South By FauxWest: SXSW Day 3

 

South By FauxWest: SXSW Day 3

 

Traipsin’ the light
fantastic in Austin
without spilling a single beer!

 

By Johnny Mnemonic

 

Ed. Note: With South
By Southwest 2010 in full swing, we decided to send BLURT blogger Johnny
Mnemonic, who pens the “Music Journalism 101” blog for us, to Austin and report
back with his daily misadventures, er, observations. Only hitch was, he
neglected to inform us that he’s currently in England and won’t be back in the
States until the summer. “No problemo,” he assured us. “I’ve attended SXSW
numerous times since its inception in 1987. At this stage, I think I can wing
it.” We hereby present the erudite Mr. Mnemonic’s long-distance account of this
year’s SXSW – as he
imagines it might be going down. Guarantee: all dialogue not reported verbatim.

 

Read also: Day 1

Day 2

 

***

 

Day 3: Thursday,
March 18

 

Ask any SXSW oldtimer what’s the main difference between the
first decade or so of the event and now, and to a person, the answer will be
“the size” – many of them will complain that SXSW has gotten too big, and not without some justification.
Where the festival started out as a means of spotlighting up-and-coming artists
and paying tribute to a host of deserving non-mainstream musicians while also
providing a means of connecting up industry professionals who didn’t
necessarily work for some foreign-owned corporation occupying several floors of
a NYC skyscraper, in 2010 it has become, by some estimations, just one huge
protracted exercise in marketing/branding and an even more protracted excuse to
– not to put too fine a point on it – get
really, really fucked up.

 

Doesn’t mean it ain’t a helluva lot of fun. Just sayin’.

 

Based on how I felt this morning when I woke up more or less
in my own bed and in my own clothes but with a pair of shamrock-shaped pasties affixed to my forehead and crimson lipstick on my left earlobe, I can attest to
the latter notion – the getting fucked up part. As a result, today I have
promised myself to stay sober until at least 3 pm, and anyway, I want to hit
some of the panels at the Convention Center. Attendees tend to frown upon
someone who continually stands up, brandishing a beer, to interrupt the
panelists.

 

 

Smokey Robinson is delivering the keynote address this
morning and I can’t miss that. On second thought, maybe I should, as the
well-preserved (like, Botox quality) Motown soul legend delivers platitudes
like “I’m fortunate and blessed to be able to do what I do. I’m never going to
forget that, ever. Keep your feet on the ground — and keep a thick skin.” He
sounds like a goddam motivational speaker. What’s next, sell me a book? A
couple of awkward moments do occur when interviewer and nationally known pop
critic Dave Marsh
apparently forgets where he is on his page of notes and asks,
three times in succession, “So, is there still racism in the music industry?” A
visibly amused Chuck D is spotted down front in the second row, rolling his
eyes and giving the universal “what a dumb honky” up/down motion with his shoulders.
The general consensus among the folks I poll later is that SXSW should have stuck
with their first pick for the keynote, Lemmy from Motorhead, who reportedly got
crossed off the deal when he kept insisting on being able to smoke cigarettes during
the keynote session. Smokey or no Smokey, the Convention Center is smoke-free. Ha-ha, I just made that little pun up!

 

 

I go straight from the keynote to the “Does Rock and Roll
Belong in a Museum?” panel, with the rhetorical thesis being, “Initially, many thought the idea of the
Rock Hall was antithetical to the spirit of rock and roll. Despite its success,
the question of whether rock and roll belongs in a museum persists. What
efforts are being made to preserve this art form?
” Things get lively almost
immediately when Jim Henke, who you may recall has had more than a small hand
in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, gets into a verbal sparring match with Lenny
Kaye, no mean archivist himself but clearly more enamored of the immediacy of rock than its enshrinement. Onstage with the Patti
Smith Group,
Kaye often seems the calm at the eye of the hurricane, but here
he’s in full bitch-slap mode, such as the moment when he jumps up from his
chair and starts screaming at Henke, “I knew Lester Bangs! He would be
mortified to learn that rock music was being stuffed like a dead animal and
propped up in a display case!” Journalist Ann Powers, also on the panel, but with
rumors swirling about another round of pink slips coming down at the Los Angeles Times is reportedly vying
for a job at the Rock Hall herself, diplomatically keeps mum through all this and
busies herself updating her Facebook page and Twittering about the panel (“OMG,
LK just spit on JH, I think I will get chile cheese corndog after this is
over”).

