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For those interested, as I noted in my last blog, I have a piece on the immortal and apparently ageless IGGY POP, primarily on his days with THE STOOGES, in the current March issue of Spin Magazine (with FALL OUT BOY on the cover). This would likely be your last week to buy it if you want it, at least on the stands, as the March issue will be arriving thereafter to knock it off. Again, it’s actually one of my favorite interviews I have conducted in some time, not because of anything to do with me, but because the Ig is so funny and so honest. You just have to feed him a few inside tidbits from his wild past and the anecdotes fly fast and furious! And hilarious, too. I hope you will check it out. Just as a taste, on the cover of the magazine it says, “Iggy: ‘I tried to snort the floor.’” (True; at the Redondo Beach Motel in the mid-’70s, but you’ll have to read the interview to find out how and why!) There is also a photo of yours truly on the “contributors” page in the early going, which I couldn’t be more pleased by. I had not written anything of note for Spin in 20 years, but the direction of the magazine under DOUG BROD is more to my personal liking, and I was enormously glad he asked me to do it. I hope you enjoy it!
That aside, I am going to put aside the part two of my comments on 2006 I promised momentarily, so I can post the three-part summation of Michael Ackerman’s diary from this year’s SXSW, just concluded. He filed them last week but I didn’t see them until now, as he sent them to an email address I wasn’t looking at regularly. But here they are while they are still timely! Here’s part one; part two and three are coming in the next few days!
Thanks Michael! Readers of our mag know he is one of our regular editorial columnists every issue, so this is a treat.
SXSW Diary, by Michael Ackerman:
The often-raised question “Has South by Southwest jumped the shark?” reared its head big-time for me today. Over the past ten years or so the Conference has grown in the number of registrants, venues, and the number of artists who play. But when so many venues are at full capacity on Thursday night (in previous years this would only happen on Saturday night), then I would say that perhaps the conference has sold too many badges and wristbands. Clearly the venues cannot accommodate all those who want to see the bigger name acts, but the conference planners should have contemplated this from the start.
There were two artists I wanted to see the most in Austin: SAM THE SHAM (as in SAM THE SHAM & THE PHAROAHS, but really how many Sam the Shams are there?) and AMY WINEHOUSE. I’ve loved Sam the Sham since I was a child but never got to see him, and he seldom plays in New York or Los Angeles (I can’t remember a Sam the Sham gig in either place in the last 15 years). I’ve loved Amy Winehouse’s album since I first heard some of the songs from it on the BBC (which I listen to via streaming media) last summer and into the fall. Winehouse’s album was not released here until this week and she blitzed America, appearing on Letterman on Monday, and doing four or five appearances in Austin during South by Southwest. I’ll let you guess which one I got to see last night (no prize for guessing the correct answer, which will be revealed shortly).
The day started out well enough when I met DONOVAN at breakfast. I’ve loved his music most of my life and I am pleased to say he was as charming and pleasant as one would hope he would be.
A little while later I began the music performance part of my day with a live radio performance by PETER BJORN & JOHN at Buffalo Billiards. You may not know Peter Bjorn & John by name, but I’m sure you’d recognize their hit “Young Folks” with the whistling hook which gets tattooed on your brain. The show was not without its problems, as it was riddled with technical difficulties including the loss of power onstage for a long stretch of time, so I only saw about three songs, but they were all good and “Young Folks” was charming.
I began the nighttime portion of the festivities with ELVIS PERKINS. I had heard about him for a while but had not seen him. He is a really different singer songwriter who plays with a band that is at alternate times a folk rock band, a marching band, and an oompah band. Almost like a more dissonant New Orleans brass band with guitars or a Waitsian crazy carnival type mix, it was great to see something so different. This winning performance made me curious to hear the album.
I tried to see BRETT DENNEN, but the venue was at capacity with a line stretching across Sixth Street (which was closed to traffic). This would become a quite common occurrence throughout the night, throughout the city.
Because Sam the Sham was so high on my priority list, I went over to the venue early so I could see him. With the venue at capacity and a line down the block consisting of probably half of the over forty-year-old registrants of the conference, my prospects looked dismal. I ran into my friend DAVE AMELS, who plays with THE REIGNING SOUND and who was also playing with MARY WEISS (of SHANGRI-LA’Sthat night). Dave offered to try to sneak me in, but even that was unsuccessful. So I had to give up on the artist I most wanted to see.
Having been shut out on Sam the Sham, I was not about to be shut out on Amy Winehouse, so I walked over there immediately and found a line stretching across Sixth Street. I waited in the line, knowing that I was in for a long and uncomfortable wait inside, but the line was moving and I got to the front door quickly. When I got to the door I saw the posted lineup, which was different from the published schedule. The schedule listed Amy Winehouse at midnight but the posted sign showed a 1 A.M. start. I asked the bouncer if that list was correct and he verified that it was twice and so I walked down the road in an attempt to see another artist before returning (early) for Amy Winehouse.
I went to several venues to find they were all at capacity with lines stretching down the block at each one. So my friend MATTHIEU BITTON and I got bottled water and went back to tough out the wait for Amy Winehouse.
We got into the venue rather rapidly and found a decent spot toward the front. So far so good, until STRAYLIGHT RUN, recently signed by Universal, hit the stage. This performance held nothing for me. It made me wonder how the highly paid execs at Universal, who are supposed to be arbiters of taste, missed the boat so badly on this. When they left the stage, no one applauded and I don’t think I have ever seen a show at South by Southwest or otherwise where that’s happened. Never mind illegal downloading, signing artists like this is probably the biggest reason major labels are in such bad shape.
At least the next band, FAIR TO MIDLAND, could really play their instruments well. I didn’t like their brand of hard SYSTEM OF A DOWN-type rock. I really disliked their singer, who went from super-high RONNIE JAMES DIO type signing to super low Cookie Monster type growl, the full gamut of the heavy metal range. Moreover, I really disliked his convulsive stage moves, which made me wonder if there were a pair of scissors stuck in his back or a bee in the back of his shirt or if he were being electrocuted. But we suffered in silence as we waited for the Queen of Neo Soul.
Amy Winehouse’s performance was everything I expected it to be. She had a terrific band (she is using the DAP KINGS, as in SHARON JONES & DAP KINGS, an outstanding Brooklyn-based R&B/soul outfit) and they played her mix of Motown, BILLIE HOLIDAY, girl group, and modern melismatic vocals to perfection. The crowd loved her, and if they weren’t won over before, they were when she fell into lockstep with her two male background singers/dancers late in the set.
This was the kind of performance the modern South by Southwest was made for: a breakout performance by a rising star whom no one had seen before because she had not really played in America. So I wouldn’t say all was forgotten or forgiven after the stellar Amy Winehouse show, but at least I got see a little bit of greatness, albeit after seeing and waiting in too many queues.—Michael Ackerman (part two coming)
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