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Texas Is the Reason: The Promise Ring rage against the networkers.

March Madness

Austin Texas turns into a rock & roll Mardi Gras during SXSW

By Todd Inoue

AS YOU PROBABLY know, the South by Southwest (SXSW) media conference invades Austin for 10 days. Locals tolerate the swarming masses gathered for the film festival, interactive exhibits and, most famously, the five days of music showcases and panels. The downtown area becomes a sea of types: the label suits, the bands, the spring breakers, the scumbag journalists, the fans--all overdosing on beats, business cards and barbecue.

The reigning opinion from bartenders, taxi drivers, volunteers and almost everyone was that attendance was down. The lack of big name acts and a lagging economy made this the most relaxing trip in years. Here are some highlights and lowlights.

Midiron Blast Shaft

Reptilian Records Showcase: I walk in to see four guys in Daisy Duke shorts going apeshit onstage. It's Midiron Blast Shaft, doing a crazy Stooges-meets-AC/DC thing with serious bikini line issues. The guitarist, wearing a blowout wig, gets down to his skivvies and a woman shoves a dollar down his ass crack. It's the first hint that an economic recovery is around the corner.

Bushwick Bill

The Geto Boys' height-challenged rapper is playing a club on the other side of town. What can I say, I have to be there! He opens with "Mind of a Lunatic," then jumps all over his old hits, most having to do with pussy, guns and acting like a deranged madman. The 25 in attendance, including me, are spellbound.

Fresh Cuts

I meet up with two of my favorite DJs, DJ Jester and Kid Koala. Jester is showcasing on Saturday and Koala's band Bullfrog has two gigs during SXSW. Jester and Koala are very similar--both are short bedroom DJs and prefer the same creative mix style. Koala amazes us with some Lovage tour stories. Do not ever cross Mike Patton: he will get back at you in a filthy, disgusting, passive-aggressive way.

Father Time

This is one of my favorite events. It's a dusk show at Las Manitas restaurant called By the Hand of the Father. Based on stories about Mexican immigrants, Father is performed in song and spoken word by Theresa Chavez, Eric Gutierrez, Rose Portillo and with music by Alejandro Escovedo. It's a moving piece that could apply to all families of recent immigrants.

Getting Racially Profiled

Waiting for Bullfrog to play, a local engages me in conversation, then correctly identifies me as Japanese because of my "facial features." I am so shocked I can't come up with a good retort. Get used to it, says Jester, who is Pinoy and a San Antonio resident. "Austin is still part of Texas."

5 Rue Christine Showcase

I was warned that Xiu Xiu's latest album was practically unlistenable because of the emotional drainage. Tonight, the band are pouring themselves into their set. Later, the Seconds (featuring Yeah Yeah Yeahs drummer Brian Chase) rock the house as do Semiautomatic (which features Pee Chee Rop Vasquez and his wife, animator Akiko Carver).

Mary Lou Lord

It's a common sight for vets, but for a MLL fan like me it's still a lasting SXSW moment. Boston's acoustic songstress is busking for cash and entertaining the late-nighters inside a building doorway across from the plush Driskill Hotel. She endures requests for Jewel and Creed and still makes a mint. She dedicates Springsteen's "Thunder Road" to the homeless guy hanging around and he thanks her by taking off his shirt and revealing his prison tattoos.

The Promise Ring

The Promise Ring can barely be heard over the networking at the Blender Magazine party. The set is filled with new Promise Ring goodies from Wood/Water that are more earthy and acoustic in nature. Right after jumping into "Why Did We Ever Meet," vocalist Davey Von Bohlen begins losing track of the lyrics before clutching his head and slumping against his amp. Von Bohlen is coherent and saying he's all right, but the show is called off and a paramedic unit comes. It's a scary moment--Von Bohlen was treated for a brain tumor in 2000. I hope he feels better.