 

En route to another panel, I happen to spot Dave Marsh
strolling down the corridor, barking into his cell, as a small, sweatily
earnest entourage that looks suspiciously like aspiring music journalists trails
in his wake. Hold on – I don’t think those two African-American guys on the
periphery are entourage per se, as
they are doing that up/down shoulder thing. Score!
SXSW meme spotted!
Or at the very least, somebody’s being mocked here, but
far be it from me to get involved.

 

 

That next panel: “Where Goes English Folk Music?” Thesis: English folk music has been used as a rich
source of material for everyone from Bob Dylan to Devendra Banhart, but it has
been frequently written off as dowdy and irrelevant. What place do old,
anonymous ballads, passed down over the centuries, have in the modern pop
pantheon? An exciting panel…”
Whoops, no it isn’t. Next.

 

 

Ergo: “Merge Makes Noise”. Thesis: “Merge Records principals share stories from
the book
Our Noise and answer
questions from author Michael Azerrad. From modest beginnings documenting the Chapel Hill scene, Merge has evolved into a highly
regarded independent label nurturing significant acts such as Spoon and Arcad
e
Fire.” This is a lot of fun since it has Mac and Laura from Merge/Superchunk
reading passages from the Merge oral history that was published last year while
Azerrad tosses in little contextual quips. They have the audience, comprised
almost exclusively of 30-somethings like myself who grew up on Merge, in a rapt
state, one which turns to rowdy delight when a pair of surprise guests saunters
onto the panel stage: Britt Daniel, from Spoon, and his old Elektra Records
A&R nemesis Ron Laffitte. Spoon, of course, had ripped Laffitte a new one a
decade ago with their “The Agony of Laffitte” single, detailing his mishandling
of their career, and ultimately rendering the music executive a music industry
punchline. Apparently time heals all wounds, however, for Daniel and Laffitte
now embrace warmly before sitting down to join the discussion; they even laugh
about their warring days, with Laffitte going so far as to call his former
Elektra boss Sylvia Rhone “a serial bitch.”

 

 At the end everyone brings out guitars, Laffitte and Azerrad
included, to perform a massed version of Superchunk’s “Slack Motherfucker.” For
an indie rock devotee like me, you couldn’t ask for a better present.

 

Whoah – I’m starving. Time to head downtown for some grub. I
text my roomie Artie, who was long gone by the time I woke up, to see if he can
pick me up and drive me down to south Austin, but he doesn’t hit me back, so I
start walking. At the corner of 6th and San
Jacinto I spot Ann Powers camped out next to a vendor’s cart,
apparently making good on her Tweet. I’m in more of a barbecue mood, however,
so I opt for the dude across the street whose specialty this year has turned
out to be astoundingly popular: pulled pork drenched in caliente sauce and wrapped up in a massive flour tortilla. Wow, I
am going to be shitting fire later tonight, but it’s worth it. Maybe I can
score some pain pills from someone… While squatting on the curb I spot Cary Baker,
majordomo of p.r. agency Conqueroo, walking past, and I call him over to
congratulate him on another Guitar Town/Conqueroo SXSW kickoff party (see
yesterday’s report), adding that I was still disappointed not to get my usual
emailed copy of his annual compendium of SXSW day parties and events – Cary’s
as legendary for that as he is for his many exploits in the music biz for the
past few decades. He grimaced, then explained that he actually had sent it out, but as SXSW parties
have now officially outpaced the actual showcases that badgeholders and
wristband wearers are paying to see, his 917-page word document (up in size
somewhat from last year’s 56-pager) wound up crashing servers and clogging
email inboxes across the board. “Next year, I’m just gonna Twitter that shit,”
he added.

