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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 40
3/15/06 South By Southwest Wednesday. My SXSW experience began well before I heard any music. While the plane was still on the ground in St. Louis, I negotiated a seat swap with someone from Spin magazine, so that I could sit with my buddy Eric. On the shuttle from the airport to the hotel, I met a woman who works for some indie label in NYC…a few minutes later I shared a cab downtown with a music writer covering all of the bands who had come to Austin from her native Norway. A few more random encounters later and I’m standing in front of the outdoor stage at Emo’s with Michael from New Orleans to hear The Ponys. More of that dark, hypnotic stuff…lots of unfamiliar songs plus "We Shot The World". Jered’s singing was less a Tom Verlaine yelp this time, a bit more nuanced- maybe like early David Byrne. They ended with another unfamiliar song featuring keyboards and squealing guitar. I then found my way to Guero’s for fish tacos with Ellen and her eleven month old twin daughters- they got a kick out of the roving mariachi singer.
From there it was off to Mother Egan’s where the Guitartown party was in the home stretch. I caught the last few songs by Patty Hurst Shifter. They’ve got a tough ragged/jagged two guitar thing going. The last song sounded like a cover…maybe "Call Off Your Dogs"? The Gourds closed out the party with a bunch of new songs, presumably off of their latest album. They’ve shifted their sound a bit- Kevin now primarily plays electric guitar (rather than mandolin) and Claude now plays keyboards (with occasional songs on accordion). They opened with a rocker that had a Faces vibe to it. The next song was a dead ringer for The Sir Douglas Quintet…it wasn’t much of a transition at all when they ended this one by singing a verse of "She’s About A Mover". A slower one sung by Jimmy just seemed to sit there. They ended with a couple of upbeat covers: Bob Wills’ "Take Me Back To Tulsa" and The Stones’ "Miss You", Kevin contorting his arms about, adding a little physical comedy to the visuals.
I then walked a few blocks over to Austin Music Hall for the Austin Music Awards. I was a bit leery of the "awards show" format (less rock, more talk), but if Roky Erickson is on the bill, I’m there. I arrived right as Jerry Cole (backed by Three Balls Of Fire) was playing "Tequila". After a few awards (best record store, best concert poster, etc.) were handed out, I heard a handful of songs by Jon Dee Graham. My next-day memory isn’t coming up with song titles, but what really stole the show was when JD’s six year old son, Willie came out to sing a song. Willie has experienced some major medical problems lately and the whole Austin music community has rallied to his help with a few benefit concerts and recordings. I got all glassy-eyed when he came out in his cowboy shirt and hat and played (left handed) guitar and sang a song he wrote. At a couple of points, he was a bit unsure of himself and looked over to dad for reassurance. He did just fine…needless to say, the crowd was moved mightily. JDG was joined by Eliza Gilkyson for a couple of songs right at the end of this set.
Somewhere during the proceedings, Kinky Freidman got up and gave the five-minute speech he’s come up with in his run for governor of Texas. He’s obviously running as the disaffected (but famous from show-biz) outsider, ala Jessie Ventura.
A few awards later, we got a handful of songs by Kris Kristofferson and Jessie Colter; Kris on acoustic guitar and Jessie on keyboards. They opened with one by Jessie, KK providing vocals originally handled by Waylon. "Storms Never Last" was my favorite of the bunch…Jessie can still expressively hit all the notes and break your heart. Kris has obviously hit some home runs in the major leagues of songwriting, even if his singing isn’t the best vehicle for delivering them. He closed this mini-set out with "Help Me Make It Through The Night".
