Charlie Don't Surf

Monday, March 17, 2008

Chuck McCutcheon's SXSW

My reporter friend Chuck McCutcheon attends Austin's frenetic South by Southwest music festival every year, and then sends around a recap of the best shows he saw (that he can remember through the haze of tequila). Here's this year's edition.

It was another great year in the fabulous capital of Texas. The weather was in the upper 70s all week, even cracking the 90s one day. I opted to go without a wristband this year, not wanting to pay the ridiculous $180 (more than a hundred dollars over what they were when we started going a decade ago).

This meant that while I did not get to see Van Morrison or R.E.M., I didn't feel like I had to rush around frantically all week trying to get my money's worth. I enjoyed leisurely meals (Artz Rib House and Ruby's BBQ in particular) got lots more sleep. And I still saw plenty of music at the day parties, evening showcases and elsewhere.

The big highlights:

X at the Austin Convention Center. This show was part of a week-long series of tapings for DirecTV inside two movie-set-like clubs. One was made up to look like a honky tonk; the other was the "Bat Bar,'' with stroby high-tech lights. My friend Steve scored press passes to the Bat Bar, which meant that we stood eight feet in front of John, Exene, DJ and Billy as they happily blasted through more than an hour's worth of their classics. Yes, it was really, really amazing. Because of a technical glitch we even got to see them do "Your Phone's Off The Hook, But You're Not" twice.

Spoon at Town Lake. They were the headliners of a free show that drew a huge crowd at sunset. I didn't know much about these guys, except that they're critically adored, and now I can see why. They did get a great job of blending loud and soft, fast and slow.

Waco Brothers at the Yard Dog. For me this remains the single best reason to come to SXSW. Nothing quite beats seeing Jon Langford and the gang whipping up a supercharged fury on that tiny plank of a stage while trading insults and collectively swilling from a tequila bottle. They had a new drummer this year, plus a bassist they recruited from a local oldies band (who saw fit to drunkenly shout "OLDIES!" to anyone within earshot). As an added bonus we got to see them do it all over again the next day at Jovita's. They have a new live CD out, which captures some of the madness of their shows and which all of you should buy immediately.

Others I really liked:

Chuck Prophet at Jovita's: I was very impressed with his ability to make his stuff sound so moody, atmospheric and personal inside a crowded Mexican restaurant crammed full of loud and drunk people. I'm definitely buying more of his music.

The Drams at Mother Egan's: This is Brent Best of Slobberbone’s new band. I miss Slobberbone but these guys did a wonderful job on the first night, even playing a few of the old songs.

The Breeders at Waterloo Park: Truth be told, they weren't that great. They had an amplifier problem that made "Divine Hammer" and a couple of other songs sound muddled, and their version of "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" started out great but then fell apart. But ``Cannonball’’ still sounds cool after all these years, and I did have the same flight out of Austin with the Deal sisters, telling Kim as we were boarding that I enjoyed the show.

Grupo Fantasma at Town Lake: Prince is apparently a big fan of these Austin guys, and they play the kind of music he would if he were Mexican and had a large horn section.

Alejandro Escovedo, the Old 97s, Kevin Gordon and the North Mississippi All Stars: All are old SXSW favorites that I saw at one place or another during the week. None gave the best performance I've ever seen, but all still sound good, Alejandro in particular. Apparently he and Chuck Prophet are now collaborating, which is exciting news. I got to say hello to Jimmy Gray of Last Train Home, who was playing bass for Kevin.

Some other shows:

My buddy Ed Pettersen, Thurston Moore, the Silos (with Jon Dee Graham on guitar), Patty Hurst Shifter, the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, And You Will Know Us By Our Trail of Dead, the Redwalls, Augustana, Black Angels, Golden Dogs.

Friday, March 14, 2008

I condemn these awful, reprehensible comments, which I will repeat in case you didn't hear them.

A riff that burbled up when my friend Bill Shein sent me this news link with the aside, "We’ll see this headline, what, 2.4 million times if it’s McCain vs. Obama?"
"McCain Campaign Condemns Backer's Obama Remarks"

JOHN McCAIN: "Let me say again: I completely condemn Rev. Hagee's use of Mr. Obama's middle name, which is Hussein," McCain said. "I condemn it. It has no place in my campaign. I also condemn the insidious suggestion that Mr. Obama may or not be a Muslim and attended a Madrassah, perhaps with future members of Hezbollah. These reprehensible suggestions have no place in my or any campaign. I also condemn the fact that an unidentified person chose to distribute this photograph of Mr. Obama wearing an Islamic head wrap. Can we show it? There. That one. I specifically condemn this photograph, of which my staff is distributing four-color reproductions. No, Dave, not the one of him not putting his hand over his heart during the national anthem. Different stack. I also condemn those. No, the head-wrap. Yes. This tactic is loathsome and shocks the conscience! Let me add that I condemn and revile without reservation the notion that somehow Mr. Obama is to be held in low regard because in that book he admitted to smoking marijuana and perhaps ingested other drugs, such as crack or heroin, or huffed gasoline out of a bucket, I'm not saying he did, but to suggest that he did, or still does, is scandalous and I abhor it. I abhor it! I also condemn.. what else have I got here.. [shuffles papers] Antichrist -- that one is awful, totally out of bounds, call someone Devilspawn, it has no place in the.. what else.. Hussein.. said it.. the flag pin thing -- awful -- unconscionable to even mention it... anyway, I will be condemning these vile acts again for the 6:30 pm live network feed."