South By Southwest

SXSW Film Review: Pez Outlaw [Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel]

Posted on by Gary in Reviews, South By Southwest | Leave a comment


Steve Glew has been waiting to tell his story for 20-odd years. It’s not because Johan Patek, his Viennese competitor, labeled him a loser not worthy of a documentary spotlight. To a large segment of the population, many of the people featured in Pez Outlaw are “losers”. The magnitude of this repulsion is in direct proportion to their nonsensical hobby, some would say addiction, of toy collecting, specifically Pez dispensers.

And that is where most people are sorely mistaken. Specialty collecting can be immensely lucrative – for a rarefied, elevated example of the same phenomenon, look no further than the fine art world. But one does not need to trade in 15th century masterpieces or 12 ft tall dog sausages. With the right reputation, provenance, and hype, even childish, mass produced plastic casings moulded by Soviet-era factories can become hot commodities. And those who traffic in hot commodities can get rich very quickly.

This is where a 60 year old mechanic, whose OCD manifests as a compulsive requirement to carry a paper towel at all time, comes into the picture. This is ultimately a film about how he floated to the top of the barrel, if you will. And the manner of his escape from that dead-end life in rural Michigan is decidedly simple, to the point of incredulity. Ponder it for a while, and you might agree that only a forthright, un-cynical mind can make it work.

Glew started as a cereal box collector who, at first, generated profit from premium redemption in cereal boxes by reselling the items. The newfound revenue fed his urge to go bigger, in order to lead he and his family out of the mindless motions called a living. With some luck and the help of his son, he made trips to Eastern European destinations such as the Kolinska factory in Slovenia, just after the Berlin Wall fell, to buy rare Pez dispensers that American fanatics have no access to. But since Pez America is an actual registered company with intellectual rights and trademarks separate from its European counterpart, these shady backdoor deals soon began to cross into corporate espionage territory.

This is a tale where roleplaying dumb-hillbilly has everyone underestimating his motives. Even in this documentary, the stories Glew tells seem designed to build an image of a wizened grey wizard – but a wizard, nonetheless. In fact, this fantasy led Glew to craft and inhabit a new persona as the namesake “Pez Outlaw” for which he suffered later. Truth be told, a lot of luck was involved. But the fact that he got away with it, even for just a little while, makes for a fascinating window into the collecting world and its mythologies.

SXSW Review: Anavitoria, Bendigo Fletcher, March 19, Central Presbyterian Church

Posted on by Gary in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

20220319 Anavitoria

I go to (and often leave) shows completely unaware of who was playing in an attempt to maximize my ignorance. So naturally, when two 4-ft tall Asian girls squished into the pews for the Anavitoria show carrying sign-boards taller than their wingspan is wide, I thought this might be a K-pop set. Happily, Anavitoria specializes in folk music.

Anavitoria is a multi-Latin Grammy winning duo from Brazil that has been around since 2016. With solid pop sensitivity, graceful fashion, and simple harmonies, their songs are quite catchy. This performance was nominally in support of their latest release, last year’s Cor. But there were many instances of enthusiastic sing-alongs, which built a soothing atmosphere, yet also led me to the conclusion that there must have been many old singles in the mix. While that album has the backing of a variety of instruments, this set was entirely acoustic.

Formosa is the name given to Taiwan when it was “discovered” in 1544 by the Portuguese, but of course I don’t speak a word of it. So when Ana and Vitoria spoke to an enraptured crowd who bursts into laughter or applause from time-to-time, I can only assume that this feel-good concert came with the bonus “CHIT-CHAT ACHIEVED!”

20220319 Bendigo Fletcher

At the other end of the polish spectrum is Bendigo Fletcher from Louisville, Kentucky, looking as if they were tossed from the ass-end of a grain elevator. It was a huge and interesting contrast. While the harmonies and melodies from their latest album Fits of Laughter were just as warm and catchy as Anavitoria’s soft musings, the lyrics were about dogs, responsibilities, and sugar-cooking – perhaps the same content was shared but lost-in-translation?

