SXSW 2012: A Veritable Smorgasbord



Blurt’s Senior Editor
chimes in with his picks for SXSW 2012 including Gary Lucas, Wo Fat, The Pimps
of Joytime, Patricia Vonne, Donovan, Thee Oh Sees, Garland Jeffreys and the
Jesus and Mary Chain.





After three hours of sitting on the runway at Dallas/Forth
Worth International Airport with no A/C and really annoying seat buddies, a quick dinner and early bedtime sounded better than
diving right into the evening showcases. El Sol y La Luna – Blurt’s favorite Mexican food stop
(R.I.P. Las Manitas) was handy, and someone was tuning up onstage, so it kinda
qualified as seeing something. Anything.
Then Robert Rodriguez walked in.


At least it looked like the guy who made so many of Blurt’s favorite films (El Mariachi, Desperado, Machete, From Dusk Till Dawn). It was tough to
tell, ‘cause he stayed for about 30 seconds, then hit the road. We entertained
thoughts of chasing him down, but didn’t wanna lose our table. Then someone
familiar started checking her mic.


You don’t mistake Patricia
sultry, high-lonesome voice. She’s a deadly draw, and to watch her
is to stare down the barrel of a gun you want to blow you away. And she does, with story songs – like her tribute to Joe Ely,
“Joe’s Gone Ridin’” – that fuse dusty Americana
with a Latin influence and, at times, a Gun Club darkness. And although Salma
Hayek is the one and only Santánico Pandemonium, Vonne gives her a run for her
money when she brings out the castanets and dances. If you weren’t already
agape from her songs and her voice, her moves seal the deal.


So when you see your favorite filmmaker* walking out the
door, along with your only chance to meet him, Vonne is the reason you stick
around. Like Alejandro Escovedo says, “She plays castanets/She works without a


(*It had to be him; Vonne’s his sister. She also played
Zorro Girl in Sin City.)





Energized, and prodded by Blurt managing editor Fred Mills, who serendipitously appeared for
some of Vonne’s set and an itinerary full of made decisions, the night


We caught about half of The
Wedding Present’s
set at Swan Dive, watching from the back bar. Although we
could only see bassist Pepe, so it was a bit like listening to the recordings,
we knew we’d catch the Weddoes on Saturday at the Blurt party at The Gingerman Pub.





From there it was on to the Red 7 Patio where we meant to
see Lee Fields & the Expressions but instead were treated to Thee Oh Sees. Turns out the band was
late, so we got to see the whole set, which was a feast of manic, reverby
surf-noise. Frontguy John Dwyer worked a sweet acrylic body/aluminum neck
guitar that looked like, but may not have been, the work of the Electrical Guitar
Company’s Kevin Burkett. Either way, it was like fuckin’ Excalibur in Dwyer’s
hands. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, Carson Daly jumped
onstage, at Dwyer’s behest, to play drums – and crushed it. Who’da thunk it? If
Daly has such good taste, how can he stand hosting The Voice? Didn’t he already do his time with TRL?





Anyway, after that display of rock majesty, at least one of
us was pooped. Luckily, there was music to be heard at the hotel: UK
quintet The Dunwells on the
Creekside annex of the Hilton Garden Inn, and Freedy Johnston on the 18th floor of the HGI proper. Too
bad they had the same time slot. Three songs of The Dunwell’s Mumford-esque set
went down smooth, almost like lullabies. Likewise, Freedy Johnston’s sedate
acoustic power pop. Got there just in time to catch two favorites, “This
Perfect World” and “Bad Reputation,” Johnston’s
first and biggest hit. The story of the first time FJ heard it on the radio –
in a convenience store with no one around except an oblivious employee – was a
fine way to lead into the song, which was a sublime end to the evening.








After trawling the trade show booths for free candy to
supplement another El Sol breakfast, there were only two shows to hit as far as
Thursday went. Sure, there was plenty of good stuff on the sked, but
opportunities to see Garland Jeffreys and The Jesus and Mary Chain don’t
come along frequently enough.


Jeffreys, playing Day Two of Blurt’s series of Gingerman parties, rocked the house with a tight
set of hits from “Modern Lovers” to “Wild in the Streets” to his cover of “96
Tears” by Question Mark and the Mysterians. We clapped like toddlers every time
Jeffreys jumped off the stage and onto the picnic tables, treating the
Gingerman patio like an arena. Talk about giving it all.






