Texas Flood

The Valley boys in Trunk Federation rose to the occasion in a Thursday-night slot at Electric Lounge, issuing a tight set of intricate mod rock that was rehearsal-buffed to a high sheen. Trunk Fed's SXSW set was the best I've seen these guys play, even if they looked uncharacteristically stiff onstage. Not that the Austin crowd knew the difference--by Trunk's second song, much of the crowd had migrated from the back bar to the stage area, and the after-set conversational buzz was all good. Survey says: might be time for these locals to start thinking about an alias. In other local news--the Phunk Junkeez were in their usual, fine form, canceling their showcase gig at the last minute and costing some other Valley act a spot.

Thursday night at Continental Club, rockabilly living legend Ronnie Dawson demonstrated that whether you can still blow the house down is entirely a state of mind. Holy smokes, did this guy tear shit up. Brutal, beautiful roadhouse rock that kept going well past the legal 2a.m. closing time. Dawson leaped on the monitors at several points and waved his hands in the air like a Baptist minister feeling the spirit. Can I get a witness!?

Not too many went surfing, surfing Austin way Friday at Scholz Garden. SXSW's surf-theme night drew but a moderate crowd for a back-to-back set by the Portland, Oregon, surf combo Satan's Pilgrims (nice devil costumes, generic surf) and San Francisco headliners the Mermen (who were so drunk they wasted a third of their stage time telling bad jokes and backbiting, but dealt a good fix of reverb and twang whenever they got it together enough to play a song).

Somehow, I stumbled my way to Flathead's early (well, 10:30 a.m. seemed pretty damn early at the time) management-company party on Saturday. Ummmmm ... I love the smell of fast-pickin', diesel-fueled-rig rock in the morning. No better way to start the day, especially when you wash it down with (what else?) a frosty glass of Shiner Bock.

By night four, my brain was fairly pickled. Good thing Mother Nature invented adrenaline, or I might have missed Tenderloin and EdHall. Tenderloin layed some mean, howling rock harp over a wicked groove that sounded like the Stray Cats on crystal meth. Austin psychedelic heroes Ed Hall were looking mighty trippy in all that black-light paint, but the band's generic weirdo-pop song stylings didn't fully live up to the stage show.

Oxford, Mississippi, country-core act Blue Mountain sounded like a Budweiser commercial gone to seed--three tunes and I was gone. Better was Wisdom Tooth, an experimental industrial-funk trio from Brooklyn. Better still was Samba Ngo and the Ngoma Players, a rich, colorful, African-flavored world-beat band from Santa Cruz, California.

Sunday night I played straggler and caught a few of the final showcase acts, including a serviceable set by Austin straightahead rockers Superego and a fiery hour of hard guitar rock by Slackhappy, another Austin band that handled onstage drunkenness much better than the Mermen. Also good was the Violet Burning, a hallucinatory Southern California guitar band whose dense triple-ax guitar sound teetered on the edge of cheese rock but never fell off.

To close out, I'm sorry to report that the band with the best name at SXSW, Tracy and the Hindenburg Ground Crew, was also the worst band I saw. Matter of fact, it may be the worst band I've ever seen. Described in the SXSW guide as "a comic folk/punk act," the Crew consisted of a drummer who couldn't find the beat with a Jack Kerouac reader, a guitarist who sat in a chair and looked embarrassed to be there, and a lead singer/electric-ukulele player who managed a fair imitation of several alley cats being burned at the stake. Oh, the humanity.--David Holthouse

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