"This is a lot more people than we thought would be here," Ferny confesses to the microphone. Bounding into its second song, the band looks relieved, even inspired. The guys play with passion and confidence, just like at every one of their hundreds of gigs at the Poor House and Churchill's. They launch into "Get Well Card," crescendoing with a massive psyche-rock chorus: "Please don't forget the universe."
"The soundman's not doing them any fuckin' favors," Toms says. True, the sound sucks. The room is awkward. But a couple of photographers hover in front of the stage, a few journos take notes in the back of the room, and there are label guys drinking Lone Stars at the bar.
By 9:30, half the room has left. There are other showcases happening at this very moment with bigger bands than Humbert. If the band members notice, they don't show it. They've already scored their victory. "Do we have time for one more?" Ferny asks into the darkness. A half hour into the set, and it seems they're wishing it was over. But like Ferny said, there's a set list. They know what's gonna happen. They tear into "Ladybug and the Beetle" and wrap it up with an ecstatic flourish.
"We played this next song at South by Southwest in 1994, me and this guy," Tony thumbs toward Ferny. They spring into the offbeat, Middle Eastern dervish blowout "Vuscalli," stretch it out to savor the moment, and then it's all over. The band can't walk offstage because there isn't one. Instead, they just mingle into the remaining crowd for exasperated, elated hugs and high-fives. Grinning but distracted, they load out quickly for the next band, nobody really saying much of anything to anyone.
Sixth Street, Saturday, 11 p.m. Ferny and Tony are at Antone's watching Rob Pollard of indie giant Guided by Voices. Caesar, Rimsky, Dave, Franco, and Leo head to Emo's for the Hellacopters, a well-loved Swedish boogaloo metal band. It's not Turbonegro, but it is Scandinavian. And that's not too far from actual ass cobra.
The fellas are happy enough to just hang no more fliering, no more hustle and have a genuinely good time. Around 2 a.m., the whole crew rendezvous outside of Emo's, everyone sufficiently drunk to gently heckle hipsters with bad haircuts and ironic Iron Maiden T-shirts. There is an unspoken air of success, but modesty and pragmatism curtail any gloating. In a few hours, everyone will be passed out back at the Ramada. By 5 p.m. tomorrow, they'll be on the road, headed east out of Austin on Highway 10. By 5 p.m. Monday, they'll be back home in Hialeah.
The Sunday after SXSW, Humbert plays to a happy crowd at Dada in Delray Beach. The band is added to a bill at Churchill's the following Tuesday. Local fans are glad to have them back. Humbert is glad to be back, mostly. But Austin set the wheels in motion and the ambition one notch higher.
"We like to put out music to inspire and to heal," Ferny says later in the week, talking on his cell phone as he heads into Plantation to pick up Humbert's new tour van. "Well, the South by Southwest experience and the feedback from it is reciprocating in a healing and inspiring way to us too. It's like pow! rubberbanded right back in our faces."
As in: Talks with a few publicity agencies to start handling the band. A pair of New York shows in mid-May, including CBGB, and one in the works in Boston. Plans to have five full releases ready to go by August. Several hundred new friends on Humbert's MySpace page.
"You see a direct result of what you've done," Ferny says. "By the time we got back, there was stuff already there waiting to get started on."
"We're outsiders trying to hook up with other outsiders that could possibly fund Humbert later on," Rimsky says. "I guess in that sense, SXSW is important; if somebody does want to sign us or someone does wanna represent us, that gives us a little more of a shelf life. We've been doing this for a long, long time, and I don't know how much longer it can last. It's not like we're a weekend bar band that likes to do covers. We try our damnedest to write good songs and get them out there. I mean, we only have limited resources."
"It's always gonna suck, coming back to reality," Tony says. "It's a perfect little world there, you know? Not having to think what my agenda's going to be for the day, not running around from place to place, I miss that. It's crazy, but I miss that. I just like the idea of not knowing what's gonna happen today. I don't know who I'm going to run into. It's just a great experience. But I guess you can't do that for more than a week or you'll go nuts."