Everything's Drunker in Texas

The good, the bad, and the gelatinous: Earache gets an earful in Austin

His bald spot glistened in the harsh light of the hotel lobby. Our eyes met for a fleeting moment before he looked away, brushing his mullet off his shoulder. He looked back, and our eyes locked. He started to speak, to hold out his hand, to say something, but it was like I was watching a dubbed movie; the words were out of sync. I heard what I thought was a dull beat in the distance. Then I realized those sounds were gunshots. I tried quickly to push him out of the way, but it was too late. Blood splattered across the hotel's chic Corinthian-leather sofas. I held him in my arms as he whispered his last words: "Deeper, deeper... I can feel your beeper." "God, that's lame," I thought.

Texas did strange things to me. Maybe it was the jet lag mixed with cheap beer, or the ringing in my ears, or the dizzying blur of people pouring out of clubs and bars. But by Saturday night, this was the scenario running through my head at South by Southwest, the annual three-day music and industry orgy in Austin. My brain involuntarily concocted the macabre fantasy (in which Prince was the sniper, if you're curious) when I spotted musical oddity Har Mar Superstar, a.k.a. Sean Tillman, in the lobby of my hotel. I watched him from afar with a mixture of hangover-induced wonder and slight revulsion.

I peered stealthily through the potted plants in the hotel bar and observed the Mulletus Mediocritus; his whole stage show revolves around his singing lyrics like "Silk and lace in my database/baby, I want to interface" plopped over Casio beats as he does headspins in his underwear.

Later that night, I walked by the line of people waiting to see him; it snaked around the corner and halfway down the street, even though it was already a half hour into his set. I imagined he was probably dry-humping the floor at that point. Then I saw something shiny across the street and wandered away.

Save for the label execs trolling around and giving one another sweaty power handshakes, SXSW was all about the music for three whole days. South Florida's own Mr. Entertainment (a.k.a Steve Toth) and the Latter-day Pookiesmackers (featuring former Boca Raton resident/Austin transplant Bobby Baker of the Baby Robots on guitar, Mark Zolezzi on drums, and Tucsonite Frank McCormick on standup bass) performed twice, including a stripped-down set on Baker's porch. The Decemberists, the Constantines, Architecture in Helsinki, and Broken Social Scene put on jaw-dropping performances that were messy, celebratory, and goosebump-inducing all at once. Harvey Sid Fisher, the catalog model/cultural fringe dweller who's gained notoriety writing kitschy songs about every astrological sign, was in rare form during a midnight show. Unshaven and dressed in a glittering robe, Fisher covered pretty much every sign -- at his leisure. After a hyper blond girl in the front row screamed "Play Capricorn!" about 5 million times, Fisher looked at her and said, "Capricorn? OK! Here's Leo!" (The chorus goes "I'm a lovin' Leo lion/Don't put me in no zoo!")

New Jersey's Wrens put on a frenzied 1 a.m. set, the songs punctuated only by singer and bass player Kevin Whelan saying: "We're never going to make it. This is as close as we'll come to making it, and this is great." As they continued to play tracks from their rapturous third album, Meadowlands, which is beautifully layered with failure, heartbreak, and what-could-have-beens, their frustration and elation were equally palpable.

It was a perfect ending to SXSW at the Alternative Tentacles showcase on Saturday night, when Mr. Entertainment and drummer Mark Zolezzi proved there isn't always room for Jello Biafra. As the former Dead Kennedys front man took the stage in a cow-print vest to announce San Francisco soul rock band Harold Ray Live in Concert, Biafra seized the opportunity to spout off about himself and his legal woes.

"I was told once, 'Less talk, more rock,'" Toth said later. "After Jello insinuated that he hadn't seen any good bands and cried about someone booking 'the other Dead Kennedys' [right down the street at Emo's], Mark shouted, 'Play some music! You can talk over at the convention center!'" Jello continued to whine about not wanting a DK song to be used in a Levi's commercial, so Toth and Zolezzi delivered a few friendly "Play some music!"s and "Get off the stage!"s. Miraculously, Jello quivered off the stage. It was a glorious moment in heckling, and, as Toth put it, it was "Pookiesmackin' good." Show Mr. Entertainment and the Latter-day Pookiesmackers some love on Saturday, April 3, at Billabong Pub (3000 Country Club Ln., Pembroke Park) with the Psycho Daisies, the Gruntled, Catalonia, and the Rev. Robert Johnson. Show starts at 10 p.m. Call 954-985-1050.

 
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