The SXSW Report #4: Do Any Thing You Wanna Do

This is the guy they should call, The Arrtist. Photo by Jay Blakesberg.

There is something quite surreal about finding several 100 music biz

insiders--from artists like former American Music Club leader Mark Eitzel to

media types like Rolling Stone's David Fricke--at a hole-in-the-wall

club like the Electric Lounge, which is located down an unpaved road on the

outskirts of Austin.

All the same, that is exactly where these jaded

hipsters are, on the afternoon of Saturday, March 15. One of three reasons

explains their appearance:

1) Free beer;

2) They know Ira Robbins, who

is celebrating the publication of The Trouser Press Guide To '90s Rock,

which he edited, and the launch of his Trouser Press web site (full

disclosure time: the Trouser Press site is a joint venture between

Robbins and Addicted To Noise's new owner, SonicNet, Inc.).

3) They have

nothing better to do.

At this particular moment, Utensil, a sometime band

comprised of Robbins on guitar, journalist Michael Azerrad on drums and

publicist Jim Merlis on bass--and cranking through '70s and '80s punk and new

wave covers like Public Image LTD's first single, "Public Image" and Billy

Idol's "Dancing With Myself" with the help of a succession of professional and

not-so-professional singers.

Certainly the novelty of a band consisting of

two rock critics and a...



Certainly the novelty of a band consisting of two rock

critics and a publicist backing journalist Gina Arnold, say, or jamming with

Cars guitarist Elliot Easton, is enough to keep the crowd's attention.

Spectator sport? You bet. All the same, by the end of the party, former Breeder

Kelly Deal has delivered a mostly positive assessment of Arnold's performance.

Rock stars reviewing rock critics? Can you get more surreal than that?

One

can have ones faith in rock 'n' roll renewed in the most unlikely places, and

while I certainly wasn't looking for it, it seemed that everywhere I went in

Austin during a 24 hour period, I found music that confirmed my conviction that

there are still artists that can make you feel something.

Take Run On a

band that were low on the bill at the Friday night Matador Records showcase at

Liberty Lunch. This four piece combo (guitar, drums, bass, keyboards/violin)

began their set with a defiant squeal of feedback and a roar of the rhythm

section that transformed me from casual observer to fan by the end of the first

song, an instrumental called "Switch On."

When Run On had finished "As Good

As New," a drone rock masterpiece with John Cale-influenced violin work, I

turned to Matador kingpin Gerard Cosloy and asked him if he and his partner

still personally OKed all artist signings at the label. He nodded. So that's

how you keep Matador's high standards," I said.

"Or low standards,

depending on who you ask," he replied with a laugh. Its the kind

self-depreciating comment that the guy who signed Pavement, Guided By Voices,

Silkworm and Liz Phair (to name but a few) can afford to make.

Across town

at the Cactus Club, located in the University of Texas student union, Everclear

leader Art Alexakis made his way through the crowd of about 100, picked up an

acoustic guitar and began the first performance of his solo tour. "You can tell

I don't play acoustic guitar as much as I should," Alexakis said.

Not a

problem. Stripped down versions of "Heroin Girl," The Twistinside," Strawberry"

and "Summerland" demonstrated just how strong a songwriter Alexakis is. At

times he barely played the guitar at all, creating a muted rhythm over which he

sang the melody.

But it wasn't the unplugged greatest hits that moved me.

Alexakis seems uneasy with the success that came after the release of

Sparkle and Fade. He has long felt like an outsider, and a fat bank

account hasn't changed that at all. "I just wanta be normal like you," he sang

at one point. When he sang the words, "no one here cares about us anyway"

during "Summerland," you could hear the vulnerable kid, abandoned by first his

dad, then his mom.

He sang a new song, "Annabella's Song," about his

daughter, in which he admits "You know I'm never home/ I'm miles and miles

away/ Man you just don't understand."

"Father Of Mine" begins, "Father of

mine/ Tell me where you have been.../ Wasn't easy for me to be a skinny white

boy in a black neighborhood..." And later: "I will always be weird

inside."

Looking out at the appreciative crowd, the singer laughed.

"Another feel good song from Art Alexakis."

They had set up speakers

outside the Austin Music Hall, so that standing in the cold, you could hear

Carl Perkins, one of the founding fathers of rock 'n' roll, sing "Blue Suede

Shoes," the song he wrote that was a hit for Elvis in the mid-'50s. Talk about

a study in contrasts, Perkins rockabilly was still ringing in my ears at Bob

Popular, a 6th Avenue bar/disco where Spring Heel Jack turned in a so-so techno

set that never reached the peaks of their debut album.

Heaven may indeed

be in the backseat of someone's Cadillac, but you could also find it upstairs

at a private party where the Dust Brothers demonstrated that they can do it

live just like they do it in the studio. Friday had become Saturday by the time

I left to get some sleep.

Somehow, someone convinced Mark Eitzel to not

only show up at the Electric Lounge, but to perform. I don't know who had the

idea for Eitzel to shout/sing the Eddie and the Hot Rods '70s rock anthem, "Do

Any Thing You Wanna Do," but it was a good one. Maybe even a great one.