The Jesus and Mary Chain’s midnight
set time at The Belmont left plenty of time to kill, so it was off to the
Reeperbahn Festival party at Downtown Burgers. It was one hell of a long line
for the free food, but it was totally worth it. People-watching netted a rare
sighting of an ostensible weirdo in orange spandex with a cowboy hat and a Cortez-meets-Rollie
Fingers ‘stache. So that was nice.


Jordi, a new friend from Spain,
proffered a CD by a band called Seward,
about whom he waxed rhapsodic while we waited for our Reeperburgers. Turns out he’d
gone to a club back home intending to see maybe 15 minutes of Seward’s set, and
wound up staying the entire night – previous engagements be damned. Then he insisted
they allow him to manage them.


Everything Seward does, he said, is counterintuitive in
these days of social networking and self-promotion. No Facebook, no MySpace. Barely
a website. And that disc he dropped? He had to talk them into recording them
for SXSW, as they were content to wait until their new platter, produced by
Matt Pence (Centro-matic, American Music Club), was done. Jordi said the band wants
people to come to the shows, then spread the word via old-school word-of-mouth.
They were playing at The Hideout on Friday night, but it conflicted with
something else. Days later, driving around back home, the CD backed up Jordi’s
near fanaticism. He’d mentioned a hypnotic live performance, and threw out tags
like “progressive” and “indie folk.” Listening to the band, a sextet wielding
acoustic and electric instruments – with a singer that channels Kermit the Frog,
Tiny Tim and Baby Dee (it sounds fucked up, but it’s not), you get goosebumps.
It’s an odd flight that manically dips and soars and, like some strange things,
is ultimately beautiful and transcendent.






On the way out, the orange dude caught me. Turns out we had
a mutual friend and, when Alexander Antebi produced a trading card showing him
with laser eyes and fuzzy Commie headwear, he was suddenly familiar. On a
late-night search for an obscure late-nineties Scottish AOR band, YouTube
recommended a video by an LA band called Conquistador.
Antebi fronts the band, which is an amalgam of Bowie, Queen, P-Funk, 80s pop
and synth-pop, disco, psych, gypsies, pirates – conquistadors, of course – and
the introspection of a sensitive oddball who’s been told many times he doesn’t
fit in, but is actually more normal than most people.


CONQUISTADOR (stream five tracks, download one):





When a band like the Jesus and Mary Chain plays SXSW, you
need to arrive early even if it means skipping other stuff you wanna see. Best
intentions aside, we still spent too long standing stupidly in the cash-only
proletariat line, watching them set up a JAMC merch table and listening to a
band that sounded better with every song. Once inside among hundreds of folks
who had the same early-entry idea, we learned the band on stage was Arkells, from Hamilton,
Ontario, Canada.
The 80s-influenced indie pop songs – with a definite Spoon-y streak – kept
getting better, too, until the bouncy, anthemic “Kiss Cam” sealed the deal:
They were an uxpected SXSW miracle and a new Blurt favorite. Catch them touring the States through May 25.


ARKELLS (full album stream):





Now, back to the Jesus
and Mary Chain
. Not to tempt fate, but it’s a wonder they’re even bothering
to attempt a reunion (if that’s what they’re calling it), given the Reid
brothers’ concept of brotherly love is, shall we say, non-traditional. The band
stalked in through the bar-side entrance, heads down, noticed only by the fans
populating a long white bench while Titus Andronicus played. Just the way, one
reckons, they wanted.


When they took the stage, they hardly acknowledged the
fervent applause and whistles. Nobody expected otherwise, and the adulation
swelled as the band started to play. It wasn’t long, just a few songs, before Jim
R. cursed and stopped twice to tell William he needs to tune his instrument.
Chalk it up to being part of the show; a lot of bands have pyrotechnics – the
JAMC just does it differently. Everyone else was hanging on the songs, anyway. The
first strains of “Head On,” for example, were met with delirious cheers.


