South By Southwest, Austin, TX, March 18-22, 1998

My second year at South By Southwest and I had planned to do it right this time. I arrived Wednesday for four full nights (and some days) of the best new music this side of the Pecos. For those of you unfamiliar with this phenomenon, SXSW is an annual music festival in which every corner of the city of Austin turns into a music venue. You can see alterna pop in a parking lot, country western in a CD store, and a little folk in a coffee shop. It is basically an industry event, but with a magical $60 wristband, anyone can play record exec. 

What a perfect trip? The weather was lovely in Austin and there was music in the air. All in all, I saw over 20 bands do one hour sets over the four day period. Here are some of the high(and not so high)lights of the event.





The pictures throughout are thumbnails.  If you have the inkling to see them a bit larger, just click on the image.

Scariest Band - Tie - Tito and the Tarantulas and Psychotic Aztecs are for the most part, the same band, playing under different names, with different formats, in different venues. From LA, as Tito, they have performed in a couple of hit movies, "From Dusk til Dawn" and "Desperado". The played a power pop sound with a sinister feel outdoors at Walerloo on Saturday night.

As the Aztecs at Maggie Mae's on Friday, they were a South American rock/pop group. Notable quote: PA's drummer - "there's some really good acid going around tonight". Also of note during the South American showcase at Maggie Mae's was Yeska, blending a high energy ska with latino.tito.gif (10380 bytes)

Band Most Like the Replacements- That would have to go to the LA band, the Liquor Giants, with lead singer formerly of The Gun Club. Playing at Liberty Lunch on opening night, they played melodic tunes with catchy lyrics and in true Replacement style, the lead singer exhibited scratchy vocals honed only by many years of intense cigarette study. My favorite tunes were Dearest Darling and It's Raining Butterflies. Also of note was the bass player that had a very intense and focused style in an appealing way. And I'm not usually into bass players but this one had something special....

Biggest Disappointment - Spoon - This Austin band seems to have a huge local following. However, I didn't see what the big deal was. I thought they were like a grungy Hanson. Maybe it was because they were the first act I caught on Wednesday and hadn't gotten into the swing of things yet. I only wish I had arrived early for another Austin band, Cotton Mather, who I had discovered a few weeks ago on Public Radio in Houston.
Best Dressed - Tie - While my friends in Austin's own Recliners are always the fashion plates, they were particularly decked out this Saturday evening at the Caucus Club in their colorful sequined shirts, appearing to have robbed the 4 Tops tour bus. Their set, while short, was very high energy, with the crowd bopping and singing along to old standards, Back in Black, Stairway to Heaven, and Rock the Casbah, except this time in lounge fashion. Of note was the original tune Deeper and Deeper (my favorite), a particularly funky version of Welcome to the Jungle, and an encore of a KC and the Sunshine band medley. Always cheesy, always fun!!! neal.gif (8099 bytes) Not to be outdone, the lead singer of the band PURE from Vancouver, was styling on Thursday at Liberty Lunch. He was decked in a pale lime green suit and displayed a relatively new hair style (from what I've seen on the
CDs) of ultra short, bleached blond. While not many could pull off this look, it was definitely working for him, giving him this Billy Idol as the Wedding Singer appearance. I truly enjoyed this band including one song about Lemonade.pure.gif (8790 bytes)
Best Cameo- that would have to be Mojo Nixon joining the New Duncan Imperials on stage on Saturday afternoon at the Continental Club. Both Mojo and the Duncans were in rare form singing their hysterical classics with Mojo introducing a new song about Princess Diana ("Driving by the Eiffel Tower at 120 miles per hour"). The Duncans were tossing out free prizes and mistakenly referring to the city as San Antonio throughout. mojo.gif (4095 bytes)

Most Unusual Instrument - Hands down, no one even comes close to Washboard Hank in Fred Eaglesmith's band. I stopped into the Waterloo CD store on Thursday afternoon to catch a quick instore, only to find this unusual guy with large metal washboard outfitted with bells and whistles (literally) and
what appeared to be a metal salad bowl on his head. An ominous black glove with a metal ball in the palm offered a nice ring as he banged on his head.  I was definitely impressed with his coordination. The band itself had some hysterical songs, and Fred Eaglesmith's gravelly voice appeared to be the result of years in smoky bars pounding shots of JD (occupational hazard, I guess). Of note were "My Baby's Got Big Hair" (my new anthem) and "When Exactly Did We Become White Trash". You gotta love those storytelling folk singers.hank.gif (5985 bytes)

Most Potential - Tara Maclean - Nettwerk artist Tara Maclean played and sang, with only the accompaniment of herself and a guitarist. Having seen Tara before with Barenaked Ladies, I knew how good she was, but this Thursday at an intimate show at the Library, Tara was in rare form. She reminds one at first of Jewel, but her songs are a bit more spiritual and less folky. I love the Seven Stones of Jordan tune. Her beautiful voice entertained the crowd that was packed in to the tiny venue. I can see her as the next Sarah McLachlan (who is also a Nettwerk Management artist).

Most Disturbing - I didn't even know the band's name at the time. We popped into Emo's on Saturday night only to be greeted by this heavy alterna metal group and the lead singer engulfed in fireworks. Within about 20 seconds he was pulling down his pants exposing both frontal nudity and his scrawny white ass. When he stuck his microphone "down there" it was time for us to go. I felt dirty and wanted to puke. I later found out the band was called Acid Kings (there must have been some good acid going around Emo's too) from San Francisco.

Best Pop In- As we ran screaming and writhing in fear from Emo's, we popped into the Steamboat. There were only about 8 other people in the bar, but the band Ashtray Babyhead from Little Rock, Arkansas, helped us get over our trauma with some cute garage band style pop songs. Bonus was that the guitarist was wearing a Replacements T-shirt.babyhead.gif (9281 bytes)

Worst Band - well that would have to be Vallejo, but I didn't stick around long enough to really give them a chance. From their first chord at Stubb's, their funky sound was not my style. Reminding me of another awful funky rock band, Royal Crescent Mob, I couldn't get out of there soon enough.

Honorable Mentions without categories have to go to the Hollisters (one of only eight bands from Houston) who I had been dying to see for over a year now. They played a nice alterna country set at the Hang 'em High Saloon to several two stepping onlookers. Also of note were Jason and the Scorchers from Nashville, with their great tune White Lies and interesting lead singer ("Eb on speed"), House of Large Sizes, you gotta love a punk band from Iowa, John Doe Thing, ex-X lead singer (great song "Let It Ring"), Apples in Stereo (nerdy Weezer like pop band from Denver), and Waco Brothers (a British/Chicago cowboy band).hollis.gif (4464 bytes)

Most Unusual Names - where there are rock bands there will be bizarre names. Here are a few:
Kind of Like Spitting
Falling Wallendas
Seagull Screaming Kiss Her, Kiss Her
and you will know us by the trail of the dead....

Saddest Story - when we found out that Hanson had actually been discovered at SXSW. Not as an act, they crooned for anyone that would listen to them at the closing softball game in 1994 ("would you mind if we sang for you, sir").

So, with the bizarre spectacle of the tatooed and pierced milling around hotels that are usually populated by the suited and tied, the great music, the pleasant company, and perfect weather, I was completely in heaven. As I have said each time I have attended SXSW "These are my people." As my hearing and my liver get back to normal, I am looking forward to potentially checking out some of the other big Music Festivals by the same group with North By Northeast in Toronto in June and North By Northwest in Seattle in the fall. Viva la music!!!!

On That Note, I'm outta here......


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