Music » Wayward Son

Drive-by Crackers

If it achieved anything, South by Southwest proved that Kansas City knows how to party.


It's midnight in downtown Austin, Texas. A black Cadillac Escalade pulls up to a crowded street corner. People mill about en route from one packed venue to another, their hands and wrists inked with the smudgy hieroglyphics of clubs admission stamps. Two men and a gnarled humanoid bulldog in a paramedic's jumpsuit climb out of the Escalade and open the back doors to reveal a pair of hefty black PA speakers.

It's the South By Southwest music festival, and Bacon Shoe is about to throw down.

The two humans are Lethal D and 'Toine; the dogman is Mr. Ruggles. Lethal D is the MC, and 'Toine is the freestyler, interpretive dancer and all-around hype man. "They call me the cocktopus because I got eight dicks!" he yells into a microphone. D has some kind of plastic harness strapped to his head, like the cranial part of an old-fashioned jaw-straightening orthodontic device. Around his neck is a long chain with a gold Lexus emblem for a pendant. Ruggles — who, at club shows, cooks bacon on an electric griddle and serves it to the audience — stands with his arms crossed and wags his giant, distorted head.

A funked-up electro crunk beat farts out of the speakers. 'Toine busts into action, dancing like a someone getting sodomized by a Russian Greco-Roman wrestler on an invisible elliptical trainer. Lethal D begins rapping about gonorrhea, LSD, "things that only Mongoloids can see" and, of course, footwear and dubious meat products. Onlookers are laughing. After about three songs, a cop appears, wielding a flashlight, barking at people to get out of the street and motioning for Bacon Shoe to stop. D spits out a few more lyrics, then stops.

The above incident occurred, with varying effects, about five times on the night of March 18 at arguably the most hyped music festival in the country. South by Southwest is where the biggest names in independent music (Lyle Lovett, Thurston Moore, Morrissey) compete with small fries (ahem, Bacon Shoe) for the attention of thousands of fans, journalists and industry pros.

To my knowledge, 14 groups or artists represented Kansas City and Lawrence this year. Most of them were straightforward music groups, but it seemed like the freaks had the most fun.

Every bar in and around downtown Austin had become a music venue for the fest, so it was on Wednesday night at the fratty Fox & Hound "English pub" that the Flaming Lips played an unofficial set. At the end, raunchy, Canadian electro-dance queen Peaches took the stage with the Lips to perform a cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs." Accompanying her was the Burly Q Girly Crew, the (sometimes) five-member burlesque troupe whose creamy thighs and pasties-adorned bosoms are a familiar and always-welcome sight around Kansas City bars. The Burly Q chicks also danced with Peaches at a DJ set on Thursday night.

Peaches — the sexy and offensive elder temptress — spun records and simultaneously menaced and lured the crowd with her mighty crotch and ass. Meanwhile, the Burlies stripped and shook their moneymakers, at one point inspiring a Middle Eastern dude to jump onstage, take off his shirt and flap his man tits in drunken ecstasy. For the finale, Peaches sang her scatological Black Eyed Peas parody, "My Dumps." The women came out all stripped down and chewing chocolate-dipped mini doughnuts, flinging hunks of half-eaten morsels at the audience like moist poo. Sex and absurdity — that's what we do best in Kansas City.

Meanwhile, the quote-unquote serious bands made a good showing, too. I was thoroughly impressed with the folks behind Anodyne Records. Label owner John Hulston organized a showcase featuring Be/Non, the Architects and his own band, the Dark Circles.

Elsewhere, hometown bands were kicking asses and taking names, no group more thoroughly than the Last of the V8s. If you've been reading my blog, you know that I enjoyed the fuck out of this reformed and reheated, balls-dangling rawk band. These guys are mainlining something dangerous and pure — and it's as close to trendy indie shit as Iggy Pop is to becoming first lady.

In a different vein, Mac Lethal put on a hell of a show at the big-billed Rhymesayers showcase, opening for P.O.S. and Atmosphere. Backed by DJ SIMS (who mainly just stood back and watched), Mac had the crowd bouncing, waving and shouting before anyone even realized what was going on. This Raytown-born MC reminds me vaguely of Sammy Davis Jr. , Dean Martin and those other Rat Pack guys — the classic entertainers who not only sang songs but also won over crowds with their slyness, off-the-cuff wit and boundless ability to connect to an audience.

There were other good local acts, too, and I missed four or five of them. Still, I'm really kind of surprised that I stuck so close to the hometown set. None of them has broken big, so it was exciting to see them all in their early, hopeful, partying-hard-and-not-giving-a-fuck stages. It's possible that even the best of them will never be on the lips of critics, and I'd be hard pressed to tell you whether any of them is truly great. For that, it takes time, not hype.

But that's not really important, because local music is all about the scene in town. The scene is what allows the birth of great new clubs such as the Record Bar. It's why people give a shit when a band like Giants Chair or Season to Risk does a reunion show. And it's what inspires dudes like old Bill Lee, out in Lawrence with his Kansas Music Hall of Fame, to remember all this crazy shit 40 years later.

It would be great for Ruggles, D and 'Toine if they got signed by Russell Simmons and became the next Beastie Boys. I won't jinx them by saying that won't happen, but whatever may come, I'll still remember when they confused the shit out of a throng of hipsters, poseurs and drunks one night in Austin.

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