Photos by Mark the Cobrasnake

Fear of Music


Attending SXSW is like having sex, running a marathon or smoking pot: The first time is never the best. Gaffe #1: I forgot earplugs. Austin’s soundmen are stone deaf, and the noise levels in the dive bars here will make your eyeballs ache. This was fine on Thursday, my first day, when I was young and the world was new. That day, it felt right to be drunk and walk the streets in a throng of teetering indie rockers, dropping into random bars to pee. One pit stop presented a full-bodied mixture of metal and punk with a melodic core that said, “We’re humans, too” — which turned out to be Helmet, shooting a documentary. Thursday also offered a winning Q&A with Robert Plant, who said he’d donated to a Portland NPR station that promised never to play “Stairway to Heaven.” Stopped in to see my L.A. friends Tsar at the TVT Records party at the Hard Rock, where decibels matched the band’s just-got-signed, arena-rock/punk-pop shock-and-awe agenda in a pleasing way: This is gonna be a great festival! I thought. Labelmates The Blue Van, from Danmark (that’s Denmark to you and me), were also impressive, with Zombies-style organ, McCartneyesque bass and all kindsa harmonies. And sorry for all the nepotism, but at the Village Voice/L.A. Weekly party, a dark-haired boy-girl guitar duo with a drum machine made everyone stop and go, “Who’s this band?” (It was the U.K.’s The Kills. Watch out, Karen O: This girl is just as hot, just as bothered — and she’s got an ax!)

Gaffe #2: Instead of seeing Robert Plant perform, I opted for The French Kicks — who made a soothing lullaby for me and another girl crashed out on an incredibly fluffy couch. This fortified me for my mission: Tegan and Sara at 1 a.m. Alas, even the wonder twins seemed SXSW-weary by then: After “Walking With a Ghost” Sara remarked, “Thank you — I think.” The crowd lacked proper respect for the alien-orchid rarity of T&S: With the acoustic/electric guitar fulcrum, the sibling harmonies, the new-wave organ, the pop hooks and dark lyrics — these girls have it all. By Friday afternoon, the street vibe had switched to post-debauched. At the Aussie BBQ, The Panda Band were clearly pouring out heartfelt power pop, but many festivalgoers were pooped out on the grass. I tried to watch Ben Lee, but couldn’t get through a minute of his sugar-folk before a dark and cynical voice from within declared: icky sticky. While watching Radio 4, that same voice bitched: trendy bullshit. Drums from The Strokes, clothes from The Knack, songs from Gang of Four and bongos from T. Rex — is there one single original thing about this band? Is this how it felt to watch the Swinging Blue Jeans in 1966?

Gaffe #3: I peaked too soon. Eventually, physical exhaustion destroys musical appreciation. I couldn’t bear another Strat, but craved samba, jazz, African music — anything played with animal parts. Three options: Beer, coffee or hotel bed. I chose the last, missing Ian Hunter, The Crimea, The New York Dolls, The Frames, The Mae Shi, Dios Malos, The Like and Nona Hendryx — all people I would pay to see on any other night. Sometimes, you’ve got to say no to live music, and yes to VH1’s “100 Most Metal Moments.”

—Kate Sullivan


 (top): The Like, (center): More
cowbell, (bottom): The Mean Reds

At SXSW, there’s always too much choice, so I say screw the plan and wander around. A drop-in at Los Manitos got me a set by somebody called

Nels Andrews

and his band from El Paso. They’re typical of a lot of heartland indie types, just real plain folkie-rock, dripping with frankness and looking like they just rolled out of bed. These particular slobs were behind even the folkie curve, where the very best of the songwriting sad sacks are messing with the form and sound a bit. Sauntered into the Cedar Street Court to catch L.A.’s

Anubian Lights,

which is

Tommy Grenas

from the more psychedelic


in his nuevo new wave mode. Anubian features an adequate female singer, a guitarist-bassist and a synth/vocoder/drum-machine guy, in black-and-white suits and ties, etc. The songs are perky, as required, early-’80s dancey stuff, albeit with twists — like the singer yelling through an electric bullhorn on a quirky ’20s/R&B hybrid.

Nordic Nite

at The Drink was authentic fun: The Swedes in attendance displayed much mojo circa 1973, all these vertical-striped loon pants and white belts, Frampton shags and mascara. Finland’s

The Crash

bashed out a stream of endearing but not cloying pop songs, made memorable by colorful arrangements and sturdy melodies. Much-hyped

The Ark

evinced a manufactured aura, and the lead singer, with his huffy little pouts and purses and rouge, uh, he made you hate him a little bit. Crisp Status Quo riffage and anthems, however, from this band, whose Nigel Tufnel–look-alike guitarist added visual splendor to their Sweet/Dolls/T. Rex–style rock.