Jim Utz and I moved right in front of the stage as the night’s biggest awards (best artist, best guitar player, hall of fame, etc.) were handed out. Soon enough, I was right where I wanted to be when Roky Erickson And The Explosives took the stage. They opened with "It’s A Cold Night For Alligators", instantly changing the room from a somewhat stuffy awards show (hipper than most in that regard, but still…) into righteous rock show. Whenever Roky plays, it’s a virtual love-fest with his adoring audience (myself, included)…lots of people singing along to songs that would strike most folks (even big music fans) as unfamiliar. Everyone’s smiles grew even bigger when they lit into "Starry Eyes"; the melody rings as bright as the lyrics on this one. Roky introduced a former member of The Thirteenth Floor Elevators- a grey-haired hippie looking dude, Powell St. John who added backing vocals on the introspective "Right Track Now" (a breathtaking ballad on par with "You Don’t Love Me Yet") and harmonica on Roky’s "greatest hit"- "You’re Gonna Miss Me". The enthused crowd urged them into a one-song encore…"Bermuda" gave us another obscure gem to jump up and down to. Big smiles as the hall emptied out into the streets where there were still a couple of hours of live music left for night number one…
As I made my way toward Sixth Street, the dreamy music emanating from the outdoor stage at Fox and Hound sounded familiar…as I got closer, it became apparent that "special guest" was The Flaming Lips. The venue was sold out, but a group of about fifty people could see (dimly lit stage and beach balls bouncing in the crowd) and hear (that lush Yoshimi-era groove) pretty well from the park across the street. I stuck around for one song- "Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots", before heading out to find something a bit more rocking.
…I found it in the form of the last half of the set by The Ponys at The Parish (virtually the same as their afternoon set at Emo’s) and at Caribbean Lights where Steve Wynn And The Miracle Three gave us another set of exhilarating rock. By now, they know what works best in these limited "showcase" settings and get right to business. They always do the adrenalin-ized "Death Valley Rain"…there’s an extreme sense of urgency/intensity that takes my breath away even after repeated listenings. In addition to a bunch of songs from the new album, they also did the old Dream Syndicate (Wynn’s former band) song, "That’s What You Always Say". It was nice to run into my buddies from The Love Experts there; it makes sense that they would seek out the glowing two-guitar rock. The 2AM shuttle got me back out to the hotel just before my Arkansas buddies showed up…we proceeded to catch up and hang out until way late. One down, three nights to go…
3/16/06 SXSW Thursday. Thursday is the day Twangfest and KDHX host our annual party at Jovita’s Restaurant in Austin. I showed up with the rest of the "Twang Gang" at around 11AM to get ready…setting up the merch table, hanging banners, sawing parts off of the drum riser and moving it across the outdoor stage (?), etc. Today we had bands scheduled on both the indoor and outdoor stages, with somewhat staggered start times.
First up on the indoor stage was Australia’s Blue Bottle Kiss. The room was still sparse when they started into their set of loud, hard, crisp guitar rock (approximately in that Dream Syndicate vein). Pretty early on, though, troubles arose with the rented drum kit- first the drum kick pedal stopped working and once it was coaxed back to life, the bass drum head split down the middle. The band took it in good humor; the frontman/singer guy shifted over to solo mode for a song or two and was then joined by just the bass player for the last couple of songs.
Next up on the indoor stage was Eef Barzalay, frontman for one of my current favorite bands, Clem Snide. Since some of my favorite CS recordings are delivered by just Eef and his guitar, I didn’t find it much of a stretch to appreciate his solo efforts. For those who cite Barzalay’s whiney vocal delivery as an obstacle to appreciating Clem Snide, this set wasn’t likely to change things…it’s an acquired taste, for sure. From his new solo CD, he did "The Ballad Of Bitter Honey" (the one whose lyrics are from the perspective of sexy black chick who uses what she’s got to get what she wants) as well as "Well" ("the truth must leave the room if I ever wish you well"). I found out later (via a friend’s blog) that he covered Christina Aguilera and Neutral Milk Hotel, but I didn’t recognize the songs. He did a couple of CS songs, too: "Fill Me With Your Light" and "Mike Kalinsky"…the latter was OK, but he’s got so many inspiring "songs", that I didn’t like settling for a spoken-word story.
