SXSW | 03.12 - 03.15 | Austin, TX

Word by: Sarah Hagerman

This scene is the scene to be seen in
Not that the scene is what we'd be seen with

– The Indelicates "Sixteen"

Weather Underground by classicalgeektheatre.blogspot
The locals won't go downtown. Every overheard conversation includes the phrases "the band I manage" or "the band I'm in" or "my soon-to-be-formed electronic side project." 6th Street is crammed with boozed-up hipsters, record execs stumbling in brand new cowboy boots and live music junkies like myself who live for the thrill of new discoveries and the chance to see some of our old favorites play intimate venues. Despite not having a coveted press pass, I managed to acquire some "flashbulb moments," in the words of Lester Bangs, and broaden my musical geography in my new home city.

Wednesday March 12
Dumb and Deaf at the Blind Pig

After a soulful set by neo-beatniks the Weather Underground, I was hopeful that Mink would similarly provide a substantial musical project. Alas, that was not to be. Unless you have somehow just discovered The Strokes, there is nothing exciting about Mink. A few years ago they would have doubtlessly been lumped in with the other New York scene bands, but today they seem like a nostalgia act from a scene that was retro to begin with. At least frontman Neal Carlson has the rock star persona down like he's been studying it since grade school - jumping on the drum kit, kicking over his mic and encouraging an audience member (who must have had his share of the $4 Lone Stars) to help him tear down a silver sequined star hanging next to the stage. This tacky decoration incident was perhaps the most memorable moment of Mink's set. The poor fan that attempted unsuccessfully to tear it down, upon realizing his failure, proceeded to jump off the roof next door and back onto the patio, careening into a table. I was standing about three feet away, preparing to call 911, but he jumped up and kept rocking with no visible signs of brain damage. About two minutes later, he was kicked out by the Blind Pig staff. Mink bring enthusiasm to the table, and the excitement of possibly being an extra in the next episode of Jackass, but that's about it.

Ah, c'est la SXSW.

Next act, guitarist and drummer duo called Middle Class Rut, started off sounding a bit like, ugh, Dashboard Confessional if Chris Carrabba had decided to listen to Rage Against the Machine, read Howard Zinn and grow a set of balls. But, as their set picked up, guitarist Zack Lopez began producing an impressively layered and LOUD sound. As his Perry Farrell-esque wail shook the speakers, drummer Sean Stockham pounded out furiously fast, dense beats, leaving you rubbed raw, salty sweat dripping into your eyes. It was enough to convince me that I should buy earplugs for the rest of the week.

Thursday March 13
The best way to get your ass kicked twice in one night

MMJ :: 03.13 :: SXSW by Dave Jackson
In a just world My Morning Jacket would be headlining arenas worldwide. We fans just remain lucky that they have somehow still managed to stay everyone's barely kept secret, floating just below the surface of huge. As evidence of this, the new Austin Music Hall wasn't quite full of those about to rock. Nevertheless, MMJ eloquently tore their way through a blistering set of classics like "Run Thru," "Mahgeetah" and the never-fails-to-make-me-cry-into-my-beer "Golden." The new material, for which Jim James has developed quite the disco siren wail, was slightly weird and very wonderful. The first time I saw MMJ was a sparsely attended show during the summer at Burlington, Vermont's Higher Ground back when I was in college. They brought just as much passion and power to that show as they did at the Music Hall, and indeed every show I've seen them play. MMJ is the rare band that can floor you with their beauty AND destroy you with their brutality, sometimes all in the same song. It left my face aching from a blissed-out grin.

My Morning Jacket would be hard to top for pure rawk power, but Back Door Slam ran close behind. I only got to catch the second half of their set at Opal Divine's Freehouse as I was floating back from the Music Hall on my MMJ high. Earlier that evening, our friends from London treated us to drinks and their musings on the sad state of the current British music industry. The crop of newly hyped British bands could care less about their musical roots – Zeppelin, Cream, The Clash, The Stones. They're more worried about what they'll wear at their NME photo shoot. The lack of musical integrity is enough to make John Peel turn in his grave. What a relief to see the Isle of Man's Back Door Slam, who unashamedly embrace their rock & roll heritage. Wailing guitars, crunchy hooks and bluesy songwriting chops put them on my must-see list for Bonnaroo. This is how classic sounds. Somewhere, in that great radio booth in the sky, John Peel is smiling.

