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No reason to complain

Escaping corporate rock — and the panel discussions — at SxSW
By BRETT MILANO  |  March 20, 2007


There are at least two ways to approach the South by Southwest festival in Austin. You can attend panel discussions about the future of digital downloads and the best methods for selling songs to movies and commercials. Or you can witness a death metal band that performs nothing but educational songs about obscure science fiction authors.

That would be the Seattle group Blöödhag, for my money the week’s best reminder of why indie rock is still necessary. Introduced at SxSW by Jello Biafra — whose spoken-word set was the usual mix of cheap shots (he’s still mad at Tipper Gore) and a few nuggets of real insight — Blöödhag proved to be something else again. They wear respectable white shirts and ties (the hulking lead singer looks a bit like the Willard Grant Conspiracy’s Robert Fisher) and run their set like a very hip classroom: “Okay, our next author is James Bish. He had the world’s coolest day job, which is of course collecting urine samples from racehorses.” Then they’d play a 45-second song about Bish, cookie-monster vocals and all, and move on to the next author. The brilliance of the concept was reinforced by their t-shirt slogan (“The sooner you go deaf, the more time you have to read”) and by their habit of throwing books into the crowd — something nobody’s done well since Stryper. And it prompted one burning question: if writing about music is like dancing about architecture, then what do you call music about writing?

If this year’s SxSW was about anything, it was the disconnect between the music industry and the pockets of creativity that are still out there. As Rounder staff producer Scott Billington (who recently won a Grammy for his production of Irma Thomas) told me, “I’ve seen more good music this South by Southwest than I have in years, but it’s becoming more difficult to figure out how to do business with it.” Ironically, Billington made this statement just as Texas soul/blueswoman Barbara Lynn was about to begin a set. The writer and performer of the ’60s hit “You’ll Lose a Good Thing” (covered by the Rolling Stones and many others), Lynn played as part of the Ponderosa Stomp, a record collector’s dream show that New Orleans resident Ira “Dr. Ike” Padnos throws annually in his home city and lately in Austin as well. Along with Lynn, last week’s event featured the likes of Texas soul hero Bobby Patterson (“How do you spell love? M-O-N-E-Y!”) Crescent City funkateer Willie Tee, and rockabilly original Ray Sharpe — in short, the very kind of artists that Rounder used to sign before it went after the adult-contemporary and kiddie-pop markets.

There was no shortage of mediocre major-label fare in town over the week, whether it was quick-shot Internet sensation Lily Allen or Bloc Party, who are being groomed as a major English band for the second time in two years. But while the majors were hyping their respective next-big-things, the crowds were lining up to see the likes of the Stooges, Pete Townshend, and Booker T. & the MG’s. Not all of those sets were necessarily earth-shaking: the Stooges delivered the same bratty good time that frontman Iggy Pop has provided, year after year, with whatever band he’s carrying. And Townshend played the most high-demand show of the week: at the Austin Music Awards (which, unlike Boston’s, had a lot of unbridled music fandom and no corporate presence whatsoever), Townshend sat in with his old friend and current Austin resident, ex-Small Faces/Faces keyboardist Ian MacLagan. The two played a scrappy, spirited version of the Small Faces hit “Whatcha Gonna Do About It,” which was just about as good as the versions the Prime Movers play every two weeks at the Abbey.

The MG’s, on the other hand, were untouchable. They played the blues club Antone’s as part of a 50th-anniversary Stax Records celebration and were joined at different times by Isaac Hayes (sadly unable to sing much as he’s recovering from a stroke), Eddie Floyd, and William Bell. The latter were fine if a bit rote; but the MG’s’ opening set seemed untouched by time or anything else. Original members Booker T. Jones, guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Duck Dunn (joined by drummer Steve Potts, cousin of the deceased original Al Jackson) have the perfect sense of what to leave out: Cropper works the maximum sting out of every note; open spaces are everywhere; the extended “Time Is Tight” was all tension and release. Nobody better embodies the lost art of giving samplers something to sample.

For fun between sets, you could walk down the main streets and see how many times you could run into Robyn Hitchcock. In addition to playing a few shows with Peter Buck in tow, Hitchcock appeared at the one panel discussion I saw, about the life of the late Nick Drake. Although there were few major revelations there (unless you count his sister Gabrielle, who looks so much like a female Nick Drake that it’s spooky), it was interesting to hear producer Joe Boyd recall how upset Drake got over the strings Boyd put all over his second album Bryter Later — proof that artist/producer squabbles are about as timeless as Drake’s music.

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  Topics: Music Features , Nick Drake , Pete Townshend , Jandek ,  More more >
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No reason to complain
good stuff~! keep it cumming, einsteins!...tehe.
By meeshell_1 on 03/21/2007 at 9:55:57

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