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the insider one daily report

Day Two In SXSW's Hall Of Mirrors

Neumu Senior Writer Kevin John reports: The first panel I attended was an intense one. "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Make This Panel," it was called, and it was practically the only one in the catalogue described with a series of questions (e.g. "in an age of pan-racial pop phenomena, has racial communication been enhanced or diminished?"). And indeed, despite Peggy Scott-Adams' call to do something about it rather than just talk about it (but what exactly is IT?), we all left with even more questions. In a measured, commanding tone, Otis Taylor wondered why he is always called a blues musician rather than a singer/songwriter. I punched my brain trying to remember if Paul Pena and McKinley Mitchell are black before someone brought up Tracy Chapman and Joan Armatrading (both women, someone else brought up… significant?). The great rock critic Kandia Crazy Horse mentioned that Sly Stone single-handedly transformed black music in the 1970s. Moderator Dave Marsh retorted "Sly Stone single-handedly transformed music period in the 1960s." Ugh, the 1960s. Are THEY still around? Other items: The Rolling Stones vs. the Allman Brothers re: racial politics; where Lee Atwater's heart was when he recorded that monstrous album; Jack White's stupid tongue; shifty radio personnel both black and white; and rap as the new minstrelsy ("It is!" cried Crazy Horse).

Next up was "Holy Fire: The 13th Floor Elevators' Quest for Enlightenment." Not much to tell here if you've already read moderator Margaret Moser's quintessential history of the band in the Austin Chronicle. Most of the Elevators rose to the occasion, although Tommy Hall was curiously absent, potentially reigniting rumors that he's really Jandek. And I'm pleased to report that all the panelists (including Roky Erickson's own brother) pronounced the singer's name as "Rocky" rather than "Rowky" as has been frequently rumored. You heard it here last.

Over to the hoity-toity Austin Museum of Art for an almost private affair ("Don't publicize this!" the publicist warned in advance) with Sally Timms and Jon Langford of fundamentalist left-wingers The Mekons. Wine and cheese were rumored but I couldn't find the cheese. The main dish, of course, was a two-hour gallop through Langford's life from soccer hooligan to death-penalty chiseler. The first half was absolutely riveting, with "Never Been in a Riot" transmuted into an unlikely cinematic motif and a heartbreaking rendition of "The Long Black Veil." I almost cried but somehow, that reaction felt inappropriate for THE emotional containment masterpiece. The second half was marred by Langford's constant excoriating of country radio. Look, Jon Boy, Shania Twain's Come On Over album is more irreverent and button-pushing than anything Neko Case has done solo and come the revolution, Twain better be on board or it'll be no kind of revolution at all. But given how gracefully (yes, that's the word) he's navigated the waters of capitalism (and the respectable walls of this museum), I forgive him.

Hot, hot ticket at Elysium. First up was a campy, punk-electro duo called Electrocute from Berlin. Thin but naughty and fun. Montréal would eat 'em up. Next was Z-Trip spinning "War Pigs" against "Tom Sawyer." Foolishly, I left to get SOMETHING to eat lest I wind up under a table from all the mudslides I planned on drinking. I was gone 10 minutes TOPS. But by the time I returned, I had to wait in line despite my fancy badge. I bled inside for all the wristband wearers who were turned away (badges trump wristbands in this world). Come the revolution, festival jewelry won't make sense any more. I made it back in for Ratatat. Intriguing mix of math rock and dance beat but a tad too heady/heavy for my boogie shoes. Really, all the buzz inside and out was for M.I.A. (and LCD Soundsystem later on). Apparently, the UK's new scuzzhall god had been having visa problems and cancelled some recent shows. But she made it here two hours before show time and not a capsule of jet lag could be detected. She and her gal MC were as excited by the music as we were. And what a delight to find Diplo at the wheels. A gorgeous little compact thing, he's responsible for the best album of 2004 and he reprised his mash-ups from it alongside some of M.I.A.'s original tracks. Menace fed into fun and back again. Brains and asses were fused. All too mighty real.

Across downtown to the teensy Whisky Bar for the Hold Steady. Fine, I suppose. But this is a band you sit down and read in the privacy of your own head with a cognac (or, OK, a Budweiser). Those who had already memorized the book had a better time than I did.

Quick over to Zero Degrees for Diplo solo. Lots of fun favela funk. But the sound was crappy and cutie pie couldn't find the wires that made the cars go boom. He ended his set early, admitting "I can't figure out this technology here." So it was off to Gogol Bordello at Emo's Annex. The Ukraine diaspora steals back polka (or whatever) from punk at a zillion beats per minute and stages hyperactive Paradjanov-like tableaux for our exhaustion. It worked and that's why you're getting this installment a tad late. Next year, I hope I get to visit this bordello earlier in the day so I can ride their energy waves all night long.

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