Rock 'n' roll rousers the Van Buren Wheels roll to success at SXSW

Phoenix faves the Phunk Junkeez (featuring new guitarist Danny P. of Surf Ballistics fame -- so you know we're big fans) played later that night at the Atomic Café, where the group would return on Friday to perform at a well-attended private soiree sponsored by the Arizona Music Forum. The folks over at the AzMF made a pretty big splash at their first SXSW, judging from the ubiquitous party laminates which seemed to dangle from the neck of every other wag in Austin.

Thursday saw the local hip-hop/DJ scene represented with Z-Trip's midnight ride through the patio stage of the Velvet Club. The Tripper's recent nod in Spin as well as several other high profile honors (see story on page 101) earned him a coveted slot, preceding noted New York turntablists the X-ecutioners and an indoor Velvet set from Oakland rappers Blackalicious.

Friday brought a St. Patty's Day bow from Big Shot Allstar at the Waterloo Brewing Company. The group, which snagged a contract from Mammoth Records late last year, did so with such little fanfare that it left many in local circles wondering just who the band -- formed less than a year and half ago -- even was. Playing a Mammoth showcase that included Norwegian rockers Locomotiv and L.A. metal-punks Frankie Machine, the Big Shot boys did not disappoint. Even with an alt-rock-radio-ready sound that's a little too tame for these ears, the infectious charisma of the group could not be denied, while its energy proved a welcome reprieve from the detuned Sabbath cum Zeppelin skronk of the preceding Mammoth act, stoner-rock lynchpins Fu Manchu, who despite their love for all things sludgy and '70s, were like, um, dude, really lame.

Phoenix native and indie-pop queen Lois Maffeo, foreground, expands her sound on The Union Themes.
Bob Mehr
Phoenix native and indie-pop queen Lois Maffeo, foreground, expands her sound on The Union Themes.
This Wheel's on fire: Guitarist Steve Shelton spikes his licks as singer Vic Bochini looks on.
Tae Won Yu
This Wheel's on fire: Guitarist Steve Shelton spikes his licks as singer Vic Bochini looks on.

Saturday's SXSW climax predictably unleashed a sea of humanity in downtown Austin that would have been the nightmare of any agoraphobe. Working through the mass of bodies, Bash & Pop weaved a path toward Lucy's for a New Times-sponsored festival appearance from local legends Dead Hot Workshop. Playing to a packed house, including a vocal cadre of supporters from Tempe, the group tore through a passionate, if all too brief, 11-song set.

The only real disappointment was that the group chose the same song list it's been using since reforming in October. Relying heavily on material from 1998's Karma Covered Apple as well as a handful of new songs ("Waiting for Lefty," "My Friend"), an older chestnut like "Fuck No" or "Slice of Life" would have been a nice surprise. Even more appropriate would have been the 1001 track "Lead Thoughts," which received some airplay on Austin radio when it was released in 1995. Nevertheless, it was gratifying to see one of the Valley's most important and underappreciated combos getting some well-deserved attention from the crowd. This included the effusive praise of one zealous fan who "claimed" he had come all the way from the midlands of England to catch the group's performance. (He was rather pasty, used the phrase "piss off" frequently in conversation and said his name was Ian, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.)

After Dead Hot's set, it was time to head west along Sixth Street toward the massive Buffalo Billiards club, where Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers were set to perform. Bash & Pop was immediately stopped and cornered in mock threat by Peacemakers guitarist Steve Larson, who assured us that he enjoyed the good-natured ribbing we lobbed at him in the March 9 edition of this column. Boy, it sure does our hearts good to know someone still reads New Times for the articles and not just for the ads for "breast enlargement surgery."

Squeezing through the club to take a place at the bar, I recoiled in horror as my elbow brushed against what seemed to be a grizzled animal of some kind. I turned to find that it wasn't a piece of misplaced road kill, but rather the flowing beard of ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons. Literally having had a "brush" with the head hombre of the "lil' ol' band from Texas" I can personally attest that Mr. Gibbons really is quite bad and thoroughly nationwide (though I was unable to corroborate Gibbons' well-known assertion that "every girl crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man." Still, it was readily apparent that the comely ladies tossing inviting glances toward Mr. Gibbons are extremely fond of short, gnarled men who look as if they've been prospecting for gold since the turn of the century -- or at least the ones who have $25 million recording contracts from RCA).

The Peacemakers played a fairly rote set of songs from Honky Tonk Union, though guitarists Larson and Scott Johnson engaged in enough six-string heroics to please even the less-devout fans in attendance. If anything, the emphatic crowd response proved that Clyne's cult of personality isn't a phenomenon exclusive to Phoenix. The group has already achieved enough Lone Star acclaim to headline in an Austin club next month.

Though he didn't have a showcase of his own, the award for busiest Arizonan at the festival has to go to pedal steel picker Jon Rauhouse, who played with six -- count 'em, six -- different bands at SXSW. A favorite of the alt-country set who's been touring worldwide and nonstop for much of the past year, Rauhouse appeared with Cash/Clash exponents the Waco Brothers, as well as Tucsonans Calexico and Giant Sand, "goth-country" gal Neko Case, Bloodshot Records songstresses Sally Timms, Kelly Hogan and British punk legends the Mekons.

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