Petty Booka

At the second Japan Night showcase, Petty Booka charm the pants off everyone. The ukulele duo perform Hawaiian versions of pop songs like "Pretty Little Baby," "Do You Wanna Dance," Gomez's "Whippin' Piccadilly" and "The Tide Is High." The serendipitous note is that after the Austin show, the girls head to their spiritual homeland, Hawaii, for two shows.

The Hobo Chronicles

Up until last summer, there was a guy who used to pawn for change on the corner of Santa Clara and Market streets. Kinda fat with dreads, he's very polite. Well, guess what, he's here! Pawning for change! I went up to him. "Aren't you from San Jose?" Yes! A short, sweet homecoming.

Sure Sign

I notice a sign on the shuttle bus: Weapons Prohibited on Premises. We are in Texas for sure.

The Last Keynote

Robbie Robertson begins the keynote speech with a shaky definition of what a keynote speech is. So he foregoes all practical insight and tells the long story of how he grew up to the "Last Waltz" and beyond. It's all good history, sort of practice for Behind the Music, but left little answers. Robbie is quite nostalgic and leaves everyone feeling a little better about their lot in life.

Hillary Rosen

Immediately following Robertson's feel-good fest, RIAA president and CEO Hillary Rosen does damage control during her interview with Hollywood Reporter's Tamara Conniff. The music industry lost a record amount of money last year--what with recessions and, some say, Internet downloading.

Estimates place CD-R sales higher than actual CDs. Rosen points to a couple of mishaps: record companies weren't taking enough risks with the business of downloading music. She counters that CD prices haven't gone up as much as other forms of relaxation: i.e., video games and DVDs. She goes on to talk about copy protection--stalled because record companies cannot decide on a platform--and whether record companies should sue artists for not fulfilling their contractual agreements. "Three-album deals are good; just don't expect a $20 million advance." Ouch.

Ring Ring

The hottest band at SXSW has to be a Swedish import named Nokia. Everyone is listening to the electronic beeps on little handhelds then putting it up their ears. I mean everyone.

Pretty Damn Good

Pretty Girls Make Graves, a Seattle band, absolutely rips it during the Lookout! Records showcase. If you dig Tilt and Fugazi, this might be your big chance.

In the Zone

Quarashi is a rock-rap band from Reykjavik, Iceland. Three emcees, one DJ, one guitarist, one drummer and 45 minutes of testosteroned-out bullshit. Think Check Your Head-era Beasties crossed with Sum 41. This is some shit that confirms that all those target-marketing meetings are for real. Coming soon to a Warped Tour near you. Eerily, their second song is fittingly called "Copycat."

Directly afterward, the X-ecutioners kill it with a new set hyping their latest album, Built From Scratch. They're augmented by two emcees--one is D-Stroy from the Arsonists--and minus one DJ, Mista Sinista. After touring and recording with Linkin Park, the new set is as heavy as Mixmaster Mike's with harsh tear routines and towering beat juggles. I kind of like the new arrangement; it opens up the X-men to all audiences, not just DJ heads.

Travel Tip #12

Everyone smokes in Austin clubs. Hanging clothes in the shower when you take a bath is a good way to get that smoke smell out. Mental note: Pack Fabreze.

Miles to Go

I manage to catch Rolling Stone's David Fricke interview with Ark21 owner and Police manager Miles Copeland III. It is the most entertaining panel so far, because Copeland rivals only Ted Turner in the blunderbuss department. Fricke holds his own as a journalist going against one of the most anti-consolidation and anti-downloading voices in the industry. "How do you compete with free?" is Copeland's rallying cry against the scourge of downloading music.

"If a kid downloads music, and it inspires them to buy the CD--and that is something I see happening--then I see downloads are great," he says. "In three years time when the downloads are perfect quality and like that [snap], in two seconds, you get a whole new CD, then the kid goes. 'I'm going to go down to the store and ... wait there are no stores.' Now what? That's my worry."

