Music,  Travel

SXSW 2007: Day 4 – Rooftops, tears and racoon tails

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(Goldrush rock Homeslice Pizza.)

Does anyone still care about my last day at SXSW? Regardless, as my blog is more or less my diary, posterity dictates that I must complete this record of the experience. Besides, there are still good things to be shared. And so:

Saturday in Austin was gorgeous and sunny. We started the day at Homeslice Pizza on South Congress. Yeah, it’s weird that even a pizza place has a back patio and a stage, but so it goes in Austin. Top on Roy’s list was seeing the Brit band Goldrush, and this was our last opportunity. Their 1:00 set was perfectly timed as I was starving. My friend Mona had recommended Homeslice on previous visits and I was eager to check it out.

We arrived, parked and grabbed a slice, no sweat. Things were just getting going, so we had first pick of the few available chairs. There was a downside to our early arrival, however, and it involved having to listen to a wonky local disco synth band. Luckily, with each downside usually there’s an up. During our disco synth endurance test, I happened to notice a very tall, very lithe familiar-looking brunette nearby. Jenny Hart!

I got up the nerve to say hello. I know that sounds stupid, especially in retrospect as Jenny is very kind and approachable. However, I am so inspired by her and the impact she’s had on the modern craft movement that I’ve put her on a pretty high pedestal. Anyway, she was very sweet and I was excited to have met her and had the opportunity tell her how much I love her work.

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(Robin Bennett of Goldrush trombones rooftop.)

Soon enough, Goldrush took the stage and we were not disappointed. The band was affable if a tad hung over (Day 4 man. To be expected.), but got it together and played a sporadically exuberant but consistently entertaining set. The highlight: the lead singer, Robin Bennett disappeared from the stage mid-song only to reappear on the roof, triumphantly playing his trombone before climbing down. Quite a show for the first pick of the day.

My next stop was Waterloo Records to see Amy Winehouse. Roy planned to drop me off and head to Jovita’s for the 2nd Twangfest party. Maybe it was the Broken West/Urban Outfitters incident (schedule error….we showed up the wrong day), but something told me to hop inside and check the schedule before watching Roy drive off. Good thing I did, because Ms. Winehouse elected to cancel her appearance. Back to the car and off to Jovita’s.

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(Deadstring Brothers…..Masha & Kurt, but no blonde bass player.)

We arrived in time to see one of our recent favorites, the Deadstring Brothers. Although they played a good set, I noticed fairly early on that they were without their blonde bass player (who has a name…it’s Jeff Cullum). After having seen them twice with Jeff, I couldn’t adjust to either the audio or the visual of Masha-&-Kurt-only harmonies. That said, I have gone back to the record to try to validate my theory and although I really can’t, I stand by my opinion that Jeff’s absence made a difference. I still love the Deadstrings, of course, but this was not my favorite set.

(Side note: Jeff C has not quit the band; he is touring with another band that he’s in. Whew.)

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(John Langford & Danbert Nobacon of Chumbawumba, aka The Most Annoying Little Man on the Planet.)

We stayed to catch part of Jon Langford’s set. Although I’ve long been a fan of his art, I’m embarassed to admit that I’ve never seen him and have never heard him play solo or with the Wacos. I didn’t really have an image in mind, but when a little Dr. Evil-looking man dressed like a priest took the stage and began belting out sea chantys like a drunken pirate, I was more than a bit stunned. Turns out the little man was NOT Jon Langford, but the former lead singer for Chumbawumba. Very strange, and someone I hope never to see again. (These words will come back to bite me sooner than you think.)

Shortly, Jon Langford joined the weird little man, managed to get him off the stage, and played some tunes with his band (which consisted of members of the Waco Brothers and the Asylum Street Spankers) that I quite enjoyed. We didn’t stay for the whole set as we wanted to head to the Convention Center to catch Rickie Lee Jones.

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(The mesmerizing and tear inducing Rickie Lee Jones. Despite having seen pictures, I didn’t realize how cute she is. I’ll bet she was hot when she was younger.)

After another adventure in parking, we made it to the Convention Center only to be met by a massively long line to see Rickie Lee. We feared the worst, but to our great surprise and relief, the line began to move at a good pace and we were soon ushered into a big space that had been transformed by Direct TV into an impressive (albeit flashy) soundstage and bar.

Roy grabbed drinks which we tried to enjoy while being coaxed and cajoled into lemming-like made-for-Direct-TV behavior by the metrosexual carny Direct TV dude. (”When I do this, raise your hands above your head and applaud!!!”) Well, at least Direct TV built a nice space for the shows they simulcast during the conference and they had the foresight to include a bar.

Shortly Rickie Lee took the stage. Although I have always liked Rickie Lee, I am not a devoted fan and my knowledge of her career and music has thus been somewhat peripheral. Well.

