Austin, Texas, site of South by Southwest (SXSW), the annual music-industry slamdance. Five nights, 44 clubs, 900 bands, 100 percent sensory overload. This year's highlight reel:
MARCH 15, 12:20 P.M. Conference registration. A look in the program book reveals this year's local class: Dial-7, Cirrus, the Halo Friendlies, Havalina Rail Co., Los Infernos, Wiskey Biscuit, Fu Manchu, and maybe ex-Texans At the Drive In, two-fifths of whom now live in Long Beach. Chris Gaffney is set to play with Dave Alvin's band, too.
12:35 P.M. The best—or worst, or maybe stupidest—band names of the lucky 900: I Am the World Trade Center (Brooklyn), Sixty Second Quickies (South Bend, Indiana), Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash (San Diego), Maximum Coherence During Flying (Austin), Japancakes (Athens, Georgia), Japanic (Houston), The Psychedelic Kinky Fellows (Tokyo), November Foxtrot Whiskey (Tampa, Florida), hippiehaus (Hamburg, Germany), Camaro Hair (Portland, Oregon), DJ Muppetfucker (Austin), Bongzilla (Madison, Wisconsin), Alabama Thunder Pussy (Richmond, Virginia), VHS or Beta (Louisville, Kentucky) and Jesus Christ Superfly (Austin).
8:35 P.M. At the Austin Music Awards, comic Kerry Awn delivers the week's best joke: "To everyone here who's from out of town, welcome to Austin!" "Yeeeaaahhh!!!" "Home of the next president of the United States!" "BOOOOOO!!!" "Willie Nelson!" "YEEEAAAHHH!!!"
11 P.M. Dial-7 at the Atomic Cafe. A much-improved version, now that they've added DJ Daniel.
12:50 A.M. First guy-throwing-up-in-an-alley sighting. Thought we would have seen this much sooner.
MARCH 16, 9:30 A.M. Breakfast and migas at Las Manitas. A gaggle of SXSW badge wearers just walked in, mostly clad in black leather, even though it's supposed to get up to 80 today. Smells like major-label people.
10:30 A.M. Conference keynote address, delivered by musician Steve Earle, who sports a red T-shirt that reads, "I'M FROM FUCKING OUTER SPACE." His best comments: "Kiss is not cool, Kiss has never been cool, and Kiss will never be cool, no matter how many times Gene Simmons can make you fall for it" and "We as artists have no more in common with the corporations than Michealangelo did with the Vatican." Also talks about the death penalty in Texas and how part of every dollar spent at SXSW by us out-of-staters will eventually go toward killing a person. "I'm not saying you should boycott; I'm just saying be aware."
NOON. Trade show opens. Tons of free crap handed out by various industry people. Rules: avoid stickers and key chains (no matter how cool they look) and CD samplers by bands you'll never write about anyway. Only abscond with functional items you plan to actually use: pens, candy, condoms, T-shirts, plastic Slinkys, yo-yos, CD openers, Silly Putty, breath mints, ball-and-paddle sets.
8:30 P.M. Cruising Sixth Street, Austin's main club drag. Nestled among the "official" bands from all around the world playing at "official" Sixth Street SXSW-sanctioned venues are a couple of jokers covering "Kodachrome" at a joint called Pete's Dueling Piano Bar.
11 P.M. Who's the mysterious "special guest" listed in the SXSW pocket guide playing Stubb's? Is it Neil Young, who's in town to plug his new concert film? Nope, only Ryan Adams, lead singer of alterna-country band Whiskeytown, who does a solo acoustic set—a slow, painfully morose acoustic set, which, when combined with the evening wind chill, makes the experience just slightly more pleasurable than pushing serrated thumbtacks into our ear holes. The fest's other hot "special guest" rumor, as it is every SXSW, are the Beastie Boys. They don't disappoint by once again not showing.
12:45 A.M. Best Performance (Male): Jon Langford of the rollicking Clash-meets-Cash band of Chicagoans the Waco Brothers. During an outdoor show at the Scholz Beer Garden, it starts to whiz down rain, even a bit of hail. After being told they can only do one more song—that volatile mixture of electricity and water and all—Langford falls on his back during a particularly smokin' riff barrage and starts flopping around wildly, his legs spasming in the air, feigning electrocution, a capper to a great-if-abbreviated set that would have convinced anyone, either temporarily or permanently, that the Waco Brothers are "the only band that matters" these days.
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MARCH 17, 4 P.M. Fu Manchu's afternoon in-store gig at Waterloo Records. The shop is jammed with locals on this weekday afternoon; does anybody in Austin have a real job? The gargantuan amps that San Clemente's old-metal-is-new-again kings drag in look freakishly intimidating—uh-oh, where are the earplugs?!? Fu's Jeff Spicoli look-alike singer Scott Hill counts off, and then the band cuts loose with an explosion of Sabbath crunch that sears the room. It's "Hell on Wheels," the leadoff track from their riff-o-rific new album, King of the Road. A few busty females sporting tight "I FU" shirts start wiggling around on the countertops over in the cassette section. The punch is so loud that a ceiling fan next to the stage sheds years-old dust clumps on the crowd. As their set thunders on, all the windows shatter, the roof caves in, people's heads start exploding, and then the Earth cracks open, swallowing the building and everyone inside. Cool!
7:30 P.M. Best Performance (Female): The free Patti Smith show in Waterloo Park. Right before Patti comes out, a worker for the sponsoring Internet company launches several stupid fucking beach balls into the crowd. We will not have this during Patti's set, so whenever a ball gets bopped near us, we stab it to death with our sharpest ball point. We think Patti would approve. She plays for two hours, mostly unfamiliar songs from her then-unreleased new album, but no one minds. Near the end, she flashes pictures of Ho Chi Minh, takes a Vietnamese flag that's draped over an amp and wraps it around her head, kicks 4,000 asses by storming through "Rock 'N' Roll Nigger" ("I've never fucked with my past, but I've fucked plenty with my future"), and raises a Fender Strat high into the air while telling us, "You want a gun? Here's your fucking gun right here!" She then slowly and methodically snaps each string. Happy St. Patti's Day!
11 P.M. Overheard on the sidewalk outside the Reverend Horton Heat/Nashville Pussy/Supersuckers show at Stubb's: GUY: "Where's the wristband line to get in?" COP: "Down there to the right, around the corner and down the block." GUY [staring at the monstrous size of the line, eyeballs bulging out, chin scraping the concrete]: "Ooooohhhhhmmmyyygggoooddd . . ."
MARCH 18, 9 P.M. Met someone from San Fran band the Gun & Doll Show fliering on Sixth Street the night before, so we go check out their gig at Hole in the Wall—why not, since the BellRays are on the same bill? They're . . . eclectic: four guys playing midtempo rockers, joined onstage by three scantily clad women who ooh-ooh and ahh-ahh all over them and their playfully cheeky songs about putting fat people in prison ("What would you do/If suddenly skinnies rule?") and the letter "G." Seattle's Valentine Killers are next, a poor person's Murder City Devils. During their set, the singer, unaware of how high the stage is, punches his fist through the ceiling and knocks out a panel, bringing a whole chunk of foam insulation down on the band. Overheard after their show: "I can't believe they didn't make me pay for the ceiling! I punched a hole in the fucking ceiling, and no one cares! If this were Seattle, they'd make me pay $100 for that! It's like no one cares 'cuz it's rock & rooolll!!! And it looked cool! I love Austin!"