Chicagomuzik

I've got a whole city to hold down

March 27, 2004

Healthy debate

Over the last two days, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Clarence Page and Chicagomuzikblog main man Jack Flack have traded messages regarding Page's March 24 column, "Authentically self-hating," and our March 25 critique, "Turn off that devil music!" What follows is a transcript of that discussion, beginning with a reprint of the critique. (Page's original article is linked therein.)

==========

Turn off that devil music!

Yesterday, under the headline “Authentically Self-Hating,” Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page launched an attack on what he called “hip-hop culture” (elsewhere, with revealing awkwardness, he also addressed “hip-hop rappers”). His supposed ammunition? The results of a survey, published in January, on the attitudes of urban black teenagers about sex and status.

“Today's teens have grown up awash in hip-hop and so have their parents,” Page writes. “The sad consequences have been a narrow and distorted view among many black youngsters, among others, of what it means to be black.”

One problem: Page doesn’t bother to share whatever conclusions the study drew about the actual direct influence of hip-hop on these attitudes. After a diligent web search, we couldn’t find the facts, either—though we did track down the publicly available summary of the study’s key findings, which makes a handful of vague references to the influence of “the media,” but specifically excludes discussion of hip-hop.

Page's column grants that some survey respondents “praised certain hip-hop artists as more ‘positive’.” But that doesn’t stop him from sneering at the “macho pose” of “a culture that uses ‘bitches’ and ‘hos’ as labels for every woman but one’s mama.” Then he pats himself on the back for transcending a youthful naivete that once caused him to “buy [a] narrow notion of blackness.” And he winds it all up with a call for “elders” to show black teens “a broader vision of what black culture is all about.”

A few points for Page:

Ever thought that you’ve replaced your youthful “narrow notion” of what it means to be black with just another narrow notion—one that just so happens to look a lot like you?

Think you might have a “narrow notion” of what “hip-hop culture” is? Ever consider that your reactionary, uninformed dismissal of hip-hop might undercut your ability to reach young people with your positive message? Really, what teenager wants to listen to another grumpy old man preach at them about the evils of something he doesn’t understand?

Or how about this: Ever listen to Kanye West’s “All Falls Down”? (Read the lyrics or listen to a sample.) If you haven’t, you should—if for no other reason than it’s the current single from the #1 rap album in the country. It’s the work of a guy from Chicago, your very own backyard. And as social commentary on the “get it while you can” mindset you ascribe to those “hip-hop rappers,” it’s a heck of a lot more insightful and nuanced than your own column.

We don’t doubt, Mr. Page, that your motives are good. But your column reveals more about your generational and class differences with most rap fans than anything else.

==========

To: Jack Flack
From: Clarence Page

Thanks, Jack. It's always enlightening for me to receive feedback, and I mean that sincerely.

I didn't know it was a news flash that I've become a grumpy old fart (my 14-year-old reminds me regularly) but I guess when people can't come up with a good argument for the tragedy I am writing about, they can always dump on how, Ah, ha! He's an old out-of-touch dude who doesn't know "hip-hop" from "rapper."

Ah, well. Good luck with your blog. Keep the dialogue going.

Cheers,
CP

==========

To: Clarence Page
From: Jack Flack

Thanks sincerely for your response. However, I take issue with your characterization of my piece as "dumping" on you instead of a good argument.

The argument, which I thought was obvious, is that in your haste to condemn admittedly tragic circumstances, you painted an entire art form with a broadly demonizing brush. It'd be a little like me telling you not to listen to Cliff Kelley because that Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot, and isn't "talk radio" culture awful?

Bottom line, if you're saying that rap music causes black teens to hate themselves, and I'm saying that entrenched racism and deep poverty and segregation and a broken economic system and substance abuse and AIDS and rampant incarceration rates and divisive politics have combined to create a terrifically challenging environment for some black teens to do anything but hate their prospects and grasp at whatever superficial straws they can--be that the cold comfort of a gang or the escapist indulgence of violent movies or flashy fashion or, yes, the sort of rap music that fetishizes sexual and economic conquest--then I guess we'll have to agree to disagree.

