POSTED BY FANNY_SINK
By 6:30 Sat. evening, downtown Sixth St. was already sheer chaos. Spring breakers, music nerds, and local yokels mixed and meandered in the light rain, and I peeped at the entrance to Exodus, where Charlatans UK were playing at 1 a.m. Pockets had warned me to get in line right away if I wanted to get into that show, but I balked – considering that I’d gotten into the Neko Case/Sharon Jones show less than an hour before Jones hit the stage, I was confident that I could get into a 1 a.m. show if I lined up at, say, 9 or 9:30. The bouncers at the door of Exodus affirmed this – in fact, they said that it was such a big venue that I could line up at 10:30 or 11 and still make it in. I kinda figured that, since surely no show that I wanted to go to could be that popular, even among the Music Geek Nation – my tastes are just too random, and my allergy to hype so strong that it works to my disadvantage more often than not.
So I got a slice of pizza and got in line a block away at Eternal – Richard Hawley was playing an acoustic set at 8, and though it seemed strange that such a critically acclaimed act would play first on a bill, folks were lining up already, willing to risk missing some later acts that maybe they should have been lining up for elsewhere. Or maybe this lineup was enough for them – it ended, after all, in SF’s awesome Two Gallants.
The lineup turned out to be sponsored by Music for America, an organization that preaches politics though music events. Smart folks – they got a lot people into a club awful early, dangling Hawley as an 8 o’clock carrot to get us to listen to some speechifying about the need for better health care for service industry workers. Luckily, the speechifying was done by Kyp Malone (TV on the Radio), Brian Fife (the Good Life), “political punk folk banjo” player Jack Chernos, David Dondero, and freakin’ Ted Leo, in addition to an adorable little janitor girl from Houston who spoke through an interpreter. Leo had lost nearly all of his voice performing that week, and when Dondero spoke, he talked about how his mailbox is always stuffed with medical bills, and the first thing I thought was, “Maybe you wouldn’t have that problem if you didn’t get with hookers all the time.” (I realize this is only funny if you know his music, but what the hey.)
(Music for America, by the way, seems like a pretty cool group. Check’em out here: http://musicforamerica.org/
Richard Hawley took the stage at shortly after 8, joined by his brother Charles, who played guitar, slide and regular, plus lap steel, and who was wearing the flyest suit I’d seen all week – black sharkskin that shown burgundy in the stage lights, with rose-colored Western style suede insets over the shoulders. Hawley’s a charmer, man – he apologized for having to read his own lyrics because he’d taken so much acid as a kid it’d fried his memory, and told a funny story about a married couple who have fabulous anniversary celebrations every year, but divorce anyway because the other 364 days are shite. He played lots of songs off an acoustic EP he’d done some years back (thanks to the guys from Impact Merchandising in Omaha, who I hung out with at that show, and informed me of the above fact), and was generally swoony. Best-lookin’ harelip this side of Joaquin Phoenix.
The set list (which I copied off the actual one onstage): CW Nights, Something Is Sick (this is probably wrong), Motorcycle, Darlin’, Precious (these are two different song titles, though “Darlin’ Precious” would be a damn good one), Wading Through, and Comin’ Home.
Oh, and one of the last things Hawley said what that “whateverrrr” is America’s gift to the world. Which it is.
Afterwards, I stumbled around 6th St. with the same friend of a friend I’d caught a ride with earlier, trying to decide what to do next – the line at Exodus was still nonexistent, and said friend of a friend wanted to see the Essex Green at the Merge showcase at Antone’s and, though I wanted to see Camera Obscura (also on that lineup), I’d heard that Jane’s Addiction might be playing a surprise show at 10 p.m. at Stubb’s, and for some reason, I gave a shit. I wandered with her for a while, ran into Kelley Stolz (whom we both know), and then continued on. She started to get on my nerves right around then – two pushy women should not hang out together unless they’ve already established a friendship, and, having rolled pretty much on my own all week, I wasn’t really up for bonding exercises.
