I've got a whole city to hold down

March 23, 2004

The Austin Adventures of Lazlo Hollyfeld (cont.)

Chicagomuzikblog's roving correspondent collides with South by Southwest, part 2 of 4.

Day Two: Too Fatigued Already

The Austin Motel

Yesterday I gave you a few rules to live by at SXSW. Today I share my daily morning ritual. First, I amble over to Jo’s Coffee and grab a large one. Then I duck into the lobby of the motel and grab the daily supplements put out by the Austin Chronicle and Austin American-Statesman (think New City-sized tabloids that review some of the previous eve’s showcases, preview hot gigs for the coming night, and dish rampant gossip as well as news and notes). Finally I take a table by the pool and review last night’s activities while mapping out my goals for the coming day.

First glance at my Wednesday cheat sheet reveals few regrets. I didn’t make it to the Rhymesayers showcase, but the backpack rap is always a tough sell to Lawyer Boy and Bald Willie. Modest Mouse played at 1am, but that was at La Zona Rosa, probably a mess, and not worth the risk of being shut out at this outlying venue—which would mean a fight for a cab or a long walk back to the main drag.

I pop my fourth and fifth Advils of the young morning and get to work on logistics for the day to come. Scoff at my obsessive planning now, envy my Rumsfeldian battlefield shock and awe later.

Schubas Party, Yard Dog Art Gallery

Danny Black is warming up the crowd with an acoustic set. This party “officially” begins at noon, but the Schubas folk are smart enough not to start scheduling acts until 12:30 (though a quick glance at set times reveals that the Unicorns have already cancelled). Danny and the Hackensaw Boys are going to trade off keeping the crowd entertained while other acts set up and break down.

The National is up first, and while they look as ragged as I feel, they sound much better than they should. (Consider the setting: Basically a backyard parking lot, with a tent overhead and hay underfoot). To these ears they’re very similar to the latest Walkmen album that’s been wearing out my CD player at this month.

First spill of the day: Coffee, sloshed while clapping, leaves an ill-placed stain smack on my left nipple.

Meet the Beatles! I mean the Redwalls. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) As usual with these boys, my interest wanes about four songs in. But they’ve made a fan in Lawyer Boy, who weaves my way with a purchase from the swag table.

I’ve already broken my vow not to drink until nightfall. Rationale: At these parties, you actually lose money by abstaining. See, bottles of water are $2 while a bottomless cup of beer is free. So like Steve Winwood, I’m back in the High Life again.

A few minutes ago, I was the only M’s fan in my posse. But the last half hour has added two converts—Bald Willie and Lawyer Boy, grooving giddily to the sounds of the neo-glam.


Near this venue’s outside stage, I’m seated on a bench while the Constantines get ready to start. Inside, the Trachtenburg Family Slide Show Players are playing to an overflow crowd. I’ve seen their act once and didn’t find it compelling. Something about exploiting that poor kid rubs me the wrong way. It doesn’t help that some Seattle cats have dished on Dad Trachtenburg as a Clymeresque asshole, so I wish Lawyer Boy and his Mrs. The best and they head inside. Over/under before they bail: 15 minutes. The under hits.

The Constantines kick my ass, as they had the previous two times I’d seen them. And they bring out a couple of members of Broken Social Scene to make it sound even better for their last couple of tunes.

Stubb’s Restaurant

I have the Stubb’s Major (choosing the beef brisket, pork loin & sausage w/ sides of black eyed peas, mashed russet potatoes & serrano pepper cheese spinach) along with *another* 2 cups of coffee and as much water as I can fit in my BBQ-bombed belly. Alcohol is usually my only vice—well, that and overeating—but I’m ashamed at how exhausted I am. I’m only half kidding when I muse on scoring some uppers or blow. Would the congregation bow their heads and pray for my third wind?


Australia’s Sleepy Jackson put on a great show. Pretty as the album is (esp. its Beatle George-inflected opener “Good Dancers”), these guys want things a lot louder on-stage. And that matches their looks better: One guy sports a Mohawk, another two near-mullets.

Only trouble is the sound keeps getting knocked out mid-song. Note to self: Avoid this club again unless absolutely necessary. No reason to sit through sound troubles when there’s so much going elsewhere.

