South By Southwest: Austin, Texas, Weds, March 14- Sat, March17
Margaritas, stetsons, tons of great bands (and a thousand shit funk-rock jammers) – the music industry goes to the Deep South
Howdy folks, and welcome to Austin, Texas. The Lone Star State. Home to cowboys, big steaks, lynch mobs and this week – every band, PR, journalist, A&R man, record exec, and blagger the music industry has to offer.
For four days the state’s capital (and least redneck outpost) kicks out the local fratboys, ushers the bums off the street corners (well, most of them) and welcomes anyone who’s ever picked up a guitar. Venues like the Mean Eyed Cat, Bourbon Rocks and Emo’s (for real) throw open their doors, serve up free meat and beer and play host to every type of band you can imagine, from The Stooges right down to an eight-legged curtain-covered chrysalis creature writhing to hard techno-jazz.
NME drifted past the myriad power-rock fret-wanking tossers and rooted out the best the city laid on.
Throwing our presence straight into the throng of the Deep South quicker than you can say, “One beef brisket and a side of mashed yams, please”, Wednesday, as always, is NME day. And we get to host our very own BBQ with bands and everything. See far right for full details.
The first offering from this week’s considerable British contingent are The Pipettes (at the Flamingo Cantina), bringing their seaside Supremes and three-part harmonies to the South. Fingers wag and men drool, but there’s only one belle of the ball today: The Gossip’s Beth Ditto. All sass and spunk, she even crowbars a strip show into their gig at Emo’s, fearlessly undressing to black undies and bra.
Last year’s hype band Cold War Kids are back, still drawing a massive crowd at La Zona Rosa. They open with a brilliant, intensely energetic performance of ‘We Used To Vacation’, which competes for song of the set with their cover of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, the latter seeing the band joined by NYC folk rockers Elvis Perkins In Dearland.
At outdoor venue Stubb’s, Bloc Party’s set is heavy on new tracks – with ‘Blue Light’ and ‘Hunting For Witches’ competing with ‘Banquet’ for the crowd’s affection. Kele’s on top form, shyly declining pleads from the crowd to “get naked”.
Over at Red Eyed Fly, The Horrors are still creating a massive buzz, and just like last week in New York, Faris takes to the stage with a bunch of black balloons tied around his neck. Someone hands him a creepy-looking piñata-like creature which he tucks inside his coat like a baby and, naturally, ends up chucking it into the crowd, along with anything else he can find, including himself. The likes of ‘Jack The Ripper’ and ‘Gloves’ are tight, but attention is more focussed on Faris’ antics. As he swings from ceiling lights, sweeps everything off the bar and empties the contents of a dustbin on to the crowd, it’s hard to tell whether this is punk or child’s play. As someone yells “Spinal Tap” we think back to Gallows’ afternoon show (The Loft), which saw half the band playing in the crowd and a flurry of headbanging fury that didn’t involve breaking things. Actually that was punk; this is more Rocky Horrors Petulant Show.
Poor Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly (Stubb’s). Despite his superhero moniker, Sam Duckworth’s been holed up in the hospital for the duration, fighting a losing battle against bronchitis. Still he manages to pull off a stellar show, and gets all political on our asses – bashing the American health care system and encouraging us to, “Get out and fucking vote.” The new voice of a generation? Perhaps. But first he needs to get it back. Amy Winehouse (La Zona Rosa), on the other hand, has her vocal chords on top form, shovelling attitude in spades into our faces. Despite the fact she’s omnipresent in the US press, half the crowd spurns the show for the smoking area.
Gruff Rhys takes to what must be the smallest stage he’s ever played, at Bourbon Rocks. Co-performer Lisa Jen Brown of 9 Bach welcomes us aboard Candylion Airlines for a short flight of Welsh folk and Gruff’s signature weird melodies songs. Debut solo single ‘Gwn Mi Wn’ showcases his innovative ability to pull off a million sounds at once, layering vocals on top of each other. The likes of ‘Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru’ and ‘Cycle Of Violence’ are punctured with comedic banter, and we’re left with
a decidedly warm feeling within.
The Good, The Bad & The Queen (Stubb’s) wrap up Friday night, but seem to think it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon. The all-star project is underwhelming at first, until Paul Simonon starts moving across the stage like a groovy robot, and a guest rapper from Syria joins them to try and coax Damon from his insouciance. Far more exciting is Albert Hammond Jr (Blender Bar). Those who made it in marvel at new opener ‘In My Room’ and a cover of Frank Black’s ‘Old Black Dawning’ that shits on the original. It’s much slicker than his CMJ debut and as ‘Hard To Live In The City’ wraps it up, the VIPs retire to the mini-cabañas and rooftop Jacuzzis for yet another night of frolics.
“Turn up the house lights, let’s take a look at you. Well, howdy!” roars a topless Iggy Pop to a celeb-heavy crowd as The Stooges (Stubb’s) join the party. “It’s 1970, baby,” he continues, and what follows is a carnival of banshee howls, crowdsurfing, guitar/amp frottage and guitar dentistry that lasts for 40 minutes straight. While the other Stooges are as tight and lifeless as semi-retired pros should be, Iggy’s milking it. Roars of appreciation stretch right back to the Portabogs a block away as ‘She Took My Money’ pulsates like his sinewy six-pack. ‘I’m Fried’ and encore ‘No Fun’ show why he needs a personal water lackey.
With that, the night flight to Houston beckons and we leave utterly wrecked from five days of tacos, beer and maximum rock, vowing to do it again every year ’til we die.