I got a phone call from Glenn and Chris – my fellow Screw Music Foreverites from FL, though Glenn lives in Austin now – who didn’t have a schedule to look at, and were wandering aimlessly on the main drag. I told them where I was, they found us, they looked at my printout and decided to go check out a metal lineup, I acted really excited about that, and let them spirit me away from my new friend. Whew… lucky for me, the band they actually wanted to see at the metal show wasn’t a metal band at all, but rather a drums-and-synth/laptop duo from Pittsburgh called Zombi who do Goblin-style horror movie music, all instrumental and atmospheric.
We got to the show, at Room 710, and I immediately felt self conscious in my grey-and-turquoise KS shirt. So I ducked into the look and changed into the sheer black thermal I’d stuffed in my bag in case of a temperature drop (Burning Man really has trained me well), pulled my grey hat down over my eyes, and emerged freshly metalized.
It was mostly for naught, though, as the fellas suggested we go next door to an Irish bar and drink till Zombi went on, which we did. Two drinks later, we were back in the crowd. Zombi were great, by the way, and it was funny to watch all the metalheads craning their necks to look at nothing, really, although it was pretty cool to watch the drummer in his headphones, playing with fuzzy mallets. He looked like he was in a recording session. The Captain called me halfway through, and in lieu of talking to him, I held the phone up for a solid five minutes, maybe longer – I spoke to him the next day and he said he listened to the whole thing while he smoked a cigarette.
From there, Glenn and Chris and I headed to the venue where IMA had played earlier. Sadly, I’d had my share of whiskey by then, and forgot to note the name of the club. No matter – it was pretty atrocious, some legendary goof-punk band called the Happy Flowers, hopping and rolling around onstage. Bil Bowman was there, IMA’s drummer who, unlike the rest of his St. Pete-based band, actually lives in Oakland – when I was 18, I used to smoke pot with him in the parking lot of Club Detroit, and when I moved to Oakland more than a decade later, I discovered that he worked at the Berkeley Amoeba, though he no longer does.
The good news is that I actually got to see the band who’s name I’d liked best of the entire SXSW musical buffet – The Skullening. They were awful, though, and I ducked out shortly after, planning on grabbing food and walking home. Once I got to 6th, though, I realized I was right near Exodus, so I ambled over. 10 to 1 a.m. : no line. So on in I went, tying up my hair and stashing my hoodies before shoving my way into the pack of bodies. I stood there for 40 minutes, among ever-growing choruses of “what the fuck, what the fuck,” :there’ll still be cocaine and beer after the show!” and “borrrrrrring!” I was actually a little fearful of a stampede, and was thankful for the wrought-iron railing I was clutching onto, confident that, if need be, I could scale it and take refuge among the lucky crowd on the balcony.
When the Charlatans finally came out, I couldn’t see a thing and had no room to dance. So, three songs in, I raised the white flag and walked out of the crowd and out of the club.
And, once again, went the wrong way. By the time I finished my hot dog, I’d reached I-35. Oh, for fuck’s sake. Turning around, I steeled myself for 15-20 more rainy, crowded blocks. After a while, though, I heard something interesting – a furious bar-band version of “The Harder They Come.” As I am the white female incarnation of Johnny Too Bad, I felt compelled to peek in and, though the bouncer let the last person in just as I walked in, I could see quite clearly through the open door that it was the Waco Brothers, and the lady at the door confirmed that. So I hung out there for a while, till they were done with my song, then wandered on, pleased once again with the fruits of my poor sense of direction.
Soon enough, I’d reached the end of the bar crawl. But what’s that, coming from the other aside of the street? A sweet and distinctive female voice, accompanied by amplified acoustic guitar. A pair of guys walked by me and, just as I’d stopped to place the voice, one said to the other, “Do you hear that? Mary Lou.” Yep. Mary Lou Lord, ’90s alt icon, perennial SXSW busker, obscure song interpreter, and one-time Cobain lover. So I booked it across the street, pulling my hood on over my hat to shield me from the rain.
