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

Fuckin' Nikki Sixx, Man showed up anywhere and everywhere, and people were still sort of awed by him. Sort of, meaning they maybe kinda wanted to do a shot of Jack Daniels with him (or perhaps shoot up some Jack Daniels with him), rather than find out where or even if he might be playing. He was there scarfing down skewered chicken at a McCluskey Promotions bash, then standing on the outdoor VIP deck during the Cult's performance at Revolver magazine's non-SXSW-sanctioned par-tay at Stubb's. He was sharing a cab with a colleague, then being ushered in the private back entrance to Emo's. FNSM was everywhere, spreading his I-don't-really-shower-because-I-mean-look-at-my-hair-dude scent like pollen. (Hint: It smells like a healthy mix of talcum powder and sweat.)

Fuckin' Nikki Sixx, Man.

Q: Who delivered the festival's biggest music industry "fuck you"?

I just Watt to be your dog: Mike Watt and Ron Asheton act like the Stooges during a Tower Records in-store.
I just Watt to be your dog: Mike Watt and Ron Asheton act like the Stooges during a Tower Records in-store.
Give it to the Soft Boys: Robyn Hitchcock leads a reunion of his old group.
Give it to the Soft Boys: Robyn Hitchcock leads a reunion of his old group.

A: Ryan Adams. The Whiskeytown front man turned solo artist closed his Friday Austin Music Hall set with a song (presumably off his forthcoming solo album) which he introduced as his "love letter to Geffen Records" -- the parent company of his former band's now-defunct label, Outpost Records.

The remainder of Adams' set was equal parts piss 'n' vinegar, Stones swagger and a merger of Replacement-esque rock and redneck twang (a synthesis one wag dubbed "Country and Westerberg").

Adams' appearance came as part of a BMI/Lost Highway records showcase, the latter a new Americana imprint started as a joint venture between Mercury Nashville and Island Records. Ironically, both were swallowed up, along with Geffen, as part of 1998's Seagram's/Polygram merger) which counts Adams, Lucinda Williams and Robert Earl Keen among its roster of talent. Word is that Whiskeytown's much hyped (and much downloaded, via Napster) swan song Pneumonia will see the light of day in late April, followed by Adams' second solo offering, due late this summer.

Q: Who had the best name of the all the acts?

A: Easy. Just as he ruled the moniker kingdom last year, Austin turntablist DJ Muppetfucker (that's Muppetfucker for all you Jim Henson Enterprises attorneys) once again reigned supreme. While DJ Muppetfucker (God, we love seeing that in print) did ultimately triumph, he was given a run for his money by the likes of Mexican punk-funksters Genitallica, bluegrass hard rockers Hayseed Dixie, tribute band the Dung Beatles, the tongue-twisting Shappy Seasholtz and the ever-classy the Urinals.

Q: Who had the worst sound?

A: Proving that bad sound sometimes plagues good bands, we offer up Athens, Georgia's, Drive-By Tuckers as a case in point. The group -- often described as the mutated offspring of the Pogues, Lynyrd Skynyrd and AC/DC -- soldiered on admirably through its 45-minute Metro set despite the fact that most of the audience was visibly writhing in pain at the ridiculously over-the-top levels. A note to soundmen everywhere: A little kick drum in the mix goes a long way.

Q: What was the best cover?

A: Traditionally, SXSW is a forum used to test out new material, but this year, a somewhat loose atmosphere lent itself to a number of bands dipping into the catalogues of other artists for some crowd-pleasing covers. The Supersuckers' night-capping marathon medley of Thin Lizzy and the James Gang was an inspired choice, as were all of the Stooges songs dusted off by J. Mascis and friends. But the most pleasant surprise came courtesy of Capricorn Records combo the Glands, who ended their Club 710 bow with a gorgeously sloppy and laid-back rendition of the Clash's (actually, the Equals') "Police on My Back."

Q: What was the most anticipated non-performing event?

A: The listening party Capitol Records hosted for Radiohead's new album (Amnesiac, due June 5). The shindig took place at Plush, a club which until the last year or so was a punk dive that catered mainly to drag queens. Now, it's one of those brushed-steel joints where you don't necessarily have to sweep teeth and needles and godknowswhatelse off the floor at the end of the night. The kind of place where a roomful of people can stand, not talking to anyone, not really drinking anymore, not even moving much, just listening.

There was plenty to listen to: Amnesiac, the follow-up to the much reviled/revered Kid A, is the answer to the question, "What happened to ________?" [choose one: a) the guitars; b) their sense of humor; c) Thom Yorke's voice; d) all of the above]. In short, it's what Kid A could/should have been, experimental without being exclusionary, a Rock Band tinkering with that term instead of destroying it completely. The six songs Capitol played -- "Packt Like Sardines in a Can," "Pyramid Song," "You and Whose Army," "I Might Be Wrong," "Dollars and Cents" and "Life in a Glass House" -- came with melodies and guitars and words you could hear without searching through electronic debris. However, if you're still looking for another "Creep" out of Radiohead, why are you even listening to that band anymore? Really. No. Seriously.

Q: How was Ray Davies' keynote speech?

A: Quite good, actually. Unlike last year's rambling pseudopolitical rant delivered by maverick country rocker Steve Earle, Davies stayed on point, managing to entertain and illuminate, while displaying the sort of quiet candor and good humor that marked his best musical work.

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