At any rate, I honestly hope that you will give some thought to the possibility that rap may not be evil. It's a cycle: Today, we look back with pity on the prudes of eras past who railed against Elvis' pelvis or the demon rum, don't we? Anyway, I'm betting hip-hop has saved a lot more troubled youngsters--black, brown, white or what have you, by giving them an outlet for creative expression or turning them on to art, thought and culture--than it has ever condemned.

Thanks again for the dialogue.
Jack Flack

==========

To: Jack Flack
From: Clarence Page

Thanks. I'm sure you meant no disrespect. Nevertheless, your message boils down to the predictable "You don't get it, Page."

I expect that whenever I point out the negative side of something that's popular, but sometimes that's my job.

On the plus side, I happen to be a fan of some of the works of some pretty raunchy rappers, but I also have seen close-up how wallowing in misery causes deeper fatalism in kids who, as you say, already receive too many of those messages from their environment in their everyday lives.

I wish "positive" rap sold better, but it doesn't. Villains in music, drama and literature always have more rascal appeal, as one wise lit crit observed, because there's nothing the bad guy won't do.

I hear in a lot of fatalistic rap (some call it "gangsta rap") a cry for help. Too bad society has not found better responses to it.

I think we have to keep trying.

Peace out,
CP

==========

To: Clarence Page
From: Jack Flack

With your permission I'd like to publish our exchange on the Chicagomuzik website.

[Anyway,] some "positive" rap does sell well, like the Kanye West example I cited, which is the #1 rap album in the country so far this year, and the work of a South Side cat to boot.

Jack Flack
Chicagomuzik blog

==========

To: Jack Flack
From: Clarence Page

Sure, Jack, you can publish our exchange, if you wish. I'll be interested to hear what kind of reaction you receive.

I haven't heard Kanye West yet, but if what you say is true, he gives me hope.

It's about time some Chicago "Third Coast" rappers make it. We are, after all, the home of slam poetry, among other fine art forms.

cheers,
CP

==========

Note to readers: We will make sure that Page sees whatever discussion takes place in the comments section for this post, so have at it.

March 26, 2004

Concertwatch

New at the Empty Bottle: Mark E. Smith (spoken word performance, April 25), Sun City Girls w/ Oxes (May 6), We Ragazzi (May 8), Detachment Kit (may 18).

New at Schubas: Modest Mouse listening party (April 3), Phantom Planet (April 20), Tim Easton with Rosavelt (May 14), Two Dollar Pistols with Amy Farris (May 25). Also, next week, all three Neko Case/Sadies shows and both Decemberists gigs are sold out.

Update: Bobby Bare Jr. (solo) at Gunther Murphy's, April 13. (Bloodshot will release Bare's new one, From the End of Your Leash, on June 22.)

March 25, 2004

The Austin Adventures of Lazlo Hollyfeld (cont.)

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

Day Four: Shake it like a jalapeno pancake

Saturday 3/20
10:06am
Continental Club

No roosters being thrown from the stage here this morning. But there is a throng of close to 100, many of them already boozing. I decide to start the day with a Bloody Mary.

Onstage is the Allen Oldies Band, a seven-piece covers outfit. The guys, all in their 30s and 40s, are decked out in suits, the lead singer in a tux. In front of the stage there’s a curvy blond dressed in a French maid’s outfit and serving up jalape±o pancakes from a mini-skillet. I grab a short stack and watch her shake it to “Sugar, Sugar.”

12pm
Still at the Continental, we’re treated to an intense noontime set by James McMurtry. The place is at near capacity and he doesn’t disappoint, turning out compelling, literate songs like “Levelland” and “Too Long in the Wasteland.” The descriptive lyrics may be his birthright, but don’t forget what a great guitar player he is.

1:05pm
Yard Dog

Jon Langford is milling around on the sidewalk with a circle of admirers. He already looks well pickled.

We’re back here for the third straight day, dropping in on a party thrown by Harp Magazine and Yep Roc Records. Magnolia Summer leaves no impression, but Tel Aviv’s RockFour sure gets the crowd’s attention with its Zombies/Byrds infused rock (why yes, I do love me some 12-string). There’s a good 20 feet or so between the stage and any bodies, so front man Eli Lulai (who’s wiry with a Stipe-like shaved head and similar spasms) leaps down from the stage and sidles up to some onlookers while singing.

