Two Diaries from South by Southwest #19, Part Two

What's the Only Industry That Holds Its Trade Show Around a Keg?

WEDNESDAY

Maggie Mae's, 10:00 p.m.
Wednesday night is a slow one, but not for folks who know about surreal duo Smoosh. The TVs looming over the bar play a washed-out simulcast of the performance. The images seem straight out of a home movie shot by Dad: two little blond girls, like two-thirds of Hanson, play keyboards and drums in the diorama of a grownup-sized stage. But while I was expecting bubbly tunes about shopping and WB heartthrobs, it sounds more like these Seattle preteens have been brooding to Fiona and Tori. Even more unsettling, one is wearing a Jim Morrison T-shirt (I didn't even know they made them that small). Not surprisingly, the crowd favorite is the rap song, in which Blond Girl Number Two deadpans, "Uh-huh, uh-huh, yo yo." Several hipsters whip out camera phones and giggle about how cute the whole thing is, as if they're watching pandas mate.

 

THURSDAY

Copa, 11:00 p.m.
I've been waiting in line for an hour to get into the LCD Soundsystem/M.I.A./Ratatat show. A frustrated concertgoer in front of me announces, "This is the death of South by Southwest." Not willing to admit defeat so easily, I walk to a less popular venue where DeVotchka is playing. The band is listed as avant/experimental in the SXSW guide, but that's like calling Laura Ingalls Wilder a cyberpunk novelist. As the name suggests, DeVotchka embrace the eastern European romance of a tambourine-banging gypsy gathering, sometimes adding a touch of mariachi. As the oom-pa bellows from a sousaphone wrapped in red Christmas lights, a man in a ruffled tuxedo shirt chugs wine from the bottle and croons like he's serenading a balcony beauty. The performance merits swooning girls. None emerge, but a guy in the front row flashes the devil horns.

Sixth & Brazos, midnight
On a busy corner, Mary Lou Lord is carrying out her annual tradition of SXSW sidewalk busking. She struggles to hit the high notes and explains that she's got a cold. When she asks for requests, a guy in a green plastic St. Paddy's hat with a cigarette dangling from his mouth stumbles up and pesters her for a light. She asks if there's a song he'd like to hear and he slurs, "Do you know any hits?" To defuse the situation, I ask for her cover of Daniel Johnston's "Speeding Motorcycle." Drunky ambles away and Mary does her best to play my request in a strained and cracking voice.

 

The 18th Floor at Crowne Plaza, 1:00 a.m.
Former dB's guitarist Chris Stamey is enjoying a modest comeback after recording an album with Yo La Tengo. Tonight he's playing the top floor of a hotel in a room usually reserved for bar mitzvah banquets and business meetings. The view from the window-encased room is spectacular, partly because the masses of green-clad beer boors now look like algae. As a dB, Stamey's jittery art songs landed fewer punches than Peter Holsapple's straightforward power pop, but what I hear tonight swings too far in the other direction. After a few benign and immediately forgettable pop songs, I start thinking that "Tearjerkin'" could really shake things up. But this crowd of sleepy middle-aged men in T-shirts and sports coats isn't looking for rock 'n' roll excitement. We're in a hotel, for chrissake.

 

FRIDAY

Stubb's, 5:00 p.m.
At the Spin party, a painfully hoarse Matt Pinfield announces bands like he's still hosting 120 Minutes--with plenty of trivial history and heavy use of the word "awesome." The New York Dolls finally come out, and although my friend describes their set as "Punkland at Disneyworld," it is impressively tight. Even more remarkable is how David Johansen, like fellow glammers Pop and Bowie, has maintained the eerily gaunt figure of a prepubescent girl.

Buffalo Billiards, 11:00 p.m.
The Go! Team. This is the show I absolutely have to see. This is the show I've been raving about for days. Tomorrow this will be the show I feel a little foolish for endorsing. The British sextet's debut album is an infectious playground jam bursting with cheerleader swagger and A-Team horns. But the group apparently thought their live show needed something extra, something like an overbearing MC hurling words over previously instrumental tracks. When the domineering Ninja demands that we throw our hands in the air, a slice of the audience is entranced while the rest is just a bit frightened. It's enforced fun. The upside is that afterward I have a new sort of appreciation for the album. It's a karaoke disc that's 10 times better without the vocals.

 

SATURDAY

Long Branch Inn, 5:30 p.m.
A short cab ride ends at a bar where U.S.E. are playing an afternoon show. After a brief and freakishly sunny thunderstorm, a half-hour technical delay, and a group hug, U.S.E. leap to their starting positions. Taken by the vocodered melodies of a Daft Punk robot gone awry, we, the party people, are engaged in an uninhibited dance-off. During their last song, the musicians push their way into the jostling crowd, disappearing in a jumble of bouncing, sweaty limbs.

 

Red Eyed Fly, 9:00 p.m.
Tonight is the last night in Austin for most SXSW tourists. Eyes droop involuntarily and a ringing in the ears is inescapable. It takes a special band to entertain a pack of zombies. Portland's Menomena accept the challenge with collage rock and more live instruments than three guys should be able to handle. Keyboardist/guitarist/percussionist Brent Knopf seems to enjoy the set as much as the fans who yell "Thank you!" after every song. One minute he's flashing a quirky smile as if to say Where's that organ coming from? and the next he's letting his eyes roll back, lost in a transcendent moment. As if to agree, a girl behind me fills a dramatic mid-song pause with an orgasmic gasp. One last band has had their way with us. Let's call it a night.

Read Bridgette Reinsmoen's SXSW diary here.

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