austin -- you know it's time to go home when a sweat-soaked lead singer is carried out of the club half-naked in the arms of satisfied fans.Black Halos front man Billy Hopeless's face is frozen in an ecstatic, blank stupour after he and his band rock the South By Southwest music festival with a hardcore set reminiscent of early Iggy or Stiv Bators and the Dead Boys.
It's a fitting blast of raw power that ends my annual trek through dozens of clubs in a town known for its music but now powered by its computer industry.
The same week that Intel announces plans to freeze construction on a downtown Austin office tower, shrouding its half-dozen unfinished floors with canvas until the economy "picks up," a pack of bands who can turn their amps up to 11 pound out power chords and angry rhythm attacks that scream "Fuck the recession!"
SXSW always provides lots of alt-country and roots moments, but this year the sound is louder, possibly signalling the start of what many claim will be the next commercial wave. It's either that or a reflection of a distracted industry that left valuable showcase spots available to bands who will never be heard on radio.
Wesley Willis won't be getting any airplay, but that's not what's worrying him Friday night at an Alternative Tentacles label showcase at Austin's Room 710 Club. The 300-pound musical madman roams the crowded club, a 'fro comb poking out from his troubled head. He's the evening's headliner and he's got a bad case of stage fright.
Alternative Tentacles honcho Jello Biafra soothes his sidetracked artist.
"It'll be OK, you're at the top of your game, and these people are here for you," the one-time Dead Kennedys lead singer whispers quietly to the befuddled bear.
Later, Biafra, sporting a pink-and- white polka-dot suit with matching shirt, plays host between acts at his label's showcase. Lenny Bruce-like, he recounts his legal travails with ex-bandmates.
Willis takes the stage to offer a car-crash-compelling set of twisted, trippy tunes as he pounds on an electric keyboard and occasionally intones "Chewin' the wolverine's ass" and barks out a commercial slogan at the end of each song.
Don't look for Wolverine's Ass and its end-of-song Pepsi plug in the soft-drink giant's next commercial.
Earlier in the night, reunited Cali-punk veterans Victim's Family pound out an impressive return, Berkeley's Samiam let go of their full-blast tales of tortured love, and Seattle-based Murder City Devils and Zeke create bass-busting bedlam.
And the Supersuckers deliver fantastic, southern-fried guitar bombast with a smile for a shivering outdoor crowd at Stubb's Barbecue the day after the Black Crowes tried to jump on the jolt machine. Too bad their formless tunes, despite the flailing arms powering the guitars, lack punch.
Even the resurrected Cult stage an unsanctioned visit to SXSW at a private-label show at Stubb's before the official showcases begin. While in town, lead singer Ian Astbury declares it's time for a return to rock with more male energy.
Pioneer rock noisemaker and keynote speaker Ray Davies makes a surprise appearance with Canada's New Pornographers. It's going to keep getting harder for the band's members to call this a side project. Martina Sorbara delivers a set that shows her rich potential. With Flashing Lights, Sarah Harmer, the Cash Brothers, Tuuli, Ron Sexsmith and more on the scene, it looks like more business is being done for Canadian bands in Austin than went down earlier in the month at the Junos.
And the only hillbillies I see this year at SXSW, Hayseed Dixie, play bluegrass covers of AC/DC.
NOW Magazine and South By Southwest are among the partners in the North By Northeast Music Festival.
The future is LouD