2:15pm
Emo’s Annex

After leaving Yard Dog we pinball past a few other joints. First the attitudinally Converse Guy bounces us from the nearly-empty Fader. Then we drop by the Delilah’s party at Casino El Camino, but it’s claustrophobic. So we head to Emo’s Annex, where Lucero is onstage. My pal Squeaky Pete is in the crowd. He says Patterson Hood just called and wants the Drive-By Truckers' shtick back.

3pm
Red Eyed Fly

This small indoor-outdoor venue is jammed, in part because too many people are sitting on the floor in little sewing circles. Thanks, folks, for thinking only of yourselves. Anyway, Anders Parker is onstage, backed by Centro-matic. At set’s end they break down their equipment and yield to Mendoza Line. I find a sofa that’s strategically placed so I can see a TV inside (showing Nevada’s NCAA hoops upset of Gonzaga) and hear the band outside.

4:25pm
Emo’s Annex

All hail Ted Leo! This is something like the 7th or 8th time I’ve seen him in less than two years, but it never gets old. And right now there’s about a thousand others under this tent who’d agree with me.

At one point Leo says, “Not to get all rock star on you, but I’m really displeased with our hotel.” He proceeds to invite the crowd over for a post-set pool party, “just to piss them off.” He closes by pulling four kids onstage; one, a young dude in a Dropkick Murphy’s tee, sing-screams out “Ballad of the Sin Eater.” The other three join in on the choruses. Yes, it’s killer.

5:45
Yard Dog

Will Marah entertain us, or wallow in self-indulgence? Put it this way: We’re in the back corner by the alley—about as far from the stage as you can get—and yet Marah’s Serge Bielanko twice walks past us while performing. First time he’s doing some 15-minute monologue (in falsetto) about ordering Freedom Fries. When he comes back during a harmonica solo, it’s all Squeaky Pete can do not to openly mock him. (Instead Pete waits until Bielanko is walking back to the stage, and only then at half-volume).

8:02pm
Rockstars

I mentioned previously that my sidekicks Lawyer Boy and Bald Willie became big M’s fans at the Schubas party, so they’ve made sure we’re in attendance at the band’s official showcase. Our local heroes have been blessed with a prominent 6th St. location and slotted right before Robyn Hitchcock, which ensures that a lot of critics will have spilled in by the end of their set.

Despite stumbling out of the blocks (some sound issues as they kick into their first song), the boys handle things well and hold the crowd’s attention for their full 40 minutes.

I make the mistake of deciding to stay for Hitchcock. Robyn’s a genius, but since he’s solo acoustic I can’t hear a thing over the hum of middle-aged biz types who like to hear themselves talk.

9:15pm
The Parish

Looking for skinny white boys? This is the place, ‘cause it’s Anticon night. Bald Willie, who didn’t even want to hear the words “indie rap” when the week started, enjoys Dosh’s guitar-based act, and he’s completely enthralled by the experimental compositions of Restiform Bodies.

11:00pm
Club DeVille

We’re here for Consonant, aka Clint Conley of Mission of Burma’s other band. What is not to love? I’m outdoors, enjoying the next best thing to MoB, and Bald Willie and I have found a couple of comfy sofa chairs to collapse on. Oh, and they crank Burma’s new one, ONoffON, between sets.

It’s up to our feet for the midnight act, Halifax, Nova Scotia’s Buck 65. Dude looks like Jimmy Fallon doing Weekend Update, sounds like he gargles with Drano, and opens with a capella ode to the size of his schwantz. (Excellent!) Next he’s joined by a three-piece backing band, the highlight of which is the steel guitar. And he delivers my best non-David Cross-induced laugh of the week with an impression of Mick Jagger’s on-stage prancing, complete with analysis of what Mick must be “visualizing” while doing it: He opens the curtains. Sees a child playing on his lawn. Scolds the child. And closes the curtains.

