SXSW 2008 Concert Log

Wednesday, March 12
Yellow Fever (Austin)
Carrots (Austin)
The Mae Shi (Los Angeles)
Van Morrison
Sunburned Hand of the Man (Boston)
Pterodactyl (Brooklyn)
Ecstatic Sunshine (Baltimore) 

Thursday, March 13
The Ruby Suns (New Zealand)
Cadence Weapon (Canada)
Die! Die! Die! (New Zealand)
Eat Skull (Portland)
Mike Rep and the Quotas (Columbus)
Psychedelic Horsehit (Columbus)
Pink Reason (Columbus)
Times New Viking (Columbus)

Friday, March 14
Sea Wolf (Los Angeles)
Elf Power (Athens)
Kimya Dawson (Olympia)
White Rainbow (Portland)

Saturday, March 15
No Mas Bodas (my band here in Austin!!)
Gary Higgins (somewhere in Connecticut)
The Bill Jefferies (Austin)
Jandek (Houston)
Darondo (San Francisco)

Book Log for 2007

The Gate by Francois Bizot Memoir by a French archaeologist who was restoring the temples of Angkor when the Khmer Rouge seized power of Cambodia in 1975. Mistaken for a spy, Bizot was held captive and interrogated by "Duch," a young, ambitious revolutionary who went onto to earn worldwide infamy as the commanding officer of S21, the prison where 12 of 17,000 inmates survived execution.
Crossing Three Wildernesses by U Sam Oeur Memoir of a poet who survived the Cambodian genocide by burning all his writings and disguising his family and himself as peasant farmers.
Angkor: An Illustrated Guide to the Monuments by Jean Laur
Stalking the Elephant Kings: In Search of Laos by Christopher Kremmer
Enlightening, well-written investigative look into the effects of Asia's communist revolutionary movement on the oft-overlooked country beside Vietnam. An Australian journalist, Kremmer navigates a labyrinth of Red tape and bureaucratic cover-up to discover what happened to Laos's king and queen, whose mysterious diappearance meant the termination of the country's 600-year-old royal heritage.
The Mekong: Turbulent Past, Uncertain Future by Milton Osborne The final few chapters serve as a wake-up call about the current threat to the Mekong and all those dependent on this river by China's dam-building compulsion.
The Quiet American by Graham Greene My introduction to Greene, a sharp, Britishly witty yet earnest writer who portrays the danger of the well-meaning American in 1960s Vietnam. I bought an illegal copy of this from a street vendor near Ho Chi Minh's tomb in Hanoi. To try and get the price of the book down from $4 to a buck, I argued, "But it's a copy!" The vendor retorted jadedly, "Everything's a copy. You're a copy." In terms of copyright law and genetics, he had a point.   
The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh An absolute must-read for anyone wishing to meet one of the U.S.'s formerly most-hated enemies, a combatant for the Viet Cong, seen as those faceless killers in the jungle or as John Goodman's character in The Big Lebowski calls them, "the man in the black pajamas." Amazingly, Bao Ninh fought for the North Vietnamese army for 11 years, right up to the fall of Saigon, and survived to write his heart-splattering war tales. Read this alongside Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried.
Perfect Spy: The Incredible Double Life of Pham Xuan An by Larry Berman Interesting look at the tangled web of alliances during the Vietnam War, when who was friend and who was exactly the foe frequently came into question.
Hanoi by Susan Sontag A slim volume of diamond insights by a New York intellectual who braved accusations of treason to visit Vietnam in the mid-1960s. Reading Sontag helped me process some of my trace cultural shock from my trip. At one point, she boils down the primary difference between Asia and America to two emotions, shame versus guilt, the former being what motivates Asians and the latter being what motivates Westerners.

The Colorful Apocalypse: Journeys in Outside Art by Greg Bottoms
Meditation as Medicine by Dharma Singh Khalsa
Power Yoga by Beryl Bender Birch
To Live's to Fly: The Ballad of the Late, Great Townes Van Zandt by John Kruth
Texas Music by Rick Koster
Through Music to the Self by Peter Hamel

Tango for a Torturer by Daniel Chavarria
Fire by Anais Nin
Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse
Ada by Vladimir Nabokov
Transparent Things by Vladimir Nabokov
Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore
Like Life by Lorrie Moore
Self-Help by Lorrie Moore
St. Lucie's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July
Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons
A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler
Falling Man by Don Delillo
Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes (unabridged, you mothers!)

"The Victorian Blood Book" from Evelyn Waugh's personal library This bizarre piece of Victorian-era outsider art is the first thing I checked out at the Harry Ransom Center's reading room. Somewhere along the way, the HRC acquired Waugh's papers, book collection (and for some reason, his large wooden desk); as a collector, Waugh sought strange books and his most notorious acquisition is the Victorian Blood Book, created by an English gentleman for his daughter, perhaps, at the time of her wedding. If he did intend it as a wedding present, I can only imagine her horror at this red-ink- and scripture-soaked scrapbook sitting amongst her new china set and bed sheets. Birds with crucifixes bloodily carved into their chests, flying crosses dripping blood from the skies, butterflies riding the airborne crosses in lieu of flapping their wings, bloody-fanged serpents wrapped around biblical characters--nothing short of eye-bewitching awesomeness.

Reading Goals for 2008:
Jorge Luis Borges
Graphic novels
I want to read a Chris Ware book (all the way through, instead of in snatches at the bookstore), Alan Moore (responsible for Sin City, From Hell), and many of the staff recommendations at BookPeople here in Austin.
Biographies of the Founding Fathers
More Graham Greene and works by authors whose papers are stored at the HRC
(dare I say it, James Joyce?)
A history, if it exists, of American record labels If it can follow the style and format of Peter Biskind's Easy Riders and Raging Bulls, an astonishing behind-the-scenes examination of the '70s movie-making scene, I'll be a happy camper indeed.
Musicology and Ethnomusicology
Yoga and Meditation
Funny Stuff

Austin Listens 2

A few weeks into my Texas resettlement, ink19 called with a new assignment: "I've got something special for you to review." "Oh?" "The new Townes Van Zandt biography!" "Cool." "You know who that is, right?" "Nope." Instead of hanging up in a huff, my editor decided to right this cultural wrong and passed me the bio.

Getting to review To Live's to Fly was an exciting introduction not only to an underrated yet captivating songwriter but to many other talented figures in the cowboy state's musical heritage. Starting with the book's subject, let me just proselytize: hunt down the recordings of Townes Van Zandt and pin them to your chest like a bloody badge. When his biographer attested to the therapeutic effect of Van Zandt's lyrics for listeners grieving a death or other personal tragedy, hope of finding one of those rare musical truthsayers started to well up inside me. And after watching him perform his "Waiting Around to Die" on the truly awesome documentary Heartworn Highways about the '70s new country scene in Texas, anyone who has felt the pain of loss and loneliness should become an instant Van Zandt zealot (like the man weeping in the background (Uncle Seymour Washington, a local character and Van Zandt's neighbor in a character-ridden part of Austin that was eventually cleared for a highway):

Van Zandt's friend and contemporary, Guy Clark, provides one of the most entertaining scenes in the biography (which he repeats for the documentary solely about Van Zandt Be Here to Love Me). Tormentor to city slicker biographers, Clark bedevils attempted interviews with open hostility, references to firearms in his household, and repeated visits to the shot glass. So I was surprised by the tenderness of his performances on Heartworn Highways, but granted he was thirty years younger and the body count of his friends much lower. Compared with the old man who now has murder in his eyes, Guy Clark was in fact downright handsome, as were Steve Earle (who more resembled a dark-haired Jesus than the wasted monster he became later on) and many others in their young buck days.

Austin Listens

Austin is the music capital of the states, or is it the (((UNIVERSE)))? Either way, despite my J-O-B-less status, I've been working hard to put this claim to the test: Calvin Johnson, Lavendar Diamond, Little Brother, Gang Gang Dance. And Frog Eyes, a Canadian outfit and sweet relief from too self-conscious bands who reflect the indie venue's hyper-see-and-be-seen ambiance so thick you could slice it. How can you tell this about Frog Eyes? Almost the whole time, they play with their eyes closed. Frontman Carey Mercer, Andy Richter's country cousin, the corn-fed guy next door you just don't expect to see center stage of hip music halls, evokes an over-swollen scarlet balloon that's just about to go pop. Both his delivery and the accompanying music are like a single sustained convulsion, a holyroller swept up in spiritual fervor's fever, a tempest in a teapot, the mania of Faulknerian lyrics and avant noise contained within pop's structure.