Friday March 14
Aw mama, can this really be the end?
To be stuck inside of Opal Divine's with the Memphis blues again?

Amy LaVere & Steven Selvidge :: 03.14 :: SXSW by D. Jackson
Opal's was the host to the Memphis Music Foundation's bash. To no great surprise, all bands featured were from Memphis, except for the North Mississippi Allstars, who closed out the night. Quite a sampler of what's going down in M-town was served up in the tent. By the time I had finished my shaker of margarita I managed to catch the quirky alt-country act Snowglobe, whose foot-tapping, psychedelic-tinged nuggets stood in stark contrast to the grungy rock-and-stare mire of next act, Third Man. I could have done with more unexpected musical plot twists with the latter, although their ominous sound could easily soundtrack a chase through a Vienna sewer.

Following Third Man was funk/soul super group The Bo-Keys. Their ranks include former members of the Blues Brothers and Isaac Hayes' backing bands, as well as Scott Bomar, who composed the music for Black Snake Moan and Hustle & Flow. They got the tent moving, and even the hipsters were shaking in their skinny jeans. C'mon, what kind of coldhearted bastard doesn't love the "Theme From Shaft?" Guest vocalist Harvey "I Wrote 'Disco Lady'" Scales came out for a few songs, and made pimpin' seem easy as he managed to get a few ladies onstage to show off some freaky dance moves. Solid gold get-drunk-and-move-that-ass music.

The highlight of the evening was Amy LaVere. Like Nellie McKay served up southern fried, she's a mess of brown curls with a slamming upright bass and a Dolly Parton lilt. Pass the grits and whiskey and get ready for tales of spurned lovers and strange women twisted with self-deprecating humor. In a world overpopulated by singer-songwriters, she is truly an original. And LaVere knows how to pick her company. Unassuming backing guitarist Steven Selvidge had shades of Jack White, sounding like two guitars at once. When Luther Dickinson came out to join them for the last song he was visibly impressed.

The staff at Opal's kept joking that, "No, the North Mississippi Allstars are not playing here tonight," while the line outside grew longer as the evening wore on. The Allstars always know how to pack a tent and turn it into a Southern rock revival. Luther's guitar rolled with a dance hall thump in the aptly-titled "Shake," while he sang with uplifting soul in a gorgeous "Mean Ol' Wind Died Down" or made room for screaming acid rock jam break downs. I always have a damn good time when I see this band. Last time they came through Austin I saw them for free at Waterloo Records. Complimenting neck-craningly tall bassist Chris Chew on his Red Sox hat after the show, he said, "You know me, I like to cause a ruckus." NMA certainly brought the ruckus to SXSW.

Saturday March 15
Declarations of Independents

I-35 divides hip downtown Austin from the rough and tumble east side. Tucked amongst taquarias with bars on the windows and the occasional muttering crackhead, the lovely oasis of the French Legation Museum played host to the Garden Party co-sponsored by JamBase. As a teenager, shuffling through the halls of my high school in Chucks and pink streaked hair, I would have freaked to know that I was going to see both Thurston Moore and J Mascis in one afternoon. Ten years older and only slightly wiser, my reaction was much the same. Any band labeled "indie" - a tag tossed around left and right to the point of meaninglessness - owes their very existence to these two pioneers and the musical projects they have forged.

The Indelicates :: 03.15 :: SXSW by D. Jackson
As I worked on my sunburn with the help of $1 PBRs, I watched the absolutely brilliant Mascis solo set, fine consolation for me missing all of the Witch sets over the course of the festival. Hiding behind his miles of silver hair and huge glasses, Mascis coaxed his acoustic into electric territory, loading on the feedback and distortion. The set peaked with a looping jam that growled and glowed.