Meanwhile on the outdoor stage, a solo singer/songwriter had toiled to a handful of people and it was now time for yet another set by Steve Wynn And The Miracle Three, featuring more songs from Tick, Tick, Tick as well as another inspired version of "Death Valley Rain". Somehow, this music wasn’t quite as satisfying in this outdoor setting…the intensity seemed to disperse into the air. These guys belong in a bar. They ended with "Amphetamine".
By the time Lucero started up on the indoor stage, we had achieved what we were hoping for- the room was painfully crowded…successful party, unpleasant setting. Lots of people were singing along. What do they sound like? A grungier version of Two Cow Garage. Occasionally, the guitar would flash some catchy, articulate leads. The lead singer has a raspy twang…a lot like Patterson Hood or Micah from 2CG. They honestly didn’t do much for me (maybe they’ll grow on me), but I’m glad everyone else was into it.
Ping pong back to the outdoor stage…I only heard a song or two by Otis Gibbs. He sounded like he looked- ragged and gravelly. A short while later Marah played on the indoor stage, but my appreciation of the music was compromised by taking care of business: "Do you have this t-shirt in a medium?"…"Do you have change for a twenty?" As usual, they poured it on and rocked the house, but I didn’t pick up on the specifics…this held true throughout the rest of the afternoon, so I just have scattered impressions from here on out:
Milton Mapes played in front of 50 or 60 people…lots of familiar faces; more punched up than the other times I’ve seen ‘em. Back inside, I heard a couple of songs by Jolie Holland. Backed by a spare drum and guitar (and JH on fiddle), she did TVZ’s "Waitin’ Round To Die" and Abilene" (she took a whistling solo on the latter). The tone was rather bleak and the room had thinned out considerably from its peak. Back outside, Glossary mixed male and female vocals, sounding brighter and poppier than I remember. Adrienne Young & Little Sadie closed things out on the indoor stage with another hearty, wholesome set. She’s got a country/pop voice, like a bluegrass-tinged (banjo, stand-up bass, mandolin & fiddle) version of Mary Chapin Carpenter. Songs I remember: "Jump The Broom" and "Home Remedy". By now the dance floor was completely empty, except for a couple of little kids, who were having a great time dancing around.
All this music and the night hasn’t even begun. Back in St. Louis, if I have a choice between seeing a local band or a touring one, I’ll usually opt for the latter, since I know that I’ll get another chance to hear the locals. So with hundreds of bands to choose from tonight, I decided I ought to go support the home team and check out the Undertow Records showcase at Habana Calle 6. Plus, I was curious to see if they would respond to the occasion and how they would be received. There were maybe 40 people on hand when the music started at 8PM…considering that a good number of these people were members of the five other bands that were on tonight’s bill, I was glad I was contributing to the attendance, as well.
The Love Experts were up first…the guitars glowed and things were almost instantly joyous. Steve C. delivered his mannered Brian Ferry/Guy Kaiser-influenced vocals and once again busted out his set of endearingly modest stage moves. And they got ‘em some songs… "Cuba Street" stood out, as did the ever-pleasing "Your Shining Hour"…by the time the guitars had traded leads back and forth a time or two and that descending (right word?) bass line carried things through the home stretch, almost everyone in the room was won over. They ended with "Bright Red Carnation", giving the guitars one last engaging workout.
Waterloo played next. They seemed to have consciously decided to come out swinging; none of that dreamy intro thing that they usually do back home. Mark and Chris ripped into their guitars. By now, I’ve come to expect Dave’s bass playing to be spirited and inventive, so nothing new to report on that score. Everyone I talked to said this was the best they’ve ever seen them.
