SXSW Last Night: Men Without Hats Dance If They Want To

Men Without Hats Club de Ville March 18, 2011

Every year at SXSW, Aftermath scans the schedule of hundreds and hundreds of bands and always has the same reaction: "They're still around?"

This year it was Canadian synth-pop safety dancers Men Without Hats. Since Aftermath was already going to be at Club de Ville Friday to interview Cheap Trick/Candy Golde drummer Bun E. Carlos and the Hats - who turned out to be founder Ivan Doroschuk (in a cowboy hat), two hired guns on synths and another on guitar - were closing out the night, we said, "Why the hell not?"

We're glad we did. Yes, there was the "S-s-s-s...A-a-a-a...F-f-f-f..." portion of the evening, at which point the entire tented patio became a sea of cameras and some very amusing dancing (above), but there's a little more to the Hats than that song, which is still as sleek and joyful as ever. It's no albatross Doroschuk only hauls out because he has to, that's for sure, as proved by the singer's own enthusiastic choreography during the 1982 hit.

For one thing, there's also "Pop Goes the World," an afterthought these days but itself a 1987 smash and practically as perfect a little pop song as you're going to find even today; we watched more than a few people who banked on leaving after "Safety Dance" turn right back around.

The crowd, which filled up the patio, was enthusiastic all evening long; Aftermath nearly got clocked by some bro who suddenly broke into air synth as we were walking past during "Antarctica." From a truly bizarre cover of the Rolling Stones' "Jumping Jack Flash" that began the abbreviated 40-minute set (it worked, though), the Hats' combo of clean synth and rock guitar came across as a seamless combination of Kraftwerk and Rick Springfield.

Only at SXSW.

Personal Bias: We can dance if we want to. Just not very well.

The Crowd: Having fun and safety dancing away, nearly to our peril.

Overheard In the Crowd: "We're leaving after this," almost immediately after "Safety Dance" started. Surprise.

Random Notebook Dump: Doroschuk is either a friend or a fan of controversial Austin-based radio/TV host Alex Jones, because he dedicated "I Got the Message" to the conspiracy savant and thanked him for coming.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray