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Archive for Sunday, March 22, 1998

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST VENUES STANDING ROOM ONLY — LITERALLY

March 22, 1998

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— When there are no chairs, music fans must stand to listen. But with these stars and tunes does anyone really mind?

Where else but the South by Southwest music festival can you see Nick Lowe, Jerry Jeff Walker, Nanci Griffith, the Gourds, The Old 97's, Kelly Willis and BR5-49 in one night?

The country-cowpunk-honky-tonk trek started at 8:30 p.m. Friday at Austin Music Hall, shimmied a few blocks down to the Liberty Lunch nightclub and ended sometime after 2:30 a.m. Saturday back at the music hall.

When you're at this `round-the-clock fest, the night ends when eardrums and legs wear out. Chairs are nonexistent at venues, so listeners stand on cement floors throughout all sets. Spilled beer and other sticky stuff make it impossible to sit on the cement during equipment switches.

But what's a leg cramp or two when you can see Jerry Jeff Walker and his well-oiled band kick out his trademark ``Red-Neck Mother'' with an adoring sea of fans shouting the ``so well, so well, so well'' part. The one-hour show was the first time Walker had played a SXSW stage, even though he lives in the neighborhood.

BR5-49's Chuck Mead did his hometown proud when he was introduced as hailing from ``Lawrence, Kansas.'' He and his hillbilly ambassadors won over the folks -- although it didn't take much coaxing -- at their 1 a.m. slot, which really didn't get started until 1:30 a.m. The set list included with the same songs -- ``Opie Down at the Duck Pond,'' ``Little Ramona,'' etc. -- that have gained them loyal fans in Nashville as well as New York.

Probably one of the best bands on the SXSW lineup, however, was The Old 97's. They've played Lawrence before, but unfortunately I didn't crawl to that show. This band is head-flailing punk with a country twang, and the lead singer, already an idol in Texas, is worthy of international acclaim.

An insider's view

One of the most interesting offerings at the conference part of SXSW was an opportunity to eavesdrop on a live interview with Gary Gersh, president and chief executive officer of Capitol Records. The interviewer was lanky, shaggy-haired David Fricke, senior editor of Rolling Stone magazine.

Gersh has headed Capitol Records since July 1993, but is probably best known for discovering and signing Nirvana when he was an A&R man for Geffen.

As the head of the company, Gersh said he is expected to keep overhead down and generate more profits. However, what keeps him in the business is the thrill of signing artists and watching them grow in the industry.

Radiohead is the band Gersh is banking on these days. Tickets for 13 of their shows went on sale in one day and all of the shows were sold out within 40 minutes.

``It's the best band in the world, and I don't care how much money we spend (for recording or promotion),'' he said.

Ironically, the band's never reached platinum status and they've never had a top 10 single.

Gersh said there are bands that he passed over that he now wishes he had signed, such as Red Hot Chili Peppers and Toad the Wet Sprocket. And there are those he would just as soon forget, such as Stone Roses and Hammer.

What about Hammer? Didn't he contribute to the company's red ink?, Fricke asked.

``That guy had some amazing pants,'' Gersh said, trying to side-step the question.

Gersh entered the scene when Hammer was in the process of releasing ``Too Legit to Quit'' and quickly discovered they had little in common when the singer said he wanted to be a ``good gangster'' that would appeal to both children and their parents.

``Hammer made money and lost a fortune,'' he said.

The company decided to sell Hammer's contract and to back performers like Bonnie Raitt and Bob Seger who could anchor it in the future.

Gersh described Kurt Cobain, the leader of Nirvana who committed suicide, as ``a speeding beacon of light that ran through my life'' and a musician who made a long-term change in popular culture.

``It got out of hand,'' he said, referring to Cobain's fame and drug use. ``You cannot help someone who doesn't want to be helped.''

Gersh, an ex-drug addict, said he does not believe record companies should penalize artists with drug problems or threaten to tear up their contracts if they don't get clean and sober. If addicts want drugs, they'll find a way to get drugs.

``Drug rehabilitation is personal and each is very different,'' he said. ``It's not about withholding somebody's royalties or cutting off their monetary supply.''

Gersh is an avid record collector. Among his ``thousands and thousands'' are rare Beatles records and the first recording by Emmylou Harris.

So what was the last record you bought?, Fricke inquired.

``Madonna, and about 15 others,'' Gersh replied.

Odds and ends

Here are some more tidbits from the trenches:

  • Sean Lennon was in town to hype his solo debut, ``Into the Sun.'' His backup band for his nightclub set was Cibo Matto, the crew in which his girlfriend, Yuka Honda, plays. Honda, by the way, also is producer for the album. Word is Lennon sounds more like his mother, Yoko Ono, than his Beatle father on this recording.
  • The fashion craze at this year's festival is black car coats and bare midriffs. Temperatures have dipped into the 40s at night, causing shorts and tank tops to be left in suitcases.
  • Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock held a private listening party at Ely's home studio for their ``South Wind of Summer,'' which is included in the soundtrack for Robert Redford's new film, ``The Horse Whisperer.'' The soundtrack will go on sale April 7, with Ely's new album, ``Twistin' in the Wind,'' slated for release May 12.
  • Hip-hop princess Imani Coppola made quite an entrance at her show at Stubb's nightclub. She was dressed in a shiny, fluorescent orange jumpsuit with bright green wings that matched her hair.
  • Wondering what Sonic Youth got paid for their appearance at that private party at La Zona Rosa? The Austin American-Statesman reported CDNow, a Philadelphia-based Internet music retailer, forked over $25,000 for the less-than-one-hour gig.

-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. She can be e-mailed at biles

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