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N.C. at South by Southwest
Once again, North Carolina bands made a good showing at the international music fest, even though the industry itself is still suffering from the post-Sept. 11 economic slump, not to mention industry restructuring and belt tightening. Some labels--Matador and Merge, for example--even opted not to have showcases this year. This didn't stop Indy music critic Rick Cornell from attending the Austin fest, eating free 'cue and homemade tortillas, trying to see as many Triangle-band SXSW showcases as he could squeeze in and reporting it all back here to mission control. Representing for N.C. were Tift Merritt and the Carbines, The Cherry Valance, Thad Cockrell, The Mayflies USA, Two Dollar Pistols, Jule Brown and more.

Chris Stamey (and the Mod Squad) and Caitlin Cary's groups overlapped members, with Caitlin's band approximating one touring version of Whiskeytown minus "the kid." Cary was the N.C. story this year, doing a series of small appearances as well as her Yep Roc showcase performance--a must-see event that drew industry heavies and media poobahs alike (David Fricke, for example). Cary met with publicists and got wined and dined (sushi) on the label's dime. And the press is massing in support, with reviews in Rolling Stone and The New Yorker on the stands and reviews in People and Interview lined up. Cary also scored heavy-duty booking agent Buck Williams , who's lining up a tour for April and May. The album, While You Weren't Looking (out this week) features three Ryan Adams tracks, cameos from local musicians and Carey's husband, Skillet Gilmore (currently rocking with ex-Backslider Chip Robinson in The Vibe Killers), on tubs.

Best SXSW band bust-up (that we know of): (As recounted by SXSW attendee and Raleigh-ite Terry Anderson of The Yayhoos to drummer Jon Wurster.) Brian Henneman and Tom Parr, the principle songwriters in legendary alt-country Bloodshot records band The Bottle Rockets, got in a brawl in a taxi in downtown Austin before their showcase gig. Making the cab pull over, the two frontguys let loose with "15 years of pent-up resentment" and were "rolling over cars" and dukin' it out in a scene straight out of The Rockford Files. That night, Henneman announced to the soundman, "Your job just got a little easier"--they'd shrunk to a three-piece (Parr flew home). Let's hope the band gets it together to tour for their recent disc, Songs of Sahm (as in Doug).

SXSW's "can't miss" act was the Polyphonic Spree, a 23-piece, white-robed symphonic ensemble assembled by former Tripping Daisy Tim Delaughter. (It breaks down as such: a 10-person chorus, guitar, bass, two keyboards, two drummers, trumpet, theremin, violin, flute, trombone, French horn and frontguy.) Sez Cornell: "Think a couple dozen hairy Hare Krishnas with a keen pop sense auditioning for Godspell. Or, think four Beaulahs (SF pop band) on stage. Let's put it this way: Beatle Bob danced to them."

When celebrities attack
R.E.M. guitarist Pete Buck, currently being asked to be accountable for his "air rage" incident aboard a British Airways flight last April, has taken the "I don't remember anything" defense, telling the court he had "a sleeping tablet and three glasses of red wine." The crew and passengers tell a different story: out-of-control rock star wreaks havoc, drinks 15-plus glasses of vino and slurs to the pilot, who's debating making an emergency landing, "You are just a captain and I am REM."

We're sorry, Pete, but I think most of the population would say that the bald, gay guy who frequently risks being ticketed by the fashion police as "being REM." But you'll always be remembered for smearing yogurt on people, knocking over a breakfast cart (after which he tried to slip a knife up his sleeve) and trying to wrestle a bottle of red wine from a steward. To be fair, if Buck was as wasted as witnesses say, he's probably just as horrified as his fans to hear about his loutish antics. (He was quoted as saying, "I had this fear that I had a heart attack and was in a weird hospital in Disneyland.")

As of press time, you can log on to dotmusic.com and make your vote count toward elevating Buck's ordeal into rock legend status by answering the question, "Whose [sic] more rock: Pete 'I am REM' Buck or Iggy Pop?"

Local releases
There's a bumper crop of new local releases: Eclectic popsters The Sames, Emo/post-rockers Bats and Mice (with local member Ben Davis looking to release another Ben Davis Conspiracy album this fall). While The Comas record remains unfinished, former Comas' violinist Margaret White now plays in Sparklehorse. She was tagged recently to fill in with Irish band The Frames on their New Pornographers' tour when the Frames' fiddler dropped out. White's also in Regina Hexaphone, who have a new CD release you can hear on local college radio and buy at their gigs. And The Mayflies USA has signed on for another Yep Roc release.

Speaking of Yep Roc, Redeye Distribution has just started the Redeye imprint, which seems to be gearing up to sign jam-band style, bread-and-butter acts. The label's first release, Weekend Excursion (not a surprising choice since Leftover Salmon and the live Hobex were distributed by Redeye, as was--until recently--Widespread Panic) will be in stores this week.

  • A SXSW follow-up and a look ahead at local releases.

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