SXSW 2002: South by Over the Rainbow, or Notes from Down Under(ish)
Dateline: Friday 3/15, Austin, TX: Let this be said early and
often: too much good weather is good for business (we're all cheery) and
bad for business (we can't be bothered). The sun is holding out
gangbusters here in Austin, and eyes stray to the windows, the sunstreams,
the warm-handed breezes. Let this also be said: if the music industry
could figure out a way to charge you for this stuff, they would.
We're at the cusp of this conference. Friday morning is when you wake up
and think to yourself, "Wow, it's only Friday!" Tomorrow, bleary after
tonight's cycle of frolic, it'll be "Thank God it's Saturday, I can't take
much more of this."
But Do They Walk The Walk: The faithful crowded into a standout
series of panels at the Austin Convention Center all day today. In the
morning session a sedate gathering of online retailers, notably featuring
the ubiquitous Derek Sivers of CDBaby.com, talked
matter-of-factly of surviving in a field littered with the crashed and burned husks of dotcoms left over from
the queer boom a few years ago; in fact, at
least some are writing commercial history.
Two doors down a different panel acted out the phone calls that might be
made in the course of a major label acquisition of a successful indie
artist. As is often the case, the talk for independent work and
independent success is well talked here at SXSW. Now if only the talk
resembled the walk being walked in the corridors of power down the block
at the Four Seasons, where traditional deals get made in traditional ways.
Meg Lee Chin rampaged through a promo set at the AMP Music Circuit
party just after noontime, mixing just a dash of hip-hop hip into a soundy
and furious set that had her careening through the audience, prancing like
a cat on a hot tin publicity tour. We liked the set even better after we
spotted the Thomas Hardy book tucked into a band rucksack at the back of
the stage. Kathleen Edwards played the upstairs sitting room at a
lovely uptown Victorian stand-alone house packed with gleeful Canadians at
the NXNE party and barbecue summit, giving new meaning to the term "living
room concert." And as fast as badgeholders stream downtown to get their
bearings, they stream back out to get free food in the company of music
from all over the globe.
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 once again. Jeff "Lightning" Lewis brought a bit of
New York Antifolk back to his sometime hometown Austin, delighting his
fans and confusing the hell out of everyone else. Antifolk is a dish best
served hot, but it's definitely an educated taste. Users beware.
At The Drink on Sixth Street two large bearded gentlemen dressed in
nighties and slippers tootled, whirred, squeaked, and sang startlingly
beautiful harmonies, acompanied on a blur of instruments that included
ukelele, bass, keyboards, stylophone and tapes: look for the moth
wranglers if this sounds like your kind of thing, and if this sounds
like it might be your kind of thing, it will be.
Amanda Thorpe and Mary Lorson and Saint Low explored
different sides of wistfulness, Amanda's arched high and lush and Mary's
stripped down and ridden bareback. At Ruta Maya Coffeehouse Jesse
Malin (ex of D-Generation) showed Van Morrison roots in a set of
straightforward hard-looking rock that suggested luxuriously that there
might be lot more distance between Van and your average rootsy jam band
than had hitherto been thought.
Just Before the Wall of Sleep: Music people notoriously make the
worst audiences, and that was sadly sadly true at the late-night closer by
Pat Dinizio at Opal Divine on the west side of town. The yammering
outdid Pat's deep and warm chesty burr of a voice almost entirely on a few
songs. But the gems rode high and true, with a rapt and almost tearful
audience singing along in (dreadful) harmony on Smithereens hits
like "Yesterday Girl," "Behind the Wall of Sleep," and the extraordinary
"Blood and Roses" -- a song that is better every time I hear it, and every
year down the line. The night ended with Pat leading a raucous singalong
of The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes," open in the night air, making way for
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