1am
Pecan Street Ale House

Strangest venue of the week. You enter it from a deserted alley, the main floor is below ground level, and there’s a weird balcony lining one side of the room. We grab a table and settle in for the last showcase of the week. I let Bald Willie pick, and having been won over this afternoon, he wants more Israeli rock, so we wind down to the sound of RockFour. I chase it with bourbon and rest my dogs. At two, as we stumble into the alley, Lawyer Boy and I complete our annual ritual: The ripping off of the SXSW wristband.

Postscript

Sunday 10:45am
Las Manitas restaurant

For anyone wondering, apparently Wayne Coyne always dresses like that. This morning, when I peer across my migas and spy him at the door, he’s styling in an off-white suit and unbuttoned funky dress shirt. Certainly a better sight than the one at the next table: Rolling Stone senior editor David Fricke talking and eating at the same time.

Sunday night
O’Hare

The depression is setting in. Everything seems to move very slowly in the first couple of days after SXSW, when I always worry I’ll be bored by real life. By the time this diary is posted, my annual week of rock and debauchery will just be a dream. Which is why I’ll see you at the Austin Motel again next March.

Turn off that devil music!

Yesterday, under the headline “Authentically Self-Hating,” Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page launched an attack on what he called “hip-hop culture” (elsewhere, with revealing awkwardness, he also addressed “hip-hop rappers”). His supposed ammunition? The results of a survey, published in January, on the attitudes of urban black teenagers about sex and status.

“Today's teens have grown up awash in hip-hop and so have their parents,” Page writes. “The sad consequences have been a narrow and distorted view among many black youngsters, among others, of what it means to be black.”

One problem: Page doesn’t bother to share whatever conclusions the study drew about the actual direct influence of hip-hop on these attitudes. After a diligent web search, we couldn’t find the facts, either—though we did track down the publicly available summary of the study’s key findings, which makes a handful of vague references to the influence of “the media,” but specifically excludes discussion of hip-hop.

Page's column grants that some survey respondents “praised certain hip-hop artists as more ‘positive’.” But that doesn’t stop him from sneering at the “macho pose” of “a culture that uses ‘bitches’ and ‘hos’ as labels for every woman but one’s mama.” Then he pats himself on the back for transcending a youthful naivete that once caused him to “buy [a] narrow notion of blackness.” And he winds it all up with a call for “elders” to show black teens “a broader vision of what black culture is all about.”

A few points for Page:

Ever thought that you’ve replaced your youthful “narrow notion” of what it means to be black with just another narrow notion—one that just so happens to look a lot like you?

Think you might have a “narrow notion” of what “hip-hop culture” is? Ever consider that your reactionary, uninformed dismissal of hip-hop might undercut your ability to reach young people with your positive message? Really, what teenager wants to listen to another grumpy old man preach at them about the evils of something he doesn’t understand?

Or how about this: Ever listen to Kanye West’s “All Falls Down”? (Read the lyrics or listen to a sample.) If you haven’t, you should—if for no other reason than it’s the current single from the #1 rap album in the country. It’s the work of a guy from Chicago, your very own backyard. And as social commentary on the “get it while you can” mindset you ascribe to those “hip-hop rappers,” it’s a heck of a lot more insightful and nuanced than your own column.

We don’t doubt, Mr. Page, that your motives are good. But your column reveals more about your generational and class differences with most rap fans than anything else.

March 24, 2004

The Austin Adventures of Lazlo Hollyfeld (cont.)

Chicagomuzikblog's roving correspondent collides with South by Southwest, part 3 of 4.

Day Three: Too much hype already

Friday 3/19
11am
Austin Motel

The TV and daily print supplements are still buzzing about the arrests made on 6th St. two nights earlier—what’s been dubbed the case of the Ozomatli 3. Seems that, per their usual shtick, some Ozo dudes playing horns and drums wrapped their set by marching off the stage and leading the crowd out of the club. Police ordered the band back inside, a scuffle ensued, and in the end two of the band members and their manager were arrested.

11:45am
El Sol y La Luna

Chorizo migas stare me down, but not for long—it only takes about three minutes for me to devour the plate. I eat migas for breakfast down here nearly every day. And then they’re not eaten again for another year. I’m sure there are a hundred sources for a good plate in Chicago; I just don’t know where. Feel free to use that comments button below if you have a good recommendation.

