By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
But how can we, the outsiders, be so cynical when even weary veterans soldier on full of optimism, even glee? The Toadies, delayed by some 90 minutes, took the stage Saturday night-Sunday morning and thawed out the frozen with hits old and soon-to-be; it had to have been the first time in recorded rock history that an audience wanted to hear the new stuff instead of the old shit. Too bad, then, the soundman insisted on turning down the volume on a band that's waited seven years to introduce songs by saying, "This is from our new album, due out next week!" You wanted a holocaust; it sounded, in the end, like a bonfire. (The BellRays, playing at Room 710 across the street, received similarly shoddy treatment from the soundman; Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey was so furious he accosted the guy running the board, then stormed out of the club. I should have stormed out of 710 around the time the White Stripes, otherwise known as the Jon Spencer Blues Excretion, started playing.)
Davies opened the conference by suggesting he should have delivered his keynote address at SXSW's end; he said he couldn't wait to hear what new thing lay out there waiting for him, and he would deliver on his promise to stick around till the bitter end (he departed for London on Sunday morning, after sitting in with at least two bands during the week). The Kinks' frontman talked about how his first official solo album is still on hold, nothing more than a batch of demos awaiting the outcome of a label takeover. Perhaps to remind people who he was, he even played snatches of his old songs: "Tired of Waiting," Low Budget," and "Nothing in This World Can Stop Me Worryin' Bout That Girl," the latter of which showed up on the Rushmoresoundtrack in 1998.
Davies talked about expectations ("nobody seems to know what I should do"), about wanting to be considered a new artist bereft of back catalog and luggage full of hits and misses ("I'd like to make a record with the Kinks as though 'You Really Got Me' never happened"), and about how "music is under assault from all sides." He joked about reinventing himself as a rapper ("Rappin' MC Ray") or a teeny-pop artist or metal man ("WASP meets Suicidal Tendencies"), suggested he'd love to make an album without lyrics, and offered words of solace ("if we all wise up, we'll win out") and advice ("think of A&R people as meaningful input, just don't let them date your girlfriends"). But more than anything else, he seemed genuinely thrilled to be among so much music--one aspiring artist walking among hundreds more, waiting to see what exciting new thing lay around the corner.
"I want more people to tap their feet than tap a computer," he said. "But where do I fit in? I never have, I guess, so why start now?"
A couple of days later, John Hammond was saying nearly the same thing as he sat near the pool at a Holiday Inn, puffing on a smoke in the rare rays of sun. The 59-year-old bluesman, who began recording nearly four decades ago, was in town to play a few songs Saturday night at the Continental Club; he was showing off his just-released Wicked Grin, an album of Tom Waits covers produced by and featuring Waits himself. Hammond spoke of how this is going to be the album that proves right those who refused to write him off a long time ago. "I'm just glad there are still people who believe in me," he said Friday afternoon, and Saturday night he, along with a topnotch band that included Augie Meyers, converted even the heretics by finding the blues in Waits' songs (among them, "Heartattack and Vine," "Jockey Full of Bourbon," and "2:19") and drenching them in blood-reds.
Maybe this was the Year of the Comeback--out with the new, in with the old. There was Dave Wakeling at the Rainbow Cattle Company on Friday night, skanking to that English Beat once more beneath neon beer signs that hang like Christmas-tree ornaments in this gay honky-tonk. Performing the old and beloved songs ("Tenderness," "Mirror in the Bathroom," "Ranking Full Stop," "Hands Off..She's Mine," and on and on) with a band of fetishistic imitators, Wakeling, still looking like he just walked out of a frat house and onto a stage, managed to pull off that rarest of feats: He had a SXSW crowd dancing and singing along, caught up in the familiar that still felt fresh. With a new Beat best-of forthcoming, Wakeling was his own best salesman; by night's end, people were walking out of the Rainbow sporting their just-bought Beat baseball T-shirts, available for cheap at the merch table. And with Mike Peters of the Alarm standing off to the side of the stage, it was 1983 all over again. "Say hello to my old friend George Gimarc," Peters insisted--there, just did, dude.
But right after that, you could walk two blocks to Antone's, where Ike Turner was setting up shop like it was 1951. Sitting at the keybs or strapping on the guitar, he banged through a set of standards (from "Rocket 88," the first "rock" song if not the last, to "Caledonia") while wearing a shirt with collars so big most people would consider them lapels. Turner looked like a pimp and gave it up like a pro, even if he did insult the crowd by showing up late and then greeting the throng by saying, "Hello, Houston!" By night's end, he'd brought on stage Los Lobos' Cesar Rosas and this year's Tina impersonator, but in the end needed no guest stars other than his own estimable history, which steadied a nervous hand that struck more than its share of bum notes (better those than wives). When Turner got around to introducing the band, nearly every one of them as "the son of a preacher," his old pal Angus Wynne, standing in the crowd with a "Democrats for Ike" button on his own lapel, glowed that "it's just like Sunday school--back to the beginning."