Next up was Steve Dawson. Backed by unique instrumentation (b, d, k, g, vibraphone & steel guitar) and Diane Christianson on backing vocals, he laid on the white soul. If you think of Paul Carrack’s "Tempted", you’ll be in the approximate neighborhood of what SD does. The standout song was the title track from his current "Sweet Is The Anchor" CD. Before this set was over, though, I found that the long day was wearing on me in a way that wasn’t compatible with the subtle nature of the groove they were laying down…I had to get moving in order to keep from fading. Can I invoke the George Castanza "It’s me, not you" clause? So I was out the door to…
Elysium, where the ubiquitous Michael Pemberton joined me to hear Translator…I hadn’t heard this mid-eighties guitar band since, well, the mid-eighties. Even though I hadn’t heard these songs in (literally) decades, songs like "Everywhere That I’m Not", "Necessary Spinning" and "Everywhere" (with its trademark deep guitar lead) rang familiar and appealing. A good number of people in the crowd were singing along, as well. I’m not sure that I ever noticed that they had two distinctive singers (and songwriters)- it all made sense seeing (and hearing) them.
Right around midnight, I made it over to Exodus to make sure I was in the room for the 1AM act. Since I was on my feet, non-stop, for the past fourteen hours (and because I’m an old guy), I happily grabbed an available barstool at the third floor balcony rail right as The Lovemakers were going onstage. From this vantage point, I had a good view of the dense crowd in front of the stage…quite a few people singing along with the lead (female) singer…her voice did a rise/fall borderline-shriek thing that at times (not always) reminded me of The B52’s Kate Pierson. She also played electric violin alongside of some edgy electric guitar.
So now it’s almost 1AM…time for one of my favorite bands of last year- The Eagles Of Death Metal. They’re a fun, little side-project of The Queens Of The Stone Age…they do a loose, badass blues-rock thing. The lead singer (g) sings in an affected high (often falsetto) voice not too far off from that guy in Canned Heat, although tonight it wasn’t as exaggerated as on their Peace, Love, Death, Metal CD. They ramped up the intensity tonight, as well…from my balcony perch I could only see the bass player (and occasionally the guitar player), but the dense, manic crowd pressed to the front of the stage proved to be a suitable visual substitute. The songs all had a cocky swagger to them; the drummer was fond of the cowbell. Lots of songs featured their trademark pause pretty far into the song…a false ending before returning with a fun little coda, falling right back into the confident groove. They did a bunch of unfamiliar songs (presumably from their as-yet unreleased new CD) as well as favorites from their debut CD, such as "Flames Go Higher" (that’s the one that has recently shown up in that car commercial), "I Only Want You" and "Whorehoppin’ (Shit, Goddamn)". When they sing, "Who’ll kiss the devil? ... I will kiss the devil on his tongue", it’s not so much a satanic invocation as a hedonistic reaction to prudish moralists. Same holds true for the writhing masses singing along at their feet. Another 2AM shuttle back to the hotel, another nightcap with my roommates. Two down, two to go…
3/17/06 SXSW Friday. Our crew woke up to the NCAA tournament on the hotel TV. My three friends from Arkansas took the Razorbacks’ first round loss harder than the rest of us. Meanwhile, back at Red Eyed Fly, Grand Champeen was taking the stage at yet another of those daytime parties. They set the bar pretty high for today’s live music marathon…I like all kinds of music, but I’d have a hard time choosing something over melodic pop songs delivered via hard guitars. GC hits that spot, big time. Both guitars get involved…kinda like a less sloppy Replacements. I’m a total sucker for a soaring melody that has a little hesitate/pause in it that allows everyone (audience included) to come down hard on the beat (think: The Only Ones "Another Girl, Another Planet"). They applied all of the above to a bunch of new songs (from their new, as-yet unreleased CD), Elvis Costello’s "Radio, Radio" and ended with what sounded like a Big Star cover (subtract coolness points for not recognizing it by name).
The rest of my afternoon was spent hooking up with friends and walking around downtown. I briefly stopped into some bar on Red River and heard a couple of songs by Rubber Robot. What’s a punk rock band gotta do to stand out from the hundreds of other punk rock bands playing at approximately the same time and town? I know- let’s all wear horse-head masks (kinda like those found on a merry-go-round) and instead of a lead singer, our lead horse-head guy will play theremin…and quite an expressive one, at that. I shared a "What the hell?" smile with the twenty or so people in the room. Two songs was just about enough.
