Monday, March 22, 2004

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST: Day 4, A DAY LATE

I wrote the gibberish below early Sunday morning only to have technical difficulty with my laptop. The problem didn't clear up in the morning. But once I got back to Santa Fe, it seemed to work.

As a newsman, it occurred to me that someone reading this blog who also has been reading national news reports coming out of Austin (like this one) might wonder whether I'm attending the same festival.

Basically what happened early Thursday morning, shortly after I was rocking out to Joan Jett at Stubb's, there was a confrontation between Austin police and fans of the band Ozomatli, who led their fans in a conga line out of the Exodus Club and onto the street. I'm not completely sure what happened, but the conga line ended badly with pepper gas being sprayed and three of the Ozomatli crew getting arrested on assault charges.

So here I am writing about all this great music while there's violence in the streets -- a near conga riot! If I were officially on duty and covering SXSW as a news story, I'd surely be working it. But give me a break, I'm on vacation. So allow me to blather on about my Joan Jett and Mekons and indulge in all the barbecue and Mexican food and explore all those great antique stores and folk-art galleries on South Congress.

A couple of nights later, my friend Alec ran into the band's drummer Jiro Yamaguchi, who was one of the arrestees. He gave Alec a T-shirt that says "Free the Ozo Three." Alec offered to pay, but Jiro said, "You can have it for free if you wear it." I spotted several folks wearing the shirt Saturday night.

For the record, my first thought, without knowing the details is that
the cops probably over reacted.

My second thought was, damn, a band can't buy publicity like that!

By the way, I just noticed the lawyer for Ozomatli is one Bobby Earl Smith, who is a fine country singer himself. I've played his music before on The Santa Fe Opry. Small world.

But getting back to music geekery, here's a rundown on the music I saw Saturday night and early Sunday morning:

Jon Langford's Ship and Pilot: After his inspirational performance with the sainted Mekons Friday, Langford returned to Austin's famed blues barn Antone's to play music from his solo career, including his latest, All the Fame of Lofty Deeds. With a band that included two stray Waco Brothers and former Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone, Langford showed why his talents can't be contained by one, or even two bands.

Paul Burch: Had this guy been born 30 years earlier, I'm convinced he would have been a Nashville star. He's got a voice similar to Jimmie Dale Gilmore's and his steel-heavy music is deep and soulful, with melodies meandering along often surprising chord structures. Burch deserves far more attention.

Tammy Faye Starlite: Oh Lord! My old friend Miss Starlite ("That's l.i.t.e., just like the adjective.") played at Coyote Ugly -- a truly loathsome chain joint with gyrating waitresses climbing up to the bar to shake their stuff, making Hooters look tasteful.

Tammy treated her devotees to blasphemous beatitudes, hard-rock anthems altered into Jesus songs, a version of "Stand By Your Man" that devolves into a graphic description about being raped by truckdrivers in Amarillo, and at least the beginnings of an evangelical strip tease.

And she even brought me into the act. When she began the song "Don't Make Me Pregnant" (written for her by Marshall Chapman) the Little Tart of Bethlehem called upon a guy she correctly described as resembling "the ghost of Stevie Ray's grandfather" to lift her into his arms. There she sang the first verse or so, before she instructed him to hand her to me.

He did.

There I was, Tammy's boy toy. Then she asked me to dance during the instrumental. And our mutual friend, singer Marlee MacLeod, took pictures to prove it. And no, I didn't make Tammy pregnant.

Petty Booka: After Tammy Faye, these Japanese sweethearts seemed pretty tame, even though their band consisted mainly of members of the raucous Meat Purveyors. But their take on bluegrass music, including country classics as well as songs like "Material Girl" and "Born to Be Wild," is irresistible.

Los Lobos: I knew this was going to be good Lobos show when I spotted Beatle Bob. For the uninitiated, BB is a St. Louis guy with a fab moptop whose life centers around musical events. He shows up in his snazzy '60s era sportscoat and dances his cool jerk and wild wahtusi near the front of the stage (often on the stage, if Jon Langford is playing.) I consider Beatle Bob to be something of a rock 'n' roll Koshare, a ritual clown whose presence is a blessing. Though usually I run into him several times during SXSW this was my first and only Beatle Bob sighting at the festival this year.

And his magic worked. Los Lobos played one of the strongest sets I've
ever seen, including a breathtaking spookhouse blues version of "The
Neighborhood," taken to dark dimensions by Steve Berlin's sax. They performed several tunes from their upcoming album The Ride.

For the last two songs their old L.A. pal Dave Alvin joined them to help sing a new song he co-wrote with David Hidalgo. Both singers muffed some of the lyrics, but that's the beauty of this festival. You can sometimes hear songs that are still in their early phases. Alvin and Los Lobos finished the evening -- and capped the festival for me -- with a rocking version of The Blasters' "Marie Marie."

Back to Santa Fe!

And here I am ... It was a long drive back, what it was fun week.

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