By Cory Sklar
By Alee Karim
By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
The Friday night before the concert, Henry leaves the kids and the band with Carola to see an opera based on the music of Daniel Johnston. When Carola and the Guitarfish head out, they immediately hit a snag, as most of the band is under legal drinking age. SXSW isn't your typical family vacation destination: The weeklong parade of shows and parties is fueled by a mix of adrenaline and alcohol. Most of the clubs are 21 and over. Given that only guitarist Mark Nelsen's girlfriend, Danika, is of legal age, and bassist (and George's girlfriend) 17-year-old Lena Brown is the only one with a fake ID, this is a problem.
The group moves toward a club called Spiro's. The gang hasn't heard of Harvey Milk, the band playing inside, but it'll be something to do. Carola pulls the doorman aside and works out a deal for the younger Guitarfish to enter the 18-and-over club. "Okay," the bouncer says to her, marking giant underage "X"s on the band's hands, "but you're their guardian."
Every member of the Guitarfish calls Carola the band's manager. She's the one fielding phone calls from the label, Photoshopping the cover of their debut CD, and slicing apples for band practice. Lou Lou goes so far as to call Carola "momager" (a label she vehemently rejects).
Once Carola has helped the flock into Spiro's, though, she fades off toward a Japanese punk showcase. Left to their own devices, Lou Lou & the Guitarfish eventually bail from the club and spend their Friday in Austin like many suburban teens: congregating from one street corner after the next, shut out of adult activities.
Later, Carola texts Lou Lou that X is playing an all-ages show at the Austin Convention Center.
"Who?" George asks.
"X, that old L.A. punk band," Lou Lou explains.
By the end of the night, Lou Lou looks at the wobbly foot traffic pooling around them and drolly observes, "SXSW is all drunk people and crowds."
When you grow up with rock 'n' roll parents, perhaps you don't get especially nervous about performing at a festival with 1,500 bands from 33 countries on more than 80 stages. Lou Lou's comments are more reflective of what she's seeing than revealing a queasy stomach. Anxiety slips from the mouths of these teens in small traces — George joking during one practice that "I think we should link all our songs together so no one can boo us offstage," or Lou Lou mentioning offhandedly before the show that she doesn't like the sound of her own voice.
The last night of SXSW, standing at Room 710 an hour before her band takes the stage here, Lou Lou seems more opinionated about the venue they're in than what people will think of her music. "This seems like a gross place to get drunk," she observes of the dingy rock 'n' roll hovel. It's a funny comment, given that she doesn't drink, and the hard time the bouncers gave her when she arrived for soundcheck. "They told me they'd let me in, but said if we drink they'll cancel our set and kick us out," she recalls. To which the second doorman added, "And then we'll kill you." It's an ominous introduction, and things only go downhill from here.
As soon as Oakland psych folkster Greg Ashley leaves the 710 stage, Henry and Carola get into position. They're not front-and-center-style parents, preferring to stand more casually in the shadows. It's a little less obvious back there. But they have their devices ready to document every second of this big night. Henry stands stage left, camcorder aimed forward. "I don't want to stand too far away," he whispers excitedly. Carola is stage right, camera in hand. Between them is Room 710's soundman, handing Lou Lou a second microphone after the first produces piercing feedback during a hasty soundcheck.
Lou Lou, decked out in a sparkly black dress and pink pigtails, is beaming as she introduces the band with a demure little "Hi, we're Lou Lou and the Guitarfish. You should come listen to us."
Showtime, and the band breaks into action. Lena is the coolly stoic bassist, her face revealing nothing as she keeps steady rhythm. Mark and George, however, play as though the 20 people in the room really number 2,000, confidently eyeballing their audience as they work the stage. The energetic setlist mixes aggressively melodic rock anthems with Lou Lou's sugar 'n' arsenic lines ("Well, rip out my tongue/and put your words into my mouth/You've got some thing you wanna say/You and I both know that we have gone astray"). She's the band's punk princess with bubblegum pop affectations. With a mike in hand, her affable behavior gains a flirtatious edge: Dimples dent her cheeks, and she gives her hair studied shakes as she sings.
But there are technical problems. Big ones. The mike is producing horrible feedback. George and Lou Lou try to take the equipment hassles in stride, tag-teaming reminders about their new record as uneasy stage banter.
Try as they may, there's no getting around it: Instead of getting noticed at SXSW, Lou Lou & the Guitarfish are getting buried — under a mountain of technology failures.