I moved back into the night as gracefully as possible, wended through the throngs to the Santa Fe club where Phoenix's own Earl C. Whitehead and the Grievous Angels were about to take the stage. Ran into Gin Blossom Robin Wilson outside eating what I thought was a Pop Tart but turned out to be a folded slice of pizza. We entered the club.

Though the place was about half full (or half empty), the Angels came out of the gate with a vengeance, steaming into the original "Guilty Hand" and winning the crowd over instantly. The relatively short set (at the SXSW showcases, time is at a premium) was tight and memorable, augmented by a guest lap steel/mandolin player. The band came to Austin and did the job right, that's all I have to say. I went back to the hotel and slept.

The next two days were mainly nights of music, but I hit a few panel discussions that were worthwhile. The Demo Listening: Rock was good theatre and seemingly helpful to the musicians who submitted tapes to be critiqued. Despite the plethora of straightahead, sincere rock music, the song that drew the most attention from audience and panelists alike was a parody of "This Old Man" that involved pedophilic lyrics. Go figure.

Some standout shows: Boston's Morphine played to what may have been the biggest showcase crowd--more than 2,000--and filled the sweltering hall with its dark, Tom Waits-like sound. A few blocks away at the Continental Club, I caught a brilliant band that is hard to describe: Evan Johns and the Gay Sportscasters. Two go-go dancers flanked the tiny stage. Stone foxes. There were eight other people playing various instruments, wearing (or not wearing) skirts, platform shoes, ruffle tux shirts, etc. It was utter chaos and mayhem, but out of it emerged some amazingly linear rock n' roll, kind of a white folks' version of Parliament/Funkadelic.

Evan--master guitarist, storyteller, bigger-than-life guy in general--was in rare form; this was his first gig since being released from rehab. "Shit," he said, "when they strapped me down, I was hallucinating I was in Hawaii surfing with Abe Lincoln." Seattle's boy-girl duo the Spinanes was much-talked-about after a stunning Saturday-night set, as was ex-Replacement Slim Dunlap, and more than a couple people turned out for Doo Rag's show; the filthy blues boys came all the way from Tucson and left that night.

By the time Sunday morning was coming down, Sixth Street was empty, every Do Not Disturb sign hanging on every hotel-room doorknob in town. But I had a plane to catch. Packed my stinking black tee shirts in my bag and packed my remaining aspirin in my stomach and bid adios to Austin. Until next year, anyway. I have a tough job.

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