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Austinís powers
SXSW is a bit of heaven in the heart of Texas

In Austin, experience tells us itís good to be light on your feet. That is, itís important to leave room for serendipity, because, in many cases youíll be rewarded. If you donít leave room, youíll be hearing lots from the people who did.

Case in point. I was walking into the Four Seasons Hotel for a breakfast appointment during the South by Southwest conference when I ran smack into a hullabaloo in the lobby. There was music, of course, as there always in this town. It was Kris Kristofferson singing "Me and Bobby McGee." Really, in the flesh, unannounced, in front of 50 lucky hotel guests. Willie Nelson followed. He sang "Mama Donít Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys" with Los Lonely Boys backing him. Toots Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals showed up and provided harmony, right there in the lobby of the Four Seasons.

The next day, I found myself down on South Congress, a mile or two out of town, at another hotel, hanging out with some music people when I heard a band playing outside. I couldnít hear them clearly, but damn it sounded good and the reception after each song grew more enthusiastic. Finally, I had to get up and check to see who it was, and hell if it wasnít the Mavericks, right there in the parking lot of the hotel.

So I guess what Iím saying is the obvious: music is everywhere in Austin. You just have to go to where you hear it on the wind. Last year Liz Phair played unannounced at Starbucks, this year itís Willie and Kris and Lord knows what else I missed because I decided to turn left down a street instead of right. And itís not like these artists have to get these gigs done. They do them because listening to live music in Austin is just another part of a personís day, like taking a cab or brushing your teeth. Itís a thread in the tapestry, an hour in the day, a hunger that needs feeding.

This year, SXSW served that hunger well. After a year or two of indecision and uncertainty ó in which the music industry couldnít decide whether it was growing or shrinking and so decided not to show up in Texas ó the sphereís population once again jumped on the bandwagon and headed south. Enrollment was up 1000 from the year before, boosted mainly by huge international contingents coming from Australia, Japan, Scotland, Italy, and England. (Donnybrook played the night before I arrived.)

There were magazine showcases (Esquire, Tracks, Spin), buzz bands (International Noise Conspiracy, the Thrills, Franz Ferdinand, Battles, the Autumn Defense), and a handful of unusually interesting panels. "The End of the Record Store?" involved the participation of several successful entrepreneurships, including Waterloo (Austin), Twist & Shout (Denver), and Uncle Samís (Miami). After an hour of back-patting detailing how these businesses managed to succeed against all of todayís odds, and after audience members regaled the panel with anecdotes of success from Seattle, Portland, DC, and Olympia, I finally got up and said, "Look, thatís all really nice, but Iím from Providence and weíre in danger of losing everything," or something like that. And the next day they quoted me in the daily paper. So much for me opening my big mouth at a panel.

Little Richard opened his big mouth, too, as keynote speaker. But the best marquee mouth proved to be Andrew Loog Oldham who, while ably interviewed by former Mojo editor Paul Du Noyer, told endless dirty stories about the British Invasion bands and how he nurtured an otherwise talentless Rolling Stones and made them the talk of the town.

Musically, SXSW is about two sides of the same coin. On the one hand, you have an overwhelming indie invasion from all parts, with waves of independent bands old (Mission of Burma, Dumptruck, Chris Stamey, the Silos) and new (see above buzz bands) playing alongside the cityís long-revered roots-rockers and their descendents (including Alejandro Escovedo, Rosie Flores, Los Lobos, Junior Brown, Drive-by Truckers, and the Bottle Rockets.) Both schools of rock are integral to the Austin machine, and both co-exist along Sixth Street and beyond with little conflict, often sharing the same enthusiastic and appreciative audiences.

SXSW is heaven for music fans. Whether you go there to make deals, peek in on the next big things, or belly up to the bar and watch the nightlife dance by, itís really all about the music. And if given the chance to do all of the above for four days in Texas in March, well, a journalist has to do what a journalistís gotta do.

LETDOWN. "We have been good friends with our producer Chuck Ladouceour (Zakk Wylde, Cree 8) for a while," says Letdownís Dan Pepin, "and when the question came up about our album, the main problem was we didnít have the money to make the album we wanted. We really wanted to make the best album we could possibly make."

When Ladouceour heard the new Letdown tunes, he agreed the time was right. The Woonsocket band had played the Tweeter Center, the Tsongas Arena, and other huge places without a proper CD release. "The greatest thing though," says Dan, "is that people would go to our shows from New York, Maine, Connecticut, and all over."

The pressure was on to make an album that would satisfy their flourishing fanbase. With lots of help from Ladouceour, the band emerged from the studio with something they could truly hold high. "We really brought something to the plate. There are some weird things on this album like fretless guitar, Latin percussion, reggae grooves, shreddiní solos, acoustic guitars, classical guitars. This is not just your basic Ďkick you in the faceí metal fest." But this is Letdown, the same band that opened for firebranding metal thumpers like Godsmack and Mudvayne, so the decibels are there. "Donít get us wrong," says Dan, "thereís some pretty heavy stuff ó all the songs that our hardcore fans have been begging us to put on disc. But this is the album we all wanted to make. This is Letdownís Sgt. Pepper!"

Celebrate the release of Letdown at Cats in Pawtucket on Saturday (the 3rd).

Wandering Eye. The Psycads play the Century Lounge on Friday (the 2nd). The same night at Cats, you can catch Seven Levels, Left Behind, and Psycle; only $5 at the door and the show starts at 9:30 p.m. At the Green Room on Friday, the Deterrents shake it up, playing alongside heavy Boston garage sensations the Konks and the West Sideís own Katie Lee Hooker. Fever Dream is putting together another extravaganza at the Green Room, on Saturday (the 3rd), this time called "The Drugs Delaney Big Spring Binger," with special guests Path of Logik and the Blue Collar Boys. Jazz cat Greg Abate hits CAV with his saxophone on Saturday. Showtimes are at 9:30 and 11 p.m.; call 751-9164 for reservations.

Also on Saturday at AS220ís Bassis, No Sale Value, a wild hybrid of jazz-fusion and dance floor drum íní bass, brings a high-energy vibe to the club, with live music, DJs, and video projections. Link, TFO, DJ G, and VJ Ray Vox will all do their thang. The show will feature original N$V members Pat Donaher and Independent Music Award-winning trumpeter Matt Shulman, as well as guitarist Sasha Brown, bassist Evan Halloin, and drummer Jason Nazary.

Clive Gregson is by many counts the state of the art in British folk-rock. He headed up the much-revered í80s pop band Any Trouble, and has been named one of Guitar Playerís "1000 Best Guitarists." He is about to make his first visit to Stone Soup on Saturday, and if you havenít seen him, you really should. Heís superb. The concert, which begins at 8 p.m., is at the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket Arts Center (210 Main Street). Tickets are $12.

Also on Saturday, the Blackstone hosts the Schemers, Mark Cutlerís awesome old band (we love the Dino Club too), who are preparing to release Remember, a collection of their best songs. The Marlowes, another of Rhode Islandís best pop bands, open with a mix of roots, power-pop, and good old driving rock.

On Sunday (the 4th) at AS220, Vic Thrill, the Blam, the Reputation (ex-Sarge), the Electra Complex, and Persil all play in a super-cool creative rock extravaganza. Only $7 for lots and lots of music.

E-mail me at big.daddy1@cox.net

Issue Date: April 2 - 8, 2004
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