SXSW 2011: Screeching Weasel reluctantly performs, show ends in a scuffle
Screeching Weasel frontman Ben Weasel devoted much of a nearly 50-minute South by Southwest performance to humor-laced ranting, railing often against the media and the yearly Austin, Texas, festival and conference. It's "a carnival of schadenfreude" Weasel said of SXSW, and repeatedly said he regretted coming. Yet the contentious atmosphere turned more aggressive by show's end, with Weasel ultimately jumping into the crowd, allegedly to confront a woman who had hit him in the face with ice.
Another woman, who security staff said was one of the venue's owners, ran on stage to break up the fight. Weasel was soon dragged off the stage by security. He left the venue before he could be tracked down by reporters, and has not yet returned a call requesting comment.
Police were called to Austin's Scoot Inn, and the venue's talent buyer, Rufus Raxlen, offered to give them Weasel's license plate number. The two women involved in the scuffle had left the premises, however, and therefore no police action was taken. The beloved punk rock band is currently scheduled to appear Saturday night in San Antonio, about 80 miles south of Austin.
During the band's performance of its poppy 1996 outsider anthem "Cool Kids," Weasel was hit in or near the eye with a chunk of ice thrown by a woman, and then offered to fight the offender.
Sound Opinions co-host and WBEZ blogger Jim DeRogatis was also in attendance, and in an effort to get as accurate a read as possible on how events escalated, this reporter and DeRogatis each talked to numerous secuirty personnel and several fans who were near the incident. After Weasel jumped into the crowd, several eye-witnesses reported that the woman spat beer or water in Weasel's face, and at that point a fight broke out.
Local resident Eric Garcia, 25, was also planning to see Screeching Weasel in San Antonio on Saturday. "It's like the Rolling Stones to us," Garcia said of Screeching Weasel, whose "First World Manifesto" is the band's first album of new material in 11 years (read The Times' review). Screeching Weasel has long been infamous for its refusal to tour, but of late the act has appeared more willing to go on the road.
Though the band had never broke through with mainstream success, Screeching Weasel remains an adored and influential act. Formed in the '80s and on-and-off since, Screeching Weasel presented a more suburban take on the urban, economical and melodic punk of the Ramones, and set the stage for the mid-'90s punk rock explosion. Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong, for instance, has a tattoo of the logo of Screeching Weasel off-shoot the Riverdales.
"This is our Joey Ramone," Garcia said.
The performance was the band's first-ever SXSW appearance, and Weasel made no effort to hide his distaste for the five-day industry conference from the moment he walked on stage. Before even performing a song, Weasel complained that the band was being paid only $250 to appear at the Scoot Inn, and noted that the act had a $25,000 guarantee for its San Antonio performance.
Weasel then dedicated the 2000 song "You're the Enemy" to the organizers of SXSW, a tune full of bile toward fans and touring. Weasel next turned his attention to the media, and most of his words would not be fit for printing here, yet he labeled music journalists as "parasitic," and added, "Why don't you get a real job?"
Weasel spent almost as much time ranting as he did performing, and few targets were spared. Even the head of Screeching Weasel's label, Fat Mike of Fat Wreck Chords, was a part of Weasel's venom. "Our label owner isn't here," Weasel said. And he apologized for those who paid $20 to see his band, telling them they had been ripped off and were contributing to the industry spectacle of SXSW.
"Apparently it's really good for your career," Weasel mockingly said of SXSW.
Longtime Weasel fans, however, love the band as much for the music as the sarcastic diatribes of its lead vocalist. For the first half of the set, Weasel elicited laughter and applause, and his rants were seen more as jokes than actual hatred, at least those not pointed toward the music biz.
"I'm what they refer to in the industry as 'The Talent,'" Weasel sneered.
Photo: Screeching Weasel in Los Angeles in late 2010. Credit: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times