Saturday, March 21, 2009

SXSW - Day 3; Austin's All Right If You Like...


As a new day dawns so does a new realisation – the best SxSW action doesn’t necessarily happen in the downtown area around the festival’s convention centre. In the centre of Austin a SxSW virgin is initially astounded to find that block after block of 6th Street is closed for the four days that music takes over the town. It is gob-smackingly amazing to see an entire city’s traffic re-routed for music fans. Pub after pub, bar after bar, venue after venue, cafe after café, empty block after empty block, street corner after street corner - every millimetre plays host to music entertainment. Then on the outskirts and in the convention centre there are bigger gigs (tonight it was Metallica… or so I’m told) and industry forums (“Catch Jarvis Cocker with a whiteboard!”). But it doesn’t end there. Start strolling away from the city centre and you discover the inner suburban streets have also given way to music: car parks, backyards, stores, church grounds and bus stops are all used to stage gigs featuring local and/or visiting talent.

It was in this spirit that today I dared to venture beyond the CBD (Central Badged District – official festival participants take out a mortgage to get a coded passport that is their entry into anything officially SxSW (those who can prove they are local are afforded the opportunity to purchase a less expensive wristband that also allows doors to open). A long wait for cabs meant sharing taxis. This lead to the first swag of the day as folk from Blackland Records got on board with us and slipped us three releases of their’s. I mention this coz they were nice enough to split the fare!

Just off Cesar Chavez I found the Okay Mountain Gallery hidden behind a piñata-bedecked frontage. Within was the man who was top of the must-see list for this trip – Benjy Ferree. His Leaving The Nest album is one of the greats. His music has brought me so much joy in recent times that I half expected him to be sixty foot tall and bringing dead kittens back to life while steering tornadoes away from towns. The Great Ferree is a mix of indie troubadour in The Apartments kinda way and classic country folk in a Hank Williams sorta style. Today, accompanied by the suave Drew Mills, he supplied a simple acoustic (in that plugged-in way) set of sweet melodies and, most importantly, whistling (like a bird… not a like a Peter, Bjorn or John – not that’s anything wrong with that kinda whistling). And, like a nerd, after the gig I cornered them, drooled on their lapels, discussed Nick Cave and forced them to look happy to be photographed with me. Next time a tornado miraculously misses your town remember to give thanks to Ferree.

Next stop: Queerland. If you are familiar with the filthy faggy antics of Oakland’s Gravy Train!!!! (if Wikipedia says their has to be four exclamation marks, who am I to argue?) then the lure of a solo project from band member Hunx is too much. Hunx & His Punx do NOT disappoint. Before the band even starts today’s set Hunx can be seen on stage applying lipstick to his band members who are also shedding street clothes for their varying degrees of showtime near-nakedness. As an audience member shrieks, “He was wearing those undies yesterday”, you pretty much can guess where this one’s going… Gay garage rock has never sounded so good. Nor has it ever been stripped, flipped and quipped so inelegantly. And where else do you get to glance away from the stage for a second only to look back and see a pair of fish-netted legs appearing where the singer’s face was just seconds ago? (If you have an answer to this question please send the address…)

And there’s only one direction to go after that. It’s off to see The Homosexuals at Ms Bea’s, found to the far east of the festival centre. This tiny bar is the real deal – nothing but beer served here and a sprawling backyard/carpark (the actual bar interior is but a speck in this space) plays host to the best party of the day. A relaxed mix of punks, students, music nerds, hipsters and creaking old men don’t give a fuck that the band schedule is way behind – unlike the military precision of the gig timetables in town. But thankfully the times are awry coz it means I get to experience the Brazilian boogie of Sao Paulo’s answer to The Rolling Stones – Garotas Suecas. It seriously seemed like the whole neighbourhood dropped in to dance – actually, what do the neighbours make of all this mayhem?

Then Britain’s original punx The Homosexuals take the floor. It begins with a sermon (no mount) about the band’s place in punk history – they were first but hold no grudges to those who walked away with the notoriety (to prove there is no malice a Sex Pistol lyric is slipped in and a Stranglers lick sneaks by later). They cum to preach love not hate. And jeez, these guys aren’t just still ripping music a new arsehole, they rip it a new vagina, a new cock hole, a new nasal cavity and a new colostomy hole! They can quote Chaucer, smash out mad beats and scream their lungs out… in the most delightful way. They are also one of most musically adept acts around - these guys jump from funky arrangements to jagged melodies as if to say, “hell, isn’t it meant to be that easy?”. At one stage their bass player swaps from drumstick to bottle to pound his instrument with while the rest of the band hover round the drum kit and somehow all seem to be swirling in frenzied circle as lips are cut, guitarists are electrocuted and bass drums are jumped on. It’s no wonder people are hanging from trees to get a view of this. Jeez this gig is fucking joyous, I hang at the party even though most of the following acts weren’t on “the list” for the day.

Only the promise of an appearance by Moistboyz (is there a theme building here?) even further into this suburban area, at the Long Branch Inn, can eventually lure me away (along with the fact that I’m pretty sure someone threw a bottle at me… a Guy Sebastian fan must have snuck in – see yesterday’s comments). So the day ends with balls-to-the-wall rock – which you expect from a band featuring Nick Oliveri, a Butthole Surfer and a Ween. Can only head even further into the burbs after that…

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