HITS Daily Double
After about 45 mins of standing in line while hearing faint wafts of Kings of Leon, I got into Stubbs for a fun but unlikely pairing of Spoon and the Stooges.


After a Jam-Packed Saturday, Rockcrit/Attorney Jeff Leven Files His Final Report from Austin
By Jeff Leven

Saturday is always burnout/second-wind day at SXSW. Heavy hitters often have gone home, ankles, shins, heels and livers are sore and there is a sense that the endurance contest that is the festival has hit the fourth quarter and your team is up (or down?) by three touchdowns. Still, it remains a day absolutely packed with afternoon parties, and the evening usually features some of the biggest headliners, followed by pseudo-secret special till-dawn parties located in various corners of the city.

In the first part of the day, I went to see a panel on race relations moderated by uber-rock critic Dave Marsh and featuring Garland Jeffreys, Alejandro Escovedo, Cyril Neville and Chuck D. The panelist's testimonials were both poignant and troubling and served as a reminder that even within the seemingly tolerant world of music, racial and ethnic barriers continue to exist, even as music serves as a catalyst for improving the situation within society as a whole. Sometimes the true gems at SXSW are panels like these that are about larger topics other than business trends or mechanics, because they often offer musicians a chance to voice themselves in a personal way that you would rarely get out of a magazine interview. To hear someone like Escovedo talk from the heart is a special experience to say the least.

Good as the panels can be, inside the convention center one tends to itch to get back to the shows. During the day I also took the chance to sample part of the Red Gorilla festival, an unaffiliated (to SXSW) alternate series of shows held in 6th St. venues frequently featuring unsigned bands. Red Gorilla is perhaps the ultimate manifestation of SXSW's current point in its life cycle—SXSW is both massive enough where its spillover can sustain other events, but has also ballooned to a point where others would seek to recapture some of its earlier spirit of discovery. My quick foray into its lineup was satisfying indeed—I saw Sundance splash-makers Calhoun (led by songwriter Tim Locke) play an energetic and very musical set to an appreciative audience.

Afterwards, I headed over to the Filter party to see Mew, an excellent Danish band who I think time may prove to be among the best in the anthemic indie rock genre of this part of the decade. After that it was off to see deranged dub prophet Lee "Scratch” Perry at the SXSW Direct live stage. For a series of soundstages built inside a convention center, the two "venues" set up for concert tapings this year were truly impressive—great set work, stunningly good sound and a surprising energy—one suspects the videos that result will be excellent, indeed. Perry was great, too!

After dinner at Gueros, my night belonged to Iggy. The night began with a thrilling dose of the Buzzcocks, some booty-shaking (well, in my case head-bobbing with the occasional pigeon-neck move) at Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, and about 45 mins of standing in line while hearing faint wafts of Kings of Leon, I got into Stubbs. In a fun but unlikely pairing, Spoon was up next and played a crisp set in which they debuted new songs before yielding the stage to the Stooges. And so? The first 20 mins were the coolest part of the week as the band blasted out "I Wanna Be Your Dog," "TV Eye" and "1970." Iggy was absolutely as you would imagine—bare-chested, howling and into the crowd every other verse. The Ashetons, for their part, were impressive as well, but special mention goes to Mike Watt, who, as a substitute Stooge, has traded his more intricate signature basslines for a smoldering, intense bulldozer approach that is absolutely devastating. If Iggy at times seemed to be too self-conscious a showman, you could tell Mike Watt was FEELING IT, which is of course why he is Mike Watt. After the opening blast the material shifted to new stuff, which, serviceable as it is, just doesn't hang with their classics. The reunion old material/new material topic could be a book in itself, but the bottom line is that the Stooges are more fun when they are playing, um, "No Fun" (which they did as an encore—inviting audience members onstage in a visually entertaining if clichéd crowd-pleasing tactic). After a stop at the Vice party, it was time for sleep, sweet sleep to prepare for a Sunday barbecue, a stop at Waterloo Records and the final retreat to reality.

So how was SXSW overall? Anyone who ran into me for five minutes knows that it's just about my favorite week of the year, so I come in biased. From a purely business perspective, in some ways the fest may be jumping the shark—Rodel is right that there is less executive presence and perhaps less commerce overall. And the lines, hassles, overload and blitz of the thing remain a bit much to handle even for diehards. Still, name another place where, in the space of four days you can see speeches, interviews, performances and collaborations by artists like Pete Townshend, Gilberto Gil, David Byrne, Iggy Pop, Isaac Hayes, Ghostface Killah, Mastodon, Tom Morello, Steve Earle, the Hoodoo Gurus, the Polyphonic Spree and Thurston Moore, to name just a few. Throw in the tacos, ribs and Shiner Bock, and you've got, in the words of Doug Sahm, "Groover's Paradise." At the end of the festival, my only real regret is that it's 365 days until the next one.