Austin Powers

Reports from South by Southwest, where a Texas town becomes a mecca of indie music and film

None of Bruntnell's three albums is widely available in the U.S. yet, but he has developed a sturdy reputation across the Atlantic, mostly on the strength of last year's Normal for Bridgwater (slated for imminent stateside release on Slow River/Rykodisc). Twin Citians Jim and Dave Boquist and Eric Heywood of Son Volt fame play on the album, and when Bruntnell sings "Lay Down This Curse" it sounds like he's trying on Jay Farrar's flannel. But elsewhere he forges a more engagingly original identity, particularly with the cryogenics ode "By the Time My Head Gets to Phoenix." (Smith-Lindall)

Thursday, March 16

Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys, Yard Dog Folk Art Gallery, 2:20 p.m.

Kansas City twang-gang Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys lend an air of hard-country credibility to the cow-punk looniness that is the six-hour, ten-band Bloodshot Records tent party. Hobart's voice is mellower than Buck Owens's, but his Boys have polished the Buckaroos' country dancehall sound to a fine sheen that reminds me of countless Wednesday nights spent twirling to Trailer Trash at Lee's. Though the Yard Dog's straw-strewn back yard is too packed to two-step, no one seems to mind. The free beer makes everyone that much more appreciative. Have I been bought? (Sparks)

The Forty Fives, Stubb's BBQ, 9:00 p.m.

Forty Fives keyboardist Trey Tidwell's doughy face is the scariest thing I've seen in Austin so far. Capping his 300-pound frame, the visage matches the abandon of his mates, who look like the Ramones but dress like Buddy Holly and the Crickets. It's starting to rain at Stubb's, and the temperature has dropped 20 degrees in the twister's wake. But everyone is transfixed by the hard-driving band onstage and Tidwell's manic tongue wagging between chain-smokes behind his Hammond B3 organ. (Sparks)

Ryan Adams, Stubb's BBQ, 11:00 p.m.

The saggy, baggy guy in the rumpled suit standing next to me looks familiar. When Peter Bruntnell isn't sucking pink drinks through a straw, he listens intently as Whiskeytown frontman Ryan Adams struggles to follow the fiery Philly quartet Marah with a sit-down set of new solo material.

Adams seems to have outgrown his infamous self-destructive phase. Hair cropped and neatly combed, he jokes with the crowd and makes eyes at co-vocalist Kim Richey, whose wispy harmonies don't quite match Adams's whiskeyed tone. Right now he's upbeat, for a guy mired in label limbo (Outpost folded before they could release Whiskeytown's album). At his band's showcase the next night, Adams would introduce his new songs as "from our album called It's Never Gonna Fucking Come Out." (Smith-Lindall)

Supagroup, Millennium Events Center, 3:05 a.m.

Rumor had it earlier in the day that the Mekons would play an invite-only after-party at this windowless warehouse, which is distinguished only by a plastic banner above the door stating the venue's ill-fitting name. Inside, the air is chilly and dank, and that's not the Mekons onstage. But much to the credit of the New Orleans-based Supagroup, I'm quickly drunk on their heady punch, which is equal parts Van Halen bombast and Buzzcocks levity. Who can resist the insistent thrust of two-minute, two-chord anthems like "Humpy Joe"? Not Sweden's Backyard Babies, who are crowded down front, waving the sign of the beast. (Smith-Lindall)

Friday, March 17

Tom House, Cactus Café, 8:00 p.m.

A mix tape containing only songs by Supagroup and Nashville songwriter Tom House would be the perfect soundtrack for bipolar disorder. Old enough to be Supagroup's weird uncle, House barely moves onstage, leaning over his acoustic guitar and into the microphone much as the crowd cranes to catch his words. House's three albums (the latest is Til You've Seen Mine, released this year on Catamount) are cantankerous and densely wordy. But here in the basement of the University of Texas Union, House's finely cut tales are given breath through fingerpicked figures and a trembling half-yodel. (Smith-Lindall)

The Flametrick Subs, Stubb's BBQ, 10:00 p.m.

Austin's Flametrick Subs have the unenviable task of opening for twang-heir-gone-punk Hank Williams III. If only they sounded as good as they look: The male lead singer is decked out in a leopard-skin smoking jacket, and dancing amid the band's raunch 'n' roll are five buxom twentysomethings clad in vinyl cheerleading outfits and equipped with pom-poms, the number 666 sewn onto their chests.

One of the girls dances on an amp behind the drummer, high above the stage. Bad move--that's Hank's amp, and when he comes out for his set, he's not happy. Grousing that he can't get the right kind of distortion for his acoustic guitar, he plays three songs and storms off stage, trailed by boos from the crowd. (Sparks)

Saturday, March 18

Anna Fermin's Trigger Gospel, Antone's, 9:00 p.m.

Trigger Gospel's sound may be country, but their comportment is slick, onstage and off. The band delivers a fast-paced set drawn mostly from the Chicago band's Lloyd Maines-produced debut disc, Things to Come (self-released). Industry types are everywhere, but I'm chatting with a bearded, bespectacled fellow named Hayseed, a No Depression-approved singer-songwriter who tells me he's Anna Fermin's biggest fan. She has the bold voice of a young Wynonna, and the group has trouble breaking down their set because of all the postshow attention and mixing in the wings. (Sparks)

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