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How the world looked to Leeny...

What up. I just got back from Austin, TX for the South by Southwest festival, conference, convention, party, summer camp-for-hipsters, - whatever you want to call it. I'd never been to SXSW before, and honestly it's just about all that really would get me to go to Texas in the first place. But I've heard a lot of fun stories over the years from friends of mine whose bands had been a part of it. I hadn't kept much hope for attending this year with work and all, but I got lucky and suddenly got time off at the last minute Thursday morning - already 2 days into it. I jumped in the old Ranger and made the 1000-mile trip from Denver to Austin in about 3 hours.

Not only was I late, but I sure as hell didn't have the scratch to shell out some $500 for the all-inclusive, no line-waiting, pimp daddy badges. I didn't even feel like paying $50 for a daily wristband. I was going to have to survive and get into shows old school style and wait in lines and pay covers like a sucker. Sometimes the Jedi mind trick method works (sorry Arts and Crafts showcase) in which you wait for the ID checker/stamper/bouncer to turn or get involved in a somewhat deep discussion with someone, and simply walk in unnoticed. This especially works well at outdoor venues.

Thursday March 15, 2007

I rolled into town around midnight, just in time to miss the guts of the show I had hoped to catch with Say Hi To Your Mom, Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, Bob Mould, Rocky Votolato, and Aqueduct. After waiting 20 minutes in the chump line, I made it in and caught the last 20 minutes of Menomena, an electronic pop band from Portland that I have heard great things of from my pals up northwest. By then it was about 2am and we were getting booted out.

The streets are blocked off to traffic, and I was just off the curb taking in the scene when a battalion of mounted police came slowly walking down the street in 7 rows of 2 horses. I stood and watched as they paraded in front of me. Then, without warning, I felt an unbelievably sharp pain in the left side of my ribs, and doubled over to the ground. A lady cop then told me to keep it moving. What happened was, unfortunately, as I was paying attention to the last row of horses walk by, the first had circled around, coming back the other way. I apparently was in their path. The lead horse had bit me in the left side of my torso, right in the ribs. I didn't actually see it, just felt it, as I was looking the other way. I'm assuming the horse bit me. An officer of the law in Texas wouldn't just kick someone in the ribs without warning, would he? Rib-biting seems like a pretty logical, and effective I might add, method of crowd control. Maybe the horse was hungry, but that's beside the point. My ribs hurt like hell and I had to find somewhere to sleep.

I had tried to book a hotel through the company my sister works for but could only find a room on Friday and Saturday. I came down on Thursday anyway thinking I'd crash somewhere or just find whatever hotel on the highway somewhere. By 4am, after 65 miles of driving around to every hotel I could find, the city was all booked. I tried the next town north, Georgetown, but still no dice. Ok, fine. Highway rest area it was. 35 miles outside town.

Friday March 16, 2007

I found a comfortable position by 6am, and slept like a rock until a trucker ever so kindly pounded on my window and asked me to move my truck so he could complete a wide turn. It was 9:30 and I needed some coffee. Checking out the area around the University of Texas sounded fun, and after some exploration, found a nice little place and had my breakfast of champions, the biggest Americano the place had, and checked out the days schedule of shows.

I headed downtown eventually over to the Cedar Street Courtyard for the Filter Magazine day party. After meeting up with the editor of Hybrid, David Devoe, and fellow writer, JD, we went inside and drank free whiskey. Architecture In Helsinki were absolutely great and had everyone dancing to their rootsy, world beat. My ribs hurt like hell still and had nicely developed into a deep ruby bruise. I was really trying to figure out how pissed I should be about this. But the free whiskey reminded me that day parties come with free beer, usually, and in this case, whiskey. Ra Ra Riot were next and rocked their way. But it was now 2pm and I needed food. Too bad there's none to be found around the area that is SXSW. Sure, you've got 2 or 3 hotdog carts and some crappy pizza takeout windows, but that's it. Austin - how are you going to have a downtown with no food for foot traffic? Oh wait, the horse last night explained that…no foot traffic wanted. Walking's for suckers. Real men drive big giant pickups. I learned that on the way down. So, after a couple of jalapeno pizza slices, I needed some more free beer.

Walking down 6th toward Red River, I heard the familiar sounds of former Sugar and Husker Du frontman Bob Mould at Emo's Annex. I had been a fan for years, but couldn't figure out why he was there, playing old acoustic hits from over the last 15 years and nothing new. No new album coming out. Maybe he's down here for fun, enjoying the shows like I am. Usually SXSW is a majority of up and coming acts, with your occasional Pete Townshend and/or Slash showing up. Confused, I drank my free beer and heading back out to meet David and had some tasty corned beef hash for St. Patrick's at a little diner nearby.

