Friday, March 25, 2005

South by South by Nathanael West

Been holding off writing up a definitive account of our trek to Austin, Texas for ye annual rock supermarket known as South by Southwest until now, and now it can be told: this was my second excursion into (hardly) the American heartland (more like a Blue city in a Red state); deep in the heart of Bush country lies a slacker's paradise of clubs and bars and barbecue joints that once a year turns into a music biz megalopolis populated by wayward itinerant moosicians, lovers of the Big Note, and bidness guys and gals. This year 1300 or so bands performed over a few days in late March, the majority of them squeezed into the myriad clubs, hang-outs, and honky-tonks that line 6th Street that give it an air not unakin to Dublin's Temple Bar district. This (Charles) Whitmanesque panoply of populist entertainment (Exiles on 6th Street) by Day Two starts to resemble scenes out of the closing pages of "Day of the Locust", when the great swarm of rubbernecking music aficionados and industry folk start careening crazily from club to bar to club in a great alcoholic stoned stupor and one has to gingerly sidestep the mongrel hordes clogging the street for fear of being trampled underfoot (or treading on their various remains and belongings...)

In short, a Kermesse, a whirling pageant, a riot of sounds, big fun of the don't-stop-the-carnivale variety (hurry, hurry, see the Thai punk band, step right up and and see the New York Dolls come to life once more right before your very eyes, check out 5 count them 5 Japanese bands of the female gender) and so on...disorienting, sure, an adrenalin rush, yes, and pleasurable...well, most times, depends on your stamina/appetite for novelty/threshold of attention paid '96 I played there solo acoustic and stuck it out for the full 5 days, come Monday morning I was pretty well surfeited with music non-stop and welcomed the pause that refreshes (no music!).

This trip I was in tow with my own personal flying circus, the expanded edition of Gary Lucas & Gods and Monsters, my ace rhythm section of Ernie Brooks and Billy Ficca augmented with Joe Hendel and Jason Candler on trombone and alto and Amica and Michael Schoen on vocals, plus assorted helpmates Igor Cubrilovic (my Igor) on guitar tech and Julia Crowe (logistics and general repping), so it was quite the little 9 person entourage that made its way from NYC via Atlanta to Austin...and of course first things first, we naturally hit the (highly touted) best barbecue in town, Hoover's, on Friday evening directly after we pulled in, and we naturally hoovered up everything in sight (the smoked pork ribs were particularly piquant, as was the fried okra--thank you Ed Ward for the tip!)...then it was off to wander the streets in search of the Vibe, I took in a few bands here and there and sure 'nuff the party had already started, same seething lurching crowds, same festivo flavor, nice upper 70's temperature a big improvement on the weather we'd left behind us in New York...

Next day we checked out the main exhibition hall and I ran into many old friends from various vectors and sectors of my past lives, made some new friends, had a rooftop lunch observing the shambolic never-ending parade down below (o the humanity!), then we pretty much all repaired to our hotel to get ready for the evening's performance...and at 5 o'clock the heavens opened forth, and hail the size of moth-balls rained down on the parched flatlands (first rain in a long long time someone said, with the hail a very good sign indeed for our show--I love freak meteorological events like this before playing, it supercharges not only the ozone but one's self and makes performances extra-intense subsequently)...and it was duly noted that one base of the rainbow in curved air festooning the skies over our astonished heads was firmly planted not far from our hotel, and that the main body of the rainbow shone forth in a great arc that traveled its way 5 miles or so over the highway to plunk down its nether region in the very vicinity of our designated venue, The Drink on 6th...niiiiiice!

and sure enough when we hit the stage around 11pm we had a great big enthusiastic crowd before us...and we played like fire...and we got them cheering and yelling from the first number...and when we came off dozens of fans came up to shake my hand and rave about the set, it was totally life-affirming--to get a response like that whenever I hit the road makes it so worthwhile...and I saw old writer friends like Billy Altman and Ed Ward in the crowd and my guy Keith Cahoon from Tokyo who used to manage the largest Tower Records in the world there (where I played a solo instore performance in '96 in front of a bank of tv monitors displaying the image of me playing live, very weird), and who wrote up the following review for HotwireJapan for my Japanese fans:
Extraordinary guitarist Gary Lucas who's based in NY had a good concert. Lucas made his name as a guitarist of Captain Beefheart, and has taken part in many projects, also covering Chinese and Middle Eastern music, so he has many unique ideas and thoughts. Gary and Gods & Monsters helped shape Jeff Buckley's talent into something brilliant, and Buckley's solo album included co-written songs by Lucas. Lucas brought down the new talented guest singer Michael Schoen for this SXSW, he covered Buckley's songs "Mojo Pin" and one more. Bass: Ernie Brooks (Modern Lovers) Drums: Billy Ficca (Television). Lucas is also a song writer, and has co-written with David Johansen of New York Dolls. Lucas has played in Japan before in 1996, and plans to return again.
In short, we had a blast--and so did the crowd!

After coming down from the adrenalin rush (all life in a day crammed into a 35 minute set) I managed to catch most of the Brazilian Girls set afterwards across the street (I love this group!) and some of Jesse Harris acoustic (he sounded great--both he and Norah Jones attended my 20 year retrospective show at the Knitting Factory in NYC in 2000), and then we headed back to our ranchero... I wish I could have seen more music there but we were scheduled to fly back to NYC early the next day...damn!

Next stop, Gods and Monsters play World Cafe Live in Philadelphia in the main room on Thursday April 21st, opening for us are the legendary Note Killers...



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