Saturday, March 24, 2007

Rome is burning, but the kids are alright

Darren Hill on the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference and Festival, held in Austin, Texas. Thanks Darren!

At Scott's request, here is a little summary of my SXSW experience this year.

Two themes resonated loud and clear this year. On the business side: "Rome is burning" - record company and retail woes continue as cd sales continue to plummet.
On the music side: "the kids are alright" - the music is more vibrant and healthy than ever.
Over 2000 (yes two thousand) bands this year, most of them playing multiple shows (I spoke to one band that had 16 shows there in 3 days). bands are set up everywhere - they're in the airport when you get off the plane, and in every club, restaurant, coffee shop, hotel lobby, vacant lot, sidewalk, rooftop, and hole in the wall.

Attendance at the panels and interviews (which are top notch) was way down this year. In part, because of the increase in number of daytime parties going on - all with live music, usually free beer and food. You start each day by mapping out a plan as best you can, often sprinting from one venue to another and you still can't come close to catching all you want.
A couple of highlights for me this year were:
- Pete Townsend jumping up on stage with Ian Maclagan for a Ronnie Lane tribute
- Townsend again on stage with The Fratellis (the band in the Ipod commercial) for a version of "The Seeker" Click here: Video: Pete Townshend with the Fratellis
- Townsend again...(fill in the blank)...he was everywhere!
- Andrew Bird - mesmerizing under the stars at an outdoor stage
- Riding in an elevator at my hotel with Public Enemy and discussing the Yankees prospects this year
- Doing the "Tighten Up" with Archie Bell at in a tent around 2am one night
- Lickin' BBQ off my fingers while watching Kings of Leon at the Spin daytime party
- Seeing Kristen Dunst (and unfortunately her English bandguy boyfriend) everywhere I went
- Catching several sets by young Irish troubadour (and prospect) Fionn Regan
- A late night surreal scene sitting on a pool table with John Doe and David Byrne drinking Lone Star while watching Big Sandy front - Los Straightjackets (wearing trademark sharp suits and Mexican wrestling mask) for their first ever "with vocals" performance
- Paul Siminon once again wielding his bass like a machine gun with The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
- Australian (if you haven't heard these guys, you should) rockers You Am I firing through a booze fueled set
- A friend of mine leaving me in stitches recounting a classic Riki Lee Jones' freakout/meltdown while trying to perform at a record company keg party in the afternoon.
- And of course, my event Roky Erickson's Psychedelic Ice Cream Social with Roky, Spoon, Mogwai, Robyn Hitchcock with Peter Buck, the surprisingly good Michelle Shocked, and JT Van Zandt (who looks and sound so much like his father Townes, that if freaky). Below is from the editor of Mojo:
Click here: MOJO4MUSIC - The Music Magazine

While his music has influenced everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Primal Scream, for the last 20 years the legend of Roky Erickson has been defined by his eccentric behaviour and mental fragility. However, yesterday – March 15 – the ex-13th Floor Elevators’ mainman played a stunning show in Austin, Texas, which confirmed his remarkable recovery. As part of his daily update on the South By Southwest festival, MOJO’s editor-in-chief Phil Alexander celebrates the return of The Godfather Of American Psychedelic Music….

So today was simply meant to be the second installment in this part-blog dedicated to MOJO’s meandering around Austin’s SXSW festival. And certainly the day started off with a midday wander down to the British Music BBQ at Brush Square to catch a snatch of Seth Lakeman and to see whether Amy Winehouse would turn up following her emotional trauma in London last week (you correspondent is happy to note that she did, performing three acoustic numbers, followed by a full set later in the evening). And then Raoul Hernandez – the music editor of the Austin Chronicle – mentioned that Roky Erickson was hosting a bash over at Threadgills bar and restaurant…

Hotfooting it over to the eatery in question on Riverside Drive, MOJO arrives in time to hear a bearded man on the outdoor stage inviting the crowd to “Fuck the system, because the system needs to be fucked!” He is Leonard Ray Frank – a leading anti-electroshock campaigner – and he holds forth on the effects of this dubious branch of medical science. Standing by his side is Michelle Shocked, preparing to perform. Rather than start her set, she tells the audience of the time she was subjected to the ‘therapy’ in question. The story is horrific.

Then again, Roky Erickson’s story is equally disturbing. Erickson was arrested in 1969 for possession a single joint and then incarcerated at the Rusk State Hospital For The Criminally Insane. It was there that he found himself subjected to eletro-shock therapy and, allegedly, lost his mind. The intervening years have been traumatic and yet today, at his annual Psychedelic Ice Cream Social, Erickson has reason to celebrate: after a long battle he is finally his own legal guardian and, after close to two decades of medical oppression, a free man.

It is to celebrate this fact that Michelle Shocked, Robyn Hitchcock And Peter Buck, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite and local heroes Spoon (among others) have elected to play this benefit for Roky which is also designed to raise awareness for the victims of electro-shock therapy.
At 7.15 – and following an acoustic performance by his brother Sumner – Roky himself takes to the stage alongside his friends and band The Explosives. Erickson beams at the ecstatic reception he receives and launches into an hour-long set that is nothing short of remarkable, spurred on by guitarist Cam King and underlining just how ageless Erickson’s voice is. The set itself traverses the Elevators catalogue as well as Roky’s latter endeavours, but most poignant is Splash #1, the refrain of “And now I’m home to stay” echoing loudly beyond this mere performance.

The finale of Two Headed Dog, You’re Gonna Miss Me and an encore of I Walked With A Zombie leave the audience – that include beaming US critics David Fricke and Dave Marsh – elated. Speaking to MOJO briefly afterwards, Erickson proclaims himself “happy with the way it went” and plans are discussed as to possible UK and European shows. Indeed, the latter discussion is proof positive of Roky’s much improved state of mind. We leave Mr Erickson signing autographs for an adoring audience of fans and friends and prepare for the night ahead.

1 comment:

mdoggie said...

Hey Darren,
Thanks for the report, I give you an 'A+'.
On the ubiquitous Townshend front; I got a heads up from "Rolling Stone"and since have been downloading "In the Attic", girlfriend Rachel Fuller's podcast featuring Pete and a host of others playing music in the back of his tour bus. Some priceless bits and even with the technical glitches, well worth the time and effort.