By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The five guys standing behind us at Centro-matic's early set Thursday night at Mercury Entertainment at Jazz (the clunkily titled venue booked by former Denton resident and Two Ohm Hop co-owner Philip Croley) obviously wandered into the wrong club. Obviously. Why else would they stay to heckle Will Johnson and company when there were literally a few hundred bands and venues they could have taken their party to, it being South by Southwest and all? Who else on the bill--a collection of bands on Merge Records, none of whom sounded like Vertical Horizon or Dave Matthews Band or threatened to let the dogs out--would have attracted those five former frat boys, dressed to the ones in starched khakis and look-mom-I-dressed-myself matching Polo shirts? OK, it's a rhetorical question, but it needs to be said: No one. No one. No. One.
But, for whatever reason, there they were, actually calling people on their mobile phones so they could tell them how bad they thought Centro-matic was, and loudly, we might add. We realize that Mercury is located above a restaurant (Jazz) that caters to the inner-"show us your tits!" in most guys, or so it seems, but still. After several attempts, we finally found a comment that sent them on their merry way: "Shouldn't you guys be date-raping someone right now?"
Fortunately for Centro-matic, the rest of the crowd was picking up what they were laying down, especially an employee for Warner Bros., who was trying to figure out which Centro-matic CD would give him the best approximation of what he heard onstage. (He ended up buying All the Falsest Hearts Can Try.) And we even got a little chin-up after the show, when we overheard a few members of the Frat Boy Five still trying to come up with a good comeback for the "date-rape" line. (Here was their original response: "Dude, let's go get some cocktails." Nice.)
As good as Centro-matic was, South by Southwest could have ended before the group even took the stage, and Dallas-Denton-Forth Worth bands still would've made a bigger impact on the annual shindig than they have in recent years. And it wasn't just because there were more local bands on the schedule this year. No, it was because the ones that were on there made the most of their opportunities. Of course, it felt a little funny seeing one of the best local shows of the year a few hundred miles outside of the Dallas city limits. It also felt a little funny drinking so much at the festival-closing Spin party that we lost track of approximately two hours, so it works both ways.
The first night of the fest (Wednesday, March 14) was perhaps the strongest for local talent, with dueling showcases by Idol Records and Last Beat Records, as well as Mental Chaos just down the street. Though there were familiar faces in the crowds at the Iron Cactus and (directly across Sixth Street) The Drink, it appeared as though SXSW attendees and more than a few Austinites had been hipped to what people in Dallas already know; it's not our little secret anymore, and that's a good thing. Both clubs were packed--the longest line we stood in all weekend was the one for The Deathray Davies show--including fans smashed against the outside windows, and all of the bands delivered on their promise.
Darting back and forth between the two clubs, if you were lucky, you could catch a Vibrolux-Pleasant Grove-Baboon triple bill at the Iron Cactus and a Chomsky-The Deathray Davies-Clumsy lineup at The Drink. Pleasant Grove (playing without Joe Butcher, who was sidelined with car trouble), Chomsky (with a set made up mainly of tunes off its forthcoming Onward Quirky Soldiers), Baboon, and The Deathray Davies played especially strong sets. They were shows that--if SXSW was what it was supposed to be--could have, would have, and should have ended with five-album deals for all involved. Too bad the business, and the festival itself, doesn't work that way. It should--of course it should--but it probably never will.
Sometimes, it does. Last year, Lift to Experience signed to Bella Union, the U.K. label run by Simon Raymonde and Robin Guthrie (ex of the Cocteau Twins), based in part by what the pair saw when the band played at Pato's Tacos at SXSW 2000. This year, on the eve of the release of its debut, The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads, the band was celebrating. And not just its new album either: Word was, a very substantial publishing deal was faxed to the group just prior to SXSW, only waiting on a trio of signatures. We'd tell you how much is involved, but no sense in jinxing the deal before it's done, even though it's down to crossing a few t's and dotting lower-case j's. Let's just say: Jesus Christ. That should help you ballpark it a bit. If that doesn't help, how about this: Holy fuck. You getting into the neighborhood now? Hope so.
There were plenty of other locals looking for something to believe in at SXSW, though surprisingly, not the Old 97's, especially since their new album, Satellite Rides, hit stores on Tuesday. Even without a new record to promote, the 97's are usually as prominent at SXSW as badges or wristbands or free barbecue. But there were plenty of others, from heavyweights like The Toadies, who closed the festival down at Stubb's on Saturday night, to the bands on Two Ohm Hop (Yeti, Stumptone, Mandarin, and Sub Oslo) who did on Saturday night what Idol and Last Beat did on Wednesday. There was the handful of bands (Jay Quinn Band, Pinkston, Fixture, OHNO, Blue Sky Black, The Feds, Doosu, Jibe, and Edgewater) looking for some attention at the North Texas New Music Festival's free afternoon showcase on Saturday afternoon at The Metro. There was Slobberbone, whose frontman, Brent Best, ever the music fan, just seemed happy to have a free chance to check out bands, although plenty of people would've been happy to check out his group. (They should've been, anyway.) And there was Fred Savage Fanclub's Sara Radle, carrying around a stack of her CDs, trying to get them in the right hands.