South by Southwest 2000 – where are they now?
In seventh grade, my History class took place in the ominously-named Room C4. Most of my classmates at Barstow Junior High, which featured enough hooligans and chavs to require the donning of plastic explosives for self-defense, were oblivious to the irony. While I always had an interest in world affairs, I could give two shites about the Dark Ages, the Holy Roman Empire, or any other time period before Fabians, atonality, drugs or the labor movement. I did, however, enjoy the phenomenon that was “Pre- and Post-tests” – as in, the teacher would give us the exam for each chapter before she assigned said reading, serving as extra credit (and an incentive to read ahead). A few weeks later, after we completed the series of chapter reviews, she would pass out the exact same test. One student, whom I’ll only refer to as “Ramirez”, interrupted an exam to blurt “It’s amazing how many more of these terms I know after we’ve been through the stuff!” Little did I know that “Ramirez”, 23 years prior, was perfectly describing the thoughts I have when reviewing itineraries from past years of South by Southwest. Yes, my favorite music festival, and the only large-scale incarnation within the US that interests me anymore (if baking in 100-degree heat, dropping $5 for a bottle of water, then being unable to find your friends amongst the throng while ambling the 2-mile return trek from the bathroom sounds like your cup of overpriced, flat beer, then by all means, Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo!) As I revisited the scrawls of paper and archived Word Docs that list the ridiculous array of day parties, street concerts, park shows, and officially-sanctioned SXSW nighttime performances, I had that same 7-th grade test feeling – now that I’ve “read the chapter” in the plethora of music publications and distributions services (online and off), I could have seen many of my current faves in super-intimate performance spaces, with free Lone Star and BBQ in hand, as slightly-cool breeze intrudes upon the 75-degree perfection. Oh well.
As September reaches double-digits, we reach the exact midpoint betwixt South by Southwest festivals previous and future. I decided I would take another look at the artists that were seen by myself and my contingents, starting with my 2000 trip with fellow Tweedster Lloyd (I’ll get to the far-more digitally-documented 2006 and 2007 in future installments). Where are they now? Who made it? Who flopped? What about the bands that we passed over for our selections?
2000 – my crew: Lloyd, the Jeep Cherokee, and the spectre of Garland Hurt.
The 2000 Edition of SXSW was a turning point in the festival’s history, where the officially-sanctioned seminars ventured into the murky world of file-sharing as a positive force in music. But instead of listening to Keynote Speaker Steve Earle (seriously) tell us to open Napster on our dial-up modem, most of the attendees were drawn to outdoor events featuring musicians playing their songs instead of clamoring about technology.
Since we did not craft an electronic list of our itinerary, nor can I locate any newspapers that eventually were thumbtacked to my wall, I will have to recall everyone by Acoustic Google.
They became massive…
No one that I remember, although I hear that DJ Angelique, who dined at a table next to us in a Mexican seafood restaurant, became a cult figure in the club scene.
They’re still around…
Gomez – Fresh off the release of Liquid Skin, the follow-up to Mercury Prize-winning Bring it On, these affable Brits were rapidly approaching stardom. A song in eventual Oscar-winner American Beauty (although, let’s be honest, could you really see Mena Suvari’s character, the typically shallow mainstream-fed high-schooler, listening to “We Haven’t Turned Around”?) only added to the list. We were early for this one, too. While Gomez never quite made that leap to the vaunted status of other British stars like Blur, Radiohead or Travis, they continue to release albums on the regular, and maintain a sizable American fanbase. They’ve inspired some imitators, too, such as the widely-inferior Ray LaMontagne, whose pallid attempt at Ottewell’s rasp is about as convincing as Bonnie Tyler ripping off Rod Stewart.
As for their performance at La Zona Rosa, for 80 minutes, they were absolutely on fire. Rarely does one get the chance to see a band at the top of its game – that show felt like watching Fernando Valenzuela in 1981.
Whiskeytown / Sebadoh – I have to discuss these two as a tandem, because they both were of a similar context. Both groups are notorious for varying quality of their live performances, although I must add that they always leave you with an interesting story to recount on your way home. As I referenced six months ago, SXSW is a thrill for newer bands, but for numerous established acts, it can feel like an obligation. Barlow and Adams’ outfits released long-awaited records in the previous year, but the writing was on the wall that their bands’ days were numbered. And (gratuitous metaphor alert) even though we stood a decent distance from the stages in these relatively empty venues, it felt like they were further from each other than they were from us.
They could have been a contender…
Damnations TX – No one was hotter in the Late ’90s Insurgent Country scene (remember that term?), and a slowly building audience, weaned on their Wilcos, Whiskeytowns and Old 97s, were clamoring for Half Mad Moon. Or so we thought, which is why we arrived at Antone’s about three hours early. Garland, who was supposed to meet us there, decided to venture to Colorado or Upper Volta or some other festival. Despite the buzz, this outfit never quite broke through. But damnation, they sure left us with a fine document of the era.
Peter Bruntnell – Maybe he wasn’t going to be huge, per se, but we could definitely see Bruntnell’s evocative take on Americana making quite a go of it in the States. “Handful of Stars” and “Cosmea” are still worthy of addition to anyone’s collection, and any British singer-songwriter willing to make two separate stops in Lexington deserves some accolades. His set at Pecan Street Ale House was superb.
Mary Lou Lord – As we walked from Red River to Guadaloupe along 6th Street, she was impossible to miss. Standing on the street, gravy-training the electricity from a compliant tavern, Lord offered a never-ending jukebox of some of the best tunes from Elliott Smith, Nick Saloman, in addition to her own clever originals (such as “His Indie World”, which she modified into “His N.D. World”, a cheeky reference to the No Depression scene that temporarily – or so it seemed! – took over Austin at the time. Sadly, in 2005 she was diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia and can no longer grace us with her dulcet tones.
Lucky Bishops – Yes, kids, there was a time when a proggy psychedelic band from rural England could generate significant buzz. Lloyd recommended that we check out these guys, based on the idea that Nick Salomon of The Bevis Frond signed them to his label. While their show was kick-ass, and their keyboard player reminded me of Rick Wakeman, I’ve not heard anything about them since walking out of the venue.
The Derailers – A fitting blend of traditional and alternative country aesthetics, Tony Villanueva and Co were slowly clawing their way to the forefront of the western axis of Insurgent Country. They were one of the original SXSW buzz bands back in 1995, before it was “cool” (or so I was told). After a stellar run of releases 1997’s Reverb Deluxe and 1999’s Full Western Dress, we caught these guys at a park, as a slight drizzle made the acrobatic swing-dancing fans just that more impressive. A 2001 follow-up, Here Come the Derailers, kept the momentum alive. While the band still exists, and features someone with the Picaresque moniker of “Sweet Basil McJagger”, they’ll never replace Villanueva, who left the band to pursue a career in the church. Can’t stop a train.
Sister Sonny – Just an unmitigated disaster. A reminder that not everything from Sweden is awesome.
We could have seen…
Tenacious D – Following the WhiskeyDowner, and with a 17-hour drive awaiting the next day, we decided to exit the Austin Music Hall before the final act. Yep, it was these guys. Who knew they would experience such a rapid rise in two short years?
Elliott Smith – As we walked along 6th Street about two hours early, we saw this super-long queue extending about a block deep. After some research, we were baffled that an event that loves its rowdy rockers would don Elliott Smith as the hottest ticket in Austin. People with badges (i.e., the $600 investment that allows you to skip ahead of other entrance materials) were being turned away. Who said Austin doesn’t have a sensitive side?