Those are the best SXSW shows. The ones where everyone
there, regardless of the role they play in the “industry,” is reduced to a
fanboy/girl. The ones where you have to
show up early – the SXSW version of the lost tradition of camping out the night
before tickets go on sale – in order to get in, and you’re rewarded many times
over. The ones where several songs elicit the reaction afforded “Head On.” The
ones where you don’t mind that your glimpses of the band come between bobbing
heads and swaying hands.


The walk home, Psychocandy T-shirt in hand, was soundtracked by a reprise of the song already
mentioned, now impossible to silence in one’s head: “And the way I feel
tonight/I could die and I wouldn’t mind…”








Friday is always the day where your feet are sore and the
whole SXSW experience flirts with drudgery. Run-walking from venue to venue
gets old and some parties and showcases lose their allure. Well, not our party. (Whew… nice save, right?)
Funny how it’s this same day/night, when you somewhat reluctantly drag yourself
out of bed and hit the bricks, that you see some of the best shows. If you


Latino indie pop group Y
La Bamba
made a good first stop in the air-conditioned Convention Center.
But seeing this band live makes you love their album Court the Storm – and singer Luzelena Mendoza’s heavenly voice –
even more. It was a short set, maybe four songs, over far too soon.





The dB’s set at Blurt’s day-three party almost was a
casualty of ennui and fatigue – the Gingerman was packed and even Blurt staffers had to heed the “one-out,
one-in” policy. Luckily it wasn’t a long wait, and I caught most of the set
(albeit from a couch in back of the venue). That’s another type of SXSW show
where each song is a memory and, as with the JAMC last night and The Posies and
American Music Club in years past, there’s a sense of fellowship among fans. Again
heads bobbed and necks craned, as everyone tried to glimpse Chris Stamey and
Peter Holsapple as they traded their signature jangly power pop songs.





You may already have heard about the giant, Rick-rolling
Doritos vending machine in the parking lot of high-falutin’ Italian restaurant,
Carmelo’s. It was more than a little vulgar, with partygoers dumping giant
quarters into the machine in hopes of winning a prize (usually a bag of the new
product) and doing so for the Doritos cameras. And with the stage occupying the
place where the goodies are usually dispensed – making each act a sort of
“prize,” well, that was tough to swallow. BTW, thanks for killing the best
fajita stand in Austin.


It was best just to focus on the music. Chali 2na of defunct hip-hop legends Jurassic 5, crushed it like a
bag of free chips. The self-proclaimed “verbal Herman Munster”
served up rhymes about freedom, revolution and graffiti as well as some J5
classics (“Quality Control”) and a smokin’ version of the Jackson
5 hit “I Want You Back” – with keyboardist Anthony Brewster from backing band
the House of Vibe doing a note-perfect Michael Jackson vocal impression.







From there, it was a race to the Beauty Bar Backyard to see
another Blurt favorite, The Pimps of Joytime. If you like
old-school funk like Larry Graham and Graham Central Station, pre-Around the World in A Day Prince – and
his protégés The Time, Sheila E.’s trademark Latin percussion and just a taste
of new-school electronic music, then you need the Pimps in your life. Frontguy-guitarist Brian J is a full-on star, with
chops and presence to rival anyone mentioned above. They had that little white
backyard tent sweating like pigs – and clapping like toddlers for ice cream –
by the time the set was over. Alas, there wasn’t a merch table in sight –
otherwise, they would have sold out of everything.






That would’ve been the time to go out on top, but SXSW just
isn’t SXSW without a heaping plate of stoner rock. This year, Texas
trio Wo Fat takes the prize for
balls-out, fucking awesomeness. Crammed into the Headhunters Patio, the trio
played their horror-film inspired jams literally in the fans’ faces. Singer-guitarist
Kent Stump wrung giant
Godzilla riff after Godzilla riff from his wood-finish Gibson Thunderbird and
played solos so sick you wanted to complain that he didn’t have a stage – fuck
that, a skyscraper – to play on so
he’d look as big as he sounded. It just didn’t seem right to be looking down at the guy while he rocked
everyone’s faces off.


After that one-two punch, it was quittin’ time.








There was only one way for this day to start, and that’s
with a screening of Coffin Joe’s This Night I Will Possess Your Corpse with
a live score by Gary Lucas
. Lucas, you may already know, is the guitar
maestro behind Jeff Buckley. And Captain Beefheart, Nick
Cave, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and a
veritable shitload of other huge talents. Lucas, notwithstanding his
associations but also by them, is no slouch his own self. The man plays guitar
like he is one, and that’s something Blurt reveres. That, and horror films.


