No one was really expecting the festival's kick-off keynote address given by the chronically surly Lou Reed (pictured) to be a rah-rah rousing affair -- particularly at 10:30 in the morning -- and as it turned out, Reed didn't have any sort of speech planned, nor did he have a guitar with him to knock out a tune if things went awry. Instead he had his old pal Hal Willner sitting across from him in an equally comfy chair to alternately lob softball questions, offer praise and add a bit of levity to what turned out to be a dull infomercial for Julian Schnabel's new film Lou Reed's Berlin based on a recent live re-playing of what has been called "the most depressing album ever made."
"The film just played here in Austin, how many people went to see it?" asked Reed to a smattering of applause. "Great," he sighed, "less than half."
After showing a clip which involved some artistically out-of-focus shots of Reed and his band on stage intercut with close-ups of fingers on guitar frets and cymbals, Willner began blowing smoke about Reed's songwriting prowess to which Reed responded by reciting a few lines from Rock Minuet.
Things got slightly more interesting when Willner began posing queries to Reed emailed in prior to the session. One question about the creative process seemed to engage Reed but only to say "I never understood how my songs got written. I want to know that myself. If I did, I'd have written Son of Wild Side and own an island in the Caribbean!"
Reed then went on a tear about the horrible sound of MP3s, observing that "You can get almost any song in the world now as and MP3. And if you have the time and money, you might be able to get a version of the song you can actually listen to." He went on to say, "People have got to start demanding higher standards otherwise it'll soon be only people with money who can afford good sound. Technology is taking us backwards -- it's just making it easier to make things sound worse."
At the clubs, UK funk crew The Heavy proved to be true to their name at Elysium, providing boldly pounding riffs for charismatic frontman Swaby whose commanding delivery had flashes of Curtis Mayfield's falsetto and Corey Glover's confrontational posture.
Meanwhile, up the street at Club De Ville, the impressively poised 24 year-old Boston R&B belter Eli "Paperboy" Reed backed by a horn-hyped backing crew of similarly well-schooled twentysomethings gave notice that we haven't yet heard the last of the old school soul revival that took SXSW by storm last year. With Reed taking his cues from the classic recordings of Bobby Bland, the Falcons, Solomon Burke and the Swanee Quintet (!), it appears that he's on the right track with a bright future ahead.
Anticipation was running high for the Night Marchers set at Emo's being that the group is fronted by former Rocket From The Crypt mainman Jon "Speedo" Reis who has lost a considerable amount of weight. He was standing beside me for most of the previous set thrashed out by Seattle's mighty Spits and I didn't even recognize him. While their set began with a heartening whump, the Night Marchers quickly lost steam and when Reis started into this sappy Eddie Money-style ballad, I was heading for the door.