Rickie Lee Jones enchanted me and moved me to tears. She played exclusively from her new cd which interprets the life and words of Jesus, and the songs had a bent that spoke to the hippie spiritualist in me. Rickie Lee also, endearingly, still exudes hippie in appearance. Charmed and touched, I choked my way out of the room after the show. The woman and her music are very powerful.

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(My favorite print artists at Flatstock, Crosshair.)

After Rickie Lee’s set, we found a spot outside to sit and plot our next move. Roy wanted to smoke and peruse the schedule grids, so I went inside to check out Flatstock, the annual convention for letterpress poster artists being held just inside.

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(My favorite print by Crosshair.)

I love letterpress and poster art, so I could’ve spent hours and dollars poking around at the myriad artists booths, but I didn’t have a lot of time. I would guess there were at least 100 artists represented, incorporating multiple artistic styles…..some I loved, some were a little too graphic/goth/scary/misogynistic for my taste. I’ve included some pics of my very faves, Crosshair, out of Chicago. I also really loved the work of CinqunQuatre from Montreal, but their both was so crowded, I couldn’t get good photos. If I didn’t already have more art than walls, some of these prints would certainly have come home with me.

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(Giant pigs! Dancing by an office building! That never happens here.)

I think I had less than $20 in my pocket, which was probably a good thing. I did of course manage to spend some of it. I really loved the idea (see photo) of screenprinting on vintage postcards by Standard Deluxe and had to own this one. The same vendor had excellent recycled notebooks in addition to prints. I talked to the artist a bit to compare notes on found objects, vintage inspiration and bookmaking techniques. He asked what I did and expressed some interest in my work for his shop. Cool. When I do manage to get back into production mode, I may just contact him.

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(The Big Red Sun house. One of the cutest houses I’ve ever seen, after my own, of course.)

I managed to tear myself away from Flatstock in record time and rejoined Roy outside. We agree to hoof it across the highway to the Big Red Sun/Raji party to see the Friends of Dean Martinez and the Hacienda Brothers. (This was less treacherous than it sounds. We crossed via overpass. Drinking all day and running across a highway…not wise.)

I’d only briefly visited to this part of Austin and had never made it to Big Red Sun despite always meaning to get there. The shop itself may or may not have been open (we didn’t stop), but just seeing the place was enough for me. Clearly, these are the same folks who did landscape design for the Hotel San Jose. (A fact later validated by Mona.)

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(Friends of Dean Martinezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz……zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.)

The flyer we’d seen for the party indicated it was only a few blocks past the highway. Of course, this was not the case. Our little hike was rewarded as it was very much a happenin’ event. Unfortunately, we were unaware that there was a suggested donation for charity to gain entrance and we were both low on cash. Oops. We threw in what we could, used our remaining money to get some food and took advantage of the free Vitamin Waters before settling in to watch the Friends of Dean Martinez.

I wanted to like the FOD, mostly because they have a cool name. I am sorry to say, however, that I didn’t. They are great musicians, for sure, but their spacey instrumentals are a bit too chill for me. I’m not good at chill in any way, shape or form (outside the yoga room, that is), so I was bored. Apparently though, this is the band that spawned Calexico, so for that they do have my respect.

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(The Hacienda Brothers having a good time. At least some of them are. That one dude never cracks a smile.)

FOD were followed by the always entertaining Hacienda Brothers. I was feeling a bit crabby from the walk and the Rickie Lee crying jag, and the Haciendas’ set was somehow perfectly calming and just what I needed to recalibrate. I think it was the pedal steel.

After the Haciendas, we started the long trek back with the intent to wait in what was certain to be a long line to see the Buzzcocks. And so it was. While waiting we passed the time by counting the black Chuck Taylors in the qeue. Blacks Chucks…..in the words of our black Chuck sporting line buddy “always fashionable”. We waved the white flag 10 minutes (which was probably like, 7 songs) into the Buzzcocks set and moved on to Plan B.

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(Summer Hymns – Zachary Gresham put on his best undershirt for YOU.)

Plan B was to catch the Summer Hymns (who I ridiculously thought were called the Summer Hens…dang my hearing is shot). Despite a loud pack of oblivious drunken frat boys loudtalking through a chunk of the set (the St. Patrick’s Day factor), I enjoyed the early Wilco/Tupelo-y sound of many of the songs.

I was a bit confounded by the fashion choice of the leader singer, Zachary Gresham, who sported not a t-shirt, but an undershirt. As Roy put it so well, this look says mental patient, not carefree slacker. Zachary’s grouchy rant about a review that mislabeled one of his songs a breakup song left me with an image of him as a meltdown just waiting to happen. Hopefully, I’m wrong about that one. I’d like to see them again when he is in a better mood. And hopefully, there ARE times when he is in a better mood.

