SXSWXOC

Our annual South By Southwest report

Assorted snapshots from the sonic Disneyland that is South By Southwest (SXSW), the annual music fest/industry confab in Austin, Texas. This year's stats: five nights; 1,200 bands; 54 stages; 8,000 registrants. Go!

•For those into serious crap—and who just can't leave work at home—there were dull discussion panels. Some people yakked about the state of indie labels and the coming end of record stores; others yammered about how downloading is bad, bad, bad (except when it's good) and where the next big scene will be (Seattle—again!). Who cares? SXSW should be an endless blur of bands, beer and barbecue, and for us, it was. Except for the beer part, which we left to the professionals.

•OC/Long Beach-related people who either played or had a presence: Walter Clevenger & the Dairy Kings, Maxeen, Mêlée, the Killingtons, Rick Shea and Patty Booker, March, Jessy Moss, StillLife Projector, the Beautiful Mistake, Throw Rag, Manic Hispanic, Slow Coming Day, Your Enemies Friends, and Jennifer Corday. Also spotted skulking around: Chain Reaction's newly svelte Jon Halperin, handing out screamingly popular I HATE YOUR BAND stickers.

•Best—or worst—band names: A Tiger Named Lovesick; A Place to Bury Strangers; Excess Lettuce; Lubricated Goat; Feable Weiner; the Flatchested Girls From Maynardville; Black Cock; Shesus; Volcano, I'm Still Excited!; and Architecture In Helsinki (who, naturally, are from Melbourne).

•The SXSW keynote address was delivered by Little Richard, who dished learned music advice about topics such as envy ("The grass may be greener on the other side, but it's just as hard to cut!"), style-swiping ("If Bessie is doin' it, don't copy Bessie!") and personal finance ("Sign your checks! I don't care if it's the water bill, sign it! Learn how to count your money! If you don't count your money, somebody's gonna count it for you!"). Interviewer Dave Marsh asked Richard—who came decked out in a blinding red jacket and black shades—if the "sure like to ball" line from "Good Golly Miss Molly" meant the same thing in the '50s as it does now (no, unfortunately) and if Richard owns an iPod, to which he replied, "What's that?"

Costa Mesa's Walter Clevenger and his band, the Dairy Kings, parlayed their showcase slot into two extra Austin gigs, one at the Pots & Plants Nursery south of the city (weird venues are a common SXSW occurrence) and another at forever-popular public hangout the Dog & Duck pub, part of a daylong bill sponsored by Pop Culture Press magazine. The latter show came off well (even if they had to follow the horribly dull yet inexplicably popular Trash Can Sinatras), with the band's glorious rock & roll echoing off the concrete Texas government buildings a few blocks away from the state capitol. Their main set was at a Sixth Street club called the Vibe on Thursday, which was great and all, but given a nice added boost by the appearance of Beatle Bob, a shaggy-haired, powder-blue-suited St. Louis man who's something of an unofficial SXSW mascot. Bob's standard operating procedure is to wiggle his way to the front of a stage and dance maniacally to whatever band is playing—sort of a mark of coolness—and right then, the Dairy Kings were that band.

•At punk club Emo's for the Fat Wreck Chords/Punk Voter "Rock Against Bush" showcase, Against Me! were onstage. A good-to-very-good melodic hardcore band, they were full of the fist-thrusting anthems the kids love. Next was Jello Biafra, who was up there to introduce comedian David Cross. But first, Jello simply had to spew an anti-Bush rant. (Speaking of W, we also saw Bush's Brain while in Austin, a disturbing-yet-true documentary all about how Karl Rove is pretty much the moral lovechild of Josef Goebbels and Joe McCarthy!) Jello was, naturally, quite long-winded, and soon the kids—many of whom didn't seem to know who the old guy with the annoying voice was—started flipping him off. Cross eventually popped out for some standup—which made everybody even more impatient (funny as his spiel was, no hardcore kid packed against a stage with a bunch of sweaty bodies wanted to hear spoken-word anything). We remembered that Throw Rag were about to go on in the other room, so we headed there—just in time to see Throw Rag finish their set and pack up.

•SXSW discovery! New Orleans trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, whose band plays hot Meters-like funk and jazz so infectiously boogie-rific that we almost took them up on their post-gig cool-down offer they made to the whole club: "We gonna have a reefer party after this!"

Waaay too many people were waiting outside Emo's to see NOFX, and since Manic Hispanic—the band we wanted to see—were playing the same club at about the same time on different stages, we had to miss out. Instead, though, there was Mêlée at the far-roomier Pyramids down the street. We made our way to the club's patio and noticed a happy, giddy crowd of about eight people huddled in front of the stage as the band set up. But when guitarist Rick Sanberg hit a couple of test chords, the crowd couldn't seem to run inside the bar fast enough—turns out they were just remnants from the previous band. But Mêlée turned out to be pretty fantastic—much better than when we last saw them, which was probably three years ago, maybe even their first show ever (we don't remember, but we hope we weren't too hard on the kids), a good testimonial for practice and persistence. They're great and loud and full of inertia, and their rock & roll was drifting up and—at 10 after midnight—surely kept some guests awake in the 18-story Crown Plaza hotel that towered over them. More people eventually showed up, and soon there was a crowd of about 40, and all seemed to like what they were hearing as much as we did. And then it started to sprinkle, and we noticed that Mêlée had nothing overhead to keep the stage—and their electric-powered gear—dry. We left before their set finished, for Mêlée flambé is a dish we didn't order.

•Yeah, it blew that Ozomatli's Jiro Yamaguchi, Willy Abers and manager Amy Sue Blackman-Romero were arrested on lame-ass charges relating to the band's usual conga line that flows off the stage and out of the venue at all their shows. Even though they did this exact same maneuver at SXSW '99 and nothing happened then, this time, they were met by Austin cops at the sidewalk outside Club Exodus. Apparently, it's now illegal to play music outside without a permit after 2 a.m., even if it's just a couple of feet outside, in this, the town that likes to bill itself as "The Live Music Capital of the World." Worse, an Austin cop claimed he was hit in the head with Yamaguchi's drum, so he's been charged with assault of a public servant—a third-degree felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. All three were released on bail, and Ozomatli played their set at Stubb's two nights later, and they were quick to capitalize on all the free publicity (which included three stories and a column in the Austin American-Statesman, plus a front-page photo of the arrests) by getting FREE THE OZO 3 shirts printed up and selling them for $25 a pop. At the show, Abers noted all the people who had been coming up to the band and apologizing, which he didn't understand "because where we come from, there's no way we could apologize for the LAPD."

Alejandro Escovedo, the onetime OC resident, played his first show in nearly a year after collapsing onstage in Arizona and being diagnosed with hepatitis C. You'd never guess he was sick—this Sunday-night Continental Club gig was vintage Al and more, full of gorgeous ballads; blazing, distortion-drenched rock & roll; and cameo appearances from crazy castanets players and a wildly gyrating go-go dancer. No "I Wanna Be Your Dog" cover, though, but we did get "All the Young Dudes," which was special and beautiful enough.

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