Saturday, March 18, 2006

Friday Wrap-Up Part One: Truths, Justice, and Britt Daniel Is NOT a Monet

Last night as I walked home after 2 a.m., so tired I was spacing out to the visual rhythm of my hoodie’s shadow (pulled up and perpetrating because the fratty element’s gotten sickly thick now) and thinking about truths that I’ve heard in my life and taken to heart. Like: It’s better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. And: Argue your limitations and they're yours. Also: When the front row of a show is entirely composed of cute gay boys, you’re in for a treat. And now, a new one: There is no pair of shoes on the whole blue and green and brown Earth that can make this kind of behavior OK -- standing and walking and dancing for nearly nine hours straight.

After I finished up at Halcyon, DJ Illjay took me to Art’z, her barbecue favorite. She hoped that no SXSW guide, official or un-, had name-dropped the place, and her prayer was answered – we walked into a dining room bereft of badges, wristbands, and the young and restless in general. Nope, nobody here but us and these rednecks – err, I mean, kindly regular Texans. I ordered baby-back pork ribs and beef brisket, plus a salad (greens, tomato, some onion I think) to try and cut through the fatty static. The barbecue comes with sauce, of cawse, and a slice of wheat bread, onions, and a pickle. I do not pile these things together, as is recommended. The ribs are phenomenal, sweet and tender and prolific in their meatitude – the brisket, not so much. I’d take Bo’s brisket in Lafayette, CA over it, anytime. Luckily, the pile of food was roughly the height of my head from chin to nostrils, so my appetite could afford to box up the brisket for the boys later.

Explaining that it’s on the “bad” side of town (East Austin is currently doing the backlash-against-gentrification dance), DJ Ill dropped me off at that days’ sprawling Vice magazine party, with stages inside and outside the Victory Grill and one inside the Long Branch Inn across the street. I’d been text-messaging with Scotti, and he and I meet up just in time to hear Kinky Friedman introduce Roky Erickson, who hits the stage with his band either ten minutes late or 45 minutes early, depending on whose schedule you’re going by.

I don’t know what I was expecting – I guess that, if Erickson looked like he did in his 13th Floor Elevators days, all Manson hair and grizzly-man beard, the festival organizers perhaps wouldn’t have deemed him sane enough to perform. But I certainly wasn’t expecting an oversize brown shirt, hairless double-and-a-half-chin, and a ding-dang mullet – nay, a Cyrus. But he looked undoubtedly not crazy (though one of the earlier events was a ticket-only benefit for his mental health care) and he started out with “Cold Night for Alligators,” which made the sexy scuzz-rock BBQ crowd go nuts. Essentially, it was an old man’s blues-rock show, but Erickson’s reedy voice, rare presence, and the air of psychedelic history he brought to the stage made it electric beyond the sound man’s typical power. Highlighst: “You’re Gonna Miss Me,” “Bermuda,” “Two-Headed Dog,” and closer ”I Walked with a Zombie.” I was disappointed in that last one, because I expected Erickson to pronounce the word “zombeh,” but then I realized that I may have been thinking of the REM version, from the tribute record that firsthipped me to the Elevators.

Other highlights: Orange beach balls bouncing above the crowd for a fraction of the set – this ain’t a Flaming Lips show, after all, and one guy to my nearby right and back made it his job to ground the balls and deflate them; and three nerds unconsciously acting out the “smells like reefer” scene from Dazed and Confused.

When it was over, the emcee announced that there was free sponsor vodka and Sparks available (the beer tent was selling only Heinekin and Bud Light by the time I arrived; at 6:30, the party had been happening for five or six hours already). Not tempted (not even a little), I found Scotti over at the Long Branch, chatting with Berlin-by-way-of-NY electronic artist Jason Forrest, who Scotti informs me does glitchy punk-rock mash-ups. Forrest leaves, and I take pictures of Scotti doing the Austin Scrunch and Scan, the typical pose one assumes while leading the tiny type on SXSW schedules in the light of a bar.