I took the bus down to the Bloodshot party at Yard Dog in time to squeeze into the crowded courtyard to hear Scott Biram. He once again delivered his rompin’, stompin’ howling blues through one of those distorto-mics. Since he plays seated (in order to stomp on his footboard), he couldn’t be seen from where I stood (maybe the first time I’ve heard a musician without actually seeing him).
Next was a quick dinner with Greg and Suellen at some noodle joint on Fifth Street before a brisk walk over to the outdoor stage at The Victory Grill where Kinky Friedman was giving the same campaign speech I heard him give on Wednesday night. I found a little space up front near Jim and Michael right before Roky Erickson And The Explosives launched into their final set of SXSW 2006, once again opening with "It’s A Cold Night For Alligators". The crowd was big and lots of people were ecstatically singing along. When they started into "Starry Eyes", I had to share with Nancy back home, via cell phone. As the set played out, it became apparent that the Explosives’ lead guitar player acts as Roky’s "handler", making sure that everything is just right and that the author of all of these great songs is properly clued into how things are gonna go. Roky’s ability to apply his fascination with the occult to quintessential psychedelic/garage rock stylings was well represented in "Don’t Shake Me Lucifer" and "Two Headed Dog". The crowd was loving it, insisting on an encore after this all-too-brief set. They finally coaxed Roky back out…he closed things out with the mid-tempo "I Walked With A Zombie" and almost immediately afterward, people scattered for their respective Friday night destinations.
I made it down to the big outdoor stage at auditorium shores about halfway through the set by The Little Willies- they’re an all-star, larger than life "country band", loosely formed as a Willie Nelson cover band. The most notable Willie is Norah Jones on vocals and piano. I heard their versions of "I Gotta Get Drunk" and "Streets Of Baltimore" (Richard Julian on lead vocals), among others. Pleasant enough, but all in all, I prefer my country music served up a little greasier, and in a more cozy environment. After their set, Kinky Freidman took the stage and gave the same speech I heard him give across town an hour earlier.
Through the miracle of cell phone technology, I was able to locate my St. Louis crew right up front in this crowded field just as Rosanne Cash was taking the stage. Backed by bass, drums, acoustic guitar/fiddle and lead electric guitar (her husband, John Leventhal), she applied her always pleasing voice to a set that was heavy on songs from her current Black Cadillac CD. The sound was surprisingly clear for one of those big outdoor stages, but her newer material has a very personal, introspective tone to it(it addresses the recent loss of her famous father, among other subjects)…much more suitable for a more intimate setting (she played the Sheldon a couple of years ago) than this open field in front of thousands of people who came to party. As you might guess, things clicked with the audience best during the more upbeat songs, three of which were recorded by her dad way back when: "Tennessee Flat Top Box", "Sea Of Heartbreak" and "Big River". "Seven Year Ache", with its country-pop groove also worked well tonight. Soon enough, her set wound down and thousands of people streamed out of the field and into the bars. Our group took a nice little walk across the Lavaca bridge and found our way to Sixth Street before dispersing into smaller groups.
Walt and I ducked into the Whiskey Bar to take a little breather from live music. For whatever reason, a couple of drunk chicks had taken to gyrating to the recorded music…like we were in a denim clad version of a strip club. They even made good use of the vertical pole right in front of our table. Y’all have fun, we’re outta here…
A few of our late night options came and went as we encountered impossibly long lines at certain clubs along Sixth Street. We eventually got in line at Habana Calle 6 right beside these three guys from Denmark. It turns out they’re in a band called epo-555, who had played a showcase gig the night before. We talked with these guys the whole time we were in line, so by the time we got into the club, we were buds…we were buying them rounds, they we buying us rounds and our little group had expanded some. The Woggles took the stage right at 1AM. Dressed in matching sixties-style button-up shirts and flanked by a pair of scantily clad go-go dancers, they gave us about an hour’s worth of energetic garage rock. As always, The Professor (the band’s lead singer) took frequent strolls out into the audience, where he whipped folks into a frenzy. It was fun to see Walt throw his considerable enthusiasm into a band he hadn’t even heard of a couple of hours ago. I designated-drove his truck back to the hotel for the now-familiar nightcap beer at around 3AM.