12:25pm
Bloodshot Records party, Yard Dog Folk Art Gallery

I feel about 10 years older upon entering Yard Dog today. The crowd that assembles for a Bloodshot event these days—when the label seems like a shell of its once vital self—can do that to a man.

I’ve dropped in partly out of hometown loyalty and partly to track down a couple of friends. Within minutes, the tired routine of Rex Hobart & the Misery Boys nearly leads me to lie down in a corner, pull some hay over myself as a makeshift blanket, and slip into slumber.

I’m awakened by Dollar Store, a new Bloodshot act that just as easily be called Waco Brothers Lite (slogan: Half the band members, half the fun!). Led by Jonboy sidekick Deano Schlabowske, the originals are limp. But I’ll admit to enjoying their two covers: Cher’s “Believe” and the Soft Boys’ “I Wanna Destroy You.”

Next up is Bobby Bare Jr., who’s in typical entertaining form. He’s got a new disc coming on Bloodshot sometime this summer, called something like Beast on A Leash, but he doesn’t preview any of those songs here.

We stick around for a handful of songs by Jon Rauhouse and his Steel Guitar Rodeo, then migrate out under the glow of a beautiful “Accentuate the Positive” sung by Miss Kelly Hogan.

3pm
Waterloo Records

Not only one of the best record stores I’ve ever set foot in, but they host hourly in-store performances during SXSW. Oh, and did I mention the free beer? Just line up in the aisle on the far right.

Belfast’s Snow Patrol is up first, and the band’s Belle & Sebastian-meets-Coldplay sound proves better suited for this venue than the vast emptiness of Stubb’s, where they’ll play later tonight. I give myself a pat for getting it out of the way now.

A whole mess of Def Jux performers are next on the bill, but the only ones who show are the Perceptionists, a new collabo featuring the MCs Mr. Lif and Akrobatik and DJ Fakts One. My partner, Bald Willie—who has made a sour face anytime the indie-rap topic has been broached all week—is converted by the freestyle battle between Lif and Akrobatik.

4:30pm
Caucus (Outside)

There’s two stages at this party. One, located inside, near the bar, is a clusterfuck. (That’s because Iron & Wine will be playing it shortly. While I got much love for Sam Beard—I mean “Beam”—this isn’t the setting for his subtle tunage.) The other is set up outside, on the second floor, against a hill. Here the Deathray Davies are into the latter stages of a crowd-pleasing set. It’s not as entertaining as when they used to have the attractive female keyboardist—who would play with her right hand while drinking AND smoking with her left—but still a good time.

Then there’s the Wrens. Third time I’ve seen ‘em in two months, but it seems to get more intense every time (or maybe my connection to the songs is what keeps building). Now Bald Willie is not a very rhythmic man, but so it’s a true testament to the power of the rock to witness his shoulders shaking with intensity, his body bouncing, as a song like “Happy” builds to its climax.

6:15pm
In the alley outside the Fader/Levi’s Lounge

On Wednesday this was a good time, open to anyone, but today it’s become an industry-only hangout. That means you have to either be on the special guest list or wearing some funky blue wristband, handed out by who the fuck knows.

The bouncer is a barely-five-foot twerp projecting maximum NYC attitude. (Interesting touch: He’s wearing a brand new pair of Converse sneakers, and a Converse box rests between his feet—containing his original shoes perhaps? I have no idea.) Remembering that there’s an open-air exit in the adjacent alley, we duck back there in time to enjoy the last few songs from the Decemberists.

7pm
Iron Works BBQ

Akrobatik is in line next to me, so I compliment him on the in-store. Upstairs, some older industry dudes are seated next to us, and I overhear one raving about British Sea Power. This is a bad sign. I was all excited to finally catch their live act, but I can tell already they’ll be tonight’s Franz Ferdinand, drawing a block-long line of insider half-wits just dying to get in.

8pm
Stubb’s

All my indie street cred could quickly evaporate if I hype a sincere singer-songwriter like Patrick Park, but I’ll do it anyway. Trust me, the album’s great.

