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SXSW 2002: South by Over the Rainbow, or Notes from Down Under(ish)
Day 2
By Linus Gelber, Home Office Records
(more articles from this author)
2002-03-14
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Dateline: Thursday 3/14, Austin, TX: The press room is empty of a sunny Thursday afternoon, grills are grilling all over town, and the eager supplicants still in the convention center are wondering the annual SXSW question: where'd everybody go?

Out, that's where. Having a hang and a frolic in the trill of the warm season.

Robbie and the Robots?: Keynote speaker Robbie Robertson of ur-grandmaster group The Band kicked off this morning with a neutral keynote that addressed the state of the music industry in no way at all, and instead recounted his story in snippets of wonder. To hear him tell it, he was just hanging about playing a bit of guitar when all of a sudden the earth spun that certain way and he was headlining at Woodstock. There's more to it than that, of course, and Robertson hinted at the long dues-paying part when he named a few earlier projects, Robbie & the Robots ("I know that's inexcusable, but it happened") and Little Caesar & the Consuls among them, and noted in passing nearly two decades spent on the road. But it all turned out well, and it played to the quiet crowd as a sort of fairy tale, set long ago in a universe far away.

Also in a universe far away was RIAA head Hilary Rosen, who was interviewed in the main hall after the keynote in front of an audience that was not nearly so forgiving. Rosen played her interview like a friendly game of chess which she just happens to make sure she'll win. Her professions of liberal innocence -- "we're just trying to help" is the position she takes -- wouldn't stand up to a lot of scrutiny, but in the uncritical hands of Hollywood Reporter's Tamara Conniff there was no scrutinizing accomplished. Rosen came out smelling roses, and the session was more about whitewash than true colors. It's a pity; given the enormous power wielded by the RIAA, and the questionable-at-best activities that body has engaged in these past few years, the time was ripe for incisive questions and substantive answers. I'll say only this about the whole thing: What big teeth you have, grandma.

Knights of the Order of Earplugs: Your Mr. Cyrano and MC Webmaster Pierre donned the holy implements last night, saddled up, and rode out into downtown. Here There Be Tunes, said the map, and there they were indeed. Best-favored so far in these quarters is cruiserweight, a local four-piece that makes a mussed and crumpled athletic swarm of a wonderful clatter. Made up of "three siblings, Stella, Urny and Yogi, and their friend Dave," the band is said to be a focus of A&R interest; in this crazy world, who knows what that means. Sweat was sweated, struts were strutted, songs were sung. High point of the night.

New Yorker and perennial favorite Robert Burke Warren brought us to the Ruta Maya coffeeshop, where we also caught the ironic Jennifer Ellen Cook (an Austinian self-described as a cross between Sheryl Crow and Jessica Rabbit) and authoritative Troy Young Campbell, who came at a happy musical middle from very different directions. The new Austin Hard Rock Cafe (now what's that doing in the middle of Sixth Street, that's what I want to know) hosted a busy showcase for New York's dawning buzz-babies The Pasties, who romped through a happy and tight set of careful pop and solid craft.

Tonight: more music. Tomorrow: barbecue, barbecue, it's all about the barbecue.


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