SXSW 2003

Recapping a sweltering blur Of booze, bands, and barbecue.

!Aye Carumba! Four loco days of living la vida Lone Star at Austin’s SXSW music festival has taken its toll on our legs (when they say “standing room only,” they mean it, mofo) and liver. But even unholy amounts of shows, beer, and barbecue can’t keep a good gossip columnist down for longwe may feel like sun-dried mayonnaise right now, but we will not stop until you have the full report, so here goes: Thursday at La Zona Rosa featured a rock-out, happy-to-be-there Whirlwind Heat opening for the Rapturewho played the goods (“Olio,” “House of Jealous Lovers”) dance party-style, with bass player Matt nicely kicking up singer Luke’s vocals a notchplus a newly Graham Coxon-free Blur. Bassist Alex was also suspiciously MIA, but we assume he hasn’t followed Graham, since Damon Albarn dialed him up from an onstage cell phone to have the audience say hello. A crowd that was stoked for oldies like “Girls and Boys” was not so much down for the new stuff, but can you blame them? Meanwhile, a Suicide Squeeze showcase at the Roxy sparkled with both locals (the Magic Magicians, reincarnated here as the Awesomely Energetic Magicians, plus an on-point Minus the Bear) and California talent Hella (full-metal-jacket spazzrock) and Aislers Set (much gentler indie pop). We’d love to tell you more about the rest of the night (Mooney Suzuki, et al.), but after the fire marshals dragged us out by the scruff of our scrawny necks from one crowded venue, we skipped what we heard was an awesome Har Mar Superstar/Sugar Hill Gang double bill at 3 a.m. for the sweet relief of our hotel bed. This made us all bright and bushy-tailed for Friday, which kicked off at noon with the Spin party at Stubb’s. Ohio’s bluesiest, Zeppelin-iest rock duo, the Black Keys, backed by their uncle(?) on some sort of homemade mouth-tooting instrument thing, placed the bar high; New Zealand’s D4, whom one showgoer very smartly compared to the Hellacopters, limboed under; so did Sahara

Hotnights, who look good and are Swedish but somehow didn’t light our fire; and last but not least came Victoria’s own Hot Hot Heat, clearly headed for the big leagues now. A hop, skip, and tipsy jump and we were at the Touch & Go/Barsuk party (weird combo, yes, but it worked) featuring Quasi in full jam-out mode, Death Cab for Cutie in full Death Cab mode, plus the ever-talented Pinback, Britt Daniel from Spoon on his ownsome, and locals the Long Winters and Jesse Sykes in the front parlor. A Cold Crush Records showcase at nearby Club DeVille delivered a dance-rock ass kicking with Seattle’s own Cobra High, Hint Hint, and Pretty Girls Make Graves, plus Dance Disaster Movement and a whiny Muscle Beach, who spent more time complaining about the sound system than they did playing.

Dance Disaster Movement

(photo: Robin Laananen)

Later, it was back to Stubb’s for Cat Power, who started out strong but then, in classic CP style, responded to applause for songs like “I Don’t Blame You” and “Dead Leaves on the Dirty Ground” with, “Oh, that sucked, and you know it,” and an abrupt exit from the stage. Poor sad kitty was followed by Spoon and Yo La Tengo, with no tears, but less will-they-or-won’t-they schadenfreude excitement. Saturday, it was up for breakfast burritos with John Doe at Maggie Mae’s, and though the four-song set was quiet and brief, L.A.’s punk-rock granddaddy did leave the audience with these wise words: “When the people at this music festival ask how you are, they really don’t give a shit. So just smile and say, ‘Cool,’ and you’ll be all right.” A subsequent trip to Urban Outfitters served two purposes: buy new sunglasses for the 82-degree weather (whoo!) and watch the French Kicks (if they follow the U.S. government’s lead, they’ll be the Freedom Kicks by the time they get to Seattle next week), whose former drummer/vocalist Nick Stumpf seems not quite sure what to do now that he’s given up the drums but looks cute trying. Then it was back to the main drag for a middling Apples in Stereo and the reunited Camper Van Beethoven, who started out slow but amped up quick, and even inserted some sneaky new Iraq-related lyrics into a strong set. Staying and relaxing would probably have been better than scooting off so fast to the yay-for-Chicago Hideout party, since Neko Case and Calexico had already played; we were left with the perfectly pleasant but unexciting Frames and Nicolai Dunger, so it was off again to the strip for Moving Units, quite possibly the most haggard-looking band in town but still completely exhilarating; the Rapture’s Luke must have agreed, as he rocked out from the sidelines. Then came the gyno-mite Erase Errata, with their spastically catchy no-wave punk, even if guitarist Sara was for unknown reasons too much the sound guy’s favorite. Rumors soon began to swirl

of appearances by both Blur (again) and Spinal Tap (no joke)and the news must have gotten around fast, since actually getting into the venue before Mudhoney took the stage was like squeezing a watermelon through a keyhole. We comforted ourselves back at Stubb’s with a few songs from Supergrassnow boring as shit, but who knew?and the Sub Pop showcase, featuring a lovely, very countrified Iron & Wine and the ubiquitous Hot Hot Heat and ending with the even hotter new SP addition, the Thermals, who would have torn the roof off if there was one. Now safely back at home in the land of salmon, not short ribs, we will say this: Bands did come from far and wide, and lots of them were good; a few were even great, but even with all the fancy Swedes and retro-fiend Brooklynites and California cool kids, the Northwest participants were shining stars, and they did us proud. (See next week’s issue for a further conference/panel/party postmortem.) As for the rest of them, you can look forward to seeing standout SXSW acts like Burning Brides, the Rapture, Notwist, Dance Disaster Movement, Pinback, Cat Power, and more, all in Seattle and all in the next two months. Life is good, no?

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