Frog Eyes's openers and a Wolf Parade side project, Alex Delivery, which included two very watchable woman members with tasteful new wave haircuts and Pollock-styled hand-spattered t-shirts, turned out decent, meandering arty punk-funk jams, but it was their last number that will surely beckon the most recruits to their mood-infested dance revolution.

In concert, Calvin Johnson recreated the nakedness of his recent solo recordings: he wore all white down to his ivory-colored loafers, his back-up consisted of a boy on a partial drum kit who halfway through dropped his brush stick to take Calvin's guitar, and many times the man just sang acapella, on a Saturday night in the center of Austin's mayhemish 6th Street strip, as the headliner for a crowd well past their fourth, fifth, sixth drink. Good gracious! Certainly, that's more nerve than any middle finger-flipping noise band has ever mustered. These days Calvin is Cupid grown up, lyre in hand, wrapped in Roman robes, head wreathed in ivy, crooning elegies about love's current sorry state. But after 30 years working overtime for America's underground music, he's fresh and innocent as a Wurlitzer jukebox playing Buddy Holly.

Gang Gang Dance are no longer one of my favorite experimental bands--they are my new favorite dance band! GGD's live show rewinds back to 1996 when we were all dancing to Chemical Brothers's "Setting Sun." Used to be their Bolly-meets-Bali psychedelic freakout would noodle at length before congealing into a harem rave up. Nowadays they're bringing the funk straight and direct, without leaving any of their weirdness behind. If you can't catch them, their tour diary on YouTube might suffice.

I've also started training with KOOP 91.7. Every other Sunday afternoon you will hear a familiar voice between 3:30 and 4:30 on the Worldbeat program. Next week I'll be reporting on the Femi Kuti & The Positive Force show that's tomorrow night.

Two noteworthy venues to keep an eye on in case you want to time your visit to see me with an unmissable show: Emo's Austin and Stubb's BBQ

Austin Eats

Mexican is the gastronomical grail of cuisine here in Austin. It comes in many variations, fancy fusion fare to rock-bottom cheap eats sold out of mini-trailers that pop up anywhere on a moment's notice. My first meal came from a taqueira (literally, taco shop) up the road from my new home in northern Austin. Situated in a tiny shop by the local mart, this place is a take-out counter with a Spanish menu. Luckily, the breakfast tacos carry translations; so I managed to order huevos and frijoles (eggs and beans), and huevos and nopalitos (cacti). Just 99 cents each. The meal's highlight, though, had to be the taqueria's sauce station furbished with a trio of fresh-made salsas. (Final score: the flame-roasted pepper saw the vanishing ends of my tacos the most.)

At the counter, a woman with whom I got to talking asked me, "Are you from the neighborhood?" Just moved, I replied. "Wow! You're the first white person I've seen around here. I never see any other white people. My husband is black; that's why I'm here." I nodded while trying to register the effect of her neighborly race-related assessment on the lady behind the counter, (beleaguered but not unfriendly, simply focused on the business of cranking out tortilla-wrapped wonders to go) and the third customer, a rail-thin Latino man who had ordered his own weight in takeout and kept muttering to himself. Both were either too distracted or didn't care. Food must be the greatest societal unifier. Just caulk that racial divide with guacamole.

