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  Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 65

Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 65

3/12/08 SXSW Wednesday.  It’s always fun to see who’s on the plane heading to Austin.  This time I was on a flight with Roy, Dana, Annie Z and Chris Stamey (of the legendary indie-pop band, The dBs).  My Austin friend Ellen shuttled me from the airport out to the house in the ‘burbs where I staying  and  then over to the Guitartown party at Mother Egan’s where Chris Stamey was already into the second song of his set (Chris apparently took a more direct route from the airport).  I met up with Joe as the band (b, d, g, k & CS on v + g) went into “Something Came Over Me”…this sweeping, confessional song features a memorable guitar hook and is probably my favorite CS song. Their cover of Chris Bell’s “I Am The Cosmos” soared and inspired.  Hearing this song in the daylight, under a tent flashed us back to when the reconfigured Big Star played it in Columbia, MO in 1993.  Toward the end of their set they got a bit jammy.  When the band finished up, Joe and I walked over to Waterloo Records and Cheapo Records before returning to the Guitartown party.  This year’s party was dedicated to the memory of Drew Glackin, the bassist for The Silos.  There was big picture of Drew’s smiling face (through a chain link fence) hung behind the stage. 
To keep from making this write-up impossibly long, things are likely to get brief from here on out…Jon Dee Graham and band (d, slide guitar & Andrew Duplantis on bass) played all hard and gnarly.  They opened with “Full”…the slide guitar on this one always reminds me of Little Feat.  Other songs I remember: “End Of The Summer” and “Laredo”.  What happened?  The dope ran out.  Next came Chip Robinson (former frontman for The Backsliders)… I didn’t recognize any of the songs, but Eric Ambel’s country-rock leads lit up them up in the same way they do on Steve Earle’s material.
Somewhere in there, I ran into a few more friends and a couple of beers. Next came a set by Blue Mountain.  They did a good mix of old favorites (“Mountain Girl” and “Blue Canoe”) and new ones (“Butterfly”…kinda like a cross between Jimi’s “Waterfall” and Paul’s “Band On The Run” and one about Mississippi juke joints).  Cary Hudson can still rip it up on guitar.
After a brief dinner break (Cuban sandwiches), Joe and I headed over to Austin Music Hall for the Austin Music Awards, basically because Roky Erickson was on the bill…and just like my experience two years ago, my patience was tried as winners of each category were announced and given a little time to speak.  Along the way, there was a brief set by Roy Head.  His band kicked things off with an instrumental version of RH’s big hit “Treat Her Right”.  There was a guest vocal performance by Roy’s son, “Sundance” Head…apparently he was recently a contestant on “American Idol” (and is, consequently, more well known than dad).  Sundance sang a pretty spirited version of “Stormy Monday”, the song he did on TV.  Roy closed this brief set out by singing “Treat Her Right”, complete with those trademark “hey, hey, hey”s and some animated jumping around.  As the schedule began to slide and things ran late, Joe and I made a brief exit to go grab a Red Bull down the block. 
I returned just as Okervil River came out, sporting some sharp suits and impressive instrumental chops.  The songs didn’t wow me and I’m not humming them the next day.  After three songs, they welcomed Roky Erickson to the stage and I hustled up to the standing area, just a few feet from the stage.  Roky came out displaying his (mostly grey) full beard and gleaming grin.  Okervil River’s impressive instrumentation was put to good use as they lit up “You Gonna Miss Me”, “Starry Eyes” and “I Walk With a Zombie”.  The dense bunch of us dancing around up front were grooving and grinning.  As much as I loved it, I was a bit disappointed when Roky smiled and waved “goodbye” after only three songs.
I then hustled over to the Soho Lounge to meet back up with Joe just before The Hard Lessons started up.  While seeing them in this midnight showcase spot at SXSW, it was hard to believe that we had just seen them in the rather sedate setting of that Webster Groves restaurant/bar five days earlier.  They belted out the staples from their only CD with added vigor tonight: “When you say alright it makes me feel alright…all right”, “Boys, boys, girls, girls, nobody, nobody…” and “I take milk and sugar in my tea” (not the actual titles, but that’s how I remember them).  Augie’s acrobatic brand of showmanship took him up onto a chest-high rail in front of the stage and briefly into the hands of the crowd, surfing around some, before returning to the stage to finish things out.  From there, I made arrangements, via text-message for a 2AM ride from Grace back to the house in the suburbs where about eight of us were staying.
3/13/08 SXSW Thursday.  Grace and I drove straight from our suburban accommodations to Jovita’s, a Mexican restaurant, where we (Twangfest/KDHX) were hosting the first of our two daytime parties.  It was great to catch up with Amy LaVere (and band) a little bit before they started things off with their opening set on the indoor stage…the usual enjoyable set, highlighting songs from her current Anchors And Anvils CD: “Washing Machine”, “If Love Was A Train”, “People Get Mad”, “Killing Him”, “Pointless Drinking”, “That Beat” etc…it was seductive and slinky, even in the early afternoon.  My enjoyment of this set (as well as most others all afternoon) was often hampered by having to deal with work-related tasks…merch table, tip jar, stage managing stuff, etc.  My memory of how it all went is as scattered as I was, but here goes:
The Black Diamond Heavies played next on the indoor stage…this was the first time I’ve seen them since they’ve become a two-piece (just keyboards and drums, now).  The crowd was on the light side, but the band still poured it on.  The keyboard player’s voice sounds like Tom Waits’. 