Passing the stage from one indie legend to another, Thurston Moore and the New Wave Bandits, who Moore jokingly introduced as "Bromance," were the comic relief after the intensity of Mascis. Blazing through material off Moore's Trees Outside the Academy and waving off numerous technical problems with unfazed humor, there was a lighter-than-air minimalism that pervaded the whole set. The music wasn't the only thing floating by the end – a lethal combination of sun and cheap beer took care of that for me. I gave in as I felt the promise of substantial food and artificially cool air beckoning me back to the safe side of I-35 and the collective noise of the industry powering up for the last night of SXSW. As Mascis sings on "Get Me," "Every dream is shot by daylight." Stumbling back towards downtown, I felt like pinching myself more than a few times.

Luckily I regrouped in time to catch The Indelicates' set at the Tex-Mex restaurant turned-venue, The Rio. Combining ferociously dry humor, post-punk aggression and pop sheen into a cohesive mix, they managed to be deeply rooted in English culture while providing a sly commentary that resonates beyond that small island. I have been a fan of this band for a while, and I would strongly advocate, that after almost two years of living in London, they are by far one of the more exciting English bands currently slogging their way through the pubs and the grime. Opener was a cover of Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law" (one of my favorite guilty pleasures) that segued nicely into the ripping "Fun Is For the Feeble Minded." Contrast these with bouncy numbers such as "Sixteen," which has an insanely catchy chorus that stays in your head long after the music fades, and the Pulp-y "Julia, We Don't Live in the Sixties," and it's apparent that they are carrying the torch of literate rock. And you have to give props to any band that would title a song "Waiting For Pete Doherty To Die," which elicited audible guffaws from my fellow journos in the audience. Lead singers Julia and Simon Indelicate, who rock the show on keyboards and guitars respectively, have a sparkling chemistry and raw power that commands the stage. Surrounded by the possessed guitar of Alastair Clayton, the coolly confident bass of Kate Newbury and the punching drums of Ed van Beinum, The Indelicates are a band whose break will be big when it comes. They slayed their showcase set, leaving a trail of nacho crumbs and empty margarita glasses in their wake.

Later that night, I sat watching Eric Bibb passionately channel Robert Johnson on a leather couch of the Smoking Room. Exhausted, exhilarated and thinking back over my first SXSW, I flipped through a schedule I found on the bathroom floor of The Rio. An overwhelming amount of names are shoved into that schedule. Most will never be heard from again, at least not in any "Cover of the Rolling Stone" sense. But, behind each one of them is that crazy hope that they will be the next R.E.M., the next Sonic Youth, the next Dinosaur Jr. or My Morning Jacket - music created by the weird and the geeky, searching for understanding and receptive ears in the humid Texas night.

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[Published on: 3/21/08]

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RothburyWithCheese starstarstarstarstar Fri 3/21/2008 06:47PM
Show -5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
RothburyWithCheese star Fri 3/21/2008 06:47PM
Show -6 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
Ned8 star Sat 3/22/2008 10:00AM
Show -8 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
SchpecialDave starstarstarstarstar Sat 3/22/2008 11:05AM
+5 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


Wow, those are some pretty mean comments Ned8 and LiberalsForMichaelSavageIn2008. I'm not sure what you mean by "disanointing to expectations", or how covering R.E.M. and Kimya Dawson over My Morning Jacket would stop the site from being "indiebase", but I think this is a very well written account of one person's perspective on a festival so huge it could never be covered in minute detail. There appears to be an assumption that these are the only bands that our writer saw, perhaps these are the only bands that she thought were noteworthy, and that the "irrelevant wannabes" shouldn't deserve a write-up. Indeed, maybe the inclusion of the Mink section was to show the most extreme example of the blandness of many of the bands that were at the festival. Those who write and run this site do so for free and out of love for the music and the community, so personal attacks such as the ones listed above are hardly encouraging. With Harp soon to be resting in peace, this scene needs all the help it can get, so please could the comments be at least constructive if they can't be positive? Otherwise this site could well descend to the level of "playground kids in elementary school", something I saw no evidence of in this imaginatively written article.

vanark starstarstar Sat 3/22/2008 01:02PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


If the North Mississippi Allstars are not from Memphis, where are they from? Memphis may as well be the capital of North Mississippi. Additionally, Luther Dickinson is quite familiar with the talents of both Amy Lavere and Steve Selvidge. It is not the first time they have shared the stage. They are good friends back in Memphis. Oh wait, the North Mississippi Allstars aren't from Memphis.

