Bands on the Run

Road-tripping to Texas for South by Southwest

They did it so you wouldn't have to. Musicians, critics, and publicists the world over traveled to Austin, Texas, for the latest installment of South by Southwest, the four-day showcase of up-and-coming indie artists and a few bigger names. If you didn't go, you were spared the weeklong hangover. But you didn't escape this flippant A-Z guide.

 

ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE Everything hip is hippie again. This Krautrock freakout features Japanese guys who never once open their eyes while wringing out over-the-top guitar wank. Listeners either shrug about the overblown hype or tout the band as out-rock genius. The best AMT verdict I hear comes from an angry man who covers his ears while exiting the club where the band is performing: "Too loud! Too loud!"

 

BATS The best performance in all of SXSW: the winged rodents who sleep beneath Austin's Congress Avenue bridge, signaling the rock 'n' roll to begin every night. Around sundown, just when bands are gearing up for their gigs, a dark exodus of wee vampiric creatures floats up into the sky while pedestrians stop and watch with mouths agape. Humans muse: This is undeniably stirring. Bugs gasp: We're all gonna die!

 

THE CATHETERS Mudhoney-ish Seattle quartet made up of very young stoner punks. After getting tangled in his own microphone chord, lead screecher Brian Standeford launches himself face-first into the crowd. At which point the confused audience moves back and politely makes way for Standeford to plant his nose directly into their shoes.

 

THE DWARVES Does the world really need more gross-out grunge sloppiness? Does it really crave more song titles like "Let's Fuck," "Motherfucker," "Fuck You Up and Get High," and "Fuckhead"? Does it really want more opportunities to see frontman Blag Dahlia naked onstage? Yes. Oh yes.

 

ED HARCOURT Question: Is this Brit crooner a heterosexual Rufus Wainwright or Suede's Brett Anderson fronting Starsailor? Answer: Who cares?

 

FALL IN TICKET SALES This year, SXSW sold 15 percent fewer tickets than last year. My cabdriver tries to convince me that this year's crowd is different: Attendees used to be nice, big-business music execs and now they're just broke fans, she says. I fall into the latter category. The cabbie fails to milk a big tip out of me.

 

GOLIGHTLY, HOLLY Little white singer-songwriter (and former member of Thee Headcoatees) snarls the blues like a one-woman White Stripes. Somewhere, indie rockers torn between folk and garage are discovering their next big thing. Somewhere else, Son House is laughing his ass off.

 

HIP HOP While hip hop and electronic music currently seem like the last bastions of this country's musical experimentation, Austin's music is still practicing its harmonica. Yet even with the countless singer-songwriters and alt-country icons, there are still one or two performances at SXSW that surprise you. Aesop Rock, Anti-Pop Consortium, El-P, and Prefuse 73 get the crowd pumping their fists at Biz 3's hip-hop showcase. The MCs among them even freestyle in the street when the showcase is over. The lineup may not be an accurate sign of the times for SXSW, but it certainly is an indication of progress.

 

"I'M NOT GONNA BE A HOUSE NIGGER ANYMORE!" Thus spoke SXSW keynote babbler Courtney Love about her position within the music industry. This from a woman who once complained that her housekeeper did not serve tea with the correct milk-to-steeped-water ratio? Oh well. Ms. Love isn't too concerned about staying on-subject: When asked about her attempts to unionize rock stars, she points out which of her enemies wear toupees or stock their medicine cabinets with pharmaceuticals. Who knows if there was a larger point in there anywhere--but a woman's got to know where to go raiding in a pinch.

 

JOSH ROUSE Depressive singer-songwriter discovers Americana. No, he won't replace Ryan Adams. Or Bryan Adams, for that matter.

 

KAITO A friend of mine sees KaitO play at a midday Austin house party and reports back on the Norwich art-pop quartet's fuzzy guitars and sweetie-pie vocals--like Solex spazzing out in front of Sonic Youth. I am intrigued. And afraid.

 

LESSER AND BLEVIN BLECHTUMLive laptop burble. A collaboration between Matador's hip-blip-clip-clop artist and half of California duo Blechtum From Blechdom. A mythic film of Blevin in bizarre sunglasses, roaming forests and beaches with some strange calculator thing, accompanies the performance. Apparently the two electronic artists can do more with their hands than maneuver the Mac's mouse: After the show, they are spotted in some rather friendly embraces.

 

THE MENDOZA LINE Harmonizing preciously and shaking the tambourine in front of a large crowd at the Red Room, this Brooklyn group plays nothing more than capable indie pop. Yawn. But smile afterward.

 

NUMBER SXSW has yours. Check out these great bands with digits. The Stratford 4: sounds like the depressive My Bloody Valentine lightening up. Should we sob over the end of sobbing? Radio 4: like the Clash trying out urbane chord progressions and an Urban Outfitters wardrobe. America dances in protest.

 

OK GO Left brain says: Disgustingly generic pop! Right brain says: But me like shake booty!

 

PINK AND BROWN I'd pay good money to be harassed by Pink and Brown. The San Francisco noise duo grab audience members, scream, flail around, and make flying leaps off the speakers, which quiver with their bluesy, art-punk sound. Oh, and did I mention that the guitarist and drummer perform in full-body suits (with holes for the eyes, mouth, and armpits, of course) in the titular colors? If John Waters ever directs a musical about spastic bank robbers, he'll know whom to cast.

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