by Carl Hanni
*One of the great joys of SXSW is the occasional availability of free food, generally at one of the day parties. Today's free banquet was courtesy of BMG Chrysalis, featuring a full selection of Creole food, from jambalaya to gumbo, while being rocked around by the terrific Lafayette, LA rocking gospel combo The Mercy Brothers. Their swamp gospel version of "People Who Died" got the day off to a promising start.
*Back at the Ginger Man pub, The WI-based power pop band Shoes sounded every bit as pitch perfect as they did back in their hey-day of the 1970s. Perhaps rock & roll really does keep you young; if it doesn't kill you, that is.
*Also at Ginger Man, Montreal's The Besnard Lakes kicked up a great psych/drone ruckus ala My Bloody Valentine, and ex-Go-Go Kathy Valentine's combo The Bluebonnets played inspired, all-girl garage pop, but the afternoon highlight was the 2nd ever show by super-group The Split Squad. Including members of The Fleshtones, The Plimsouls, Baseball Project and Clem Burke, super drummer for Blondie, this crew simply went OFF, and guitarist Keith Streng's (from The Fleshtones) in-the-crowd antics and energy might have been the most entertaining thing I've seen all week. Score another one for the old guys, and the forever-young power of rock & roll.
*Over at the Mexican American Cultural Center, after a typically brilliantly set by Austin's own Grupo Fantasma, one of the godfathers of modern cumbia, Monterrey, Mexico's Celso Pina turned in a fabulous set of elastic, grove crazy cumbia that elevated the night into another level altogether. This was a great respite from the rest of the Festival: a huge, outdoor show filled with mainly locals, away from the noise and crowds outside, under a perfect sky, with whole families dancing and clowning around. This was the second SXSW in a row where the happiest crowd I found was a cumbia crowd (two years ago it was Chico Trujillo). Everybody say Cuuuum-bia!!