SXSW Notebook Dump, Day 3

Friday started at Flatstock, a show of poster art at the convention center. The last time I saw it a few years ago, it was dominated by B-movie images – biker chicks, monsters – and comic book-ish women with colossal boobs and asses, often in compromising positions. It wasn’t until the end of my walk through the show and seeing one with a schoolgirl with her skirt hiked up for her hot chick teacher to spank with a ruler that I realized how few of those I had seen this time. I suppose it has a lot to do with the bands. The last time I saw Flatstock, the posters were largely for metal and garage punk bands. With this year’s show dominated by posters for shows by Wilco, the Flaming Lips, Spoon and the New Pornographers, the work was pleasantly graphic-oriented, often with an appealingly ambiguous relationship between the image and the band. A Dylan concert poster, for example, simply featured a cartoonish miner. New Pornographers seemed to inspire a lot of good posters, the Flaming Lips inspired the most over the top ones. And the metal posters remained a dark, tangled mass of angst.

Musically, I started at the Yep Roc party, where I heard that Harp Magazine has closed shop. Last month, No Depression similarly announced that its next issue would be its last, and that was depressing, partially because I have friends at both magazines (and contribute to No Depression), but also because the artists I’ve been thinking about – Alejandro Escovedo, Jon Dee Graham, Tim Easton, to name three – found whatever ink they could garner in the pages of those magazines. They’re not anybody’s buzz band anymore (if they ever were), and it’s hard to see where or how they’ll get the exposure their work merits. I assume Harp‘s problem is the same one that ended ND – shrinking promotions budgets at the record labels, whose ads played a major role in supporting the magazine. Fortunately, we’re not as beholden to the record companies at OffBeat, so we’re not quite in the same boat.

At the Yep Roc show, I saw more of this sort of artist, starting with Chuck Prophet. He had 20 or so minutes for the afternoon party, and instead of showcasing his most recent album, he opened with Alex Chilton’s “Hey Little Child” and closed with Iggy’s “I’m Bored.” In between, the show had the swagger of a guy who could nail whatever he wanted to play or sing, and he backed it up, particularly on a beautifully hypnotic song, “A Woman’s Voice Will Drug You.”

Liam Finn followed, having taken time off from his journey to return the ring to Mordor. This was an acquired taste I didn’t acquire, as he played fragments of songs, looped them, combined them into more complete songs, then finished them by assaulting a poor, defenseless drum kit. I admired his nuttiness, and he did interrupt a song to announce that he’d just seen a naked sumo wrestler skiing on the TV facing the stage, and the naked skiing sumo music that followed – a guitar freakout – was the highlight.

Seeing the Sadies from Toronto raises the question, “Why can’t anyone get their vocals on disc?” Live, they articulate the words, and the voices are distinct. On CD, they sound murky and mumbly. Fortunately, this was live. Their set ranges from surf instrumentals to country rock to garage to bluegrass spirituals, but they make it hang together by printing their personalities on all of it. You also have to love a band that does stunts. One instrumental kept speeding up, so the melody riff was played faster and faster until it got into the blur of notes zone, and during their final song, brothers Dallas and Travis Good fretted the other brother’s guitar while picking their own. Stunts are good.

The Louisiana party at the Continental Club followed, and I don’t have much on it because I was talking to people – we were co-sponsors of the event. Paul Sanchez had great song that was a tribute to the unsung heroes of post-Katrina New Orleans – the pharmaceutical industry and the makers of mood levelers. He brought up Susan Cowsill, who in turn brought up brothers Bob and Paul for an impromptu “Hair.” New Orleans roots rockers Les Poissons Rouges played next and I liked them but didn’t love them. The songs aren’t there yet. The Iguanas then showcased songs from their upcoming album, and they’re Iguana songs, though perhaps with a little less Tex in their Mex.

After that, the Waco Brothers were playing across the street at the Yard Dog. The Wacos play Saturday night somewhere at 1 a.m. to give SXSW a rousing finale, but in the backyard of the Yard Dog outsider art gallery, a Wacos show is as much a rally as a show. Almost everybody knows the songs, the contours of the wisecracks, and the sense of humor. Their punk rock take on country music also has some of the pub in it, so songs never get too fast to sing along to, even during the cover of George Jones’ “White Lighting.” The pub and mandolin player Tracey Dear were clearly friends before the set, so when he started “Take Me to the Fires” – the most cheerful going-to-hell song every written – he picks some mystery key so amiss that the band has to stop him. “The drummer cannot pick the key,” he joked in self-defense.

At the Austin Music Hall, Shelby Lynne played a set of songs from her tribute to Dusty Springfield, Just a Little Lovin‘, and it was a very different experience from the album. On disc, it sounds like she’s singing to herself in the bedroom; in a big room, that intimacy was lost, but she sang the songs as if the language of heartbreak was coming to her line by line. The arrangement added to that sense, with the notes between verses seeming offhanded, as if the guitar player was also thinking about what to do.

Dr. Dog – my career of indifference seems earned. And that was enough for the night.