Whether it was sheer alcohol intake, eyedroppers delivering liquid fixes, or simply a sound that lent itself well to psychedelic permeations, there was a heavy dosage of brain-stewing stuff going down in Texas this year. Headlining a daytime Spin party, New York Dolls' David Johansen was looking as sinewy as ever in hot pants and a crop shirt. Before belting out closing hit "Personality Crisis," he took down a dropper-full of herbal mood booster, telling the crowd in gravelly drawl, "I gotta take this Saint John's wort shit these days." Supplements aside, the Dolls (Johansen, Syl Sylvain, hired hands) were satisfactory--pretty much what you'd expect from a three-decade-old act that damaged themselves nearly beyond repair. (Speaking of nearly expired goods, reports on Billy Idol's SXSW nostalgia show were bright on all fronts; I'm still waiting on word about C-list Surreal Life celebrity Vanilla Ice's showcase, however.) Other high-enhancing moments included the Arthur magazine party at the Church of the Friendly Ghost, a suburban house of band worship fenced in by a collection of Easy Rider-fashioned music fans (keeping the flame of "beards are the new faux-hawks" concept alive). While glassy-eyed members of psych rockers Vietnam and the Psychic Ills played toy flutes on the stairs, Italy's Jennifer Gentle jammed the pews inside the sweltering church. Gentle, a Syd Barrett-worshipping act, were one of the week's definite highlights both at their Sub Pop showcase and at their daytime events, as they roller-coastered between helium-vocaled psych-folk and voluminous instrumental space rock.
The night before the official SXSW kickoff (and at a private afterparty in a frigid airplane hangar later in the week), Queens of the Stone Age showed off a newly assembled lineup that still includes soulful singer Mark Lanegan, but leaves bassist Nick Oliveri out in the cold. (Oliveri was spotted watching QOTSA from the side stage, however). Surrounded by members of Eleven, Danzig, and a Perfect Circle, frontman Josh Homme played much new material off Queen's upcoming Lullabies to Paralyze--the new shit sounding just as heavy, if a little more tempered, than Songs for the Deaf. Backstage, Homme's girlfriend, the Distillers' Brody Dalle, discussed with an Interscope A&R rep the possibility of grunge inching its way back into the mainstream--an idea teased over the course of the week with acts like Pelican and Men of Porn keeping the dirgy grind going. (At an art gallery, Areola 51--comprising Scratch Acid's Brett Bradford, Ministry's Max Brody, and Butthole Surfer J. D. Pinkus--slayed Fuck by Fuck You, an annual nonsanctioned party, as the Austin group went Unsane on alien-warped metal.)
But with acts like the 60-MC strong Dakah Hip Hop Orchestra and OG dirty hiphop scoundrel Blowfly taking the stage, hard-tripping rock wasn't all Austin offered. After missing a bunch of tour dates (including a Seattle stop), Sri Lankan M.I.A. finally made it into the country to perform a couple rounds of melting-pot dancehall along with electro hipsters LCD Soundsystem (they should be touring together through Seattle soon) while Dälek punked out aggressive hiphop with a barrage of white noise at a Take Action showcase. Other serious buzz bands were collected together for a closing-night Vice party at the Rhizome Collective loft space--proving once again that the contentious magazine hosts some of the best parties Austin has to offer. I'd written off much-hyped Vice Records Bloc Party at their two previous SXSW shows as just another Franz Futureheads clone, but the Brits' third performance for Vice was the charm, as the gang of four stepped up their chopped, angular pop and ice-pick guitar riffs for a more energetic performance. The Go! Team's gratification was more instantaneous, as the UK act were refreshingly different from the rest of SXSW's buzzed best, mashing together old-school hiphop, indie pop, and dance music. Led by Ninja, a very charismatic female MC, the group cranked the basement hits all night. Other sure-fires on the Vice bill: Lansing-Dreiden, who exhibited mesmerizing space pop, and new Kemado Records act Diamond Nights. The latter were one of my favorite new finds, blasting out unpretentious party rock that dipped into Thin Lizzy/Billy Idol ground without stomping too hard on their roots. Their eponymous EP is out now.
Finally: Congrats to United State of Electronica, who left SXSW the subject of a major-label bidding war, and to the Cops, who were asked to open for Sonic Youth in the near future after finding a fan in Youth friend David Byrne.