Northern devils

Did local bands make good at South By Southwest?

Almost every day and night of this year's South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Pimpadelic taunted the bands milling around Sixth Street. While everyone else was playing gigs to people perfecting their disinterested stares, trying to get anyone with a badge and a corporate credit card to listen, Pimpadelic was living it up in a shiny blue tour bus, courtesy of Tommy Boy Records. Pimpadelic, quite clearly, had made it, and had it made, as every so often, scantily clad women would exit the bus, and you could catch a glimpse of the boys in the band having a high old time on Tommy Boy's tab. The bus moved locations every so often, but it was always right there, inescapable, like one of those Jesus paintings that watches you with strangely creepy eyes.

Of course, it's no surprise that Pimpadelic's bus -- which obviously couldn't be confused with any other, emblazoned with huge inscriptions of "Pimpadelic," "Southern Devils," and "Tommy Boy Records" -- would be so omnipresent during the festival. This was, after all, Tommy Boy's coming-out party for the group, the first chance to cash in on the reportedly large investment it made in Pimpadelic. In a few months, the label will re-release the band's Southern Devils disc, and more than likely, it will be a success. And, hey, that's good news for them. But unfortunately, Pimpadelic's big blue bus, if anything, will be the one thing from the Dallas-Denton-Fort Worth area that anyone in Austin will remember. The bastards.

Not that there wasn't more than enough local talent to go around, almost all of whom would be better representatives of the local music community than Pimpadelic. Yet their presence at SXSW wasn't as obvious, as in-your-face as Pimpadelic's. The various local showcases in Austin -- the Two Ohm Hop-Last Beat Records shindig at the Ritz Lounge on Thursday night, the North Texas New Music Festival-sponsored gig at Babe's on Saturday afternoon, among others -- seemed almost as if they were open only to Denton and Dallas residents. Every club where local bands were playing was filled with familiar faces, and not just other groups that were in town anyway.

Which, if you think about it, is a good thing; there is perhaps no greater measure of support than driving three-plus hours down I-35 to see shows that happen in Deep Ellum or at Rubber Gloves on a weekly basis. Still, that more or less obscures the point of the trip for those bands, if there is one: The shows were for other eyes and ears, ostensibly those of record-label folks with blank checkbooks. Having a room full of friends and fans is good, but they can only do so much.

While it's too soon to tell whether South By Southwest was a success for all or most involved, at least one band came away with good news. Denton's Lift to Experience, after playing an unofficial gig at Pato's Tacos, came away with a tentative arrangement with the Cocteau Twins, who plan to release the band's first album, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, on their own label. Word is, members of the Cocteau Twins were more than impressed with what Lift to Experience had to offer, calling their show the best they'd seen in 20 years. It's not hard to agree, as Lift to Experience built a shimmering wall of sound, helped by a whirling speaker positioned front and center that made each song feel as if it was engulfing you. If nothing else, it's about time the band found someone to release The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, because from what I've heard, it needs to come out now.

The Adventures of Jet were also celebrating an added bit of support when they played at Maggie Mae's East on Wednesday night to kick off the festival. During the band's swing through Los Angeles a month or so ago, the group arranged a licensing deal with My Records, a Southern California-based label run by Lagwagon's Joey Cape. In the past, Cape's label has served as sort of a stepping stone for other bands, several of whom (Nerf Herder, Summercamp) went on to secure deals with bigger, though perhaps not better, labels. At Maggie Mae's, drummer Rob Avsharian had newly pressed copies of Jet's Part 3: Coping With Insignificance, with the My logo on the back. After the band's as-always-energetic show (even though singer Hop Litzwire was hooked up to an IV the day before), you could imagine their stint on My to be a short one. You would hope, at least.

As for the rest of the locals, I can only hope someone else saw the same things I saw: Captain Audio again proving that they don't need any tricks up their sleeve to deliver the rock; Mandarin's subtly beautiful set at the Ritz; Slow Roosevelt bringing the noise at the NTNMF joint; Pinkston showing its act travels, even if the group left its cymbals in the rehearsal room; and Clumsy's welcome 'Mats fixation. And Chomsky might have been the highlight of the festival, if only to watch guitarist Glen Reynolds perform a half-hour's worth of aerobics while watching himself in the mirror at Babe's. Or maybe it was when drummer Matt Kellum, Adventure Club host Josh Venable, and I endlessly screamed Wazzup! at one another for the better part of Saturday night, to the dismay of nearly everyone around. If I forget everything else I saw and did during South By Southwest, I'll remember that at least. Once I get my hearing back.

 
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