SXSW 2005: Like A Record, Baby (Weekend)
Day Four: Next Lifetime
Austin, TX, March 19-21, 2005 - If they meant for you to get up on Saturday, they wouldn't put it after Friday: that's my theory. But here we are and there it is and off we go. Navarre Distribution has posted a free coffee station at the end of the hallway by the press room, which must be buying them more good will by the cup than any other promotion in history.
Badu, Sauvée des Woe: I take a full page of notes during Erykah Badu's fantastic public interview, and by nightfall I've lost all of it but a single quote. Perhaps it's just as well. What is powerful about her session, like Ani DiFranco's interview last year, is not the precise sequence of her words so much as the greater flow of her thoughts, though when she mentions that her new Control Freaq Records will free the masters as well as the slaves - a canny pun - every pen in the place hits paper at once. Badu is present as a woman of many parts, only some of which have to do with the record industry and only some of which have to do with the public. She is thoughtful and serious, alternating an attentive thousand-yard deadpan with a winning grin, treating her rapt packed-house audience of fans with dignity and respect.
Erykah Badu, Control Freaq and manifestation of truth
Badu is resolute about how she wants to run her newly-formed label, and even-handed about her current arrangements with Universal/Motown. Asked how she wants to change the music business, Badu stops and observes that she has no intention of doing that - what she wants to do is run her shop by her lights. The rest of the business is beyond her responsibility and isn't hers to change. She seems to approach Control Freaq with the same calm commitment she brings to her community works in Dallas, where she is involved in the restoration of a theatre and related musical and cultural projects.
Asked how she has changed since she first got involved in the industry, since before Baduizm (Grammy winner for Best R&B Album, 1997), her first record, was released, she muses for a moment. "Ten years," she says, pondering a younger Erykah Badu. "Nobody in here is who they were in 1995. I don't remember what she thought, why she wrote what she wrote." I spin my own clock back a decade and see what she means.
Who'll Stop the Rain?: Speaking of clocks, they're ticking. The sand is doing its hourglass thing on this last full day of SXSW festivities, so the remains of the day race past at speed. We zip to Maggie Mae's for a few songs by Ann Vriend, showcasing by day with fellow artists from Alberta. Vriend has a flirty, supple voice, and she mixes the fragile vocal sweetness of one Jones (Rickie Lee) with the husky hominess of another (Norah). She closes with a delightful ramble called "The Only Living Girl in New York," which may not precisely match the Simon and Garfunkel Boy counterpart but certainly gives it a run for spirit.
Uptown and off the strip at the Pop Culture Press party, New Jersey psyche-delite garage-poppers The Grip Weeds are wrapping up as we arrive. Amy Rigby sports a STIFF Records t-shirt for the occasion; she aces a grownup set of her sublime sidelong-glance life-is tunes, singing solo and then calling her daughter, Hazel, to join her. The chemistry has the clouds in a tizzy, and Steve Wynn sets up on the next stage just in time for the first drops to fall. He rips into a run-with-the-wind cover of "Let It Rain" that ends in deluge. The Pop Culture Press guys are a little blue about the downpour, but this isn't nasty rain - this is rain to shout "whooo" in. If it weren't for the minor detail of being under a big tent in a parking lot, we'd have a whole little Woodstock thing going.
Pure Reason Revolution: Chloe at the strange keyboards
Saturday Night's Alright: The streets dry off and rain stays in the air, heavy. It's a strange night, as if everyone's personal haze of caffeine, alcohol, sore feet, and overwhelmed ears coalesced, slid into the public domain, and slyly became weather. Or maybe I just need more sleep.
Utne Magazine's annual all-night showcase kicks off with Tina "B-Sides" Schlieske, acoustic in a set that, per her web site journal, may have had a few misaligned stars. The work is solid nevertheless. On the far side of town, Brooklyn's Stephen Clair is spare and gracious with his tightly-written songs, leaving them space to breathe and settle. The best are literary, sharp, and nostalgic.
I'm not sure what I've been doing for the last 20 years, but among other things apparently I've been hellishly busy not seeing classic country punkers Dash Rip Rock. Tonight we correct this oversight in a blur of rocksteady good-sweat aerobics, with songs and moves and jumps and shimmies and licks flowing like good intentions at an open bar. At Latitude 30 Edith Frost plays her native Austin for the first time in years; she's on her feet for the first time in weeks after a match into extra innings with a tenacious Chicago flu, and she brings home a chipper set.
Pure Reason Revolution is a new signing for Or Records, which proves that someone is listening to something deeper than the howl of the bankers. They're a moody, darkling pleasure of a band lost somewhere between Björk and Mork, between Factory Records and the Soft Machine, between Crème Tangerine and Tangerine Dream - Punk Floyd, suggests a friend. Pure Reason Revolution paints vaulting dreamscapes in pulsing, methodical washes of sound. On the roomy Buffalo Billiards stage they find their light and then, for the most part, steer clear of it, spinning in place or bending to concentrate on sudden thrumming action. Their songs can run to 25 minutes of murky improvised journey, as if they were Sun-Ra and the Arkestra reborn as a bunch of slouchy young English hipster rock kids. It's unexpected, it's architectural, it's textural, and I enjoy it immensely. Set your controls for the heart of the sun, then, and lean back and let Pure Reason Revolution drive.
Cruiserweight: Stella, triumphant
Blood on the Stacks: This is a tough week for Austin's master pop punk sibling outfit Cruiserweight. On Tuesday lead singer Stella Maxwell walks away from a car crash with just a few scuffs to show; tonight guitarist Urny slices his hand open against his instrument midway through their set at Sake on Sixth Street. His color drains pale in the thick red stage light and blood runs freely down his hand and fingers, spattering the guitar with a queasy red slick and spotting the stage and walls with red stipple. Two songs race past before he breaks to look for a first aid kit, which proves elusive. Stella and drummer brother Yogi (and Dave on bass) stall for a minute, and then Urny returns, sporting a duct tape bandage to hold back the blood. He jumps back in, tunes up, and off they go. I'm thinking we should get him a t-shirt that says "I Played Guitar for Cruiserweight and Lived, Mostly."
Cruiserweight is celebrating their new release, Sweet Weaponry on Doghouse/Heinous Records (I guess this is what happens when you put a chainsaw on your CD cover). Lacerations aside, they're among Austin's very best. As soon as the set is over a bloody Urny vaults off the side of the stage and mans the merch table. I make him promise to go to the hospital when he's done. This is the last SXSW show of the last SXSW night, and as I step out into the dull-roar chaos of Sixth Street a girl dashes up to him, CD in hand. "Um!" she squeaks. "Could you sign this for me?" "I don't know," he says. "I'm not sure I can hold a pen. But I'll try."
SXSW - http://2005.sxsw.com/music/
Erykah Badu - http://www.erykahbadu.com/
Stephen Clair - http://www.stephenclair.com/
Cruiserweight - http://www.cruiserweight.com/
Dash Rip Rock - http://www.dashriprock.net/
Edith Frost - http://www.edithfrost.com/
The Grip Weeds - http://www.gripweeds.com/
Pop Culture Press - http://www.popculturepress.com/
Pure Reason Revolution - http://www.purereasonrevolution.com/
Amy Rigby - http://www.amyrigby.com/
Tina Schlieske - http://www.tinaschlieske.com/
Ann Vriend - http://www.annvriend.com/
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