Thursday, March 19, 2009

SXSW - Juliette and the Kicks

Now this doesn't happen every day in Brazil: I got kicked by Juliette Lewis. If you remember that her biggest film roles were in Cape Fear and Natural Born Killers, you know the danger I was in.

This time I barely made out alive. My luck was that she was only stage-diving. That's right, stage-diving. You might hear other people commenting about her gig on the first night of SXSW, with her new act called Juliette and the New Romantiques (whatever happened to "Juliette and the Licks"?), and how, in the middle of the last song of their set, she dove into the crowd and was carried some two or three yards away from the stage, then back. I got to help carry the weight of Ms. Lewis. That was when she kicked me, the ungrateful shrew.

The gig was amazing. I've heard some people compare her to Iggy Pop, and the parallel is plain to see: she doesn't stop moving. Her energy onstage is unbelievable. She's also got a knack for banter, exacting laughter and shouts from the crowd with considerable ease. With that, plus the great songs (I've got to find out the name of a bluesier one, which owes nothing to Janis Joplin), it was a great gig.

I'm still suing, though.

Friday, March 13, 2009

There ain't no party like a Rebirth party

'Cause a Rebirth party don't stop. Or so sings the Rebirth Brass Band, a New Orleans ensemble that graced the indoors stage at Stubb's tonight. Haven't seen Americans dance like that since the White Ghost Shivers gig at the Continental Club last January.

If you don't know them, perhaps the line-up will tell you everything you need to know: bass drum, snare drum, three trumpets, tuba, sax and trombone. It's one of those gigs where you can't help dancing. Like much of modern New Orleans jazz, it has a strong Caribbean syncopated beat. Very groovy.

High point of the show: their meddley of Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough" and Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher." If that's not eclectic, then nothing is.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bilingual Austin

Shortly before arriving in Austin, I came across a book called Handbook of the World, published by Oxford University Press. It had entries for every country in the world, ranging from one to eight pages and giving objective information: government, currency, languages, main industries, recent history et cetera. I was surprised to find the USA listed as a bilingual country. I did know about the masses of people who speak Spanish at home and the whole history of cultural ghettos in America, but seeing it officially acknowledged like that felt a little exaggerated. I no longer feel like that.

It’s not just the bilingual signs and warnings on the buses, but also the countless stores with bilingual billboards – or even billboards just in Spanish – that multiply the further you get from downtown. Even in central areas like Congress Avenue you can find Spanish-language newspapers like Buena Suerte, ¡Ahora Sí! and El Mundo. But of course, the strongest evidence of US bilingualism is the number of actual people speaking Spanish on the streets. Not a day goes by when I don’t walk by someone speaking it on the phone or with a friend.

America has a remarkable history of different cultures pressed together in limited spaces, and Texas is especially significant in its Tejano constituency. The acknowledgement and indulgence of linguistic differences is a testimony of the respectful attitude Americans have developed throughout their (granted, turbulent) history. Perhaps because of the tension from all the wars, territorial disputes and immigration, cultural differences seem to be more obvious in the USA than in other countries.

By comparison, Brazil is much less articulate in its regard for different languages. We do have communities that don’t speak Portuguese – there are Polish and Ukrainian towns in the countryside of Santa Catarina, and many people throughout the South who speak Italian or German at home, in addition to bilingual communities along the borders with Argentina and Uruguay. But the country would never consider itself bilingual. There’s an attitude of adherence to official policy in cultural matters that seems to be absent from the US (and England, too, judging from what I saw there). Brazilian culture has a widespread discourse that Brazilians are all the same, which on one hand makes for a very friendly climate of integration, but also downplays strong and important cultural differences.

Living in Austin certainly gives you the opportunity to rethink your views on cultural differences. After a while, Canada’s bilingual laws and money bills don’t seem so exotic anymore.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Pretenders @ Stubb's

The Pretenders still got brass in pocket -- my brass, that is; $41.50 to be precise. But it was a great show. Not only the band was in great shape, but Chrissie Hynde was very talkative, joking all the time -- like this moment when she smelled...something funny from the stage and asked how far Willie Nelson's house was from there. My favorite banter moment from the gig, however, was when she said Austin might be the first vegetarian city in the US, and asked people to stop killing cows "because change is possible." I'm sure the owners of the venue, Stubb's B-B-Q, were among the people applauding her.
I didn't know they had so many fast songs. The last thing I'd expect from them was a show for jumping and pogoing, but a sizeable part of the gig was exactly that. They did a great job with classics like "Brass in Pocket", "Don't Get Me Wrong" and "Back on the Chain Gang", the best song on the set. Their new song, "Breaking the Concrete", was also very catchy (it's the name of their current tour, by the way). It's only a pitty they didn't play "I'll Stand By You". That's the single greatest, barest, most truthful love song ever written. If you ever felt love was too complex to be put into words, listen to the song and think again. (And by the way, pay attention to the photo: there's some sort of see-through shield in front of the drum kit. I wonder if it's bullet-proof or something. In Austin, that would be the height of paranoia.)