SXSW: That Petrol Emotion has plenty in the tank



That Petrol Emotion, playing South by Southwest?

That was my reaction upon hearing that one of my favorite Britpop bands from the late ’80s/early ’90s was playing a venue called the Dog & Duck Pub north of downtown Austin. My long California freeway commutes in the early 1990s were mitigated by my treasured cassette of the album “Chemicrazy,” may that hunk of plastic rest in peace. And while I am not at SXSW to engage in nostalgia, the dinnertime set conflicted with nothing else, so why not?

The five-piece, playing their first U.S. show in 19 years thanks to Pop Culture Press, displayed crackerjack chops and firecracker energy, transforming the modest audience – many, and how should I say this, veteran fans – into giddy kids on the Fourth of July. And that was just two minutes into the opener, “Hey Venus.”

That Petrol Emotion (1985-94) were the rare London-based band with an American lead singer – still the case now that they have gotten back together to gig a bit. Singer Steve Mack, very youthful at 45 but his dreadlocks a distant memory, lives in Seattle where he works in Web film distribution; his bandmates are in the U.K. They were in fine form, dispensing their signature Britpop-with-fangs, and Mack was in good humor throughout; of a delay at the beginning, the frontman said, “It’s only been 19 years, what’s another 30 seconds?”

Mack also self-deprecatingly explained that the band had the reputation of being “the most spectacularly unsuccessful band ever” by virtue of the fact it charted the most singles without ever having one crack the Top 40.

Afterward, Mack explained reuniting: “We decided to dip our toes in the water, and we’re having fun so far. We’re our own harshest critics, so we’ll know if we’re not getting it done.”

Is there new material? “We have a backlog of about 60 or 70 songs, but … You know, there’s a big difference between people who will come out to hear the old stuff and people who will want to hear new material.”

The old stuff was fine on this evening. The Dog & Duck was serving fish & chips too.

||| Tonight: That Petrol Emotion plays the Elysium in Austin.