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"Revolver" takes aim at SxSW

By Matt Ashare

APRIL 3, 2000:  The debate over gun control may have been raging in Austin -- the capital of the "handgun state" -- a couple of weeks ago, when Smith & Wesson agreed to adopt certain wild and crazy safety measures like trigger locks (because, man, when you're getting ready to pump someone full of lead, the last thing you wanna have to do is be fumbling with some goddamn trigger-lock mechanism). But at the annual South by Southwest Music and Media Conference, which brought thousands of musicians, music lovers, industry types, entrepreneurs, so-called music journalists like myself, and lots and lots of dot-coms to Austin from March 15 through 19, it was hard not to feel insulated from all the hubbub.

In fact, this year at SxSW it was difficult not to feel just plain insulated from the country at large, which was gearing up for the Rolling Stone-endorsed release of 'N Sync's certain-to-debut-at-#1 new album on the 21st, because it was hard to see any connection between the hundreds of punkish, rootsy, and alterna-style bands and artists who showcased at the conference and anything that's mattered nationally in quite some time. True, Modest Mouse, the great Northwestern indie-rock outfit, have a major-label debut due sometime this year. But will they ever merit a Rolling Stone cover? And, sure, Shelby Lynne, the Lucinda Williams-style alterna-country diva with the soulful delivery, has a decent disc on Mercury (I Am Shelby Lynne) and could be the next Macy Gray or something. But she remains conspicuously absent from even the bottom quarter of the Billboard 200.

I played it safe by taking the underachievers' route straight to a couple of showcases featuring Scandinavian glam-punk bands like Backyard Babies, veteran Swedish rockers who urged an audience of 100 or so to "shake your fat American asses" as they tore into what sounded like vintage Guns N' Roses leftovers with the reckless enthusiasm of the NY Dolls; Gluecifer, the Sub Pop-signed Scandinavians with matching Rocket from the Crypt-style crushed-velvet shirts and a decent catalogue of rah-rah garage-punk tunes; and Norway's Retardos, who pulled off a reasonably blistering version of Gang Green's "Alcohol" before the Backyard Babies' set. Having more or less missed the alternative '90s here in the US, all three seemed happy to be reaching a modest cult audience on foreign turf; and that's a hell of a lot less depressing than seeing bands like Sebadoh, the Supersuckers, and a re-formed Meat Puppets (featuring Clint but not Kurt, or Kurt but not Clint . . . I wasn't quite sure which) -- bands who may once have had a shot at commercial Nirvana -- rock away in the face of diminishing returns.

In this less than ideal atmosphere for anyone who cares about rock and roll with heart, soul, grit, and at least a lick of chance of reaching a decent-sized audience (and if you're at SxSW, chances are either you feel that way or someone's paying you to act as if you felt that way), the only encouraging sign was the much-hyped launch of Revolver, "The World's Most Wanted Music Magazine!" So while the rest of Texas grumbled about losing their right to fire guns at will, folks at SxSW buzzed about the arrival of the retro-leaning Revolver and a Saturday-evening warehouse party to mark its emergence that featured Northampton's retro-rocking Unband opening for the retro-rocking, fire-breathing Nashville Pussy and the retro-rocking, beer-spewing Guided by Voices.

The party was kind of a bust -- so many people swarmed to it, and so few of them truly wanted to be rocked at, that being inside felt more like punishment for some crime against music than like a celebration. But Revolver -- named for that Beatles album, I suppose, brandishing a big old black-and-white picture of Doors psycho Jim Morrison on a cover that boasts a "Police Reunion!", and published by Harris (whose other mags include Guitar World, XXL, and Slam) -- is, well, pretty nifty. The "Police Reunion!" turns out to be a bristling seven-page interview by Vic Garbarini with Sting, Stewart, and Andy, in which they recount their run as the biggest band in the world and call one another all kinds of names. The cover story is a nine-page oral history of the Doors with input from all the surviving members. There are well-angled shorter pieces on contemporary artists, from Pantera's strip joint to the RZA's love for Pink Floyd "and all them niggas" to what seems to be an official announcement from Robert Smith that the Cure will soon disband; there are historical phenomena, including the story behind a famous photo of John Lennon and the tale of AC/DC guitarist Angus Young's original schoolboy uniform.

The thinking behind Revolver is that people who do read about music (that being a select group to begin with) would rather read an in-depth interview with the Police than with 'N Sync and would feel more dignified buying a magazine with Jim Morrison on the cover than Britney Spears. But in the end, even that observation raises some troubling questions about the future, or at least the present tense, of rock and roll.

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