While most of the music industry has wearily returned to day jobs and practice spaces after the four-day blitz of beer and bands that is South by Southwest, I am still here in Austin. I missed my plane Sunday morning and wasn't able to get out on standby—and since everything was sold out for Monday, I opted for a Tuesday morning departure. Luckily, my only work-related obligation at the moment is writing this column, so what I've ended up with is an inadvertently extended vacation in one of my favorite cities.
Serendipitously, I have friends to stay with who happen to live across the street from original Butthole Surfers bassist Scott Stevens, who invited us over to check out the delightfully surreal junk sculpture gardens in his backyard. With help from a vividly twisted imagination, an ecologically progressive political mind-set, and the convenient proximity of a fertile thrift store, Stevens has gradually assembled a psychedelic graveyard of thematically grouped found objects, including several dozen crutches topped with vintage mannequin heads, loopy, candy-colored garlands of plastic bottle caps, and beautifully creepy antique doll parts that peer out from the clusters of cacti sprouting throughout the yard.
That experience alone made me happy that I had missed my flight. Actually, it's sort of a miracle I've never been in this position in previous years, given the fact that Saturday's late-night closing festivities make serious sleep-deprived travel the norm. My hedonistic downfall was brought on by my attendance at a classically chaotic Turbo Negro show and a combination of after-parties at the Omni Hotel. The first was an intimate, low-key affair hosted by Melvins/Big Business drummer Coady Willis; the other was a top-floor, top-shelf blowout thrown by the Waco Brothers, which attracted all sorts of illustrious guests, including Sally Timms, former Austinite Ian Moore, and many of the same folks I saw at the Ballard Party on Friday. I generally try to make it a goal not to see Seattle bands at SXSW, since there are so many nonlocal acts to see, but I decided to break that rule and stop by that neighborhood pride-fest to catch an excellent, adrenaline-surging performance from Schoolyard Heroes and an enchanting, down-tempo solo set from Visqueen's Rachel Flotard. It was a wise choice, too: Where else would I get to learn that Sunset owner/ambitious actor Max Genereaux snagged a bit part in Blades of Glory, Will Ferrell's forthcoming slapstick sports satire?
As for other acts on my itinerary, it can't be overstated how extraordinary Beth Ditto's scalding-hot performance was during the Gossip's set at Emo's on Thursday night. She came across like a perfect fusion of Aretha Franklin and Karen O, belting out the trio's soulful blues-punk numbers like she was singing for her life, and eventually peeling off her electric-blue dress and finishing the sweat-soaked dance party in nothing but her black skivvies. Brave, beautiful, and disarmingly sexy, it was easily one of the most moving rock moments I've ever witnessed. Despite that impossibly high watermark, I was still wildly impressed the next night by Wooden Shjips, San Francisco's lysergic-laced experimentalists, who took Velvet Underground–inspired, repetitive grooves and patiently and purposefully shaped them into engulfing walls of rock that mesmerized me almost as much as they did the visibly stunned David Fricke, standing at my side. Incidentally, the Rolling Stone journalist also gave his enthusiastic endorsement to local boys the Saturday Knights, whose future continues to look ridiculously promising.
Also promising were the Future of the Left, the new project freshly forged from the remaining two-thirds of Mclusky. Fans who adored the antagonistic Welsh word-wankers before they prematurely imploded will undoubtedly be pleased with this robust, equally acerbic incarnation. Now we just need to find a way to convince them to make a stop in the Northwest sometime soon. The same sentiment goes out to Memphis, Tenn.'s propulsive hard-rock act Viva l'American Death Ray—who drew a small but enthusiastic crowd in close during their day party set at the Scoot Inn and who all too infrequently tour the West Coast—and the Crack Pipes, bottomlessly energetic, Austin-based punks who sounded straight out of 1977 and assured me that they'd be heading our way shortly.
And hopefully, so will I, provided I catch that damn plane on time.