Scotti and I walk west, back toward downtown. We spend the time trying to figure out how we met, back in Tampa so long ago. We finally decide it was at DNA, a club on the north side of town. I can’t remember what night was the night there, but suffice it to say we were both victims and celebrants of it. It’s always fun to hang out with someone who, at least in part, always sees your younger face when they look at you.

We part ways on the 18th floor of Capitol Place, a venue at the top of a hotel just west of I-35. I can’t tell if it’s a fancy hotel or not, but the bar is just like any other hotel bar. It’s called Bernie’s, and despite the fact that it takes me forever to get a drink, I love it. I can’t help it – I just love me some hotel bars, especially weird ones with beautiful views (as this one has, of the entire, lit-up city of Austin) and stupid, stupid names. I chat with some guys from San Diego, and give one of them my card, which turns out to be a mistake, since he proceeds to call me three times over the course of the next couple of hours. S’no good, y’all.

The actual venue is down a short hall, in what is essentially a conference room set up with cushy hotel dining chairs, and featuring the same awesome view Bernie’s does, backdropping the low, wide stage. When I’d arrived, said stage was occupied by a mediocre twangstress, a square-jawed, long-blonde-haired Amy Madigan lookalike singing songs that appear to all be named after states. Lots of “mamas” and “done wrongs” and that kind of shit – her band’s a crack team but her most interesting lyric is something about “my Mexican baby,” and that’s when I high-tailed it for Bernie’s, since ultimately, I could applaud their efforts, nothing more. I hunkered down with my glass of tequila -- too good to shoot, too rough to gulp -- returning only when I was sure it was time for Nicolai Dunger to set up.

I can’t help this either – I love me some folkies with funny voices. Heck, I even used to dig Laura Nyro. And if you’re a nice-looking, sometimes-twangy troubadour from Sweden with more than a passing vocal resemblance to Van Morrison, I’ll certainly hoof it across town to see your set at 9 p.m., instead of lining up early for a show I won’t be able to get into later. And Dunger – who I’ve liked for about three years, but have never seen – nearly made me cry during his set.

It wasn’t when he came out solo, clad in a black suit and pink shirt, and played us a song on his acoustic wherein he welcomed us all. And it wasn’t when he brought out his band, all young Brits and Swedes so obviously in thrall of Dunger and each other they may as well have all been part of a big communal marriage, and who played the blues and boogie rock so smooth he got to use that suit for what it was made for, some seriously Bryan Ferryesque crooner-type behavior. It also wasn’t when he drew a wry, easy laugh from the crowd when he sang “relationships like this go on and on,” and so he rewarded/punished us by making us sing the “on and on” refrain with him. No, it was when he dropped a simple truth, after thanking his band for a particularly good performance during one song, and then shooing them off by saying “I think I’d like to do one on my own now” (drawing another laugh from us), and picked up his acoustic to sing a song called “Lick My Soul,” about wasting “half my life with this guitar and this song,” and wrapping up with the statement that as long as you love and are loved, you’re doing all right. It took me by surprise, the weepies, just as they had when Beth Orton told me “You always hurt the one you love, you don’t need a reason,” one stoned night eight or so years ago.

Dunger thanked us, we him, and I went back to Bernie’s to take notes and steel myself for a night of truths. Tequila gone, weird San Diego guy still calling me, I freshened up in the ladies’ room and press the button for the elevator. It arrived immediately, and the doors opened to reveal three people, most notably a tall, very attractive redheaded guy. I smiled at him, and he said, “Hey.” And I tripped over the elevator entrance on my way in. A guy stepped into the elevator after me, and before the doors were even halfway closed, I said to him, “Was that Britt Daniel??!”
“Yes,” he said firmly, with a star in his eye, too.
“I hope he didn’t see me fall into the elevator,” I replied.

And so I can assure you, right here, right now, that I must not have been remembering correctly when I wrote that entry yesterday, because Britt Daniel looks damn good in close proximity.


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