2005 CAM/CSE Afterparty - East First Garden Theater: Austin, TX
AUSTIN, Texas —
"F--- the '80s; we're Queens of the Stone Age," Josh Homme asserted
immediately before the colossal opening riff of "No One Knows" caused
an audience stampede to the stage.
The sneered sentiment was as much a stiff middle finger to buzz bands
indebted to two-decade-old synth-pop as it was a testament to his
confidence in the almighty power chord. So what if he offended a bunch
of the supposed highlights of the annual South by Southwest Music And
Media Conference, not the least of whom were dance-punks the Bravery,
who opened the show? This was Homme's party, and anyone who didn't
like it could take off and miss what was one of the high points of
this year's raucous four-day musical blitzkrieg.
For those lucky enough to secure a spot on the guest list, the best
part of the South by Southwest conference didn't take place on
legendary 6th Street, but rather a few miles away in an enormous
airplane hangar. In fact, the Queens of the Stone Age's after-hours
party at the defunct Austin
airport wasn't even an official SXSW event. A day before the
conference commenced on Wednesday, the Queens performed in town and
decided to stick around two more days to show the thousands of music
fans and industry personnel attending SXSW the proper way to blow the
roof off a party.
In return for enduring uncharacteristically frigid temperatures, the
crowd was treated to a wonderfully brutal (and painfully loud) set
that featured an appearance by longtime Queens associate Mark Lanegan.
(Complimentary beverages served from carts pushed by attractive
"stewardesses," rounding out the airplane theme, were a nice touch,
It certainly wasn't for a lack of action downtown that QOTSA stole the
show. The 19th incarnation of the conference brought in music-industry
types from both coasts — as well as spring-breaking college students
throughout the South — to the Texas capital to catch more than 1,300
artists on 60 stages around town. The breadth of this year's
conference kept the streets cluttered with lines of people waiting to
see shows, the best of which always seemed to happen simultaneously.
Luckily, the number of afternoon showcases increased from years past,
so most artists played several times throughout the conference.
Overcrowding wasn't the reason hundreds of people nearly missed out on
another SXSW 2005 pinnacle; blame that on visa problems. Touching down
just two hours before her scheduled performance, Sri
Lankan-by-way-of-London MC M.I.A. released loads of pent-up
frustration on the Elysium stage, much to the delight of a packed
house that was moved enough by her oscillating tribal grooves to forgo
supposed indie-rock nonchalance and shake their skinny butts. Even
more impressive was that M.I.A.'s impact was made at an event where
hip-hop's representation amounted to a few backpacker showcases and a
curious set at an English brew pub by the self-proclaimed "Big Boss of
the South," Slim Thug.
Led by the Kaiser Chiefs and Doves, British rockers in no short supply
angled to be this year's Franz Ferdinand, the Scottish quartet who
seemed to be strapped to a rocket after performing at SXSW in 2004.
"We're not used to playing in the sunshine; we're from London,"
announced a squinting Gordon Moakes, bassist for the angular quartet
Bloc Party, at the yearly Spin magazine BBQ. The band's layered
irregular beats combined with those from like-minded countrymen the
Futureheads to make for a hipster anglophile's dream pairing. Louis
XIV's brand of sleazy glam (see "Louis XIV: Killers-Endorsed Quartet
With King-Sized Egos"), which may not have translated well in broad
daylight, was a well-suited appetizer for headliners the New York
Dolls, who drew throngs of sing-along fans for favorites "Looking for
a Kiss," "Puss N' Boots" and "Personality Crisis."
"We got a record and DVD out on Sanctuary [Records], but I don't see
it in stores," complained singer David Johansen in reference to last
year's Return of the New York Dolls. "So we're here ostensibly looking
for a deal, too," he added, bridging the gap between influential
institutions and the artists for whom SXSW is like " 'The Apprentice'
for indie bands," to quote Stars singer Torquil Campbell.
For those young bands, SXSW offers the chance for make-or-break
exposure, and Los Angeles' the Like, for one, passed their
self-imposed test. The teenage trio endeared themselves to a seated
industry crowd at a well-mannered KCRW showcase at the Crowne Plaza
hotel. The group's rich, jangly pop is punctuated by singer/guitarist
Z Berg's beautifully coarse voice, reminiscent of Mazzy Star's Hope
Sandoval with a cold.
Sometimes all it takes to generate some buzz is a great name, and
whoever thought of the terrific moniker I Love You But I've Chosen
Darkness should take a well-deserved bow. The
quintet was on the lips of just about every attendee who spotted its
name on the roster, though most had never even heard a note. The
stroke of marketing brilliance achieved its desired result, since a
significantly greater number of people now know of the shimmering
melodies that lie beyond their intriguing title.
Other artists with one foot already planted on terra firma used their
sets to slam the other one down with resounding authority, and this
year, no one stomped louder than the Canadians. The Dears, still
supporting the nearly two-year-old No Cities Left, executed their
swirling orchestral beauty flawlessly, while Tegan and Sara seem to
get more musically daring with each performance. Death From Above
1979's loud, dizzying bass-and-drums assault justified their high
hipster status. With their new album, Elevator, less than a month
away, Hot Hot Heat spearheaded a night at La Zona Rosa that had fans
standing in line for more than two hours just to sample the
The Raveonettes, too, made lots of noise, though theirs was more of a
sultry roar than authoritative stomp. The Danish group, whose
principals Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo spent the free time between
their two sets checking out other bands, opened their evening Emo's
gig appropriately enough with "Somewhere in Texas," off their
forthcoming second LP, Pretty in Black.
"We are in Texas, right?" Foo playfully asked, though her low-cut
Western-style shirt was clearly picked for the occasion.
SXSW '05 also had its share of indie staples, like Stephen Malkmus,
Sleater-Kinney, Lou Barlow and Spoon, all of whom have new albums on
the way but are well past having to prove themselves to anyone. And
then there were those like Billy Idol, Harvey Danger and the
Wallflowers, who needed to show that they've used their time away
While shows and parties were more plentiful than in previous years,
there was a noticeable cutback on the festival's other component,
panel discussions. It's hard to fill a room for an inquisitive look at
"Ringtones as an Income Stream" or "Living with Hep C" when you're
competing with outdoor bashes offering complimentary beer, BBQ and
bands. A few were hot attractions, however, including Led Zeppelin
frontman Robert Plant's keynote address, in which he deduced all pop
music back to the blues, and Beach Boy Brian Wilson's at-times awkward
discussion on last year's release of his infamous Smile album.
The decadence came to a head as it should, at Saturday's closing-night
party hosted by Vice magazine. Like the Queens of the Stone Age
throwdown two days prior, this exclusive soirée was held miles from
downtown and raged well past
Austin's bar curfew. The U.K. quintet the Go! Team
headlined a set that crashed disco with discordant, energized grooves,
which laid the groundwork for singer/pep-squad leader Ninja to lead
the crowd in call-and-response exchanges that roared toward 4 a.m.
The lively finale was surprising given the hour, the sensory overload
of the last four days, a cumulative lack of sleep and a
less-than-healthy diet of alcohol, Tex-Mex and BBQ. But what's a
little exhaustion compared to a party that won't be back for another
Besides, you can always sleep it off on the plane ride home.
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