South By Southwest

Photo by James BunoanSouth By Southwest (SXSW), the music industry's annual spring break in Austin, Texas, went off last week with more than 1,000 bands and musician types from around the globe, plus an assortment of cranky label execs and even crankier music writers. It was a five-day, four-night extravaganza full of panel discussions, gigs, and, if you were invited to the right parties, free Shiner Bock beer and Tex-Mex. Let's do this, with Weekly scribes Rich Kane, Alison M. Rosen and Chris Ziegler playing tour guide.

* * *


1. Virginia's Hackensaw Boys, who do up old Appalachian mountain music on banjos, lap steels, fiddles, mandolins, harmonicas and spoons. We're a little suspicious, though, as their scruffy, hairy looks make them seem more like O, Brother Where Art Thou? extras who've just rubbed their faces in parking-lot grease. But once they start playing, they're pretty fantastic; one of the eight Boys speaks and sings in the same twang, and their jamming is so furiously fast and shit-hot that it'd be speed punk if amped right.

2. Peelander-Z rule the world, we decide, after seeing their show at Elysium on Saturday, and we're deeply disturbed we missed their show at the Liquid Den a couple of months ago. After the Peelander in the yellow M&M costume climbs onto the club's air-conditioning duct and drops down into the crowd not long after screaming an impassioned song all about the joy of medium-rare steak, an Austin native next to us says, "I love South By Southwest! This is the only time of the year I get to see this shit!"

3. The thermonuclear rock & roll blowtorch that is Austin's Riverboat Gamblers, hanging from the rafters somewhere between the Heartbreakers and AC/DC. And that's not just the free Lone Star tall-boys talking.

4. Pulsing Canadian synth-pop band Hot Hot Heat blew up so fast there seems to be a backlash among those who helped them get there. We hear quite a few bitchy remarks. Fuck Hot Hot Heat, though! There's a new pulsing Canadian synth-pop band in town: The Constantines. We love the Constantines! Sometimes, one of them plays a saxophone!

Photo by James Bunoan

5. We knew the Dirtbombs were good; we didn't know they were living, breathing gods. If they couldn't even write a song, they'd still get by on charisma alone (even if Mick Collins with his glasses on looks like our old algebra teacher). And if they were just disembodied heads bobbing in plastic jugs that had androids play their instruments, they'd still get by on their untouchably perfect set of garage-y Motown rock & roll. Possibly the only band in America that really does have it all. Be my dad, Mick Collins.

6. We would do whatever the Thermals asked of us. Go get the Thermals' album More Parts Per Million and fall in love with their electrifying, urgent lo-fi rock, and play it so many times that you know it so well that then when you see them play in OC, you'll be inclined to jump around like an asshole.

7. Tennessee's Features aren't supposed to be the Weezer-y power-pop that their producers are going to try to turn them into: they've got the best growly guitar hooks this side of the first Buzzcocks album, the cute-'n'-cuddly sweater-boy charm of Blur at their sappiest, and the deceptively intricate songwriting skills of the Beatles before they turned into annoying hippies. The whole world should have a crush on this band; the line starts right behind us.

8. The perfect finale: 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning at Mother Egan's Irish Pub, listening and watching the fabulous Clash-meets-Cash sounds of the Waco Brothers, as they rumble through "I Fought the Law," which they dedicate to Joe Strummer.

* * *


1. In Austin, the McKay Brothers, a pretty decent roots-country band, are playing on a stage in the airport terminal not more than 50 yards from the exit gate. Austin is sweet! In the gift shop next door, there's an entire row of gun magazines. Austin is scary!

2. Having the lady at the souvenir store relate the story of how God came to her in church and told her that "mall" is a four-letter word. Inexplicably agreeing with her on a deep and profound level.

3. Learning that the reason they don't make scorpion-under-glass belt buckles anymore is because the guy who makes them was bitten by a scorpion and DIED.

4. Discovering that soda-machine technology in North Austin is light years ahead of anything developed in California: vanilla Sprite, triple-lemon lemonade and Dr. Pepper slushees on tap as a matter of routine.

5. Stepping into the humid Austin air is like stepping into a big mouth. Swamptastic! Hair frizzes; clothing sticks; skin shines; showers must be followed immediately by more and colder showers; and powder cocaine, we hear, shrivels up into gluey little clumps. Maybe it's cut with paste?

* * *


1. We drop into the Spill for the set from Anaheim's Up Syndrome, who have just signed to Nitro. They play their snarky pop punk to a tiny crowd, the price paid for having an early 8 p.m. slot. The band doesn't care. "Last time we were in Texas, we played to less people, so thanks for being here right now!" says their singer. Some Up Syndrome fangirls whom we assume aren't yet 21 dance vigorously just outside the club's doorway. We also notice the club's dress code posted on the front window: "ALL CLOTHES MUST FIT."

Next Page »