The Coffin Joe flicks, directed by and starring Brazilian
auteur José Mojica Marins, focus on the exploits of it titular character – a
demented perv in undertaker’s garb with thick, disgusting fingernails. By now
his motivations are cliché: He wants to sire a successor and he’s looking for
the right woman – one without fear – to carry Joe Jr. Each film is a creepy
blend of exploitation, acid trips and German Expressionism. That is to say, for
horror and exploitation fans, they’re heartrending works of art.


Juxtapose it with Lucas’s guitar work – ranging from tense
electric slide squalls to dusty acoustic desert-twang – and it’s… fuckin’
magical. And in the cool, posh, spacious Alamo Ritz theater on a hot, muggy day
in Austin, you can’t do much
better. That’s why you don’t wait for the late-night version, where SXSW Music
badgeholders can get in for free. The ten bucks to attend the SXSW Film
screening was more than worth it, and left plenty of scratch to hit Lucas’s
overflowing merch table afterward.





From there it was a walk on clouds to the Gingerman for day
four of the Blurt festivities. We
strolled in just in time to see a couple of songs by The Hobart Brothers (Freedy Johnston, Jon Dee Graham and Susan
Cowsill), then a repeat performance by The
Wedding Present
– a full set this time, with a better view. The Weddoes
packed the place, and everyone stuck around to see Tommy Stinson – late of the Replacements, current bass player of
Guns N’ Roses – play a solo set that left one wondering why the dude’s been a
second banana for so long. Maybe he’s just good at it. But this set proved he’s
good at a lot of things.


Every year there’s an actor band at SXSW, but Creed Bratton had to be different. The Office curmudgeon/fearsome lunatic
was a member of the 1960s band The Grass Roots and has been putting out solo
stuff for years. At the slightly out-of-the-way Palm Door that night, the crowd
alternated between “I wonder if this guy’s gonna be any good” and “Can you
believe fucking Donovan is playing


Bratton looked like a dignified elder statesman of rock ‘n’
roll, kind of a hybrid of Peter Noone (Herman’s Hermits) and Alan Thicke – you
know, that sort of debonair dad-rocker. Nobody expected him to be psycho-Creed,
the character, but it was certainly different to see him playing breezy,
slightly twangy rock tunes – along with the occasional anthem like the song we
know only as “One Guitar.” It was a fun little fist-pumper amid a set that was
novel and just north of ‘decent.’


Then again, that could have been the Donovan anticipation talking. From what we heard, the legendary
folkie was a late addition to the bill – a big surprise to a lot of people, who
stayed past Creed, jettisoning whatever plans they had for the 9pm time slot. Again, it was totally worth
sticking around. Donovan played wall-to-wall hits, including the requisite
“Mellow Yellow” and a raucous, set-closing version “Season of the Witch” –
where he was joined by Eric Burdon. Everyone knew he’d be back for the fake
encore, though, as “Hurdy-Gurdy Man” had been conspicuously absent. He came
back, played it, and it killed.







Afterward, White
was rocking the vending machine, more and more betraying a Rush
influence – a good thing, especially since they’re not losing that garage-indie
edge, either. We didn’t stay long, though, ‘cause The Henry Clay People and The
Sheepdogs were playing elsewhere. Sadly, the tiny Soho Lounge was unappealingly
hot and packed – so no THCP this time. No Sheepdogs, either, because some of
us, won’t say who, were too drunk to find the venue which, it turns out, was
right under our red noses.






Good thing we stay at the same place every year, and the
Easy Tiger venue is right there. Peter
Case & Paul Collins,
those legends of power-pop, held court there in
the midnight slot of the Get Hip
showcase. It would’ve been worth seeing that entire lineup, but if there’s one
act to see – especially if you missed them at your own damn party on Friday, it’s these guys. Between the two, they
played the hits of the bands there were in together as well as post-breakup:
The Nerves, the Birminghams, the Beat and The Plimsouls. It was like seeing
four bands at once. Too bad they couldn’t hold it together. ( /news/view/6122/)


But damned if that’s not a good way to call it a year.




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