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Guest SXSW Blog by Michael B. Ackerman: Part IV

5 April 2007

And as noted in the last three blogs, I am putting aside the part two of my comments on 2006 I promised momentarily, so I can post the four-part summation of Michael B. Ackerman’s diary from this year’s SXSW, recently concluded.
Here’s part four anyway; the final entry in his report of a four-day stand where he say more good bands than most of us see in a year!
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 B. Ackerman
Day Four, Saturday:

For the first time ever at South by Southwest, I’m dying to go home. Fortunately, we’re in the home stretch and I’m counting the hours. Maybe it’s the overcrowding and the frantic pace, or maybe it’s that I arrived a day early for the first time ever this year, but usually I want to stay longer and now I want to go home.
Fortunately, I dropped in on the Snocap party in the park across from the convention center. Pound for pound the talent lineup at this party was as good as any other party the entire week. I was there to see the opening band, Bellingham, Washington’s THE TRUCKS. You can always count me in for four women playing new wavish type music on two keyboards, bass and drums. It’s early in the day and early in the Trucks’ career, but I suspect that they’ll be just as lively as they are now and even better at next year’s South by Southwest. They were upbeat, dynamic and charming and that was just what the doctor ordered.
After a brief break during which time I missed CALLA, I returned to the Snocap party to see APOLLO SUNSHINE. I’m not sure how their interesting mix of many styles will play out on an album, but they sure can put on a show. At one point all four members played a percussion solo, creating a nice groove. At another they played a very folky type song featuring an acoustic guitar with a strong beat. They could do it all well and I’m curious to hear their recorded works.
But the best was yet to come. BUZZCOCKS were the headliners and since I had not seen them in some time I decided to stay. Boy, am I glad I did. Buzzcocks’ mix of energy, showmanship and good old fashioned tunes was the best thing I saw during all of South by Southwest. Having seen the Buzzcocks in 1980 and several times in the early to mid-nineties, I was skeptical that they could still perform at that level, however this performance removed all doubts. STEVE DIGGLE’s winning stage presence and the still fantastic voice of PETE SHELLEY impressed everyone, including first timers. And as my friend REGINA JOSKOW said, “the only other song I wish they had done was “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays.” After the show I went over to tell Shelley how much I had enjoyed it, and he replied “I know I could see you beaming everytime I looked at you from the stage.” So much for my poker career.
Craving more good music I went to the NY2London party because they had a full day of good performers. However, I arrived just in time to catch ANTIBALAS, which only disappointed me because I had already seen them. They were very good again, and especially good at riling up the crowd.
I began the evening with ROCKY DEWANI, a reggae performer on a terrific bill that included JOSEPH ISRAEL and LEE “SCRATCH” PERRY (who showed up over an hour late). Rocky and his band (eight people in all) laid down a great groove. They got the crowd and me going early on in the evening.
Next I went to see Boston area legend ANDY PRATT. To the best of my knowledge, Pratt had not performed in years and it showed. He frequently made mistakes and doubled back to correct them. He tried different keys when he began songs but despite all that he was a charming performer who could really sing and play. And he did a lovely version of “Town Without Pity” (one of my favorite songs).
Irish newcomer FIONN REGAN was next. I had heard good things about him before I arrived and after some people had seen him earlier in the week at party performances. However, his combination of acoustic guitar and drums didn’t do it for me and I left after three songs which did not impress.
BRETT DENNEN was performing again and as I’d missed him earlier in the week I jumped at the chance to see him. However, he too disappointed because he struck me as a minor league RON SEXSMITH. Dennen’s voice is definitely distinct and individual but it reminded me of Sexsmith’s and neither Dennen’s voice nor his songs were as good as Sexsmith’s. However, Dennen’s bass player and drummer were terrific and really added a lot to his presentation. In short, he’s good but that’s not enough to stand out at South by Southwest.
Thank god for THE HAZEY JANES. They played the rooftop of Maggie Mae’s and it was packed. Immediately after they started playing the rooftop started to shake and I actually thought it might cave in, because there were so many people there, so I moved further away from the band to a more stable place near a railing I could grab onto if the floor collapsed. The Scottish foursome sang close harmonies extremely well, especially considering there was no soundcheck. Their brand of pop won over the large crowd and they were one of the bands that impressed me most.
I stuck my head in on THE PIPETTES, the girl group sensation from the U.K. And I mean that literally, because my head was all I could get into the capacity venue. Fortunately, it was a tented outdoor venue so I could see the show from just beyond the fence. The Pipettes even gave us outsiders watching the show a shout out. They were cute, they were charming, although they were a little long on gimmick. They were sort of inversely proportional to AMY WINEHOUSE, who has a bit of gimmick and a lot of genuine talent, whereas with the Pipettes the gimmick obscures whatever genuine talent may be there.
Finally, I decided to stick my head in on my old friend GARY LUCAS, partially because it had been some time since I’d seen him play, partially because he now has BILLY FICCA (of TELEVISION), ERNIE BROOKS (of THE MODERN LOVERS and THE NECESSARIES) and JERRY HARRISON (of the Modern Lovers and TALKING HEADS) in his band, and partially because he was playing a big venue (Central Presbyterian Church) where I didn’t think capacity would be an issue. I walked in toward the end of Gary Lucas playing his solo score to the film The Golem. It’s a wonderful experience to see a film and hear the score played live, but especially weird to see a film about a Jewish superhero in a Church. Justifiably, Lucas received a standing ovation at the end of his score performance and advised the crowd to stick around to see his band GODS AND MONSTERS.
The half of the audience who did stick around were treated to some of the finest playing I saw in Austin. Lucas is a masterful guitarist in many genres and his band provides excellent accompaniment. Their version of SUICIDE’s “Ghostrider” was riveting. And their encore of The Modern Lovers’ “She Cracked” with two of the original Modern Lovers on the stage was a special treat.
Fortunately I did not choose to continue on to the Vice afterparty. Apparently a portion of the patio collapsed at the party forcing its closure minutes later (fortunately no one was hurt). Just one more example of overcrowding in evidence throughout the conference.
In the end, this South by Southwest, like every other I’ve attended, was a music lover’s paradise. There is plenty to enjoy for any music fan in any and every genre, although this year there might have been a bit too much. There were at least a dozen more bands I wanted to see but didn’t get to; but that’s part of the South by Southwest experience too. Each day you make a schedule and hope you get to all of it, but you never do. Nevertheless, I’ve only met one or two people in all my years of attendance who didn’t enjoy it. I can understand that the crowds and party maniacs who crowd Sixth Street can be a botheration (and it was also Saint Patrick’s Day on Saturday which meant more drunk people were wandering about giving Sixth Street a soap opera-ish air with crying women, fights and staggering people all in plentitude) but it’s still a blast to be able to see this much music in such a compressed geographical space and time period. One band said “This place is like a playground for bad adults” and it’s true that Austin has taken on a Vegas like vibe to it during South by Southwest. But I wouldn’t say that diminishes its well-deserved reputation as the live music capital. In the end, I wish I’d had a better planned schedule, more energy, and more time to see more music, especially in light of the high caliber of most of the talent that I saw.