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SXSW: Was (Not Was) Tears The Roof Off, and more...

Of the Oakland Press

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Austin, Texas -- Sights and sounds from the South By Southwest Music + Media Conference...

Was (Not Was) may not have, as its song says, blown up the United States in the week hours of Sunday morning (March 16), but the Detroit-bred group did blow righteously during a festival-closing show at the club La Zona Rosa.

Making its first Texas appearance in 20 years and introducing "Boo!," its first new album since 1990, the nine-piece group -- led by Oak Park natives Don Was (ne Fagenson) and David Was (ne Weiss) -- played a hot one-hour set that had a small but enthusiastic crowd dancing throughout all 10 songs. With all three original singers -- Sweet Pea Atkinson, Sir Harry Bowens and Donald Ray Mitchell reunited for the first time in 15 years and vamping like they'd never been apart -- the group offered up a handful of tracks from "Boo!" (due out April 1), including the swampy, soulful first single, "Crazy Water." Weiss, meanwhile, continued to provide the quirky, artsy lyricism for songs like "I Blew Up the United States" (which morphed into Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly") and "I Feel Better Than James Brown."

Whether it was new songs or favorites such as "Tell Me I'm Not Dreaming," their rendition of the Temptations "Papa Was a Rolling Stone" and the hit "Walk the Dinosaur," Was (Not Was) impressed most with its musicianship as the group stretched out in fierce, fiery form, passing the musical ball between guitarist Randy Jacobs, keyboardist Jamie Muhoberac and new saxophonist Schilts and driven by legendary R&B drummer James Gadson."

And even though Was (Not Was) is based in Los Angeles these days, Fagenson made a point of telling the Texas audience that it was really "from Detroit," announcing the local ties for each of the players that hail from this area.

Prior to the show, Fagenson was ebullient about getting Was (Not Was) back into the CD racks again. "I can't believe someone gave us a second chance," he said, calling Was (Not Was)'s new label, Rykodisc, "people who really like music, like in the old days."

Was (Not Was) starts a tour in late April in Toronto and plans to play Detroit's Majestic Theater in early May.

Judy Davids of the Detroit "mom rock" band the Mydols was in Austin during SXSW to launch her new book, "Rock Star Mommy," which will be formally published in early April. She was, however, apprehensive about a book signing Saturday (March 15) at a booth in the trade show, where she'd be appearing alongside former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham.

"If no one shows up," said Davids, "at least I'll have a great conversation with him. I'm having this true rock 'n' roll moment."

Davids, 48, who lives in Royal Oak, spent SXSW with her friend, Go-Go's bassist Kathy Valentine, who was also housing Blondie drummer Ken Burke.

Davison, Mich., headbangers Chiodos provided a treat for fans during an afternoon appearance for Alternative Press magazine on Saturday afternoon (March 15). Frontman Craig Owens, who resides in Rochester, grabbed an acoustic guitar and invited Circa Survive singer Anthony Green on stage for a duo rendition of the Lemonheads' "Being Around," which Green told the crowd was ''pretty much about our love for each other.'' The unexpected diversion, which ended with Owens and Green kissing each other's cheeks, went over well with the moshers.

Another surprise (though media was clued in earlier) came later in the evening, when former Clash and current Carbon/Silicon guitarist Mick Jones joined the British group A3 for a country-styled rendition of their hit "Woke Up This Morning" -- known to most as the theme song to HBO's "The Sopranos."

Daytime TV host Rachael Ray may seem like an unlikely party host for SXSW, but her Feedback event on Saturday (March 15) was one of the hottest of the festival -- and only got hotter thanks to ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons.

With a line extending fully down the block on Austin's 7th Street as the party began at the Beauty Bar, Gibbons strode onstage to join the Cringe -- fronted by Ray's husband, John Cusimano -- for a rendition of John Lennon's "Cold Turkey," taking Cusimano's guitar and embracing him at the end of the song. Gibbons, who likes to cook himself, said that having Ray host a party at a music event made sense to him.

"Food and music -- what a good combination!" Gibbons noted. "I'm just curious if (Ray) had to wake up early and cook everything."

With a little help from some friends, of course, Ray supervised a buffet of Southern-style dishes, including seven-layer sliders (small hamburger patties with several toppings), a special macaroni and cheese dish, skillet barbecue chicken in bourbon-orange sauce and baby back ribs. Music, Ray said, "is as much a part of my life as music." And she watched with pride as Cusimano, who's also an attorney, and the Cringe played their set. "I'm always proud of John,'' Ray said. "He's a great husband, a fantastic musician, a good cook -- and he's my free legal advice. So..."

The Feedback party was Gibbons' second appearance at this year's SXSW. He joined psychedelic rock pioneer Roky Erickson earlier in the festival at the latter's annual Ice Cream Social event for three songs -- a new song called "The Beast" that Gibbons had to learn on-the-spot backstage, plus older favorites "I Walked With a Zombie" and "You're Gonna Miss Me."

Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates' played just one official live show at SXSW, for DirectTV's "SXSW Live" series, but he performed a bit during his interview appearance on Saturday (March 15) afternoon. Hall and longtime collaborator and bassist T-Bone Wolk performed acoustic renditions of three Hall & Oates songs -- "She's Gone," "Adult Education" and "Rich Girl" -- as Hall explained the intricacies of songwriting to the interviewer, journalist Ann Powers.

In his dressing room prior to the session, Hall said that "the life of the catalog, my body of work is a surprise to me. Everything is a surprise to me because you never know what`s gonna happen. you write a song and it's of the moment, and who knows if that song's going to transcend the moment and become a timeless song. You just don't know, because I'm in it."

While in Austin, Hall also filmed two episodes for his "Daryl's House" Internet performance series, with San Francisco troubadour Chuck Prophet and the Philadelphia singer-songwriter Mutlu as guests.

It was a notable SXSW for the three brothers of Hanson. As guitarist Isaac Hanson noted, "now we get to do a real showcase, and we can actually get into the bars!"

Hanson became part of SXSW lore in 1996, when the trio showed up in Austin simply to sing on the street and then attended the annual closing picnic and softball tournament -- where they wound up meeting their manager. This year, however, they were an "official" band, playing for DirectTV as well as an exuberant showcase on Saturday night (March 15).

Isaac said he hoped that showing the music industry how much the group has grown since hitting huge with "MMMBop" in 1997 and put a little more fire behind its 2007 release "The Walk."

"I think South By Southwest is still a really good event," he said. "I think it does have a lot of value for bands trying to get things going, to either increase awareness of their band or launch some initiatives."

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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