Who Are You?

Wednesday: At the Austin Convention Center, a madhouse where you’re ushered into a long line that guarantees you’ll be standing in even longer lines throughout the week, I quickly realize as I was picking up my badge — my lifeline, my high-five to hipsterville — that if you’re not sporting skinny jeans, classic Nikes, a beard and a topiary of disheveled hair here at South by Southwest, you should get your square self on the first square seat back to squaresville. All the Hebrew, Portuguese and Japanese whizzing over my head makes me feel like I’m stuck in “It’s a Small World” and the song is in constant rotation. One staffer in a green shirt leads me to another, and then another, and voilà, I have my laminated mug. But am I looking at four days of velvet-rope burn? Will the line fail me or will I fail it?

Pete Townshend was Wednesday night’s keynote speaker, and he was genial, funny and surprisingly forthright; sad to hear John Entwistle blew his share from all the Who reunion shows on cocaine. Interviewer Bill Flanagan noted the Who were the only band to play all the major “iconic gathering of the tribes” — Monterey, Woodstock, Live Aid — though Townshend lamented that the Who had never done a definitive show like the Sex Pistols. Speaking of, Townshend has harbored a crush on Siouxsie Sioux and said he’d wished they’d gotten married and had a bunch of little “punkettes.” Aww! Townshend also shared his fondness for current Who drummer and Ringo’s boy Zak Starkey, who has to watch his “sagging ahss.” And Britney, he sends his love.

{mosimage}Britney, Are You Listening?

Thursday night/Friday morn: Just to see Amy Winehouse, the soul and R&B songstress who’s gotten a lot of ink for being the British Britney (tales of booze, drugs and anorexia woes, we have heard), I suffered through two hours of a club’s sweltering heat and the aggro metal of Fair to Midland. The fact that they come from a town in Texas called Sulphur Springs should’ve been a tipper. Singer Darroh Sudderth was practically airborne, violently shaking his head and flailing his arms like a deranged propeller. It’s all fun and games until your front man has to lie onstage to stop seeing stars, even after the band has left. Tired of squatting in between a girl’s tattooed thighs, I found a primo spot on the side of the stage for what I knew was going to be a hairy experience. Winehouse is an odd-looking bird — a tiny wisp of a thing with dark, exotic features, horseshoe tattoos and the rattiest, most magnificent, half-up-and-half-down bouffant ever coifed after the ’60s. She’d self-consciously wipe the bangs from her forehead and nervously chat with her musicians, a nine-piece band in suave suits that included two backup singers with smooth Motown moves that got us hotter than the club’s temperature. Her voice (soulful, brash and deeper than a subway tunnel) is equal parts Billie Holiday, Macy Gray and Lauryn Hill and speaks of a woman who’s lived harder, and longer, than Winehouse’s mere 23 years. She sang of her cheating ways on “You Know I’m No Good” and gave detox the finger on “Rehab” (“Didn’t get a lot in class/But I know it don’t come in a shot glass”), a song allegedly written after Winehouse’s former label gave her an ultimatum. I hope the real Britney and Mel Gibson weren’t within earshot.

{mosimage}Friends With the Enemy

Friday: After a long haul across “the bat bridge” that gave me a blister I’m sure has metastasized into a tumor, I was front and center for Public Enemy, who headlined the hip-hop Dew Music Festival at Auditorium Shores and delivered a blistering, full-on show of political putdowns. Too bad this was an outdoor amphitheater filled with damn dirty dreadlocked hippies playing kazoos for change. (What’s funnier is watching middle-aged moms eating popcorn out of Ziploc bags and trying to throw gang signs.) This was a reunited P.E. with Professor Griff and clock-wearing Flavor Flav celebrating the group’s 20th anniversary. When-I-Say-Chuck-You-Say-D kicked things off with “Welcome to the Terrordome” backed by P.E.’s sword-wielding, uniformed military dancers. He had the crowd playing verbal pingpong to every scathing attack. “Fuck George Bush!” Fuck George Bush! “Fuck Dick Cheney!” Fuck Dick Cheney! “Fuck Tony Blair!” Fuck Tony Blair! “Condoleezza too!” Condoleezza too! (This is Public Enemy, and they are in Texas.) Sad how the words from “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” ring truer today than they did in 1988: “They wanted me for their army or whatever/Picture me giving a damn — I said never.” Flav, ever the court jester, sang himself a happy birthday and thanked everyone for making season two of Flavor of Love VH1’s highest-debuting show. “911 Is a Joke” is my favorite jokey joke song. Unfortunately I was being distracted by a drunk girl crying on my shoulder about her DUIs, probation and the need for weed. Chuck D didn’t stray from the serious, pleading with the audience to “never let an old man send a young man to war,” and ended the night with the classic “Fight the Power.” Flav informed us that we are our own best friends. On that note, I hugged myself and congratulated myself on a performance well done.

Read more SXSW coverage from Siran, including her take on the big Stooges show, at https://blogs.laweekly.com/rocknroll.

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