Staying awake in Austin 

With any luck, you’re reading this in the car right now, with a gig-going compatriot at the wheel and another waiting in Austin with a free couch available. You already know which of your favorite new bands are playing South By Southwest, but that leaves about 7,000 others. With that in mind, some stray SXSW thoughts and highlights:

Lou Reed will give this year’s keynote address, reminding viewers that he’s also part of the Film lineup: Lou Reed’s Berlin, directed by Julian Schnabel, documents the recent concert performances of Reed’s classic album of despair. The former Velveteer isn’t the only musician in the Film fest, of course: The popular 24 Beats Per Second series offers docs devoted to Joy Division, legendary reggae producer Lee Scratch Perry, the late, troubled “outsider” musician Wesley Willis, and Dennis Lambert, who wrote/produced ’70s staples such as “Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I Got)” and now is a huge star in the Philippines. Also: Nerds take over the world in Blip Festival, about the “chip music” genre, and the geek-hop roundup Nerdcore Rising. Influential producer Daniel Lanois hits town with live sets and a doc, Here Is What Is.

Elsewhere on the conference schedule are in-depth interviews with: Sire Records legend Seymour Stein, who’ll tell fans how he went from a clerk at Billboard to becoming integral to the careers of Madonna, the Smiths, and the Talking Heads; Ice Cube, proprietor of the new Microsoft-linked website; and Daryl Hall, who will likely not tell you your kiss is on his list. Oh: Beastie Boys collaborator Money Mark will teach “Crash Course #1: Recording at Home.” Most tantalizing in the panel lineup is a sit-down between Thurston Moore, the Sonic Youth founder who has introduced a generation of rockers to the far-avant-garde of art music, and Steve Reich, the groundbreaking composer whose use of tape loops and out-of-phase rhythms infected commercial music as well as the concert hall.

The official showcase list is too immense for mortals to parse, but at least you can fit it all on two pull-out pages of the Austin Chronicle. Bring a magnifying glass. The scattered and rabbit-multiplying population of free day parties, which require no badge or wristband, is even harder to wrangle, but, as usual, the website does a remarkable job.

Scrolling through that endless list, we find that grime star Dizzee Rascal will entertain barbershop patrons at the retro-mod Bird’s on South Congress; new It-band Vampire Weekend will follow hipster-magnet, globe-hopping rockers Yeasayer at an NPR live broadcast Thursday; and Mötorhead will perform at the behest of Scion, a line of cars whose cute design has never screamed “speed mëtal” to me.

You’d think that if the UK’s The Wedding Present flew all the way to Austin, they’d at least do an official showcase, but no — from what I see, their sole appearance is 5:15 p.m. on Wednesday at Emo’s Annex, headlining a free party for a digi-distribution company called IODA. The same thing goes for the long-dormant Breeders, who aren’t on the SXSchedule but instead anchor the three-stage, all-day Mess With Texas event, which also boasts Shearwater, NOFX, a comedy stage with Janeane Garofalo, and a gillion other acts.

For bands who aren’t dormant but dead, our only option is the oft-maligned tribute-band phenomenon. A fun-sounding party Saturday at Ego’s (a tiny dive that’s actually inside a South Congress parking garage) will be an all-night tribute affair, starring bands that replicate stars ranging from the dearly departed (Beatles, Hendrix, Joplin) to the still very active (Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello).

As far as bigger names go, R.E.M. will pair their Stubb’s appearance with an Austin City Limits taping, for those lucky few who can weasel their way in. Van Morrison goes the other way, offering a regular badge-and-wristband set at La Zona Rosa the day after an anybody-can-buy-a-ticket gig at Austin Music Hall.

Finally, who says Jon Langford has a monopoly on the aural/visual arts crossover? Instead of its usual Langford show, folk-art gallery Yard Dog is presenting paintings by country-folkie Tom Russell. Elsewhere, Half-Japanese songwriter Jad Fair will be showing drawings and prints at Obsolete Industries; Tim Kerr and Bill Daniels contribute to a “Wheelchair Epidemic” art exhibit at Gallery Lombardi; and Daniel Johnston, whose expressively awkward drawings currently sell for real-art prices, is now the subject of his very own musical — Speeding Motorcycle, with five eye-popping performances during SXSW at Zach Scott Theater.

More by John DeFore



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