Next we joined our friends in line for Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. We were oh so close, yet ultimately, denied. While we waited, I was approached by a dude handing out free condoms. Ignoring Roy and the other guys we were talking to, he singled me out and handed me 2 condoms. Insult or compliment? Hmmm.

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(Look, it’s a death metal burnout action figure! No really, it’s the scary racoon tail guy from Viral American Death Ray Music.)

Roy walked me to the Blender Bar where I intended to camp out for the Daniel Johnston set. Another set had just ended and it was easy getting in. I took this as a good sign. It was, as I scored a SWEET cushy bench seat by the stage. We enjoyed Red Bull & vodkas before Roy headed off to see Brett Dennen and Ox. I really wanted to see Brett Dennan, but had determined I would have to sit through a set from a band I’d never heard of, Viral American Death Ray Music, to make sure that I’d get to see Daniel Johnston.

The Blender Bar is weird. It is definitely associated with Blender magazine, but I don’t really get that. Also, the place is waaay to scene-y for my Austin, but I guess some people must dig it that way. I did manage to score some swag: a SXSW bag, eye drops, cologne samples, coozies and of course a Blender rag (mag). Plus they have roving waitresses, so I didn’t have to move.

Sitting next to me on the bench was a nice girl from Oklahoma City. While waiting for the band to start, we bonded by talking about Wayne Coyne’s hotness (and yes, she does see him all over Ok City), men with better hair than ours and this guy we assumed was a roadie who had a racoon tail hanging out of his back pocket. Nice.

Viral American Death Ray Music took the stage, and guess what? Roadie dude was actually the lead singer. Review the photo (above). Remember the racoon tail. Yes. They sucked. This was made worse for me by the leader singer’s downright scariness. Roy and I saw him later at Taco Cabana at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, alone but for his tacos and his coon tail. Very sad indeed.

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(Daniel Johnston)

My reasons for wanting to see Daniel Johnston aren’t the obvious ones. I’d seen “The Devil and Daniel Johnston” but can’t pretend to have been a long time fan. I do like his music, but it’s his situation that intrigues me most. Unfortunately, I have and have had many people in my life who’ve suffered from mental illnesses, and I’m interested in seeing how such lives play out and always hopeful that some joy, health and success can be found by those afflicted. I wanted to see Daniel and I wanted to see him not melt down.

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(Daniel Johnston)

Daniel did not melt down. He was, however, in worse shape than I’d hoped. He was very heavy, and had to read his lyrics from sheets that he stayed glued to visually most of the time. He could not do banter. He tried though, and was very genuine and sweet. He did manage to get out “Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Never could trust a leprachaun.” He spent a good portion of his set with a death grip on the mic, hands shaking. I could tell that most people in the audience did NOT know his deal at all, while I spent most of the set just being nervous for him. Daniel sounded fine and I enjoyed the music. I was glad I made the effort to see him, but left feeling melancholy.

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(Beautiful Jessie Sykes)

I met Roy outside on 6th St., and we walked a few blocks to catch Jessie Sykes set. I wish I could remember the name of the bar because I would dis them for their waitresses’ tunnel vision which focused only on guys. I couldn’t get a drink there to save my life, and I needed one after the Daniel Johnston show. Roy managed to secure beverages. We made our way up front to see a really enjoyable set from Jessie, who, as Roy so aptly observed is the spittin’ image of a young Emmylou. I’d like to see her again in a different settting.

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(”Normal” Waco madness, before the chaos began.)

We’d decided to cap off the evening and our SXSW experience with the Waco Brothers. As I mentioned earlier, I’d never seen them. The place was packed, we barely got in, but somehow we managed to weasel our way to the front of the stage.

I’m not EVEN sure what to say about the Wacos except, Holy Shit! They started out only raucous and quickly and steadily degenerated to all out mayhem. I felt like I was taking part in the best party in town led by the wildest but most good natured drunk on the planet, all of which I believe to be true. NOW I know Jon Langford. I’ve seen him shake his ass at the crowd, allow a woman to stick her arms up his shirt and rub his chest and act out in all manner of weirdness. And yes, again, that freak from Chumbawumba showed up. In an Elvis suit.

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(The Wacos & Mr. Chumbawumba. Elvis is spinning in his grave. Or is he?)

Although the Wacos did not make my top 5 live band list (which is, in no particular order: Calexico, Old 97s, Margot & the Nuclear So & So’s, Drive By Truckers, Marah), they are definitely one of the wildest shows I’ve seen, like, ever. How can such a crazy maniac make such great art? SXSW 2007 leaves you with this. Ponder. Discuss amongst yourselves.