 

 

One thing I’m pretty excited about this evening is seeing
the premiere of the rock biopic The
Runaways
, so I hoof it over to the Paramount Theatre. It’s not bad,
although the music’s way better than the acting, but as it officially opens in
theaters in the U.S.
today, I’ll let you read the reviews and decide for yourself. Meanwhile,
though, in attendance are the stars, Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning, plus
director Floria Sigismondi and Cherie Currie from the band. Significantly, Joan
Jett is not on hand, which is
probably a good thing.

 

 After the screening, while all the girls are onstage taking
applause
, an obviously plastered Jacqueline Fuchs, aka “Jackie Fox,” the
original Runaways bassist who was essentially written out of the film due to a
legal dispute
, runs down front screaming obscenities and promising to “stick a
goddam cherry bomb up everyone’s asses before we’re done here!” Apparently
Fuchs/Fox and Jett have had a longstanding beef over lingering band issues, and
the film has aggravated matters even further. Cat fight!

 

 

I notice Kim Fowley standing over to the side, near the
left-hand exit sign, with a Cheshire-like grin. Spotting him in the audience at
the Bellrays show later that night I will ask him, “So, what was that all about
at the screening?” And he fills me in on the behind-the-scenes drama
surrounding the film, and Fuchs, and how he’s “sorta been playing Joan and
Jackie off each other” in his various contacts with them. “Just like I used to
do with the band in the ‘70s!” he crows, beaming. I grin back, then try out
that up/down shoulder thing on him. He just stares at me blankly, as if I’d
asked him to recite all the American presidents in order. So much for SXSW
memes.

 

Way back in the first paragraph I was talking about the
convergence of marketing/branding and getting blitzed at SXSW: no better
example of that can be found at this year’s festival than at the Stone Temple
Pilots’ StubHub showcase at the Austin
Music Hall out on the
western end of the downtown area. It’s almost as teeth-gratingly annoying as
the Metallica show last year at Stubbs (and possibly more so since I was able
to walk to Stubbs while the cab drive to the AMH costs 12 bucks), for the
simple reason that Metallica and STP are, or at least should be, the antithesis
of what SXSW is all about, crass commercialism dressed up to look like rebellion,
with a side dish of Hooters-type girls shoving handbills into your face every
time you turned around.

 

After waiting in line for an eternity I finally gain
admittance in time to see the last song from TAB the Band, which is apparently
the group that Joe Perry of Aerosmith’s two sons formed, and which I’d suggest
a name change to something that sticks in the mind a bit easier – like, SUCK As
A Band. From the mountains of gear the group has you wouldn’t expect the kind of
niggling garage rock that comes out of the PA, although the main attraction here
actually appears to be the four-rows-deep cougar brigade that’s crowded down
front, woo-hooing and high-fiving at every move the singer makes. Said brigade
steadily grows in size during the wait for STP until it resembles an entire
assembled nunnery minus the funky headgear. Women in their forties need to
avoid camisoles and feathered hair. And those butterfly tattoos on their
shoulders just make them look desperate.

 

 

 

The band comes on and pretty much the first thing Weiland
does is make a shameless plug for product: “The reason why we’re touring
right now is we’re about to put out a new album.” And from that point on it’s
corporate rock by the numbers, just like it’s the early ‘90s again – hey, I
understand Alice In Chains is touring too! The cougar nuns go wild for all the
hits and I see an army of journalists scribbling furiously whenever a new song
is played, and I also see a couple of shoving matches and some beers getting
tossed and some seriously stoned motherfuckers zoning out. Hey, it’s an
old-school RAWK SHOW, baby, none of that limp-wristed indiepop shit, and to
prove it, somebody disembalms Doors guitarist Robby Krieger in time to guest on
a boozy version of his old band’s “Roadhouse Blues.
” Jeez, Robby looks like my
dear departed 90-year-old granddad shortly before we had to put him on the ventilator.

