As I Am," Willy Nelson's
"Stardust" and Neil Young's "Are You Passionate?," to name a few. But the
most inspiring things about his career are that he never stopped learning
(he recently returned to school to study digital recording); he always kept
moving forward and growing as a musician (he is gearing up to record an
ambitious new album) and he always refused to be easily confined to any
Later on, veteran rock journalist Ed Ward interviewed one of the most
interesting behind-the-scenes forces in rock history, Joe Boyd, the man
who produced the early Pink Floyd, Nick Drake, the Incredible String Band
and Fairport Convention. Boyd had a bevy of great tales from these
adventures, but unfortunately, he was committed to reading long stretches
from his recent book, White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s,
rather than answering questions from the always-knowledgeable Ward, and the
readings made for a much less interesting panel.
The most entertaining session of the conference so far brought together
the three veteran members of punk godfathers the Stooges. Iggy Pop and Ron
and Scott Asheton may not have come close to living up to their legacy with
their new album, "The Weirdness," but it was a pleasure to hear them talk
about the unique Detroit/Ann Arbor scene that led to the creation of "The
Stooges" (1969) and the time they spent in L.A. recording "Funhouse" (1970).
The first album's classic "No Fun" was inspired by the "no, no, no" in
the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," the Beach Boys' "Fun, Fun, Fun" and the
chord progression of "I Walk the Line" by Johnny Cash, Iggy said. And the
highlight of that stay in L.A. was when John Wayne almost ran him over as he
was crossing Santa Monica Boulevard.
Here are some more choice tidbits.
Guitarist Ron Asheton on the near-universal critical derision accorded
the band: "Bad reviews never bothered us. I thought, 'Well, people will want
to come and see us anyway - like the Elephant Man.' "
"What passes for intelligent generally isn't." - Iggy, who used words
such as "codify" and "postmodern" throughout the panel and at one point
compared the Stooges to Van Gogh.
Iggy on the band's finances: "I didn't know the difference between $5
and $5,000." Ron Asheton: "We had $5!"
Ron Asheton on being part of a conference call with Elektra Records
attorneys and one of the original Stooges to get clearance for using the
band name: "He said, 'I don't mind as long as they don't call themselves
'the Three Stooges' [click, dial tone].' We got the blessing of Moe Howard!
… I was such a huge fan."
2 A.M. SATURDAY, MARCH 17 -- EXHAUSTED AND BACK AT THE HOTEL
Alright, tonight was more like it! There were some low points, to be
sure, but the high points more than made up for them.
My third night in the clubs started with
Peter, Bjorn and
John, the Swedish pop trio whose third album "Writer's Block" has
generated considerable buzz in the indie-rock world. Though its melodies are
irresistible, the group can seem a bit too twee and affected on album. In
concert, there's more of a rhythmic bottom and drive - many fans danced
throughout - and you begin to appreciate the spaces in the band's
arrangements and the way those emphasize simple but effective parts in each
Although there are only three musicians, they often seem to create a
sound as big as ork-pop bands with 10 or more members, and that's a good
Speaking of ork-pop, I caught the new incarnation of the
Spree, as big, bold and brassy as ever as it gears up to release a new
album on TVT Records, but with new costumes - black paramilitary uniforms -
and a darker vibe replacing the white robes and relentlessly sunny outlook
of the last two albums.
Darker still were Austin's
Black Angels. I
first heard the group at SXSW last year, but it just keeps getting better
and better, and I felt the need to lose myself in its massive, metronomic
rhythms and pulsating, hypnotic waves of Velvet Underground-inspired noise
and drone after enduring the evening's low point, a performance by singer,
songwriter and pianist
Fuller is Pete Townshend's partner, as she reminds the crowd on the
average of every 10 minutes, and she often has the legendary Who guitarist
participate in her
"In the Attic"
music talk show podcast, which she also takes on the road. (She and
Townshend have already done their joint thing in Chicago twice, at the House
of Blues and Martyr's.) On her own, she is a mediocre to downright awful
performer and songwriter - a second-rate wannabe Tori Amos. She's fond of
writing songs about how she can't quit smoking - there were two in one
eight-tune set - and pretentious, "songwriterly" exercises such as matching
her own lyrics to a classical sonata by Beethoven.
With several performances scattered throughout the festival, Fuller drew
huge crowds every time, as fans showed up and waited for the moment when her
partner would come onstage to do a song or two of his own. Listen, it's
wonderful that Pete is happy and in love, but there's something distasteful
about Fuller holding Who fans captive and trying to capitalize on this
relationship to forward her own career. Absent this connection, few would
Back on the positive end of the spectrum, the veteran psychedelic pop
band the Apples in
Stereo proved that the songs from their recent "New Magnetic Wonder" are
as effervescent and undeniable onstage as they are on album, though it was
hard to endure a 45-minute delay for the show to start while they endlessly
tweaked the sound. Finally, there was
the Good, the Bad &
the Queen, the English supergroup led by Blur and Gorillaz frontman
Damon Albarn and featuring former Clash bassist Paul Simonon, ex-Verve
guitarist Simon Tong and 73-year-old Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen.