SchpecialDave starstarstarstarstar Sat 3/22/2008 01:09PM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


"All bands featured were from Memphis, except for the North Mississippi Allstars, who closed out the night." The writer is clearly aware that not the entire bill is from Memphis, just almost the whole bill.

"When Luther Dickinson came out to join them for the last song he was visibly impressed". Nowhere in the review does it mention that he is NOT familiar with them, just that he was impressed. Perhaps this was a particularly good performance by them that Luther has witnessed firsthand. Wow, why do these writers bother when this is their readership?

Ned8 star Sat 3/22/2008 02:42PM
Show -7 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!
Marcsmall Sun 3/23/2008 10:31AM
-1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I gave Liberals for Michael Savage a "Thumbs Up" for perhaps the first time ever....I just happen to agree with him 100% about the direction this site is going.....However I have a hard time backing anyone who supports Savage. This is the guy who used to parade around Hawaii in the nude with Allen Ginsberg, and write books about his experiences in the bathhouses in San Francisco, and now spends half his time bashing gay people...What a class act.

Andrew Bruss Sun 3/23/2008 07:43PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Andrew Bruss

Liberalsformichaelsavagein2008- Jambase publishes articles by any reader who submits a review worth being read. With that said, put up or shut up buddy. I don't mean that with any disrespect but if you want to read reviews that cater towards your tastes more accurately, why not take a shot at writing them?

jesposito starstarstarstarstar Tue 3/25/2008 12:30PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


I especially enjoyed how 'LIberals' says that we shouldn't have to sit through reviews of washed up rockers but then suggets the author should have been covering REM instead of MMJ. I think this is a pretty good article actually. and really, how can you go to a festival and not see My Morning Jacket? get a clue!!

vanark Fri 3/28/2008 12:52PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!


First, the Allstars *ARE* from Memphis. This is my point and also why they would be included in a Memphis showcase. This point is lost on the author (as well as apparently others). If my criticisms of the article are interpreted as though I don't know about these particular artists and can't understand what the author is writing, then the point is also lost on you. In fact, my criticism is that the author appears to be a bit unfamiliar with the artists, had not done enough research, or simply had a poor choice of words. I am expressing what I consider to be sloppy writing to those that have some knowledge of these artists.

andrewdeluxe Thu 4/3/2008 10:48PM
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Ba-da-bing! ...and the award for most rectally delivered comment of ignorance goes to:

Liberals with : "and once again drops the ball. 1,500 bands and you stubbornly cover MMJ? Why not cover REM or do a review on the Ice Cube show?" followed by "Readers of this site deserve to be turned on to good music instead of just having to sit thru articles about washed up rockers or irrelevant wannabes who won't be around at the time of SXSW 2009"

Indie? Indie is supposed to mean a band on an independent record label or that self releases recordings. How you could could even say indie and REM or Ice Cube in the same sentence is unimaginable. Remember, REM is from that time when whiney boy rock was still called alternative, though it was just still as radio-friendly, yet pretentiously disaffected as the "indie" dribble so popular today.

And so it goes for a large portion of the SXSW lineup, flash-in-the-pan buzz bands who REALLY won't be around next SXSW, and not because the big venues are used for other notable live bands (Austin Music Hall is one of our largest venues), but because the fad will have changed, and behind their loud fashion and rehearsed image, the music was mediocre on a good night.

Fortunately, Austin has too much culture in it to have a leviathan music event such as SXSW come through without there being plenty of interesting music at all hours if you knew where to look or how to ask the locals.