The Cult's gig differed from the thousand or so other performances at South by Southwest 2001 in many ways. For one thing, it wasn't officially part of the conference. Revolver arranged the show, to which the unamused SXSW organizers responded by stripping the magazine's staff members of their credentials. For another, South by Southwest didn't belong to established groups, although performances from these bands might have caused the most hype. As 311 and Smashing Pumpkins proved last year with panic-inducing shows at smaller-than-usual area venues, hitting the clubs again provides an instant ego boost for aging buzz bands, the Beatlemania-style hysteria of loyal fans providing a welcome distraction from lagging record sales.
But while the Black Crowes packed Stubb's with nostalgic followers who took Southern comfort in hearing jangly jams delivered at inexplicably high volumes, adventurous attendees took in the insanity next door at the Red Eyed Fly, where the drummer of the Austin-based group ... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead tossed part of his kit through a banner posted over an open window. The discarded instrument bounced down a series of jagged rocks before plunging into Waller Creek, and its over-eager owner was preparing to heave the rest of his drumset into the void when the club's staff intervened. The apocalyptic quartet, whose songs are meticulously arranged displays of disharmony, has been known by the trail of its decimated equipment for years, so it's unlikely that its latest rampage was an attempt to prespend its major-label advance. (Persistent rumors had both Capitol and Interscope following the Trail.) Regardless, ex-Girl, an all-female trio from Tokyo, made Trail of Dead's break-stuff rebellion seem commonplace. Taking the stage in truly bizarre space-age costumes, the ex-Girls created equally futuristic pop music, injecting squiggly effects into the band's guitar and bass output and occasionally (without explanation) using stuffed animals as makeshift picks.
Although ex-Girl might have been the most entertaining, many other acts from overseas made lasting impressions. And while many of the writers, publicists and record label talent scouts who attended SXSW might not have been familiar with these performers, the international showcases were among the best draws; they offered a now-or-never must-see urgency that hard-touring American acts -- such as, say, All -- couldn't match. Among the highlights: Canada's The New Pornographers, which welcomed keynote speaker and former Kink Ray Davies onstage for a hook-filled number; Japan's King Brothers, who didn't smash anything but nonetheless one-upped Trail of Dead with an even more hectic display of anarchic noise; Spain's Tony Carey, an erstwhile recluse who emerged from hiding to produce startlingly crisp acoustic renditions of such forgotten early '80s hits as "A Fine, Fine Day" and "Why Me?"; and England's Soft Boys, reunited twenty years after disbanding and rewarded for returning with a cushy slot next to moody yet melodic Scottish noisemakers Mogwai and enigmatic yet photogenic former Pavement-pounder Stephen Malkmus.