3/18/06 SXSW Saturday. I made it over the YMCA for a swim before the final day of non-stop live music…John and Marie picked me up in a steady drizzle, less than ideal conditions for our second Twangfest/KDHX/Undertow daytime party at Jovita’s. The Love Experts started up right at noon on the indoor stage…a bit more subdued and moody than the full-on ringing pop set they did a couple of nights ago. Since it was early (and just about everybody in town was out late last night) the crowd was on the light side. It was decided pretty early on that the rain was bad enough to abort the proceedings on the outdoor stage, so the Undertow guys scrambled to juggle the lineup and shorten sets in order to give some of the "outdoor acts" a little time on the indoor stage. Between tending to a few official chores (merch table, tip jar) and the hurried change-on-the-fly nature of the lineup, the afternoon was a bit of a blur. Here’s some of what I remember:
Two Cow Garage played next- more of that grungy country rock. They did "Alphabet City" early on, before bringing up a guy (from I Can Lick Any SOB…) to join them on guest vocals and harmonica. Toward the end they did "Epitaph" and Nirvana’s "Something In The Way". Did I say it was grungy? The Drams were more melodic than I remember from last June. Keyboards make the sound more diverse than what Brent Best and co. did as Slobberbone. They ended by imparting their own grungy fingerprints on Chris Bell’s "I Am The Cosmos". My impression of Magnolia Summer as being more gentle, subtle and moody is being revised. This was the first time a Chris song (today’s set opener) has reminded me of Matthew Sweet. John Horton played a cool looking guitar; I’m told it's the Explorer body style. A song called "The Wrong Chords" (?) stood out. Seattle’s The Long Winters played as just a guitar/bass duo today…maybe it was just because of this instrumentation, but I somehow caught a Mountain Goats comparison: confessional near-pop songs rendered in a modest, sketchy manner. Frontman John Roderick’s voice reminded me of Bill Janovitz from Buffalo Tom. They ended by honoring a request for "Medicine Cabinet Pirate".
Next up was The Amazing Pilots…dreamy Brit-pop from Ireland. Without much previous practice, Chris Grabau fit in nicely on guitar. Probably wrong song titles, but songs that stood out were "The Price Of Winter", "Stand Up Straight" and "Hospital Radio". Like some of their Undertow brethren (Waterloo, Magnolia Summer, Milton Mapes) they rendered their songs with considerably more punch than on CD. Steve Dawson gave us more smooth and soulful stuff. "Sweet Is the Anchor" once again stood out. Even though she was squeezed for time, Kelly Hogan sang with typical grace and ease. Backed by Joel Paterson on guitar and Chris Scruggs on steel guitar. Since she had just met Scruggs the night before, they pretty much stuck to standards ("this one’s your basic blues in F"), including "Watermelon Time In Georgia" and "Columbus Stockade Blues". She ended her brief set with a sassy one that I think is called "Filthy McNasty". Since she’s such a great singer and a fun person, I was happy that folks were quite generous to her, via the tip jar. By now it was almost 6PM and lots of people had cleared out to pursue dinner and/or the night’s schedule of (what else?) live music. Walter Clevenger And The Dairy Kings started up with only a handful of people still around, but that didn’t stop them from pouring their hearts out, opening with his pub-rock send-up "Yesterday’s News Now" and following quickly with the double-speed power honky tonker "Tell Me Another Lie". Hard guitar pop just the way I like it. His voice is approximately in the Steve Earle neighborhood. I would have liked to have heard more, but my ride was leaving and so was I.