David took off to go see Buffalo Tom and Steve Earle at The Parish, and I had a date with my favorite Canadian, former Broken Social Scene vocalist, Amy Millan, whose Harriet Wheeler-esque vocals had enthralled me on Stars' last release, Set Yourself On Fire. Tonight she was playing solo at Habana Calle 6 Annex, part of the label out of Montreal called Arts and Crafts' showcase. Set Yourself On Fire is a very catchy, poppy album, and Amy Millan's solo record which came out last year, called Honey From The Tombs was an outstanding straight-up American country record about broken relationships and booze. Her performance was tight, with great horns, keys, and slide guitar. And her voice is just as lovely live. But first were another band from Montreal called Young Galaxy, who started their show by announcing, "We are here to break your heart." They performed probably the best song I heard at SXSW, "Swing Your Heartache." With lyrics like 'We believe in time that you will see / The institutions of the world will only serve to enslave us,' and 'We have learned that hope does not come cheap / We all must sacrifice in the name of our beliefs / We believe in time that you will see / The frontier is misery,' it reminded me why I was there and in love with music. No free beer, but PBR is always cheap. Thankfully, I was off to my hotel, where a bed never felt so nice.

Saturday March 17, 2007

Oh yeah. Huevos Rancheros, Texas style, were a fine compliment to my Americano. As luck would have it, sitting next to me were Little Brazil, part of the Mt. Fuji Records day party I was gonna go watch up the road at the Longbranch Inn. They play a great brand of rock with some really intriguing beats. I'll be checking them out this weekend in Denver opening for The Photo Atlas' CD release party at the Hi-Dive. The Longbranch Inn, however, is no rock club. This is a dive bar, and one of the greatest at that. This is solely judged by the fact that their sign outside hanging over the sidewalk somehow has grass growing out the bottom.

Before Little Brazil were Buffalo Killers. Their brand of southern rock comes complete with long hair and long beards, a conversion van, and a great song called "Homegrown." After Buffalo Killers were two bands from my old haunt - the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. The first was Lillydale, who rocked the place with a very lively set, led by some great guitars and the soulful singing of Joe Markiewicz. I'll be paying attention to this band for sure in the near future. The second band was really who I was there to see. The Cops showed off some new hits for the kids, and showed why they are a force to be reckoned with in the punk rock scene, and I drank free PBR's. The Cops' last release, Get Good Or Stay Bad, was an outstanding punk rock album, full of political lyrics, dance-hall and reggae beats, and pop/punk melodies - a la The Clash. It rocked, and was singable all the same. Their new stuff pure and simply kicks ass. It had even more energy and more pounding drums and more ripping guitar licks that made you want to scream and kick and burn the mother down. Deputy Cop John Randolph somehow kept the guitars going while playing upside-down, on the floor on his back, up on the drums, or while leaping 10 feet into the air. The Cop Commissioner Mike Jaworski rocked the mic and led the Revolution. Too bad they aren't allowed horses to ride around at night. Maybe my ribs wouldn't be turning that nasty shade of yellow today.

After successfully partying in the daytime at the Longbranch Inn, it was time to head across the freeway into downtown to find some food and get in line for the KEXP radio showcase at the Mohawk Patio. I had missed out at seeing Jesse Sykes the other night at Buffalo Billiards, and was determined to see her perform. Her dark version of country-rock has been blowing up the Northwest, and I had to see it. Her voice is eerily beautiful and is joined by the great guitar playing of Phil Wandscher of Whiskeytown.

But first, I ventured into a fancier restaurant a few blocks away as my body asked me to find some food that had some green color to it. Inside, Britt Daniel of Spoon was eating with his entourage. I remembered that Spoon was going to playing at Stubb's with Iggy Pop and The Stooges. I decided to abandon theKEXP show and check out two of the greatest acts of all time in their hometown with a legendary act like the Stooges. This lasted about 3 minutes as I saw the line outside Stubb's was all the way to San Antonio.

KEXP out of Seattle is probably the best independent radio station in America. Their commitment to independent artists and music of all genres has helped a countless number of great acts gain exposure that simply would never be heard otherwise. They have a great webcast as well at kexp.org. Tonight's showcase featured Wax Fang from Louisville, The Cops, The Blakes, Li'l Cap'n Travis, Moonlight Towers, Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, and Black Angels. No free beer, and I paid the sucker cover. However, all in all, it was an excellent three days in Austin, and it was time to head home.

Sunday March 18, 2007

On the road in Oklahoma, I crept up on a blue mini-van with Alberta plates, crammed to the roof with what looked like music gear. After getting a look at the guys inside, I knew they were coming back from Austin, too. As luck had it, I was playing the New Pornographers' Twin Cinema CD and held up the case out the back window for my Canuck friends to see that I was down. Sure enough, the old mini-van sped up and passed on by, showing off a Constantines' record. I held up the Stars' and Amy Millan discs. They held up their Stars' disc. The battle of Canadian CD displaying ended to a round of Canadian thumbs up after I held up Neil Young's Live Rust. I haven't figured out who they were, but does that matter?

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