Front-man Ryan Anderson loves nothing more than switching keys and upping the scales mid-way to showcase his vocal dynamic range, making these songs light, flighty, and wistful. “Astro Pup” and “Sugar in the Creek” were both brilliant and well type-cast numbers that you’d expect to be, and indeed were, performed with a banjo. But perhaps the best was the last song on their 2015 album, “Wonderfully Bizarre.” And just as funnily, this was the last show at SxSW for me this year. Until the next year, then?

SXSW Review: Wet Leg, March 18, Radio Day Stage

Posted on by Paul in South By Southwest | Leave a comment

20220318 Wet Leg

When you’re at SXSW, you go to see buzz bands. It’s just something one does. And this year, the buzziest of the buzzed about new acts on the lineup was Isle of Wight indie rockers Wet Leg.

The band, led by the duo of Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers, has been garnering quite a bit of publicity over the last little while, first coming onto the scene with their excellent ear worm of a single “Chaise Longue” and they’re set to release their self-titled debut album next month. All of this, combined with the fact that they were only playing a handful of times during the week, meant long lineups at all of their shows.

Our solution? Use our privilege as badge-holders to take in their Friday afternoon set at the Austin Convention Center’s Radio Day Stage. After all, those shows are never all that packed and … oh. OK, then.

Yup, even that show was pretty packed, although after a short time in line, we got in pretty easily and waited for the show to begin. But the question remains – did they live up to the hype? Well, in a way, yes and no. And since it’s always better to end on a positive note, we’ll start with the reason why this show didn’t quite make the grade for me. The main drawback to this set was the fact that it was happening mid-afternoon inside of a convention center, which gave it a bit of a different vibe. That’s never the optimal environment for a rock show and so it was probably always bound to fall a bit short of the hype. But really, that’s no fault of the band, so let’s move on.

Despite my misgivings about the venue, Wet Leg did still put on an enjoyable performance that was a lot of fun … though I suspect any of their other sets from this week were likely better. Nevertheless, it was a pleasure to see songs like “Wet Dream”, “Oh No” and “Angelica” performed live. It all sounded great, the band seemed to be having fun with it, and Teasdale made for a charming frontwoman with her soft spoken and deadpan stage banter. And by the time the band ended things off with set closer “Chaise Longue”, it was hard to walk away unsatisfied.

SXSW Review: Flower, March 17, The Green Jay

Posted on by Paul in South By Southwest | Leave a comment


In all of our years attending SXSW, music venue turnover has been a fairly common occurrence – in fact, just this week, two bars on Rainey St. closed down for good, soon to be replaced by condos.

It’s certainly not unusual to see places shutting down, reopening under a new name, or even keeping the same name and moving to a new location. And this year was no different, with one notable new venue being the recently opened Green Jay, which has taken over the space formerly known as Beerland.

Now, Beerland was never the nicest or classiest of venues – I mean, it was called Beerland – but the place had a certain divey charm. So when I saw that a new spot had opened in its place, I figured it was worth checking out. And it was – the new owners have given the place a bit of an upgrade and the bar had a great lineup of bands all week, making it an easy decision to keep coming back. In fact, I think I ended up there almost every day of the festival and saw several memorable shows, from Irish alt-poppers Beauty Sleep to London post-punk/pub rock band Hotel Lux to New York indie rockers Flower.

Flower got their start as a band back in 1986 and lasted until 1990, with members Ed and Richard Baluyut later going on to form Versus. They got the band back together a few years ago and were at SouthBy this year promoting their latest, 2020’s None Is (But Once Was) – their first new album in 30 years.

It’s a solid collection and it sounded great live, though that still didn’t deter some guy from telling his friend that they were planning on going somewhere else. He said this between songs, and loudly enough that the band noticed, so naturally they had to comment. And even though they called him out, asking him not to bail on them as they only had two songs left (though I think they actually had three), the dude left anyways. His loss, I suppose.