Park’s leading off at this big outdoor venue; the crowd is mostly still trickling in for later acts, but there’s a few hundred intense fans crushing up front with enthusiastic responses. For his part, Park—who’s finally touring with a three-piece band rather than solo acoustic, which is how he opened for Polyphonic Spree and Grandaddy in recent Chicago shows—sounds fantastic.

8:40pm
Emo’s

We race down Red River to try to get into the PunkVoter showcase. Main mission for the night: See David Cross. It will be packed, so there’s no guarantee we’ll make it, but we’ve got veteran guile on our side.

See, the Emo’s complex has two stages: A large indoor/outdoor venue with an entrance from 6th St. (on the south), and a small indoor venue—the Annex, or Emo’s Jr.—that you enter from Red River (on the west). They’re technically two venues for SXSW purposes, but they’re joined in back by a shared courtyard, and you can move freely between the two that way.

Knowing that the vast majority of bidness lemmings and casual concertgoers will throng the Emo’s main entrance on 6th, we duck into the Annex and walk straight through to the main room. (This trick has been known to work even when the big room reaches capacity and SXSW staff shuts down the front door. Cue evil laughter.)

Anyway, inside we join a fun, young crowd. Gainesville’s Against Me! is your standard fourth-generation goofy, shirtless, shout-along punk band. Special touch: At set’s end, the guys kiss, just to provoke the crowd.

Then comes the downer. It seems that the face of PunkVoter.com is none other than Jello Biafra, a former hero who’s become a sad, self-promoting sideshow a la Wavy Gravy decades after Woodstock. He’s taking up precious David Cross time! I nearly start booing, but hold back when my self-preservation instinct kicks in.

10:06 pm
Here he is, the highlight of my SXSW, Mr. David Cross. He delivers a fantastic 50-minute set, full of all the Bush-rage you’d expect, plus crazy-funny riffs on wanting to lower the age of consent to 15 and how your friends all get boring and whiny when they get hitched and start families (“Having kids isn’t tough. Try talking your girlfriend into her third straight abortion!”). The big finale is a deconstruction of Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.” Don’t want to ruin a bit he may reprise on a future tour, so I’ll just say it involves a fictitious cornball country star named Hoyt and a rather lascivious God.

11pm
Blender Bar

Exodus is jammed out the door for TV On The Radio. Figure I’ll catch them Friday at the Bottle, so I skip to Blender—manned by the same bouncer who nearly tangled with Bald Willie last night. Inside, the Catheters proceed to blow out what remains of my eardrums.

11:40pm
Rockstars

Walking past, we notice that the Hidden Cameras never actually made it to town and have canceled. That leaves the heavily-hyped Rough Trade showcase relatively empty at this hour—which means we’ll get to see British Sea Power after all! First up, though, it’s the Fiery Furnaces; I’m a fan and dig this set, but they seem to elicit a mixed-to-negative reaction otherwise.

On to British Sea Power, who justify at least some of their hype. Shtick: Pre-show, dudes in uniform march back and forth in the club. Once on stage, the drummer occasionally grabs a military drum and marches into the crowd, banging away on it (and briefly trying to make out with the lass behind me). Anyway, if you ever need some surplus camouflage brush and a stuffed owl to complete your onstage look, this is the band to see. The show—and the night—ends with the guitarist climbing first onto the bar for a final solo, then swinging Tarzan-like from the pipes above the stage.

Tomorrow: Day Four - The Big Finish

Get your party on

So we've never heard of an in-store autograph appearance with its own after-party. Nonetheless, that's apparently what's in store tomorrow, when Russell Simmons and Rev. Run, in the area for Saturday's Hip-Hop Summit (see below), will make a promotional appearance at a mall in Matteson and then host some sort of soiree at Estate. The club party starts at 9:00pm.

March 23, 2004

Discovery

Just stumbled across this and thought we'd share. Dig, if you will, Chi.now&then, a calendar of "selected creative music performances without regard to categories."

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

10:55am
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.

12:30pm
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.

12:44pm
First spill of the day: Coffee, sloshed while clapping, leaves an ill-placed stain smack on my left nipple.

