"You're kidding. They're really from Dallas?" asked a surprised bystander at the Polyphonic Spree show. The Spree's heritage is always a surprise to Austinites, who generally believe they've cornered the market on cool and who associate Big D with cheerleaders and chain stores instead of good music. But Dallas' music stamped itself all over SXSW: The Burden Brothers sold out the 1,750-seat Spiro's, where Bowling for Soup played a packed show on Saturday. So many people crammed the Old 97's show that I came in and turned right back around. I love that band--but not enough to pee in the bushes.
Too many local acts were counter-programmed: On Wednesday, you'd have to split yourself in two and sprint to catch Baboon, The Deathray Davies, Salim Nourallah, Fishboy, Speedealer, [DARYL] and Pleasant Grove, who played a beautiful (but under-attended) set. On Thursday, you could catch Chomsky smoke up the joint or choose sets by Brett Johnson, Max Stalling or I Love Math. Fortunately, most bands played more than once. On Saturday afternoon, Summer Break Records held a hangover-special showcase at Opal Divine's. Full disclosure: I came for the jalapeño poppers, but I stayed for sets by Slick 57, Sorta and the Sparrows, who rarely missed a beat despite vocalist Carter Albrecht looking as though he might collapse. The afternoon also included a solo set by Rhett Miller, who attracted clusters of curious passers-by on the sidewalk. Bouncing his rubber legs and his shaggy blond-tipped hair, Miller offered classics from the band's Hitchhike to Rhome CD and a few from the band's upcoming album (which they just wrapped in New York), including potential single "The New Kid," which he assured the audience "is not about my son." He also announced he was recording another solo album and introduced one of its songs by saying, "If it sounds like David Bowie to you, what can I say? I listen to that guy."
Several hours and drinks later, I ran into a waitress who had worked the showcase. When asked where she was headed, she raised her eyebrows and said, "I want to see more of that Carter guy." But the best shout-out of the evening came from Liz Phair, who told the audience at her show that she'd seen Sorta that afternoon and loved them. "I knew she was at the show," said a surprised Trey Johnson, "but I didn't know anything about it till I read it in the [Dallas Morning News] Metro section."
On Friday night, Denton's The Baptist Generals played a crowded set at the Ritz, a cavernous venue normally used as a pool hall. But there was too much clanging and clatter to enjoy the music. I inched closer to the amps, but the floor vibrated so much I think my left foot had an orgasm. Other Denton bands at SXSW included the Faceless Werewolves and the Riverboat Gamblers (see the feature story "Please Kill Me"), and all three enjoyed positive coverage in the local weekly The Austin Chronicle. (Note to Dallas bands: Your press improves when you tour. Note to self: Visit Denton more.)
Spoonfed Tribe, who played on Friday, must have thought they were having flashbacks: On Thursday night, members of the California sextet Ozomatli landed in jail after they took their spirited show into the street. A similar thing happened to the Tribe last New Year's Eve when their boisterous but peaceful street celebration devolved into arrests and pepper spray. By Saturday, Ozomatli had made national headlines and were the unofficial festival darlings, with supporters snatching up "Free the Ozo 3" T-shirts and lining up around the block for a "secret" performance on Saturday at Stubb's.
Overall, the quality--and variety--of local bands rocking the festival was nothing short of amazing. Yet it was impossible to dodge that old Austin snobbery. When I told the Driskill employee I was from Dallas, she responded, "Oh, I'm sorry."
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Speaking of The Rock: Deep Ellum's consummate cock-rock club is closing on Sunday. "It's getting too ridiculous," said co-owner Ron Alexander. "It's too hard to book bands. They cancel in a heartbeat. What ever happened to the old slogan 'The show must go on?'" Along with his daughter, Christian Alexander, Ron will open a new club, the Texas Tea House, at the corner of Commerce Street and Good-Latimer Expressway (the location of their old club, On the Rocks), catering to a country and western/Southern rock crowd. "I guess I'm just tired of dealing with kids. I'd like to deal with adults for a change."