Maybe there should have been a moment when we realized we might be partying a little too hard. Say, Friday morning at 2:00 a.m., when we were ready to convince the dude at the tattoo parlor that he should ink SXSW onto our arms even though we couldn't remember how to spell it. Or Saturday morning at 3:00 a.m., when we left the Slayer dance party where a discoing man in fishnets climbed up on a table and flashed his goods to the rest of the room. But really, it was probably Sunday morning at 4:00 a.m. a few hours after a chance meeting with Johnny Knoxville, when I found myself speeding down the street in a grease-smeared shopping cart. At that point, we should have just packed up the kiddie pool full of fireworks and gone home.
And yet, during the five days that City Pages copy editor Bridgette Reinsmoen and I spent in Austin, Texas at the 18th annual SXSW music festival, we never once considered bailing on the thousands of bands, publicists, record-label impresarios, writers, and fans who gather each year to see live music and cut their lives short by a few years in the process. Why? Because, as you'll learn in the following SXSW recap, we're devoted to our jobs. Because we love music. And because we hear Johnny Knoxville is an easy lay.
Wednesday, March 17
Yuppie Pricks at Pyramids, 9:00 p.m. They look like meek prep school boys who lip sync to MC5 songs in front of the mirror. But crank those amps up to 11, throw them a stack of industrial-strength guitar picks, saddle up the drummer with a few dynamite sticks, and you can bet they'll rock as ferociously as...well, as meek prep school boys who lip sync to MC5 songs in front of the mirror. The Pricks' Bret Easton Ellis conservative punk shtick may be intended as parody, but at a time when even the Misfits' Michale Graves is running a right-wing website, their reactionary punk ethos tends to excite crowds for the wrong reasons. While the Austin band rips through three-chord band practice songs like "Hummer in my Hummer," "Poverty Sucks" (subtitled "I'm glad I'm not poor like you") and "Boo Fucking Hoo" (the theme for bleeding-heart liberals), I notice some dude with a "Vote Bush" pin cheering along. Still, these suit-and-tie Yuppies are careful not to align themselves with such accessories. "A lot of people think that we're lifelong Republicans," says one blazered band member. "But we don't belong to the Republican party. The only party we like is the coke party."
Pelican at Emo's Jr., 11:20 p.m. I hear my mouth saying, "One day, this band will rule the world." And for once, my brain agrees wholeheartedly with what my mouth says about instrumental stoner-metal--even though my mouth refuses to bribe it with psychotropic mushrooms. With time-signature changes that my friend Andrew Bonazelli says cause the kind of whiplash your insurance company won't cover, the proggy Chicagoans grind their way from expertly noodled guitar wankery to epic waves of doom-fueled power-chords. And I become increasingly convinced that Pelican could get all of Earth to pledge their souls to lifelong fandom, even if organ-farming aliens came down to vacuum up the drummer's eyes, the bassist's hands, and a guitarist's ears. Because then there would still be one guitarist left. And that would be enough.
Thursday, March 18
Grandmaster Flash at the Microsoft Party, early evening at a warehouse space My sister, who is here as the music editor of Seattle's the Stranger, notices that the chorus from "Good Times" is playing when the grandfather of rap lets the bad times roll. "When I do this," shouts Flash, playing the sample, "everyone yell 'MSN'!"
People yell all right. But the call and response only yields two colorful words from the crowd, and I don't think either one is "MSN."
Franz Ferdinand at Buffalo Billiards, 12:00 a.m. "I'm just a crosshair/I'm just a shot away from you," croons Franz Ferdinand's Alexander Kapranos to a room so packed with people that the walls should be stretching like sausage casing. A crosshair away? More like a nose hair: The crowd is pushing up so close to Kapranos that we can all see his nostril fringe shiver when he sings. And as his velvet baritone slides through a slighty funky bassline down into a full-fledged, post-punk, burn-down-the-disco breakdown, you can clearly see how this much-hyped Scottish band finagled their way into Next Big Thing status. They're edgier than the Strokes, flirtier than Gang of Four, and catchier than a Yankees glove smeared with pine tar. Though as I stand here surrounded by human sponges who seem to have soaked up all the sweat and pomade in Austin, the band's hooks aren't the only thing I'm stuck on.
Friday, March 19
The Killers at the Spin party at Stubb's, 2:00 p.m. Best lyric sung by these macho Las Vegas synth-rockers: "I hear you have a boyfriend who looks like a girlfriend." The gay man next to me wryly counters, "Yeah, and it's his girlfriend that my boyfriend looks like."