After shrimp enchiladas at The Magnolia Café, we made it down to Sixth Street. Dave and Angela headed off to Stubb’s as I scouted out The Drink, where I wanted to catch the 10 PM act. When I looked into the club, Steve Carosello was looking out at me waving his hand that I should get inside ASAP. What he was so enthused about was The Hazey Janes. These four "kids" from Scotland laid on some ultra-catchy pop, delivered with soaring harmonies and ringing guitars. I was instantly grinning big and swaying to the infectious songs…one repeated the phrase "Don’t talk to me, I’m not here". Somehow, my description doesn’t fully express how much I was loving this band I hadn’t even heard of ten minutes ago. This was the instant winner of my "favorite set by someone I had never heard before" for SXSW 2006. I gotta check out their records.
The next act in this all-pop showcase was Andy Pratt. This oddball singer/songwriter (he looks like a cross between Larry David and Stephen Wright) is apparently something a cult figure in certain music-geek circles. He played solo (sometimes on guitar, sometimes piano) and laid on the eccentric vocals (sometimes falsetto, sometimes lots of "la la la"s). The most melodic song was a cover: Carole King’s "Goin’ Back". Toward the end, he did a song that was apparently a minor hit back in 1973; "Avenging Annie" borrowed heavily from the song structure of Woody Guthrie’s "Pretty Boy Floyd". All in all, this was some pretty trying stuff. The best thing about taking in this set was that it put me ten feet from the stage for the 10PM act…
This small bar (maybe the size of Cicero’s) was packed (with a substantial line out the door) as some technical people went through a very thorough sound check. Somehow, St. Louisan Beatle Bob was called on to introduce the next act. Here comes a slight digression: While watching Bob give his enthusiastic intro (on a Saturday in mid-March) it struck me that he is to live music what Dick Vitale is to college basketball. With both of these eager boosters, you’ll find plenty of people who are annoyed with how their over-the-top caricature personas threaten to make it "more about them" than the pursuit they’re promoting. And, you’ll find other people who defend them for their value as knowledgeable (if excessive) and supportive ambassadors; they get some folks excited. What really sealed the similarity for me was the actual sound of their animated voices. Think about it next time you hear Bob (or Dick) at the mic.
So after Beatle Bob’s fervent intro, Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet took the stage. My record store friends have been raving about their new (soon-to-be-released) album of all cover songs for a while now. My enjoyment of this set was greatly enhanced by having no prior knowledge of which cover songs I was about to hear…Steve just gave me this general clue: "Think of your favorite bands…then think of your favorite song by that band". There was a real joy in having these songs revealed to me as they appeared in the set: "Wow…"Cinnamon Girl"…cool, it’s "And Your Bird Can Sing"…Oh, man…"The Kids Are Alright". I live for the surprises. As you might guess, with these singers (and the impressive four-piece band behind them), all of the songs were done up righteously on all counts. The overall sound was a guitar-based jangle consistent with the respective back catalogs of Hoffs and Sweet. The falsetto "la la la"s have always been my least favorite part of Neil Young’s recording of "Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere"…these guys "corrected" that with Hoffs’ more mid-range background treatment. There wasn’t a dud in the bunch (although they did get a bit lost at the end of Dylan’s "It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue"), but Mike Nesmith’s "Different Drum" was my favorite of the night. During this amazing set, I (like everyone else in the room) was in a zone and grinning like a fiend.
Hoffs, who has always been easy on the eyes, has maintained her good looks while Sweet, who never was much to look at, is even less so these days. There were six musicians onstage, but my eyes were pretty much locked on to SH for most of the set. There’s no reason at all that she would have cause to frequently look my way and briefly intensify her already beaming smile, but I just grinned back, as if (as if) she was somehow shooting me a look…a guy can dream, can’t he? Toward the end of the set, my little fantasy was, of course, dispelled when she dedicated a song (The Left Banke’s "She May Call You Up Tonight") to Steve C, who was standing right in front of me. D’oh! This was the winner of my "favorite set by someone I was already familiar with" for SXSW 2006. I gotta check out that record when it comes out.
