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SXSW 2002: South by Over the Rainbow, or Notes from Down Under(ish)
Day 5
By Linus Gelber, Home Office Records
(more articles from this author)
2002-03-19
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Dateline: Sunday 3/17, Austin, TX: By now the figures have reached the media and been chewed over a bit. Registration was down about 15% for SXSW 2002, and there weren't as many flashy parties or big-name bands. The happy result is predictable: this year's conference, more than any other SXSW your Mr. Cyrano has attended these last five years, is about the music.

It works for me.

The Ball's in Your Courtney: The early murmur during Saturday's closing daytime session goes something like this: Courtney Love, Courtney Love, Courtney Love, Courtney Love. She's a gin-u-wine superstar, dyed-in-the-fishnets, dry cleaning required. And when push comes to shove, she's just a blast during her long public interview. Not nearly as coherent or crisp as she was for her Rockrgrl 2000 conference appearance in Seattle, Love nevertheless puts on a hell of a show that covers rule-flaunting (smoking in the smoke-free building, a terrific wanton signature piece of hers), imitations of Jimmy Iovine, wads of name-dropping, and a solid muscular grasp on the nuts and bolts of the industry -- and mostly she's got 'em by the nuts.

The bottom line is that Love wants to found a musicians' union to address stolen monies, illegal or irregular business practices, crappy contracts, unfair terms, lack of health care, and all the rest of the simple realities that should have been dealt with long ago. It's about time. Her long and costly litigation against her label ($2.4 million worth, she estimates today) is still working through the courts, and in the meantime she cuts a grand potent figure/head for the movement. Her session is more a prompted speech than an interview, scattered and nasty and funny and canny all wrapped together. It's a bit exhausting, but if she did it again tomorrow I'd turn out for it again.

Knights of the Order of Earplugs: Your Mr. Cyrano and MC Webmaster Pierre donned the holy implements last night, saddled up once again, and rode out on increasingly-weary steeds into downtown for one last round of the good stuff. Eels frontman E is capped and bearded at La Zona Rosa, and the band's hour-long set is a cocktail of grit and crack performance, snappy and shabby-chic and brilliant in street clothes. E makes portent out of understatement, and it is charming and satisfying here. Impish Mary Lou Lord is hoarse but well-loved after an overlong street-singing session Friday night in front of the Driskill Hotel; Delaware's Braxton Hicks are getting over the flu at a non-SXSW show at B-Side in The Bitter End, but the best moments of clarity and harmony shine prettily in their non-venue venue.

Nashville's Jenai is a balls-to bluesy bass-playing rocker, shimmering on the small stage at Hideout. The sampler CD available at her showcase is meticulous and groomed, and it pales against her throbbing live splash. Convention buzzers Yeah Yeah Yeahs from Brooklyn are having the kind of good time a jet has on takeoff, which is fun but overkills these tender ears even in an outdoor garden.

Down at The Ginger Man, a gem of a beer bar even in a beer town, Jeff Black (Kansas City) is enthralling in a grave, darkling solo turn, his emphatic gavel of a voice gathering all the sorrows of the world and turning them into song. He's followed by Jim Lauderdale, bedecked in rhinestoned pink cowboy weeds, who knocks off a chip of the Grand Ole Opry and makes it his own, and squeezes out romantic midtempo country pop until two o'clock rolls in. We'd be sobbing in our beer, but we're all too happy.

Bases Unloaded: Every year most of the faithful are in transit back home when Sunday's barbecue (Salt Lick, yum) and softball round-robin gets going at noon. It's a particularly thin turnout this year, with repeated calls over the PA for warm bodies ("if you've ever even thought about playing softball, please go to the sign-up tent"). Which just means that yr. faithful correspondent can eat his body weight in ribs and brisket in peace. From there on it's all trains, planes and automobiles, and we're not in the airport three minutes when we're wishing the SXSW folks would give the airlines a few quick lessons in how to get something done right.


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