Austin also lays claim to the title, Mothership of Organic and Gourmet Groceries. Whole Foods was founded here, and its flagship store is still going full steam. Its recently opened new location is a cavernous wonderland of the healthiest, choicest morsels that could ever pass your smackers. For a couple of years now, I've been a devotee of Whole Foods, a complete and unapologetic sucker for their marketing to conscientious gourmets (or gourmand in my case). So when the escalator deposited me ground level of their downtown food hall, I felt like Charlie when Wonka busted out his chocolate waterfall. Even by my third visit this past Sunday, I couldn't achieve any real grocery shopping. The store's infinite dimensions and sheer variety forces me into an almost psychedelic rapture every time. It's kind of like trying to compute calculus in a seething night club, the strobe lights and the varieties of wild mushrooms grinding all your IQ points to tiny, useless shards. And you see, each department is booby-trapped with these made-to-order counters: salads, pasta, bbq, seafood, sushi, korean, gelato!!, plus a deli with lord knows all what; so you're sort of like: sod the grocery list. Something spectacular is going down my gullet now. This is a common impulse buy courtesy of the Whole Foods's main marketing device: heretofore, you've been deprived of truly wholesome, quality nutrients, and after assaulting your precious body with toxins and trans fats for most of your ignorance-filled lifetime (that's okay; it's not your fault), well dammit, you deserve nothing less than fresh strawberries at $10/lb!

Alive in Austin

The road trip, undertaken as a solo mission in a rental car piled to the lips of driver visibility legality, was a smash. Err, not smashing in a J.G. Ballard way — hurrah. The experience did produce a few hallucinatory moments, which played out my death by crash collision or worse, the dismemberment of some innocent at hand. Something had to be done to counter the screwed-up luck of those who'd chanced into the cross hairs of my hell-bent return to the road after a near year-long absence; so for all their sakes, I betrayed my atheism and prayed. A lot.

Out of the undying distance and solitude of this haul, I caught myself mentally forming groundless alliances with cars, some of whom I'd follow if they looked like they knew what they were doing. "Yeah, we'll pass these slow-ass patheticos together. Now let me ease back into the right lane after you. Ah, that's it...buddy." Other commuters became (literal) sworn enemies. Driving style is the only acid test for characterizing the faceless beings behind windshields. Pretty much, it's a real, simple dialectic, pitting the like-minded, as in those also wanting to keep the highway as sane as it's possible to be at 80-mph+ speeds, against the killer assholes.

Not that there weren't the sublime surprises. Maybe you tend to entertain real easily after a handful of hours spent on the interstate system. But I felt like a kid in line for her first grown-up ride whenever a steep bridge arced up ahead. And beyond the Florida-Alabama border, patches of teacup-shaped wildflowers began popping up alongside the road. Aglow with daylight, the pink petals' similarity to Easter tissue paper always elicited a quiet "ooh!" from me. The emergency call boxes jabbed out of the shoulder, too, like hypodermic needles inoculating the highway against roadside crisis.

Following Highway 10 for close to 900 miles, I imagined how the interstate tied into the lives of the cities on the route's thread count. What was 10's history and psychology particular to this or that region? Was it a modern success story or a source of alienation, a human conveyor belt carrying away family members and neighbors, at the same time depositing strangers from unknown lands? But by sunset, when the asphalt shined in the day's final light, the interstate looked as beautiful as any river, like it was shaking out its hair, just washed and still wet.

The Week in Review: Comedy

Coming from someone who's lived without cable television for most of her life and has been absent from the country for a damn long time, the following will sound like it's from the Donny character in The Big Lebowski: slow on the uptake and revealing nothing you don't already know. But here are the results of my game of American comedy catch-up this week.

Aside from catching downloadable clips from the Daily Show, I've never sat through an episode that was legitimately broadcasted by the network. Luckily, since I've been gone, my mom's house has been outfitted with the time-sucking glories of cable. Now, a lot of feedback about the show's spin-off, the wildly successful Colbert Report, says it beats its predecessor. As a die-hard fan of Strangers with Candy, I harbor my own prejudices but Stewart still attacks my funny bone with a closet full of feather dusters. This week I've been revelling in the straight man act he's fine-tuned so well. Whenever responding to some new outrage from the political arena, Stewart pulls a face that simultaneously blanches in shock, becomes puppy-eyed with innocent confusion, and has the about-to-bust look of the class cut-up who's just been handed a scenario so ridiculous it doesn't need underscoring with some wise-ass comment. Luckily for us, Stewart is not one to sit on his million-dollar derision and proceeds to rip the offending talking head a new one.

