Sunday, March 16, 2008



The alt-rock casino circuit. That's one way of describing South by Southwest for me this year. So much of the music I heard this year -- X, Johnette Napolitano, Yo La Tengo, The Waco Brothers' Jon Langford (a founding member of The Mekons), Thurston Moore -- are aging stars of punk rock or its various offshoots.

On Saturday, the last day of South by Southwest (at least for me. Technically there are a few scattered Sunday showcases), I caught another couple of examples -- the reconstituted Breeders and Carbon/Silicone, the latest band of Clash member Mick Jones and Tony James of Generation X and Sigue Sigue Sputnik.

My verdict: Carbon/Silicone hit but The Breeders missed.

The Breeders, who played at the Mess With Texas festival in Waterloo Park, indeed were a disappointment.
The latest incarnation of The Breeders includes former Pixie Kim Deal, the lead vocalist and her twin Kelly Deal. I've been a fan of The Pixies, as well as The Breeders all these years. I thought Last Splash was one of the unsung albums of the '90s -- and even tonight I enjoyed their version of "Cannonball" and Divine Hammer" from that album. I was touched by the Pixies reunion documentary loudQUIETloud, particularly the way in which Kelly went along on the tour to keep her sister company and protect her from the remptations of old demon alcohol. (Kim is a recovering alcoholic.)

But somehow, most of their music didn't gell on Saturday. Part of it was the sound system. In the middle of the show it sounded as if an amp was blown.

And the playing often seemed half-assed. In dorm rooms all over the country there are guitar noodlers who could do better than Kim on some of her solos. Then there was that cover of The Beatles' "Happiness is a Warm Gun" started off well, but by the end of the song it had fallen apart. The band seemed like it was struggling to make it to the conclusion. Contrast this to X, whose average age probably is least a decade more than that of The Breeders. But X is 10 times tighter and plays with a crazier spirit.

Then there's Carbon/Silicone, who aren't nearly as frantic as X but are pretty inspiring for a bunch of old guys. Like X, they played at the Austin Convention Center's tv studios for a live concert on Direct TV. (For the record, Jones and his boys played in the half of the room called Lone Star Lounge, while X played in The Bat Bar.)

C/S is a quartet -- the classic two guitars/bass/drums/lineup. They play basic Clash-y tunes with its feet in early rock 'n' roll and its head in leftist politics. Some of the songs had titles like "War On Culture" and "Soylent Green." Check out some of their free MP3s on the Cabon/Silicone Web site.
Just to be sure that I saw at least one new young band before the end of the night, I caught most of the set of The Spinto Band, an energetic little guitar-oriented group from Delaware. (They were on an outdoor stage at Emo's Annex. I watched from behind the chainlink fence.) One of their song featured kazoos while on another, one of the guitarists switched to a mandolin. One one number the keyboardist made his instrument sound like bagpipes. Several song featured some cool falsetto harmonies. Never did the Spintos sound gimmicky.

All in all, SXSW was a blast as usual. But I'm still trying to figure what it means that Beatle Bob apparently didn't show up. Probably a terrible omen for the music industry in general.

Gonna be a long drive tomorrow ...

Check out my photos HERE.

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