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SXSW 2003: Deck Chairs on the Titanic?
Day Three: The Kids are Alright
By Linus Gelber, Home Office Records
(more articles from this author)
2003-03-14
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Friday 3/14, Austin, Texas: Here's Mr. Cyrano's take. The general suckage in music is because it's been 1977 for years, and we've all been waiting hard for it to turn 1978.

For those of you who didn't live through it the first time, those pre-seminal dark years went something like this. A new young generation of leathered pale music fans just couldn't stand even one more James Taylor song ever, just as radio reached a new dribbly all-time low. That evil and inimical device the Walkman was threatening the livelihood and solvency of everyone in the music business; "piracy" (recording albums onto cassette tapes) was surely going to bring down the whole house of cards, and there would be no recorded music after the pirates were through with it all. It was over, I tell you, over, as over as literacy and manners. The jig was up. The jeux were faits. Sell the house, mortgage the dog. Go to Jail, go directly to Jail. Do not pass CBGB's, do not collect $200. That was 1977.

Then one fine morning the sun came up, and we couldn't imagine life without Elvis Costello, The Ramones, Blondie, The Police, Talking Heads, and so much more. And life was good, for a time. Dare we hope that 2003 is the new 1978? Is it safe to go back into the record store at last?

Phair's Fare: Imagine you were the prettiest girl ever, and that you were natively bright and sensible. Imagine that you had a wandering talent that sometimes curled up, sometimes bit hard, and sometimes wasn't ready to speak for itself. Imagine that you didn't like doing what you were told, unless it was fun. Imagine that you tried on a few hats and suddenly, somewhere in the middle of having a rollicking good time, you were a darkling distaff sensation, and everyone wanted pieces of you that you didn't even know you had. Liz? Is that you in there?

It's been five years since Phair's last album, and the new one is done and in the pipe, and Phair is the guest at a public interview in the conference center on the kind of afternoon that makes you want to say "zephyrs." Even this emergence didn't rope most of the happy masses in from their adventures in the afternoon venues, but that's the way of SXSW in the sunshine. The party always has the right of way.

Phair sang four songs lightly-backed and lightly-amplified at the start of her lightly-packed session, two new and two venerable. In the chat that followed she was honest, friendly, and interesting, with none of the Star Chip factor that mars most celebrity meets. No earth shattered and no assumptions shook. Rather Phair was, well, fair, noting that somewhere in the middle of being a Mom she got over herself and that life got simpler. She promises a tour on her new Matrix-produced record, and if the whole of the session was a canny kind of ad for the album, this column is not: four tracks were played, and Mr. Cyrano really liked two of them, and that's that for today. Your mileage may vary. I'll just add that it's going to be hard to resist putting the track "Hot White Cum" on mix CD's for the next few decades. Nobody does pottymouth like Liz Phair. Bless the child who's got her own.

Now Hear This: For the first time in a long time, I'm in foot-weary ear-ringing heaven - I rarely get past foot-weary ear-ringing vague elation in the course of the appointed rounds. At least on the first date. Sixth Street is abuzz like it oughta, the unannounced Special Guest at Zona Rosa is Blur (hour-long waits not for me), and the power hitters seems to be on at 1 a.m. for the most part. First stop is at Mercury, where Boston's Moonraker flits and flutters in a house filling up for the Maktub appearance later on. Chanteuse Kelli Scarr fronts this dark five-piece like a well-placed rose on a table set for romance; her voice is supple, full, and shadowy, shaken (not stirred) with David Moltz's clacky tuned-percussion read on the guitar. Would it be a better world if Bjork had sung with Style Council? Find out.

I've never entirely been sold on Longwave (New York), and maybe it's time for that to change. We join them tonight on the kickoff date of their tour with The Raveonettes, Mooney Suzuki, and White Light Motorcade; the room is close and intent and oversmoked, the lights livid, the sound tangible, a thrill evident in the air. This is a tour to launch a thousand college flings. Longwave is painterly with its application of sound, here dappling and there lulling, never out of the frame and washing the background, perhaps, with a palette that hasn't explored a full range of colors. But purples and blues work for water lilies, and that's what's called for here.

And then Copenhagen's The Raveonettes. This is a band that fingered the upholstery in some vintage car one night, looked up at the convertible stars, and thought the trip would be more fun if there was slick shine and plush flash to perk up the firmament. So they played some. Distortion roars through their twisted minor-chord cover of Buddy Holly's "Everyday" like a Diamond-Dogs crowd, drones like a jet engine, stings like a bee. I am transported. The post-media acid offspring of The Cramps with the concentrated cool-froid of The Cars, this band is the greatest bit of American swamp never to come out of America. Even if the band name makes me want to sing a jingle every time I hear it ("Goobers and Raveonettes"), it's the high point of the night this night.

Close second tonight is also an import. Sahara Hotnights, the four-piece girl-kid band from Stockholm, has some sort of apparent mission about reinventing punk with 20-year-old chix; I hope they'll drop the mission statement and stick with the flat-out bang-out smack-down show, which is pure punk fun with power to spare. It's crisp and all about the image, and the songs are short and punchy and played hands-down hard. I'm not buying this for a second, but I'm loving being here, and the packed-in crowd agrees. When they're all at the carefully-set mikes doing vox together there's a nudging curious image of little birds in a nest that floats to mind ... but never mind that. The spin time for one of these songs is two minutes soaking wet, and there's no time to dwell. Tune it up and play me again.

And we're off. More as we have it. Pass the smoked turkey.

SXSW - www.sxsw.com
Moonraker - www.moonrakermusic.com
Longwave - www.longwavetheband.com
The Raveonettes - www.theraveonettes.com
Sahara Hotnights - www.jetsetrecords.com


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