She’d drawn an impressive crowd, including several Austin street characters. Someone called out “His Indie World,” and I seconded it, but she ignored us and continued on her covering way, doing songs by Paul Westerberg, Merle Haggard, the Magnetic Fields (“I Don’t Want to Get Over You” and others. She had the sides of her hair up in two pigtails, and was super-friendly with the crowd, telling us about how she has the same condition as Linda Thompson tat makes it nearly impossible for her to sing, but Thompson encouraged her to come do it this year, anyway, because Mary Lou claims she can only
sing in Austin. She also told us this would be her last year busking at the festival, after a decade of doing so.
I was right up front, bopping along and smiling, thinking about how this was a great way to end my last night at SXSW, when someone hollered out “His Indie World” again. I’m not sure everyone knows this song – it may have been some kind of college radio hit, but I don’t think I ever heard it anywhere but on the CD. Anyway, it’s a really sweet song about a girl who likes folk music and doesn’t understand why an indie rocker’s hanging around her. It starts out like this: “I don’t fit into his indie world/ guided by Voices and Velocity Girl/ Eric’s Trip and Rocketship/ Rancid, Rocket from the Crypt/ Bikini Kill and Built to Spill/ It’s plain to see that I don’t fit. It name-drops a lot of bands that are long gone, like Helium and Butterglory, but a lot that are still kicking, like the Silver Jews. And I used to just love it, in my indie rock dork way. So when she refused to play it after the second time someone called it out Saturday night, I said, loud enough for her to hear, “I asked you to play it six years ago, and you didn’t do it then, either.” Which is true – I ran into her playing on the street the last time I was at SXSW, and she refused my request then, also, telling me to come to her showcase that night, instead. Which I did not.
“Wait,” she said, halting mid-strum. “Did you just say that you requested it six years ago?”
“Yep,” I said.
“And I didn’t play it for you?”
“OK, OK, I’ll do it.” A small cheer erupted from the crowd. “But I feel silly.”
A big bearded guy came up and offered to help, and she said yes. Just as I was about to offer my help, too (as I know all the words), she asked me if I wanted “His Indie World” or “His Endy World.” Not knowing what the latter was, I answered “indie.”
“OK, then, I’ll do the indie version, he’ll do the endy one. That’s the No Depression version.”
And so they did. She did the one I knew, and then played and sang choruses while the guy sang a version with y’allternative bands instead of indie ones. Then, she played a couple more, thanked us, did an encore, and unplugged. I apologized for bullying her, and she said that was allright since it came out good, didn’t it? I asked the name of the guy who did the song with her, and she said it was Peter Blackstock, “Mr. No Depression himself.” I found out later he’s the co-editor of No Depression
magazine, where the “movement” got its name.
I dropped a dollar and a business card into her case (I didn’t buy a CD, ’cause, I’m , ya know, a jerk), and headed off home with Scotti, who’d found me and Mary Lou via text messages exchanged during her set (how SXSW ever went off without text messaging, I can’t recall). We crossed the river together, swapping stories – turns out the singer from, Camera Obscura’s a midget or something – and lamenting the pain in out feet and legs.
And the next thing I knew, it was time for my last free breakfast (chocolate chip pancakes, mmm). And so, with four hours of sleep under my belt for the second day in a row, I packed up, bid farewell to the Tampa crew, and got into Illjay’s car.
Wait, you’re saying – so what was the Best Celebrity Sighting that I alluded to in my last entry? Surely it wasn’t Mary Lou? No dear children, ’twas not. See, Illjay and Regan and Duck and I went to Target for a few things, and as were taking some pre-shopping turns at the restroom, who should I see walking past the children’s clothing section and toward electronics but a wee bearded Sam Beam. Turns out the new homestead of the Iron & Wine mastermind is in the neighborhood of this Target, sez Illjay. Like the girl from Camera Obscura, he also, apparently, is something of a midget.
My trip ended with a time-killing but enjoyable movie (V for Vendetta
) with Illjay and Regan, and then I ended up on the same flight to Houston with the IMA guys, and all the way to Oakland with Bil. Not to be too obvious here, but I realized that I really like Austin – I’d been there three times before, but never while living in a city that I actually like, so it’s easier for me now to recognize another city I could live in. Warm nights, freaky friendly people – I could get used to it.
But I’m home now, it’s 2:45 on Monday afternoon and I’m still in my jammies.
Everything’s back to normal.