While Stewart wears his outrage on his sleeve, Stephen Colbert is the double agent of political parody. Aside from being a masterful improviser and a naturally funny guy, the key to Colbert's success is his unflappable anchorman persona, partly cultivated, partly congenital. He's as cleancut as one of those social prescribers from America's 1950s, lecturing on the evils of imperfect posture or playing the father role in a family sitcom, the firm yet gentle, slipper-wearing judge called in to navigate the household's moral potholes. He reminds me of J.R. "Bob" Dobbs, another figurehead with the sculpted haircut of a total square and whose overall look symbolizes respectability but who beneath the surface spouts delicious subversion. Compared to Stewart, Colbert makes it harder for his enemies to nail him when he parrots their ludicrous platform with complete poker-faced conviction. The Report's shtick, that of the outraged conservative blathering idiocies, is 24-carat comedy gold and just about full-proof perfect. The fact that Bush and many of his mouth-breathing appointees have set such a non-savant tone to political debate only strengthens Colbert's smokescreen. Some conservatives could actually be that dumb.

Arrested Development is the funniest show to come down the pipe. Period. It reminds me of Twin Peaks, another super-brilliant series that through divine intervention slipped by LCD-pandering programmers to bring prime-time nirvana to a cult of fans afraid to even exhale should the powers that be notice something born of diamond genius had found its way on air. A show that restores my faith in living and keeps me idiotically chuckling to myself weeks after watching the last episode.

The Week in Review: Music

Working in college radio put the bulk of new albums literally at my fingertips. But since I've been away for half a year, I'm no longer on top of my game; so this week I decided to find out what's the latest and greatest among the music taste-testers I once counted myself apart of. Catching up with my favorite record labels of yesteryear, I'm reminded of how much my predilictions tend toward the distorted, fuzz-filled, spacey, drony, uhh, feedbacky? Let's face it: stoner rock is my bread and musical butter (right next to, it seems, sexually-loaded top 40 pop that probably influences teens to pursue lots of premarital relations). Or if it's not rock, my musical preferences still replicate the neurological effects of attacking a pan full of space-cakes or quadrupling the recommended dose of extraterrestrial-green cold meds. I'm not sure why because I warmed to much of this narcopop before initiation into the realm of regrettable choices awaiting shiftless, aged teens, like the one I blossomed into by the end of college.

Anyways, listening to what's new on the streets, I realize how much a lot of today's bands hearken back to their predecessors, while seeming to outdo many of the groups who were busy breaking ground in the '90s. Yet, for some reason, the most up-to-date catalogs don't impress or impact me as much. My worst fear is that familiar affliction of the thirty-something hipster: they just don't make albums like they used to, kiddies, I croak, before throat-clearing pointedly at my fellow concert goers spewing cigarette smoke from robust, young-adult lungs and creating the venue's cancer cloud I used to contribute so much to. Still, even after you factor the pointless dragon-chasing of my heady introduction to indie music a decade ago, you have to admit newer artists benefit from all those risks taken by those who came before. All I'm saying is hindsight can't hurt them 7.5-and-up Pitchfork ratings. Partly. The rest of the truth is in addition to their killer record collections, the kids these days pack some head-spinning talent, and I just need to get my groove back.

On Jagjaguwar, the Montreal-based Besnard Lakes and their new The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse finally make good on that overly used Beach Boys comparison.

With the new Crytotograms cd on Kranky, Deerhunter appear to be courting the usually divided attention of a bevy of weirdo rock fans.

Also on Kranky, Tim Hecker has just put out Harmony in Ultraviolet. And let me say: I. Love. This. Man. Because ambient is (ostensibly) the easiest music to make, simply stacking unobtrusive layers of sound upon one another, so often it requires more memory capacity than its typical listener possesses to remember what she heard of it only an hour ago. Hecker is one of those rare producers of environmental music who can create totally absorbing theater out of hums, drones, hisses, and other aural monotonies.

Spiritualized has a crew of college-aged nephews in Maps, one of those most recently signed by Mute. A medley of the debut full-length We Can Create is up on myspace.

