Put up a fight

With bands like these, who needs Austin anyway?

--Zac Crain

The lull of the crowd
Couldn't help but notice the Austin American-Statesman referred last week to the Toadies as a band suffering a "career lull." Is that a nice way of saying, "Not gone, but forgotten?" If so, that didn't seem to bother the two thousand or so gearheads and critics standing in the light drizzle that coated the crowd in something resembling oil and vinegar during the band's Wednesday-night set at Stubb's. Hell, they were partying like it was 1994, even the hundred or so folks lined up on the bridge behind and above the outdoor stage. Heads nodding, fists pumping, the crowd crushed in front of the stage, jumping up and down in time with new songs they hadn't ever heard. That never happens, not at South by Southwest.

Living in Dallas, it's easy to forget that this band sold one million copies of Rubberneck--for God's sake, they're bona fide stars outside of Deep Ellum, big enough to have a Hit Single that isn't "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Everybody, now, sing along: "I'll show you my dark secret!" Wait. Can't hear you over the roar of the crowd.

The one thing that sticks out about the Toadies' show--save for the fact that it was preceded by a bill of porn stars, all of whom seemed to have disappeared by 1 a.m., damn it--is how utterly, recklessly rock it was, every note louder than the one that came before. The new songs, even the old ones, sounded like they were played on anvils and power drills. For a band that used to turn a riff into a lifestyle, suddenly it seems as though the Toadies are all about the sustained barrage--it's all catharsis, everything coming unhinged, raw power above all else. Two days after the set, critic Lorraine Ali (one of the few noble people in this so-called profession) was still talking about it. "They rocked," she said over lunch on Friday, to no one in particular.

Maybe one day, the band will put out its second record. Interscope, mired in the Universal Music Group restructuring, has told the band to take its time. There is no rush--not unless you count the one you get from hearing 2,000 people hollering along with a band that's supposed to be in the middle of a career lull.

It was exactly the opposite experience 24 hours later, when a colleague and I stumbled into Mercury--a walk-in closet on Sixth Street--only to find Arts Magnet graduate Roy Hargrove on stage, playing a non-SXSW-sanctioned gig. Discovering Hargrove on Thursday night, when the only other great act playing the conference was Ronnie Dawson at the Continental Club, which had been emptied out by Austin cops in riot gear earlier that evening for overcrowding, was so tremendous, there were people running in off the rain-slick street yelling, "Sanctuary!" Imagine thinking you're going to be stuck listening to the Donnas play a half-assed Ramones tribute down the street, only to stand a few inches from a stage where a man blows Gabriel's horn.

Hargrove was dressed in a black T-shirt and khakis, his head covered in budding dreadlocks; he looked more like a young funk soul brother than a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. He played it hard, played it soft, played it so beautiful and consummate that even the frat boys in the tiny crowd watched in admiration, adoration. Never have so many baseball hats bobbed in time to whispered bebop. And so often, Hargrove would just stand to the side of the stage, cradling his trumpet, letting his bassist or pianist or sax player do their parts in peace. He would just watch, dance a little, nod his head yes-yes-yes with eyes closed as he kept the beat on his pants leg.

The only thing even close to that experience came Friday night, during Marchel Ivery's set at the Green Elephant, part of Leaning House Records' showcase. (Also on the bill were Fred Sanders and Earl Harvin's bands.) Ivery, among the last of the Texas Tenors and a man who deserves a statue in town (or at least an entree named for him at Sambuca), put on a dazzling set. You've never seen someone do magic tricks as effortlessly as Ivery when he has a sax in his hand.

But the real revelation that night was Ivery's 70-year-old drummer G.T. Hogan, released not too long ago from the Texas Department of Corrections. Hogan, born in Galveston, had been sent up on three convictions of possession of narcotics with the intent to sell. Seems no one really cares that you played with Billie Holiday or hung out with Charlie Parker when you're holding smack and they're throwing you in the slam.

Hogan can barely walk up a flight of stairs, can barely hold a conversation. But he can play the holy shit out of a drum kit; never have I wished a 10-minute drum solo would run on 10 minutes longer. Hogan, who plays on Ivery's forthcoming Leaning House record (recorded in New Orleans two weeks ago, due from Mark Elliott and Keith Foerster's label later this year), is the sort of musician SXSW is meant to help--so brilliant, so unknown. And he is precisely the sort of musician no one will ever know anything about, save the lucky few who stood behind him that night and watched him whip up a thunderstorm.

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