South by Southwest 2003: A Field Journal: Final Weekend/ Music: Best of Show

Sondre Lerche

Today’s report by Terry Sawyer

Final Weekend/ Music: Best of Show

On the last day of SXSW, I spent the afternoon relaxing and doing mild boyfriend maintenance. The weather here has been doting. It was a good time to spend just hanging out, anticipating a night of great music and trying to reconcile all my provincial reservations about this festival. In the morning, I interviewed one of SXSW’s newbies, Sondre Lerche, and spent a lot of the time talking to him about what it actually means to drop one’s music into this mess. For a 20-year-old he had a startlingly firm grip on reality. For the most part, he just talked about exposure, press, meeting new people and garnering new listeners. He had no delusions that this was a very good gig from an artistic perspective, but that it was a business and well, business is business. I still think that the festival could be structured differently to be a more accurate representation of undiscovered talent, but I guess that, like it or leave it, SXSW has evolved into a feeding pool for corporate scouts that may or may not leave a few crumbs for music loving locals. As an act of minor rebellion, I had wanted to make my way over to Fuck by Fuck You (a delightfully named counter-festival) to catch Adult Rodeo play, but to be honest, at this point I wanted to take in the sunshine without the crowds.

After a joint and a few beers, I was ready to head out to my first show of the night. Buck 65 put on a set that, frankly, I still can’t get an adjective around. He sounded like some nutty old man that lives in a shack who came out to tell you to get the fuck off his land but decided to stick around and spin a few yarns. His voice is pure hillbilly grumble, like a burning barrel got stuck in his throat. At one point he started singing this song about how his father lost his mind after his mother’s death, and I thought I was going to burst into tears. Oh hell, I did cry. In fact, I spent the better part of the song choking it in because I worried about looking uncool in front of all those people of seasoned indifference. He told stories, some set to music and some weren’t, but they all struck bone. With a full a band, he sounded more like Johnny Cash fronting Black Sabbath than his usual otherworldly skew of hip-hop. He ended the set with a song that sounded like a guns blazin’ cross-country car chase with the Sheriff hot on his trail. A well picked finisher for a performance so refreshingly lawless. I left completed freaked out, displaced by awe, and roaming into night with more satisfaction that I could bear. Despite all the reservations I had about SXSW, I was still able to have one the most incredible music experience of my life. As the credit card companies keep telling us, that kind of thing is priceless.

I have an incredibly soft spot that hasn’t healed for hot, cocky British rockers. From the Stones to the Stone Roses, there is something about someone who has the goods and isn’t afraid to tell you loudly that makes me want to put posters on my wall and send prayers through them. The second show I caught was a total guilty pleasure. The Coral have already received obscene amounts of press, particularly since they are the fixation du jour of the British Music scribes who mint trends like South American currency. But they were badasses. Playing to a packed crowd at Stubb’s BBQ, they owned the stage with a performance that looked and felt like the coolest ever episode of Ed Sullivan. I did, however, skip out at the end to catch a few songs from Thee Shams. Hats off for covering “Under My Thumb” and treating it like any other bar song, which it is. From what I caught, they sound a lot like the Stones though without all the stadium ego excess. I wish I could have caught the set from the beginning, but such are the vagaries of having so many bands and only one body.

The Crackpipes

I wanted to make sure to end my night on a positive note, heading off to see another homegrown band (representin’). There’s this guy Ray who works at my favorite coffee shop who has a band called the Crackpipes. I knew I loved the CD, so I figured that it would be well worth my time to check them out. Ray is Texas quiet, which means he doesn’t speak unless he needs to or it could be that he’s considering whether or not to eat you. In contrast to his normally unrippled façade, Ray’s stage persona is like having someone snap off a power line and jam it into the base of your spine. The Crackpipes play a furious skull fuck of televangelical punk blues. Ray sings like a snake dancing preacher possessed by righteous rock and roll truths. In fact, horny on Jesus seizuring would seem to be the most appropriate response to music so jagged, driving, and testifying. I can’t wait until they get him some sort of skid row choir made up of junkies, prostitutes, and well intentioned perverts. Everything about the show confirmed all that I love about the unpredictable chemistry of this city.

I was tired and couldn’t stay for all of the Crackpipe’s show despite the fact that I think they’re madly gifted. I wandered the Austin streets just marveling at thick flows of human traffic and trying to figure out what I thought about it all. A small little kid part of me was hoping I would bump into Buck 65 in the midst of the throngs and tell him how much his show changed my life. Y’know, then he’d throw me his towel and say something inspiring. I’m glad I didn’t. Given the context, it probably would have sounded I was going to ask him to promote my whiskey or sign his soul away to my multi-national defense-contracting record label.

As I wandered, I saw a woman carrying pamphlets about a message of love from our extra-terrestrial friends. I saw some cowgirl standing up on a U-Haul trying to moon the people in the venue she couldn’t get into, but unfortunately the cops talked her down first. Then I watched some woman in a spaghetti strap dress lean down and leave two glasses in the middle of the street hoping, I presume, that cater waiters would be by shortly to whisk them away. When it came down to it, I think my neighbor’s boyfriend had the most insightful thing to say about SXSW. He said “I look at it this way. Would you rather be going out this weekend or will you have more fun next weekend?” However you decide to answer that question, will accurately gauge how you’d feel about this festival. I won’t be back. Next weekend the great music will still be here, I can go with my friends, and the general level of courtesy will have spiked dramatically. But I appreciate the opportunity to have a fresh look at myself and the things I thought I wanted from my life. Back to the drawing board with a fresh shot of cynicism and my faith in music and Austin renewed.

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