John Cale


La Zona Rosa

to a packed house of reverent cultists and their clones, with Cale, as always, tense and wry as he set about cudgeling his songs. He grabbed his viola for the Velvets’ “Venus in Furs,” and “Fear” ended once again with Cale descending into madness, that shtick where he pummels his keyboard and his young, tough band gets violent. Up next, Austin’s own


whom I’ve long resisted because of the seemingly uncritical raves they’ve gotten but whose singer-guitarist,

Britt Daniel,

I concede, has written at least one song that completely does the job on me, called “Me and the Bean,” a ruff-tuff heart-tugger that makes me wanna bawl like a baby.



Emo’s annex

were like a black-metal band playing the Hawkwind songbook, and they did this eerie thing with extended passages of “interval music,” like you’ve got to travel through space a bit to get to the next song, broken into by peculiar riffs and the infrequent cookie-monster vocal. They stand out ’cause they’re twisting the genre, in fact presenting a kind of high-art music subtly disguised as goth/metal.

“We are all-girl band from Japan” dept.: At the stinkily crowded


another extremely irritating but in this case awesomely precise group called

Gitogito Hustler

screeched and bashed their mosquitolike punk rock and milked their theoretically charming lack of English for all the geekboys looking right up their skirts.

The Music


La Zona Rosa:

no discernible music as such. Way overpraised and promoted, their “intense” emotion-ladling in front of an MTV banner over two-generations-removed riffing and flailing was just NUMBING. The crowd whooped and hollered, but what are they gonna do, boo? Not at SXSW.

—John Payne


 (top): Pony Up! (center): A wizard,
(bottom): Vietnam

Forget about showcases. If you wanted to see your future favorite band at SXSW, all ya had to do was slip on party shoes — and snag one of the super-insider-unofficial lists being passed around like high school slambooks. Yours truly played DJ for a day at Thursday’s

Heidi's Night of Beauty/Spaceland/Ticketweb

do, where gals got metallic green manicures (it was St. Patty’s after all) while estrogen-spiked rockers

Gram Rabbit, Pony Up!, Erase Errata,

and bidding-war babies

Be Your Own Pet

provided their own ballistic variety of beauty and the beat. The girl theme took an unexpected turn when a posse of Welsh blokes called

Goldie Lookin’ Chain

showed up in tracksuits (think the Beastie Boys meet Monty Python), rapping about Afrosheen and smoking “soap bar,” whatever that means. Next day,




mags offered battling bashes:


party, headlined by

Kaiser Chiefs,

may have seen more creative haircuts, but it couldn’t beat


shindig, where

Louis XIV, The Futureheads


The New York Dolls

made for a wonderfully bizarre combo. The Dolls in daylight weren’t exactly a pretty sight (were they ever?), but they sounded spot-on, with a withered but commanding

David Johansen

chugging St. John’s Wort while crooning “Pills.”

Bloc Party,

also on the bill, lived up to its misspelled moniker, and also showed up everywhere else all week, from

Vice magazine’s

gathering (had to beg a cabbie to take me to the space out in some backwoodsy bumfuck ghetto . . . so


to Urban Outfitters. Speaking of U.O., they helped turn an old storage space on Sixth into a makeshift boutique full of faux-vintage threads and rock shots by L.A. photog

Piper Ferguson,

while in the backyard, hottie hopefuls including

Maximo Park

(hooky tunes but suits are so tired, boys) and neo-glamsters

S’Cool Girls

swaggered and swayed near the port-o-potties. I passed on getting in a hot tub with

Joel Gion

— formerly of the Brian Jonestown Massacre (who was promoting


the BJM doc) at the


house to pop into the

Take Action

party pit, where a group called


almost won me over — till they started talking up

Jesus Christ.

I wanted


music, man. And that’s just what I got following my nose, much like Toucan Sam, to the least fashionable but most friendly powwow of the week: the

High Times

party, where, of course, the barbecue wasn’t the only thing blazing.

—Lina Lecaro


Spotted cinehobbit Elijah Wood hiding in a corner at the Vice party. Lyle Lovett in comfy shoes outside the Four Seasons hotel, cowboy boots in hand. Distillers diva Brody Dalle and Stone Age king Josh Homme lovey-dovey in the lobby of the Embassy Suites. Drea De Matteo and back-again beau Shooter Jennings rushing though Austin airport. “Only at a Billy Idol show would you see a guy in Chanel shades and a fur coat in Austin”: a bewildered local at SXSW’s opening night gig, who happened to be talking about Cleopatra Records prez Brian Perera. “I’m supposed to be representing these guys, and I don’t know anything about them”: random record-company minion ( yes, we really overheard this) at the Fader party. “You rock folk all come back now, ya hear!”: pilot from flight 407, from Austin to L.A.

—Lina Lecaro


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