The British music press has hailed the band as nothing less than "the
future of rock," while the American critics have generally been
disappointed with its self-titled debut, whining that it doesn't do justice
to its pedigrees (in particular Blur and the Clash). Both extreme views miss
the point that the project is a collaboration of friends who came
together for a one-off project to explore a very particular mood and
sound - a trancey, gently grooving extension of the sort of trip-hop
introduced by bands like Portishead a decade ago.
Judging on its own merits for what it is instead of what its members once
did in different guises, it's beautiful, powerful music made all the more
effective live by a four-piece string section and the ability to watch Allen
in action, playing deceptively simple but extraordinarily effective rhythms
while hardly seeming to move at all.
After three long days of panels and even longer nights of showcase gigs,
I'll confess that it required a Herculean effort to gear up for one more
round. But it was worth it.
With the panel schedule less interesting on the final day of SXSW XXI, I
spent the afternoon ducking out to see some movies that were part of the
film fest (which started more than a week ago, but lingered through the
weekend) and catch up with some friends over the best fajitas north of
Mexico, the better to muster my energies for the final night of music.
The sounds started with
Art in Manila,
the new group started by former Azure Ray vocalist Orenda Fink. Like many of
its labelmates on Omaha's Saddle Creek Records, home base of the sensitive
emo crowd, the group can sound a bit lite on album. But like Peter Bjorn and
John, Art in Manila acquired more of bottom end in concert, and its
performance was further enhanced by Fink's considerable stage presence.
From there, with no must-see's on my list for the next few hours, I set
out to do a bit of blind club-hopping and found a band named
should say I decided to stay because that was my editor's home town and I
wanted to pay him tribute for reading these reams of copy, but the truth is
that the group captivated me from its first notes. Besides, the quartet
actually hails from Boston.
Led by songwriter Carter Tanton, Tulsa's core sound is
alternative-country a la Wilco's "Being There," but this is enhanced with
gorgeous Fender Rhodes keyboard and heavily echoed guitar reminiscent of
Pink Floyd at its pre-"Dark Side of the Moon" trippiest, combined with
effective harmony vocals throughout. The group recently released a strong EP
called "Hunting With Cats" on the digital-only Park the Van label.
My dumb luck continued as I happened upon a set by
The Affair, a
quintet from Brooklyn that puts its own unique mark on the New Wave of New
Wave sound so familiar from those parts (and too often blandly generic). The
biggest asset here is fiery vocalist Kali Holloway, but the Affair also
benefits from more direct rhythms, textured keyboard parts and a pop
sensibility that owes as much to early Blondie as it does to bubblegum pop
and the girl groups of the '60s.
With memorable tunes such as "Left at the Party," "Jailbait Date" and
"Anything But Disco (You Ruined My Life)," the powerful debut album "Yes Yes
to You" was released by Absolutely Kosher Records last January.
The evening took a slight downturn courtesy of another Brooklynite,
Chris Garneau, who played with the accompaniment of cello, bass and
drums. "Creating a sleepy bal-musette for the new century, [the artist]
draws you into a world of gauzy twilit skylines and moss-covered piers on
brackish rivers," according to his blurb on the SXSW Web site. Actually, I
heard a derivative and oh-so-precious third-rate Jeff Buckley imitator. What
that has to do with French accordion music in the 1880s, I haven't a clue —
and no, I'm not just grouchy because I had to look up "bal-musette."
Next, it was back to the good stuff courtesy of
who played the last of five SXSW gigs, counting showcases and parties, at a
ridiculously overcrowded tent that left as many people standing on the
street as made it inside the venue. As their name suggests, the three women
from Brighton, England, are also big admirers of the girl groups, but they
blow up the sassy feminism that was a mere suggestion in those bands to
modern proportions (think Lily Allen) while boasting a winning,
self-deprecating sense of humor (think Art Brut) and adding a hefty dose of
garage rock. It's a winning combination, onstage and on the debut album "We
Are the Pipettes."
Finally, faced by endless lines and massive crowds waiting to see the
Stooges (who come to the Congress Theatre on April 15), I opted instead to
make my way down Sixth Street one last time to catch a band from Australia
that a clear-eyed fan could argue is as good a Stooges in 2007 as the
Bourbon made six cult-favorite albums of glorious grungy punk before
dropping off the scene in 1997. Back and better than ever, they spent a
grand total of three days recording and mixing the recent album "Little
Animals," and they were even better onstage, with the amps cranked up to 11,
sweat and beer flying everywhere and their anger and lust for life
It was a great way to end the SXSW experience, even if my ears are likely
to be ringing and my feet killing me well into the coming week. But as one
of the Beasts' best new tunes puts it, "I don't care about nothing anymore"
-- and that's exactly the way good rock 'n' roll and the SXSW experience
should make you feel.