All You Nasty Boys

I'm harboring one guilty pleasure right now. And that's "Sexy Back." Before you jump all over me, his new album FutureSex / LoveSounds has received critical acclaim (which seems part of a welcome, new-ish trend among indienistas of showing an open mind toward performing artists who are no strangers to the top 40 charts). Like Pitchfork points out, Timberlake's plaintive falsetto recalls Detroit's most irresistible freak, Prince. Singing like women about what they want to do with a woman, both stand a part from the pack of emcees and crooners wielding their vocal prowess to woo their way into your pants. In the case of male singers, sexually ambiguous vocals suggest (if you're sticking to the old stereotype of femininity) a physical vulnerability and submissiveness, which coming from a man makes for a bold freakiness, qualities that are a hundred times sexier than over-assertions of "masculinity." Those who address their musical valentines to "bitches" and "ho's" should take note. Drop the misogyny-laced threats, boys. More tantalizing is a polite plea for sleaze.

Also, the Neptunes Timbaland's production of FutureSex / LoveSounds is a hip hop remix of the electro pop that has been my passion since I first heard Miss Kittin on Felix da Housecat's 2001 Kitten and the Glitz and the International Deejay Gigolo catalog. A basic, cheesy, and cheap rhythm, insistent to the point of raunchy, plays centerpiece, framed by dramatic keyboard stabs that evoke a catwalk-like spectacle. Peaches also beautifully exploited the sleaze of minimalism in her beats and likewise subverted gender roles for her stageshow persona. These days, long after the electroclash party has seen off its last powdery-nosed guest, The Knife and Ellen Allien fulfill my need for sexy electro, but they are more noir, introspective, and artful. Fine with me. Ironic, though, how the video for Allien's "Down" ranks as one of the most physically repugnant music videos ever.

The Unreality of Reality

On my trip, I encountered many other travelers who found it impossible to put their digital cameras down for a moment of their vacation. Occasionally, I’d stop to observe this compulsive behavior and wondered why it slightly bothered me. Why couldn’t they just enjoy the sights? Why this urge to document every minor highlight? And who was the poor family member who would have to look at a dozen photos of a coconut cart? Some days I’d even catch myself in the midst of my own photo-taking frenzy. Then I’d silently apologize to everyone and everything around me for coldly appraising them in terms of how they would make for an interesting photo for the folks back home. One day, a disturbing explanation for this behavior popped into my head.

But before I explain, a story told by two German men I met while admiring the limestone peaks of Halong Bay: over dinner, I mentioned my beef with some of the shutterbugs in our group. My confession reminded the Germans of a friend who had gone trekking with them once. On one excursion to a mountain top, the friend decided to sit the day’s adventure out but sent along his camera so his friends could take a picture of the view for him. He half-joked that the photo is the only thing that really matters.

We don’t believe anything is really happening unless we observe it through a camera lens. The line between reality and the movies we watch, the television shows we follow, and the music we listen to blurs more with the passing of each new viewing season. Entertainment inclines us toward roles as passive earning, spending, consuming automatons because only in the cinema house can we live out our passions, fantasies, hopes, dreams, sex and violence fantasies without fear of endangering our comfort zone or dealing with the messy aftermath of fucking or shooting whomever we choose. Risks taken, intimacies shared, beliefs upheld, feelings given expression, if all of these weren’t played out for us by celebrities whose faces are just as familiar to us as those of our closest friends (thank you, checkout counter), then we might find it more difficult to behave, tow the line of the existence we’ve fallen into, not let seep our true thoughts and desires.

Perhaps, (and I'll probably hate myself for saying this) film and television producers have succeeded too well at their jobs of creating overly engaging programming. Maybe, the more we're transfixed by our entertainment, drawn into the story, connect with the personalities, suspend our doubts about narrative authenticity, the less we think of our own lives as "real," not without a camera there to validate what’s going on. The success of entertainment leaves viewers with the notion, partly unconscious, residual of the screen’s afterglow lurking in our mental processing, that we are less real than the entertainment we consume. And if our lives feel less authentic, the need to attend to the issue of living our own lives diminishes.

This theory might explain the popularity of reality television or "realistic" flourishes (wobbly, handheld cameras and all that) added to our entertainment. As a veteran tv-viewing nation, we require more and more “realism” to escape the reality of our own lives. (I’m going overboard with the quotations around “real” and its various forms because I don’t think reality television or reality manufactured for entertainment constitute actual reality.) We need the camera to be brought into the living room of a “real” American family because we no longer buy the struggles and triumphs of actors and actresses posed on a studio set of a living room.