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.

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EIGHT BANDS FOR WHOM WE'D GUARANTEE FAVORABLE PRESS COVERAGE IF THEY EVER PLAY ORANGE COUNTY

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!


Dirtbombs
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.

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EVIDENCE THAT TEXAS IS AN INDEPENDENT COUNTRY

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?

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FIVE LOCALS TEXAS ISN'T READY FOR YET

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."

2. SXSW is a 100-hour-long party, and music isn't confined to the night. There's also plenty of daytime action, which is how we find ourselves at Tower Records for the Starflyer 59 in-store. This latest incarnation of the Anaheim band (Jason Martin with some hired guns) finds them still crafting dreamy, sad-sounding, emo-esque tunes, but with newly added fuzz and distortion effects, which we guess is progress. During the quieter moments, we can hear the deep bass coming from whatever band is gigging at Urban Outfitters a few doors down.

3. 562 resident Joey from the Locust yelling, "YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO! YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO!" and forcing a roll of duct tape into your hands while one-man art keyboard-abuser Fast Forwardwrestles with a crowd of pretentious art-teens and Locustheads. This immediately devolves into you clamping down on Fast Forward's shoulders and yelling, "YOU'RE NOT A REAL BAND! YOU'RE NOT A REAL BAND!" Special bonus points: Fast Forward yelling, "WHITE POWER! WHITE POWER!" over a devolved Casio-keyboard beat to an obviously bewildered crowd. (Confidential to Stupid: Fast Forward is not really white power, or if he is, he's not doing a very convincing job of it.) Super-mega bonus points: "WHITE POWER!" is the only intelligible thing Fast Forward says during his whole performance.

4. SXSW '03 has the biggest contingent of OC/Long Beach bands ever, but sometimes the local peeps are hidden in LA groups. There's Drag, for instance, who have Orange resident and Hub Café regular Kevin Darish as a front man. Drag have a decent 1 a.m. slot, but it's at the Filling Station, a restaurant far removed from the Sixth Street clamor, so there aren't a lot of bodies in the place by the time their set rolls around. Still, they've come halfway across the country, so they make the best of it, and once they count off into their skull-kicking power pop, it's like they're playing a packed stadium.

5. San Diego's the Dragons make us get all nostalgic for such OC bands as the Goods and the Women. It's easy to get all nostalgic on the third day of too much alcohol and too little sleep, but we're sure there was a real emotion in there somewhere.

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10 GREAT NON-MUSIC MOMENTS

1. Getting to hear someone say, "Wow, your hair looks great! Do you want to write for us?"

2. Boarding an elevator at the Marriot with man/boy Elijah Wood. Small talk ensues. He exits. The rest of the night is cut with the sad, perhaps misguided realization that you could be partying with Frodo right now.

3. No. 4 on the Austin American-Statesman snotty list of 25 Absolute SXSW Truths: "Who are you kidding? Owning a CD burner is not the same as having your own label."

4. A guy in a van pulls alongside us and asks, "Do you know if Adrian Belew was in King Crimson?"

5. On Sixth Street, a man in a kimono and white kabuki makeup hands us a flier for his band, Dagashi-Kashi. It reads, "We are poison rock band from Japan. White painted face, Kimono, and Loud sound. These are all about Dagashi-Kashi. Once you see us, you will go to the hell. You can come, but never be released. We won't let you go."

6. A naked man behind the merch booth at the Lagwagon show throwing CDs into the crowd. We don't know if we're more put off by his vulnerable, bobbing manhood or the CDs narrowly missing our skull.

7. Enduring promo guys from well-known indie labels sauntering up to you at the convention center and crowing, "Man, you were so WASTED last year!"

8. CBGB's shirts are 2003's Pathetic Quickie Credibility trick.

9. Frantically licking your wrist stamp so you can smear enough ink on your buddies to get them into a show for free.

10. Thinking about going to see the Yardbirds; finding out that the replacement guitarists are Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and fucking Slash; sawing at wrists with shards of plastic latte cup.

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10 BEST BAND NAMES

1. We Talked About Murder

2. The Iguanamen of Galapagos

3. Stereotyperider

4. A Tiger Named Lovesick

5. Papaya Paranoia

6. I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness

7. The Yuppie Pricks

8. The Lascivious Biddies

9. The Faceless Werewolves

10. The Telepathic Butterflies

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