La Zona Rosa

A speedy cab delivers us in time for Seachange, the first act on the Matador showcase. Their album doesn’t come out here until April, but people I trust have raved about their UK-only EP Glitterball. Onstage they’re good, but it’s loud in here, to the point of overwhelming the delicate Frames-ish violin. And the lead singer has definitely attended Liam Gallagher’s Brit-pop frontman school. So I roll my eyes but don’t protest when Mrs. Boy needs a “break from the hard rock.”

La Zona Rosa

Wait. Two hours elapsed without comment, and we’re back at LZR? Here’s the quick synopsis:

The Frog Eyes set at Friends affords us the worst venue of the week—with what seems like a foot-high stage in the front window, no way to see anything, and awful sound—and he band is almost as bad as the setting. Three songs and I’m out, jotting a mental reminder not to bother with the Wrens here later since they’re playing for free tomorrow.

Fleeing Frog Eyes I walk up the street to Emo’s, only to find a huge line for the Def Jux showcase. So much for catching the Perceptionists, Aesop Rock and El-P. Left turn and there’s another mad line at the Red Eyed Fly; no way I’ll see the Natural History and French Kicks. And there’s yet another line outside Exodus, so I can scratch the Thrills as well.

I respond to these three strikes with a mini-tantrum. Bald Willie grabs a cab and heads down to the Continental Club solo. And I cab it back to LZR for Pretty Girls Make Graves. On the way I spy a mob scene outside Buffalo Billiards, where it’s 91 minutes until Franz Ferdinand takes the stage, and already there’s a line around the corner. Me, I’ll catch them at the Bottle.

In short: Pretty Girls rip off a tight set. The crowd eats it up. And I’ve found my last bit of energy for the evening.

The Vibe

I walk into this 6th Street club as the Autumn Defense is wrapping up—though I don’t know it. I even have to ask Lawyer Boy who’s playing, ‘cause I had no idea the usually flaccid Stirratt & Sansone show could rock like that.

Even more confusing is why so many Chicago scenesters have spent the past hour here. I recognize almost a dozen faces, each of which has just turned down 50 other options to spend 60 minutes on a band they could’ve caught at the Double Door last week.

This venue is just a nondescript backyard. I seem to recall it was a cheesy Hawaiian-themed bar before, and muster a vague recollection of seeing Preston School of Industry here at some dot-com-sponsored daytime bash. As Lawyer Boy, Mrs. Boy, Bald Willie and I reunite, Cincinnati’s Thee Shams set up—and Willie tells a tale.

Seems he was down at the Continental to catch Philly’s Marah; got there as CC Adcock was wrapping up. Apparently CC’s last song was about a rooster fight, during which he pulled a live rooster out of nowhere and threw it into the crowd—nearly hitting Willie on his shiny dome. Sad to say this tops anything I’ll see all week.

Thee Shams rock me six ways from Sunday. They would be right at home on the Nuggets box or sharing a bill with ? and the Mysterians, and this gig is like being in a secret club as there are fewer than 30 people enjoying it with us. Give the Shams guys bonus points for being ugly dudes: The lead singer looks like Rob Reiner’s Meathead from All In The Family—priceless. Even better, they play Dylan’s “If You Gotta Go, Go Now” and make it their own.

Whew—we barely squeeze into a packed Blender Bar for an anticipated gig by Ted Leo.

Check that—three of us get in. Bald Willie is preoccupied on his cell phone, trying to scam some Austin gal he knows to meet up with him. He’s been trying all night. Unsuccessfully.

Anyway, while distracted by his call, he doesn’t come in when beckoned by the bouncer. The club then fills, a badge line queues—and Willie and his wristband are, quite legitimately, shit out of luck. What Would Willie Do? He starts a near fistfight with the bouncer, then storms off down 6th.

I follow, seething. I find Willie on the street—and on the phone again. Dialogue ensues. Me: “Why are you acting so stupid?” Him: “Why are you acting so selfish?” I wish a cordial, gentlemanly best and hop to the Stills at Emo’s.

Not five minutes later, my cell rings. It’s Willie. Soon he shows up—with Austin gal and ladyfriend in tow. He’s completely won over by the Stills, to the point of giving me an effusive man-hug less than 40 minutes after we nearly tore each other apart on the street. I’m too fucking tired to hold a grudge, so I promise myself that tomorrow I’ll achieve peak performance. Just need rest.

Tomorrow: Day Three - Me + David Cross = Tru Luv.