1:15pm
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.

2:00pm
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.

3:15pm
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.

4:45pm
Emo’s

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.

6pm
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?

8pm
Exodus

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.

9pm
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.”

11pm
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.

11:50pm
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.

1am
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.

Concertwatch

New at Metro: Tortoise w/ Beans (May 20-21), Sloan (May 22), Franz Ferdinand (June 12).

New at Double Door: Cardigans (May 16).

Rock Talk Alert

Tonight on Sound Opinions, Kot 'n' DeRo share their SXSW highlights. That's from 10 to midnight on XRT.

Right here at home we'll have the second installment of Lazlo Hollyfeld's four-part SXSW diary, posted a little later on today.

March 22, 2004

The hip-hop summit cometh

Fresh details: The Chicago Hip-Hop Summit - the local incarnation of a national effort to register hip-hop fans to vote - will be held this Saturday, March 27, at the UIC Pavilion. Music starts at 11am, doors open at 9. Among those scheduled to appear (though the press release is written vaguely enough that we can't tell who will actually perform) are Common, Kanye West, Twista, Ludacris, Dame Dash and Russell Simmons. For more info, click over to the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network.

(Aside: Isn't there something uh, bitterly ironic - or just plain fucked up - about holding an event with the themes of "taking back responsibility" and "empowering youth" ... and there giving an award to an alleged child rapist?)

The Austin Adventures of Lazlo Hollyfeld

Chicagomuzikblog's roving correspondent collides with South by Southwest. Guaranteed more entertaining than the mild missives of Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot.

Day One: Too Drunk Already

Wednesday, March 17
10:30am

Light snow in Chicago has turned an on-time departure into an hour-plus delay, so I have plenty of time to check out my fellow passengers. No Japanese bands on the flight this time, but plenty of familiar faces. Imagine if you chartered a plane, then handed out free airfare to the people you see around you at shows on a weekly basis. That’s the Chicago-to-Austin flight on the Wednesday of SXSW. As you walk down the aisle you’ll see nothing but the faces of musicians, publicists, managers, club employees and fellow music geeks. Some of them know me, but not my double-secret assignment from Chicagomuzikblog.

12:20pm
Comfortably in the air and I’m poring over my homework. SXSW features four nights of official showcases (running from 8pm-2am, with bands playing 40-minute sets, every hour on the hour, at each of 50-something Austin clubs) and dozens of free daytime goings-on, so Rule Number One is Have a plan. Months in formulation, mine boils those 2,000-plus performances into four sleek cheat sheets. Rule Number Two: Hit the ground running.

4pm
Opal Divine’s Freehouse
Got my wristband - the ticket to the showcases. Now I’m double-fisting Shiner Bocks, so I guess things have officially begun. There’s some internet geek party going on here, which I play to the tune of a solid set by the Silos and four free beers. It’s time to go soak some of that up.

5pm
Iron Works BBQ
It’s snowing in Chicago. Here in Austin I’m sitting on an open porch. Before me: sausage, chopped beef, beans, potato salad, pickles & onions. And another Shiner.

6pm
Fader/Levi’s Lounge
This club is located on 6th Street, Austin’s downtown bar strip. They’ve taken over a retail space and put up a tent for live music in the parking lot out back. Inside, me and my sidekicks—Lawyer Boy, Mrs. Boy, and Bald Willie—are confronted with sofas full of hipsters not taking advantage of the complimentary X-Box on the plasma screens in front of them. We make our way out back, past a bunch of washing machines flush with Levi’s ads. The shtick is they’ll be giving away a pair of jeans with an iPod in the front pocket, every day at 5:01pm.

Out back we find we’ve just missed the Reputation. There’s a decent amount of recognizable Chicago folk around, but rather than chat I head straight to the free Red Stripe.

Phillys Cordalene plays a solid 25 minutes, but I might be one of 12 people paying attention. The rest of the joint is all about seeing and being seen.

Next up is Elkland. The last thing I need is another band with an 80s fixation, especially when the lead singer feels the need to do nothing more than a spot-on Robert Smith. I switch to bottled water to drown the surliness.

