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Whiskey, Whiskey, Whiskey! Bands, Bands, Bands!

A South By Southwest diary

Thursday, March 17: My friends and I roll into Austin around 2 p.m. to the majestic strains of the Arcade Fire's "Wake Up." After registering at the Convention Center, where Harry Shearer brushed past me with his entourage, and picking up my Robyn Hitchcock-designed swag bag, I head over to the Crowne Plaza, where I run into St. Louis Riverfront Times music editor Jordan Harper. His room isn't ready yet, so I invite him over to mine, where we uncork a quart of Jameson's and talk shop. I rev up the CD player and hip him to Michael Haaga, Linus Pauling Quartet and Gogol Bordello. For his part, Harper bemoans the fact that Da Lou has only three bands playing South By this year. And we thought we had it bad when we only had 15 or so there. Eventually, the Crowne Plaza sets Harper up and we head out into a gorgeous Austin afternoon.

We don't get three blocks down 6th Street before I hear Clem Snide putting their new "Fill Me with Your Light" through the paces up Red River at Emo's Annex. Harper and I part ways here -- I stick around as Eef Barzelay and the boys run through "Something Beautiful," "Jews For Jesus Blues" and "The End of Love." An hour later, I meet up with a few of the other music editors from our New Times sister papers and Haaga, his wife, Carol, and some Austin filmmakers at the Copa Room on Congress, where Denver's new critical darlings Devotchka were supposed to headline a slate of Mile High City bands. They cancelled, though, so we retired to the back patio and knocked back a few brews instead.

Next, it was back to the hotel, but along the way we dropped in and caught the end of Helmet's set at some bar that changes names every South By. I would just like to say here that Helmet sucks. And all of the bands you hear on the Buzz that stole from them suck too. It's just plain ugly music.

A couple of hours schmoozing with my New Times brethren later, night had fallen and I found myself at the Ritz Balcony, where I caught first Austin psych rock institution ST 37 and then a stellar set by Elvin/English troubadour Robyn Hitchcock. And then, for something completely different, I caught local Zin and Dallas' Money Waters playing back-to-back sets on what was supposed to have been the showcase headlined by Scarface, who pulled out. Those who allowed the lack of a megastar on the bill to dissuade them from attending missed out: All of these hip-hoppers played with live, three- or four-piece bands and a few female backup singers, and this band format looked like the birth of the next phase of hip-hop to me. Both Zin and Waters put on the best live hip-hop shows I've ever seen.

And then I headed up Red River to catch the Fatal Fling Guilloteens, but I misread the time in my South By booklet and missed the set. I did talk to the band and it turns out they added another page to their book of legends. Their show was on a balcony above a place called the Velvet Spade and the stage was probably about 30 feet above the street already when singer Shawn Guilloteen ripped a hole in the plastic awning over the stage and climbed a tree on the hillside behind the stage. He was said to have gotten about a hundred feet above street level. A couple of days later I asked him what he was thinking while he was up in his aerie. "I was watching some other band a couple of bars away," he said. "They looked like they were a lot better than us."

Rusted Shut followed, and to say that Don Walsh was drunk is an understatement on the order of "Mike Tyson has issues," or something. His jeans kept sliding down his flat ass and since he was freeballing, the effect was disturbing, to put it mildly. But hell, Don's a Paddy and it was St. Patrick's day, and I'm sure he wasn't the only Irishman to show his ass on this day. As for me, I split before his set, headed back to the hotel, fired up Calexico's Even My Sure Things Fall Through EP on the jambox and watched the waxing yellow half-moon rise over the waning festivities below.

Friday, March 18: Woke with the jankers -- a mild hangover coupled with lots of nervous energy, which I cured with a cup of in-room coffee topped up with a wee dram of the Jameson's. I had to get out to the Chunklet party, which was at the very Super Happy Fun Land-like Church of the Friendly Ghost over in the East Austin barrio, right across the street from the projects. I walked down to Cesar Chavez Avenue, caught an eastbound metro bus for 50 cents and arrived without incident.

Chunklet's editorial ethos seems to be "Everything Is Overrated," which astounds me with its Zen-like wisdom every time I sit down and truly ponder it, just as I am amazed every time I pick up a copy of their hilarious and wise magazine. Anyway, the Chunklet staff were all wearing full Boy Scout regalia, for whatever reason, and their party had free Abita beer (which became damn-near unattainable once the party got going and the lines got long) and a band line-up that included rootsy punkers the Starvations, Baltimore weirdos Oxes, a Dutch punk band that should just quit like right now, and the Fatal Flying Guilloteens, who wore Girl Scout uniforms on stage. In the middle of their adrenalized too-short set, guitarist (and Nightfly columnist) Brian McManus took over vocal duties for a spell after doing his best Anna Nicole Smith as a Girl Scout voice: "Want some cookies? Like my bah-dee? Want some mun-ny?" (Yes, McManus watches too much TV.)

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