SXSW 2005: The crowds, the hype bands and all the Shiner Bock you can drink

The problem with afternoon showcases--with all showcases, really--is that after enough free beer, all the music becomes wallpaper. At Friday's Spin party, it was hard to elbow past everyone jabbering over The Futureheads, and by the time headliners The New York Dolls took the stage (well, The New York Dolls with two original members, including a rail-thin David Johansen), I'd pretty much given up.

"Hey, it's The New York Dolls!" I told my friend as we lined up for another beer.

"Can you believe it?" she said. "They sound pretty good."

Clockwise from left: Billy Idol, The Futureheads, Robert 
Plant, Tegan and Sara, and The Doves
Clockwise from left: Billy Idol, The Futureheads, Robert Plant, Tegan and Sara, and The Doves

"Yeah!" We popped our beers and never listened to another song.

Smoosh by Smoosh West

Getting into a show was one obstacle, but once past the gates, attendants faced the additional challenge of the actual audience. Our photographer was thrown out of the Robert Plant show for daring to take pictures. (Plant had instituted a no-photo policy, perhaps hoping to keep the shutterbugs from capturing his drooping jowls.)

At Aimee Mann, I could hardly hear over an audience far more interested in gossip (or the next band, The Wallflowers) than Mann's exquisite angst. "She's like the Martha Stewart of pain," cracked the guy next to me. That's a little dismissive; Mann is one of the most talented singer-songwriters working today. Her performance is just a tad subtle and elegant for a festival whose most successful acts are full of shock and novelty.

Near the front of the jam-packed Billy Idol show, one drunken gentleman pushed his girlfriend through the crowd like she were a machete in a jungle. "Just push through these assholes!" he hollered, shoving her into every hard surface they encountered (which was, more often than not, my back).

When Idol took the stage--looking and sounding as if it were 1983 and he'd never, like, blown out entirely--the crowd went into a frenzy. Flanked by Steve Stevens, his old guitarist from the day, Idol was like a classic Vegas crooner fronting a champion punk band, even if nobody gave two shits about his new material. A fan with a foot-high Mohawk used my body as a crash pad during "Dancing With Myself." One man actually stepped on my shoulder to hoist himself up to crowd-surf during "White Wedding." When Idol launched into a head-scratcher of a 20-minute acoustic set midway through, I had two thoughts: "God bless the man for trying something new"; and, also, "Play 'Rebel Yell' for fuck's sake!" I could only laugh when the friend next to me announced he would stay for "one more hit, and then I'm out."

Hey, at least I can say I saw Billy Idol--a great has-been rocker with little relevance to today's music. At this point, isn't that what SXSW is all about?

Critics´ Picks

Our writers pick the festival's highs and lows

The Best: The Heartless Bastards: Erika Wennerstrom's rugged singing, like a northern version of Lucinda Williams, played well off the trio's dirty fusion of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and the MC5, and this contrast turned their straightforward songs into stunning rockers.

The Worst: The Go! Team: This sold-out show was an embarrassment, as hundreds of showgoers were stuck watching a boring band play repetitive riffs over a pre-recorded tape. Sure, the music sounded fine, but the folks onstage could've at least pretended to give a shit while going through the motions. --Sam Machkovech

The Best: Ash would have been great on Friday if someone had bothered to bring a soundman or an air conditioner. But the only truly great show was by a band I've seen maybe 50 times: Centro-matic. All rock, no roll, and drummer Matt Pence was playing as if he had one gig left before he died.

The Worst: I technically didn't see the Kaiser Chiefs, as I was standing in line outside La Zona Rosa for an hour. But they're the band that caused the people at the door to institute a "50 out, 50 in" policy, so eff 'em. They suck. --Zac Crain

The Best: Petty Booka: Two Japanese women playing dull rock standards (Canned Heat, Steppenwolf, ugh) on ukuleles; the cowgirl outfits give 'em away as novelty, right? Not likely, given the crack cracker band of bluegrass freaks. Also, you gotta love the delivery--sweet and fierce like a baby who refuses to give up his lolly. The only SXSW band sure to deliver a smile, which counts for something...everything, actually.

The Worst: Kasabian: Liked the CD well enough; fuck, if the Stone Roses ain't gonna bother, at least somebody oughta. Problem is, these Brits were so shit that now I can't even stand the two songs on the disc that I loved. I would have walked out, but it took so long to get in I figured must be something to this. Where's Billy Idol when you need him?

--Robert Wilonsky

*Jason Schwartzman rocking out at Friday's Centro-matic show

*Jessica Simpson at the Queens of the Stone Age after-hours party

*Rosanna Arquette denied backstage access at the Billy Idol concert

*Eric Johnson leaving the Robert Plant show after a handful of songs

*The Austin: Real World cast shooting their documentary (subjects include Enon and Halifax) at the Convention Center

*Stephen Malkmus being greeted by a drunken fan at the Guided By Voices hoot night with the following: "High five! Fuckin' Pavement!"

*John Doe at Grey DeLisle's showcase

*Strangleweed pimping Monster Energy drinks on Sixth Street

*Chuck Klosterman at the Spin party. Duh.

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