 

 

I can’t take this charade, so I cut out early to beat the
crowd and manage to catch one of the shuttles into town. En route, a
surprisingly chatty fellow passengers engages me in conversation and I soon
learn he is in possession of a big ol’ sackful of Percocets. This strikes me as
the perfect way to revive my delicate sensibilities, having been numbed from an
overdose of TAB and STP, so we engage in the time-honored barter system: we
detour over to my hotel room, him huffing several lines worth of Colombia’s
main export and me washing down a pair o’ Percs with the quarter-bottle of
Tequila that somehow magically appeared on the nightstand between yesterday
evening and this morning. “Boo-yahhh!” he hollers, for no particular reason, and
away we go on our respective itineraries.

 

 

First stop: Prague,
over on Congress, just in time for the Jim Jones Revue. Jones used to be in
Thee Hypnotics, and the BLURT editors advised me not to miss him, and I am not
disappointed as his group emits an amped-up take on early rock ‘n’ roll that’d
singe Little Richard’s mustache clean off. With Kid Congo Powers’ Pink Monkey
Birds up next, followed by The BellRays, it’s a retro rock and soul party at
the Prague like
nobody’s business.

 

 

I realize I had promised myself to take it easy tonight, but
the Percs have kicked in big time so I’m in the mood to wander and socialize. Second
stop: the Encore Patio (Red River), just as
Camper Van Beethoven are coming on, and they’ll be followed by Cracker, which
makes for a David Lowery double-dip that can’t be beat. Unfortunately everyone’s
buzz gets shaved when, during Camper’s set, Lowery gets an electrical shock,
which sends him into a hissy fit: “This place is bullshit!” he screamed. “Don’t
ever come here again! Don’t ever spend any money here if you like Camper Van
Beethoven.” Out of the corner of my eye I see the bartender huddling furiously
with the two doormen and another bouncer, who is now glaring at Lowery like
Mike Tyson about to come out of his corner. Memo
to bands: don’t scream at the employees of a venue, at least not until you are
finished and your gear has been packed away.
Sensing trouble and intent on
maintaining my mellow disposition, I make my exit and decide to head down to
Stubb’s.

 

Good choice. Drive-By Truckers are in full flight when I get
there, although I have to listen to them while standing in line as my “virtual
reporter” pitch to the folks at the entrance doesn’t work for me this time like
they did Wednesday at the NPR showcase (see yesterday’s report). But I’m in for
Band of Horses, followed by Broken Social Scene, and here late at night in Austin under the big ol’ Texas moon, the music washes over me like an
emotional tsunami. I wave my arms in the air like I just don’t care, knocking a
few beers out of the hands of the folks on either side of me, but like I said, I just don’t care.

 

 

Two Hooters girls walk past me, and in an impulsive move, I
yank all their handbills away from them and toss ‘em up in the air, and as they
flutter down delicately over the crowd, glistening in the multicolored Stubb’s
spotlights, a huge cheer erupts, which turns out to be because the Drive-By
Truckers’ Patterson Hood has just appeared during BSS’ set to do a stage dive but
in my addled state I think it’s for my act of symbolic rebellion. A pair of
hamhock-sized hands grabs me by the shoulders and I am escorted speedily from
the venue. En route I twist around and do the up/down shoulder thing, but
apparently Stubb’s bouncers aren’t down with the SXSW meme thing. No problemo, amigo. Life is sweet when
you’re young and single, a good buzz on, and partying on a national music
magazine’s expense account.

 

 

 

To be continued.

 

 

***

 

Johnny Mnemonic is the
pseudonym of a “highly-regarded” national writer with, he advises us, over two
decades’ experience working as a music critic, reporter, editor and marketing
consultant. We’ve never met him face-to-face, and he further advises he will be
delivering his blogs to us via the “double blind drop-box method,” whatever
that is, to ensure his anonymity.

 

 

 

 

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