After a foolhardy hike to Antone’s to see if I could get in to the home stretch of the Superchunk/ Camera Obscura/Robert Pollard showcase (the line was around the block) I went to "plan B" and went in to Bourbon Rocks where Garland Jefferies was just finishing up his set- I heard one reggae-ish song as well as his minor hit reworking of "96 Tears". Susan Cowsill and band took the stage right around midnight. The band provided a solid country-rock backing to the upbeat "Just Believe It", the sassy and bitter "Talkin’ (shit)" and that slower, contemplative one about the old man who’s not ready to leave this world. After being squeezed in tight for the early part of the evening, it was nice to have a bit of elbow room around me. Since my STL crew was just a block away, I made an early exit from this set to catch the last couple of songs by Josh Ritter (and band) at Eternal. I liked his character-rich voice just fine as he ended things with the mid-tempo "Kathleen"…Angela loved it. I think that’s the coolest thing about SXSW- there’s such a broad menu of diverse music happening at any given time that there’s bound to be something for everyone. I was nuts about stuff that other people couldn’t care less about and other people loved things I merely liked. There were still plenty of 1AM music options, but we were pretty much sated at this point. On the way to the car, we stopped in front of that spot on Sixth Street where Mary Lou Lord holds court long enough to hear her do "1952 Vincent Black Lightning". And that was it; one more in the books.
The following morning I had a nice breakfast with Ellen and her cute twin girls before beginning my odyssey from hell trip home: delayed (then cancelled) flight, six hour bus ride (in stop and go traffic on the interstate) to Dallas, flooded roads to my hotel, delayed Monday morning flight. It’s all funny now, not so much at the time.
3/25/06 Undertow Homecoming Show, The Duck Room. Over the years, I’ve had experiences where a friend has become a closer friend after we go on a road trip together. Tonight there was a lot of that going on, in all directions; between all of the Undertow bands who played down in Austin last week as well as with those of us who went and heard them play in the carnival atmosphere of SXSW. Since sheer frequency has made all three of tonight’s bands as tight as they’ve ever been, tonight was a fun little victory lap of sorts. Fortunately, there was enough variation from their most recent sets to keep things interesting. There were close to a hundred people in the room, lots of the usual suspects who come out to hear these guys.
As Waterloo played, my friend Jason (who sees these guys less often) was commenting on how the addition of Chris on guitar has hardened their sound. I had almost forgotten that there was once a quieter, gentler version of Waterloo way back when. As is their recent pattern, the guitars (and drums) came down hard…tonight was bassist Dave Melson’s debut on backing vocals.
The Love Experts played next. I liked their set, but I think I’ve said about all I have to say about them (see 3/16/06), at least for now. In case you don’t know about it, bassist Steve Scariano keeps a cool blog that has photos of all of the bands at tonight’s show as well as descriptions of a bunch of stuff from last week’s trip to Austin: http://rollawaythestone.blogspot.com/ Tonight, they once again ended their set with the one-two knockout punch of "Your Shining Hour" and "Bright Red Carnation".
Shortly after The Love Experts set, Steve Carosello came back out and did a couple of songs accompanied by Joe Thebeau on acoustic guitar and vocals. Not that I would know, but they were apparently covers by New Zealand’s The Mutton Birds.
Magnolia Summer’s revolving door lineup revolved once again tonight as new papa John Horton was with Liza and baby Grace and Joe Thebeau was once again in the lineup with Waterloo’s Mark Ray on keyboards. Got all that down on your scorecard? The band rocked hard and the audience drank hard. The encore was an even more incestuous cross-pollenization of Undertow artists doing that fresh and fun version of Chuck Berry’s "Round And Round".
The evening’s final treat/encore was an acoustic hootenanny version of Big Star’s "Ballad Of El Goodo", out on The Duck Room’s dance floor. All three bands’ frontmen (plus Mr. Thebeau) contributed vocals. There’s a good black and white photo of this on Steve’s blog.