The gang and I decide to go gawk at Julie Delpy. Yes, that Julie Delpy, from flicks like Before Sunrise, Three Colors: White, and Europa Europa. Seems she’s shilling a sideline as a singer-songwriter.

7:42pm
Julie Delpy? There’s a line down the block, so we follow SXSW Rule Number Three: Adjust. We hop across the street, as there’s no line at Buffalo Billiards.

8:05pm
Buffalo Billiards
New York’s Sea Ray is onstage. Good live show, nice shoegazer influence - and I’m always a sucker for some rock cello. There’s also a large screen behind them displaying a mess of blurred images. Forget the bottled water, my inner genius says. I down two bourbons.

9pm
Exodus
We’ve skipped to the Mexican showcase. Two members of Ozomatli will end up getting arrested outside this venue later this evening (more on that in an entry to come), but we’re here to see Vaquero. Solid indie rock, but it’s a weird dichotomy. They’re singing in English, their sound could be any skinny boys you see at Double Door or the Empty Bottle, but all the between-song banter is nothing but Spanish. After enjoying this for 20 minutes, it’s time to hop around.

9:25pm
Stubbs
The first venue I visited on my first trip down to SXSW several years ago, and I still really enjoy the atmosphere here. Open-air and spacious, it’s unlike anything in Chicago. Imagine an indie-rock Ravinia that holds around 4,000 bodies and you get the picture. Sweden’s Division of Laura Lee is on stage; for some reason, I don’t mind blatant theft (in this case from the MC5) when it’s a Swedish band.

Between sets I get my first true drunken joy of the evening: I take a piss next to Seymour Stein.

The fuel: A liberal mix of 12 oz. Shiners and 16 oz. PBRs.

Detroit’s Von Bondies are next. They can best be described as competent, and I say this as someone who paid cash for their last two albums and enjoyed their live show twice at the Bottle. For some reason, they don’t buy into their act tonight, and neither does this near-packed lawn.

10pm
The Parish
A great venue when you find it - the place’s name seems to change every year. It’s a second-floor space smack in the middle of the 6th Street drag, and the Rosebuds (debut album out on Merge, hint hint) put on a perfect 40 minutes. My history with this band captures a series of events I truly love: 1.You hear a song on WLUW that compels you to run out and buy the album (in this case, they namecheck Smiths lyrics in the first verse-bonus cool points). 2. The entire album is rock-solid, with not a moment that disappoints. 3. You finally see them live, and they not only capture everything you heard in the album but add to it in intensity and noise. (Even better: When it’s only a 3-piece making that beautiful racket.)

The Rosebuds blow through everything they know and they’re offstage by 11:30, so we wait around to catch Destroyer (essentially Dan Bejar of the New Pornographers and whoever’s in tow). I’ve seen the band once, and it was only Bejar with his electric guitar; tonight he’s playing with Frog Eyes as his backing band, and they just sound sloppy. Even worse, Bejar has that look in his eyes: As if he’s intentionally making it hard on the crowd. As if we don’t deserve a pleasurable listening experience. With a thousand bands playing this week, I got no time for attitude. We last through two and a half songs.

12:30am
Club DeVille
Another great open-air stage and just kitty-corner from Stubbs. My notes say I caught the last 3 songs from Lil Capn Travis, but typing this days later, the memory eludes me. Couldn’t be the booze. Right? Anyway, Austin’s Grand Champeen takes the stage at 1am, and its the perfect finish to the first night. I’m always a sucker for their live show (think an early Soul Asylum sound), and even though there’s a hometown vibe, there’s a Chicago contingent present as well. I spy Katie and Tim Hideout, Bloodshot Nan—and Squeaky Pete, an old friend who seems, well, tired, and at least slightly overserved. His head bobs along to the music, but his eyes are completely shut. When he stumbles forward, we keep him upright. That’s where the hanging tag on the back of his shirt comes in handy.

2:15am
Magnolia Café
We wind up at the usual spot for late-night eats. I order off the omelet menu, #2 House Special. What’ll you have?

Tomorrow: Day Two - the Schubas party, a squabble with Bald Willie, and other delights.