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

Davies opened the conference by suggesting he should have delivered his keynote address at SXSW's end; he said he couldn't wait to hear what new thing lay out there waiting for him, and would deliver on his promise to stick around 'til the bitter end (he departed for London on Sunday morning, after sitting in with at least two bands -- Superdrag and the New Pornographers -- during the week). The Kinks' front man talked about how his first official solo album is still on hold, nothing more than a batch of demos awaiting the outcome of a label takeover. Perhaps to remind people who he was, he even played snatches of his old songs: "Tired of Waiting," Low Budget" and "Nothing in This World Can Stop Me Worryin' Bout That Girl," the latter of which showed up on the Rushmore soundtrack in 1998.

Davies talked about expectations ("nobody seems to know what I should do"), about wanting to be considered a new artist bereft of back catalogue and luggage full of hits and misses ("I'd like to make a record with the Kinks as though 'You Really Got Me' never happened"), and about how "music is under assault from all sides." He joked about reinventing himself as a rapper ("Rappin' MC Ray") or a teeny-pop artist or metal man ("WASP meets Suicidal Tendencies"), suggested he'd love to make an album without lyrics, and offered words of solace ("if we all wise up, we'll win out") and advice ("think of A&R people as meaningful input, just don't let them date your girlfriends"). But more than anything else, he seemed genuinely thrilled to be among so much music -- one aspiring artist walking among hundreds more, waiting to see what exciting new thing lay around the corner.

"I want more people to tap their feet than tap a computer," he said. "But where do I fit in? I never have, I guess, so why start now?"

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: Who was the best "surprise" guest?

A: While Davies' unannounced bows were interesting, if brief turns, the festival's most pleasant "surprise" was actually a well-publicized appearance by former Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton, who climbed onstage during J. Mascis' Thursday night slot at Emo's.

Mascis, who's being joined on his current tour by bassist/Minutemen/Firehose legend Mike Watt, was halfway though a set of songs from his new album More Light when a decidedly paunchy Asheton took the stage. Ignoring the fact that the Mascis/Watt/Asheton axis looked less like a well-oiled rock 'n' roll machine and more like three grizzled dudes waiting in line for a Sizzler buffet, the combo tore through a clutch of Stooges classics ("I Wanna Be Your Dog" "1970" "No Fun") with Watt ably handling vocal chores; the three-headed monster made a second appearance at a Tower Records in-store the following day.

As amazing as it was to see multiple generations of underground rock royalty sharing the same stage, one can only imagine how good it would've been had the festivals "hot" rumor -- that the Igster himself was going to sing -- turned out to be true.

Q: What was this year's "big" show?

A: Like last year, SXSW 2001 was without a true "must-see" event, something the conference has been lacking since Tom Waits' comeback performance at the Paramount Theater in 1999. But if there was one had-to-be-there show, it was Saturday night's Soft Boys reunion. The English psychedelic new wavers' return was ostensibly to promote Matador's expanded rerelease of the group's classic 1980 album Underwater Moonlight; a national tour is set to follow, though it will get no closer to Phoenix than L.A.

As a side note, we enjoyed a face-to-face meeting with Soft Boys leader Robyn Hitchcock in the lobby of Austin's Hyatt. As we passed through the hotel's revolving door, we encountered a chatty Hitchcock -- no doubt going on about the merits of elves, frogs, Chinese water pythons and the like. Locking eyes, he stopped mid-revolution and greeted us with a thumbs up and strange cooing noise, a gesture of friendship which we returned with a hearty "Waaaaaaassssssuuuuuup!!!!

Q: Who had the best line of the week?

A: That distinction belongs to Mario Escovedo, front man for San Diego trash-rockers the Dragons. Capping their all-too-brief set during the Cargo Records party at the Green Mesquite BBQ, the group ran through a song called "Needs" with its infectious "I just wanna, wanna, wanna wanna fuck!" chorus. During the song's breakdown, Escovedo took the microphone for an impassioned and impromptu rap, testifying MC5-style about the merits of sex and pork ribs: "I wanna see a show of hands! Who here likes to fuck and eat bar-b-cue?" "I said, I wanna know who likes to fuck and eat bar-b-cue?"

Additional reporting by Robert Wilonsky and Zac Crain.

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