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

A South By Southwest diary

And so back to the room to collect myself. I unwound and listened to Scarface's The Fix. Head duly corrected and shenanigans masterminded, I headed down to the lobby and ran into SF Weekly music editor Garrett Kamps, who took me over to the Fader party nearby. We arrived just in time to catch the end of Bun B's set, and Kamps introduced me to SF journalist/author Chris Baty. Over Red Stripes, we debated the Streets (me and Baty pro, Kamps con), but we all agreed on Saul Williams, who was next on stage. We thought he should slow the fuck down.

I took off to go catch San Francisco's Two Gallants, who did nothing to dispel my belief that we'll still be hearing from them a few decades hence. And then I headed back down Sixth to Habana Calle 6, where I saw the Dawn of the Replicants (sort of the Scottish Guided by Voices, complete with beer-bellied frontman), Marlowe (a Liverpool band with a string-heavy line-up that probably will have people comparing them to the Arcade Fire, who they don't really sound like.)

And then it was local boy Michael Haaga's turn. For me, this was the highlight. I've seen him do two or three shows before, but this was light-years beyond them. The Plus and Minus Show CD is the best Houston rock CD I've ever heard, and up to now, the live show had not yet attained quite that level, but there on that Tiki hut stage right by Waller Creek he matched it and possibly even exceeded it. He unveiled some new tunes, lightly reworked some of the stuff from the CD, and quite simply blew the minds of the 50 or so people there. (Among them were Cactus general manager Quinn Bishop, Tom Bunch and KPFT's Rhonda Garner.) I walked to the back of the room at the end of the set for an objectivity check -- Haaga's a local and a friend, so I wanted to hear what the uninitiated had to say. And it was things like "Who is this guy?" and simple, slack-jawed staring in wonderment. (Mark my words: On this date, Haaga's guitarist Kelly Doyle officially left the ranks of "very good guitarist" and entered the "Guitar God" pantheon.)

Bishop and I then hurtled up to Stubb's for the New York Dolls extravaganza, which left me a little underwhelmed. They are a godhead band, just not my godhead band. But hell, now at least I can tell the grandkids I saw the New York Dolls. And so to bed.

Saturday, March 19: As usual, for me anyway, I did the South Congress thing on Saturday. With my old buddy Steve Uecker, I went to the Continental and said howdy to Messieurs Hill, Gordon and Beebe and took in sets by Austin pub rocker Elizabeth McQueen, San Diego's Irish-tinged bluegrass combo the 7th Day Buskers, and James McMurtry, whose rendition of his new classic "Choctaw Bingo" turned out to be the highlight of the whole day. He invited the Continental's Dancing Sisters on stage with him and the two leggy, French maid-clad blondes shimmied and flaka-laka'ed their way through the droning North Mississippi-style proto-rap about Oklahoma speed freaks. For that ten minutes at least, James McMurtry was the Bobby Rush of South Austin. "Wow, that should have been my finale," he said at the end of the song. And for me it was -- Uecker and I left.

And then, all of a sudden, South By Fatigue set in. I hosted a little sangria-fuelled party in my room with Haaga, Matt and Mo Kelly, Uecker and some of the Kellys' Austin pals and then, as a vicious little hailstorm roared in from the west, we adjourned to the Kellys' pretty new house in South Austin, where we had coffee and bean dip. By this point, all of our serotonin levels were frazzled and we were having difficulty coming to grips with all the beer and all the noise and all the faces we had seen. Though most of us took in full slates of bands that night, it was difficult to get too amped about anything -- it was like being in one of those noirish movies where the protagonist walks alone down a street as neon bar signs fly around his face. So in short, I saw the abbreviated Devin the Dude set and then met up with my Austin counterpart Christopher Gray and caught the Scissor Sisters-like Chicago band called 30 Hertz, a painfully bad punk-industrial band from Paris called Metal Urbain, and then Blowfly, a 300-pound-plus sixtysomething black guy from Miami who rewrites classic songs with filthy lyrics and performs them in a red spangled wrestling suit. And it was hard to get excited even for that. Nighty-night, South By, and see you next year.

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