"People tell me, 'Don't use the Hitler analogy' but look. People were saying in 1938, 'Gee the trains are running good. He's building autobahns, Hitler ain't that bad.' Read Mein Kampf, see where this is going. So what if the trains are running; look where they're running to!"

Fricke has the last word. Fricke brings up the topic of intellectual property. He uses the example that Walt Disney worked hard to fight to extend the life of copyright to protect Mickey Mouse. Then they have the gall to turn around and release a movie titled Walt Disney's the Hunchback of Notre Dame, "Now the last time I checked the book was written by Victor Hugo. Just because they changed him to a happy, singing, dancing hunchback doesn't mean you should fuck Hugo out of his legacy."

Local Color

Yard Dog is a folk-art shop along South Congress with a huge back yard that serves as a stage for daytime shows. All manner of Austinites grooving to the sounds of Rico Bell, the Sadies and Waco Brothers. The PA fails the Waco Brothers during its disco medley and less than triumphant version of "Baba O'Reilly." Texans don't put up with sound problems. "Fix that shit!" is the cry. Among the interesting sights: a pregnant woman with a belly-revealing camisole and tilted cowboy hat, sipping a half-full plastic cup of beer.

Yeah Yeah Yawns

Hopping on the success of the White Stripes, labels and A&R pack the Yeah Yeah Yeahs set. They're hyped as next year's "It" band. Singer Karen O is mascara-dripping composite of Siouxie Sioux, Chrissie Hynde and Juliette Lewis circa Cape Fear. It's all guitar drums and O's dramatic and decadent voice, a huge skronk fest. But is it art? Overrated.

Japan Nite

Bonkin' Clapper is the best name I've heard this year, and it belongs to a Tokyo rap-rock collective. They watched too many reruns of Farmclub as they play slap bass and twirl in a circle. The Clap are pretty 1999, but make it up with enthusiasm and huge smiles.

Just Play Music

The Mooney Suzuki just decimated the stage, and Atmosphere comes on. Mr. Dibbs and Slug have an off night, too often worrying about the level coming out the monitors. Look, don't belabor the point; just make it fucking work, otherwise you sound like a whiny prima donna.

Courtney Love

Courtney Love was the eye-opener this morning. She was talkative and barely finished a coherent thought before flitting to another topic like a ADD-addled hummingbird. The interview with L.A. Times ' Chuck Philips was supposed to focus on Love's fight for musicians rights, but juicy gossip dominated. Afterward, Buddhead's Travis Keller was supposed to attend a panel about gossip but instead sent a transvestite in his place.

Enz of an Era

Neil Finn performs an afternoon set for New Times. The set is filled with his new solo work. He is backed up by former Revolution member Wendy Melvoin and 4AD artist Lisa Germano. The New Zealander indulges the crowd's numerous requests.

Jester Molester

DJ Jester the Filipino Fist is sharing a bill with Mr. Scruff and DJ Radar. Jester's dad has come to hear his son spin for the first time. It's quite sweet. He begins with Europe's "Final Countdown" with Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock's "It Takes Two" in the background. The set contains flips of Chubb Rock's "Treat Me Right" and Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al," Paul Hardcastle's "Axel F" and LL Cool J's "I'm That Type of Guy," a George Strait song and Young MC's "Bust a Move." Jester yells "Give it up for my dad!" and everyone screams.

Everyone Still Smells Funny

Ash's show is a study in how different Austin and San Francisco are. In SF, an Ash show would be mostly indie-rock geeks, while in Austin, all kind of people are clumped into Ash. Even older folks with nice threads on.


Def Jux takes over the cavernous club to less than grand attendance. The chaotic rhymes and beats are unforgiving in its intensity. Aesop Rock, Mr. Len, Prefuse 73, DJ RJD2, Antipop Consortium and Company Flow's El-P. Antipop were welcomed like water to landlocked badgers.

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From the March 21-27, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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