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The Beatdown

Scenes from SXSW

Fuck the Fags.

Yeah, I've seen the T-shirts. I know "homophobia is gay." But the Fags -- a band out of Detroit that performed two weeks ago at South by Southwest -- still blows.

For the uninitiated, SXSW is a mutant hybrid of Mardi Gras and spring break that takes place every March in Austin, Texas. For some jaded industry hacks, it's become South by Sowhat. For me, it was an awakening. But enlightenment came after the Fags. "Why do you think these guys are called Fags?" I asked the guy standing next to me, a Detroit native named Nate. "It's probably because they SUCK!" I couldn't help myself.

"I have ten bands from Denver that could take their heads off," I continued. And I fired off a list of Mootown acts -- Bright Channel, the Swayback, the Royal We, Black Lamb, Eric Shively (or any group he's had a hand in producing), Rexway, Tin Tin, Voices Underwater, Yellow Second and Black Black Ocean -- that would have smoked not only the Fags, but most of the bands I saw the rest of that week. And I wasn't even listing our acclaimed heaviest of hitters.

From a power-pop standpoint, the Fags weren't all that bad; they could probably hang with Yellow Second. But they're part of a pervasive trend that makes me want to stab myself in the eye, a trend that was amplified under the Austin lens. This band embodied everything that is evil about rock and roll these days: that tawdry fashionista rock -- Grandpa's sport coat, painted-on trousers, pillow-combed hair -- all that malarkey passing itself off as something new. There must be a rock-and-roll summer camp someplace where they hand out instructions for setting up the wayback machine while passing out records by the MC5, the Stooges and Velvet Underground. Because the Fags weren't the only shameless revisionists I saw at SXSW.

Here in Mootown, our artists buck trends and put more thought into making great music than into what they're wearing. (Sure, we have some pillow-combed, uber-cool hipsters, but for the most part, even those kids are down to earth.) This point was driven home as I watched rousing sets by Rose Hill Drive and Slim Cessna's Auto Club. While Rose Hill is not exactly my thing -- it's a bit more noodly and tedious than I prefer, with a few too many wah-inflected guitar solos -- the band showed me and everyone else at Austin's Club DeVille that there's a reason it's garnered such a substantial buzz. Hell, if I had been that talented when I was in my early twenties, I'd still be playing music instead of writing about it. If swamp boogie had a house band led by Daniel Johns and members of Gov't Mule, Rose Hill would be it. It's a shame that I had to go all the way to Texas to finally see this band.

Slim Cessna, of course, I already knew. And by the time I made it down to the Caucus Patio on Saturday night to catch that set, I was pretty much running on fumes. By this point, everything had been reduced to white noise. So before Slim hit the stage at 1 a.m., I sat on the lower patio waxing philosophic about the Denver scene with Dan Rutherford from Indiego. Some radical political activist -- who I'd later discover was Boulder native, Dead Kennedy and Alternative Tentacles label founder Jello Biafra-- was going on about how bad things were in Iraq. (After Slim's set, Biafra led the crowd in a "Fuck George Bush" chant, espousing a "regime change in November.") After a few songs, I summoned the energy to make it to the top patio, which had been transformed into an old-time gospel-tent revival led by two of rock's most enigmatic and riveting characters. Slim and his trusty sidekick, Jay Munly, were manhandling the capacity crowd. During "Roger Williams," the outfit's homage to the clergyman who was Rhode Island's founding father, the crowd's enthusiasm was off the charts. It was all the musical absolution this lost soul needed.

Rose Hill and Slim weren't the only ones representing Denver down in the Lone Star State. During my time there, I ran into Donavan Welsh and a few members of the D.O.R.K.posse, who were headed to L.A. for another label showcase after Austin. Although I missed Fear Before the March of Flames playing a day show at Emo's, I'll have another chance this Saturday, April 3, at Grandpa's Music Box. And while I never actually saw the Larimer Lounge's Scott Campbell, he certainly made his presence known. As I entered the Ritz one night, I was greeted by a sticker that read, "My daughter and all my money go to the Larimer Lounge." I'm told those stickers were everywhere.

The most surprising find of the week, though, came as I was walking along the Red River on my way from Emo's to the Red Eyed Fly and spotted a poster announcing an unsanctioned gig at Spiros Amphitheater with Hellafied Funk Crew, a group led by Mootown expat Charles White (aka Funky W). Turns out White is still in Dallas, finishing a new album. Although I missed his slot supporting Rob Van Winkle (aka Vanilla Ice), I heard he was performing with a band that had only rehearsed a few times, typical Dub style. This is the same guy who, back in the day, told a bunch of us one night at Alibi's that he was forming a band, and then, less than a week later, announced that he'd be headlining the following weekend. Dub ended up coming with me to a ridiculous after-party filled with tons of drunken debauchery (shock!). Austin's cabbies and bellboys could tell some stories, but they apparently operate on a philosophy similar to the military's.

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