SXSW Slices

Vignettes on a barbecue-sauce-stained notebook

To the Loft for Bird, an excellent Long Beach trio including former 12 Hour Mary bassist Greg Coates. Bird are armed with delectable hard-pop, pained lyrics, eloquent jams, deep ballads, sweeping grand statements and a supportive indie label (with, as they said from the stage, "big balls") that'll put out their album in June. We'll be scribbling more stuff about them in due time. Perhaps between now and then, their singer could lose those silly bird wings that he straps onto his back?

I head back to the hotel around 3 a.m., but I can't sleep. Luckily, Eyes Wide Shut is on HBO, which works great—faster than Sominex!

FRIDAY Thrice are gonna be in big, big trouble. The Irvine hardcore band (no, that's not an oxymoron anymore)—or one of their people—have been slapping their band stickers on just about every flat surface around downtown Austin. On the three-block walk from my hotel to the convention center alone, I count at least 10 Thrice stickers affixed to light poles, traffic switch boxes and cell-phone towers. On Sixth Street the night before, I even spotted a Thrice sticker on a curb next to a rain gutter—why? So hard-drinking SXSWers can think of Thrice as they do the Technicolor yawn? Apparently, Thrice still think they're in OC, where band stickers get pasted on stop signs and stay there for years. But as the SXSW rules plainly state, bands that commit this nefarious tagging are in danger of getting their showcases pulled. Lucky for Thrice, no SXSW federales had time to track them down, so their Saturday gig goes off without a hitch.

The Big Surreal SXSW Moment—one of which hits me every year—occurs Friday night when I realize that in the span of five minutes, I've stood within fist-throwing distance of Nikki Sixx and Jello Biafra.

Dialogue between myself and the Security Nazi working the door of the Empire club on Sixth Street:

"Can I see your ID?"

"I have a badge."

"I still need to see your ID if you're gonna drink."

"I'm not going to drink."

"Well, I still need to put this wristband on you anyway."

"Um, okay, but don't put the sticky part on my arm hair."

"I can't put it on you if you keep flinching like that."

"Don't put it on the hair!"

"There. Uh-oh, did I get you? Here, let me—"


SATURDAY The "Covering Your Local Scene" forum at the Convention Center. A rock critic on the panel relays the advice an editor once gave him: "You're going to discover that the only people who care about local music are local musicians and their friends." Like I didn't know this? One of these years, maybe I'll actually learn something at these panels. Suddenly, that Dirty Dancing marathon back on my hotel-room cable looks pretty inviting. The last full night of showcases peaks with Cold Blooded Animal, a trio from China who do slow, grinding, minimalist songs that slowly explode into something like grunge used to. While they sing in Mandarin, you can still sense something that transcends the need for an interpreter—just from their fliers, which announce, "This is not the cultural revolution Chairman Mao had in mind!" For things like that, they've had their gear confiscated by Chinese authorities —too anarchistic and anti-authoritarian, y'see. But you can dance at this revolution, and people do—including one old guy who's really into it, twitching wildly and rubbery-armed as if he were still at a long-past Dead show. By the set's end, the band is contorting both their music and their bodies, coming off like Sonic Youth doing Nadia Comenici. When the bassist flops down, he lifts his instrument over his head, revealing a small sticker on the back—the cover of Rage Against the Machine's Evil Empire album. Finally—it may have taken four nights, but I've found the true meaning of rock & roll at SXSW again.

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