Texas State of Mind

The South by Southwest music conference might've been a disappointment this year, but there are still plenty of questions left to be answered

Alas, we must begin this year's South by Southwest music festival recap on a down note. For, you see, SXSW 2001 was something of a disappointment -- or least as much of a "disappointment" as you care to call a week's worth of company-sponsored boozing.

It's hard to find a specific reason for the subpar session, but the sheer number of shows worth seeing seemed paltry in comparison to previous years, the private parties weaker (thanks no doubt to the crash and burn of dot-coms, which were responsible for hosting the bulk of 2000's topnotch soirees). Sadly, even the Shiner Boch tasted a little watered down.

Still, five full days' worth of rock 'n' roll are bound to yield something worthwhile. Invariably, upon returning to town we're besieged by the curious among you who want to know the highlights, lowlights, juicy details and unsubstantiated gossip we overheard. So, as is our custom each year, we're going to wrap up our annual Texas sojourn with a little Q&A session.

Fine China's Rob Withem performs during the Tooth & Nail showcase.
photos by John Anderson
Fine China's Rob Withem performs during the Tooth & Nail showcase.
The Supersuckers rock Stubb's on St. Patty's Day.
The Supersuckers rock Stubb's on St. Patty's Day.

Q: How did Valley/Arizona acts fair?

A: It seems the SXSW selection committee is intent on giving Arizona bands the shaft year after year. Of the 100-plus acts that entered from the state in 2001, only seven made it. And of those seven, the majority were there as part of a showcase, sponsorship or some other exemption. Meaning that the powers that be actually chose a total of only 1 or 2 bands from the state's talent pool -- Christ, even Arkansas was better represented.

Among the familiar local names who did make it was DJ Z-Trip, who's quickly become a fixture at the event. This year, the DJ was granted an especially high-profile slot as part of a showcase presented by GetMusic and the new documentary film Scratch. Z-Trip found himself sandwiched between Jurassic 5 DJ NuMark and sometime Beastie Boy collaborator Mix Master Mike on a Wednesday La Zona Rosa bill. Meanwhile, fellow SXSW perennials the Phunk Junkeez made their annual pilgrimage to the Atomic Café, having recently released Sex, Drugs & Rap 'n' Roll.

Representing the Valley's new rock blood was North Phoenix Christian combo Fine China, performing as part of the Tooth & Nail Records showcase at the Scholz Beer Garden. Though the crowd for the group's early Friday night set was a bit thin, the band was in righteous form, ripping though a tight set of synth-'n'-Smiths-style numbers and closing with a rousing rendition of their tongue-in-cheek anthem "We Rock Harder Than You Ever Knew."

As for the old school, Tempe's Pistoleros returned to the festival for the first time since 1993 (then playing as the Chimeras) and fared well, turning what could've been a difficult early Wednesday slot into a success as a crowd of longtime fans, industry types and wives/girlfriends danced in the pleasant outdoor confines of Opal Divine's Free House.

Also appearing were the Gas Giants, whose Friday night performance as part of the ASCAP showcase was plagued by sound problems throughout, something that did not seem to diminish the enjoyment of the crowd at the appropriately named club The Drink; the audience for the show might've been the most soused of any we saw all week.

Former Arizona natives the Supersuckers were their usual cartoon-size rock selves during a Stubb's set on St. Patty's day, a performance that saw the band pay tribute to another Irish saint, Thin Lizzy's Phil Lynott, with a version of "Jailbreak."

In general, Old Pueblo dwellers were scarce as Tucson's Giant Sand/Calexico contingent took the year off, although buddies Amor Belholm Duo did make the trip, as did postmodern bluesman/performance artist Bob Log III.

Q: What city/metropolis fared the best at this year's SXSW?

A: Big D, baby. Bands from the Dallas/Denton/Fort Worth triangle were the real winners during the event, especially during the first night of the festival where it seemed wherever you went there was nothing but bands from the area. Aside from stellar performances by Vibrolux, Pleasant Grove and Baboon (all performing as part of a Last Beat records bill), the real highlight of Wednesday's conference opener was a showcase from Dallas' Idol Records imprint featuring Chomsky, Deathray Davies and Clumsy.

Somewhat improbably, Chomsky's early set drew the longest lines we encountered the whole week (we were forced to peer in through the windows) as the group previewed songs from its forthcoming release, Onward Quirky Soldiers. Next up were the Deathray Davies, who combined a retro organ-fueled noise with a bit of indie-rock goodness (and a full-time maraca player, always a plus) for the evening's most energetic turn.

Meanwhile, Clumsy, led by tassel-haired front man Marc Solomon, onetime guitarist for Tommy Stinson's combo Perfect, was the band that really won our hearts. Solomon and company ran through an admittedly ragged but nonetheless enjoyable set of songs off their debut, Center of Attention Deficit Disorder -- with the band's muse drawing equally from obvious influences like the Replacements and its various offshoots to early (stress that, early) Soul Asylum and Afghan Whigs.

Q: Who was the most ubiquitous figure at this year's SXSW?

A: It was going to be a challenge for anyone to try to unseat last year's most ubiquitous figure, Rolling Stone senior editor David Fricke. In 2001, the Frickster put up another valiant effort as he again seemed to pop up at every turn (that was not him, however, manning an after-hours hot dog cart at the corner of Sixth and Trinity). But Fricke, still looking very much like the lost Ramone, was no match for genuine rock 'n' roll hero Nikki Sixx -- or as he obviously goes by these days, Fuckin' Nikki Sixx, Man.

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