The crowd was bigger at the outdoor stage where that collective of bands called This Is American Music was playing.  I only caught isolated glimpses of it, but I did hear The Drams do “I Can Tell Your Love Is Waning” and a handful of songs by Grand Champeen : “Nice Of You To Join Us”, “Wounded Eye”, “Rottweiler Hair” and Bruce’s “Born To Run”.  Assorted members of Two Cow Garage and Glossary added backing vocals.  Earlier in the set, frontman Channing Lewis’ three-year-old son got up with his toy guitar and jammed with dad’s band.  Somewhere along the way, the clouds cleared off and it was sunny out.
Meanwhile, back on the indoor stage David Bazan (of Pedro The Lion) was doing a solo electric, indie-rock strummy thing.  A couple of friends who are fans were eating it up.  With no preexisting familiarity, I wasn’t especially grabbed by it.  In fairness, my attention was scattered.  Next came a set by Scott H Biram.  Seated in a chair, he played some greasy blues guitar while stomping on a tambourine and singing into one of those distorto-mics…“how, how, how”.  One song featured a hiccup, imitating the way a skip on a record sounds.  Ha Ha Tonka played a set of hard, tough, electric country rock.  The only song I remember was “Twelve Inch, Three Speed, Oscillating Fan”.
In terms of crowd density and band intensity, today’s peak came when The Legendary Shack Shakers ripped through a manic, searing set of meth-lab rockabilly…kinda like Jason and the Scorchers meets “Deliverance”.  The band (b, d, g) play with plenty of fire, but their calling card is the uninhibited, over-the-top (and then some) antics of frontman J. D. Wilkes.  Call it showmanship or schtick, this guy is never at a loss for something entertaining and outrageous to do, one song to the next.
A late addition to the outdoor stage lineup was Jon Langford and Jean Cook.  Accompanied by a mandolin player, JL (g/v) and JC (fiddle) played a cozy, relaxed set to a lighter crowd in the late afternoon sun.  I can’t remember any of the songs.  Shortly after the set ended, Jason and I headed over to Shady Grove for beef brisket tacos. 
On his way to check out a movie, Jason dropped me off at The Continental Club, where I met up with Joe.  We found a table just as Chris Stamey and band (b, g, k, CS on g/v and the legendary Anton Fier on drums) were starting up.  Tonight’s set was fairly similar to yesterday’s set at the Guitartown party…Chris’ high, bright voice once again lit up “Something Came Over Me” and “I Am The Cosmos”.  “Before We Were Born” has a funky/chunky syncopation to it, ala T. Rex’s “Jeepster”.  It was also nice to hear the gentle ballad “From The Word GO”.
Next came Austin’s The Mother Truckers.  This was the second time I had seen them; both times they reminded me of the country-rock bar bands I used to see back in the seventies.  Impressive enough Telecaster leads, a pleasant enough lead (female) singer over your standard boom-tap drums.  A fine night’s entertainment, but they’re not breaking any new ground here.  The chick singer did a nice sparse song on ukulele.
Next up on this Yep Roc Records showcase was one of my current favorites, Chatham County Line.  This North Carolina bluegrass (not exclusively) band came out wearing sharp suits with their home state flag hanging on the wall behind them.  They did lots off of their current IV album, including “Chip Of A Star” (a dreamy, banjo-driven ballad), “The Carolinian” (my current favorite…it’s one of those sad story songs) and “Birmingham Jail” (fervent fiddle accentuates this tale of a particularly ugly episode in the civil rights struggle).  Since I’m a big fan, I was annoyed by the widespread crowd chatter around me.  This kind of acoustic music doesn’t fare well in a crowd of unfamiliar drinkers.  It made me glad that we’ve got them playing at our house next Saturday, where I can count on clear sound and an attentive audience.   As their time wound down, the band stepped off of the stage and into the center of the dance floor, right in the thick of the crowd, to do “Let It Rock” and The Travelling Wilbury’s “End Of The Line”.
The last band we heard tonight was The Sadies.  Fronted by brothers Travis and Dallas Good, this Canadian four-piece (g, g, d & stand-up bass) have a reputation as musicians’ musicians.  They show up as the backing band on lots of other artists’ tours and albums.  They’re pretty adept at whatever genre they dip into, but what they do best tends to hover in that big, bold surf/spaghetti western guitar vein.  A fiddle showed up on a song or two and they brought soul legend Andre Williams out to sing and play on one.  The only song I remember was “There’s a Higher Power”.  Joe and I ended up over at Magnolia Café for late-night tacos, before he dropped off to meet my 2AM ride back out to the ‘burbs.
3/14/08 SXSW Friday.  Guess what I did today?  I got a ride into town from some of my KDHX roommates and got dropped off near Sixth Street.  I walked into the Yep Roc daytime party at The Dirty Dog Saloon just as Chatham County Line was going onstage.  They opened with “The Carolinian” and this time the crowd was sparse and quiet enough for me to hear the words and music loud and clear.  I had never focused on the lyrical conclusion of the third verse before, so it had great impact when I heard it today…I got a tear in my eye about the same time the character in the song did.  They also did “Birmingham Jail” and a couple of instrumentals.
Next came Chuck Prophet and band (b, d, g, k & CP on g/v)…lots of sublime guitar interplay applied to songs mostly from his current Soap And Water CD.  “Freckle”, “Downtime” and “You Did” stood out.  Somewhere in there, he covered Iggy’s “I’m Bored”. 
So now it’s two in the afternoon and I’ve already heard a couple of bands with plenty more playing all over town.  But instead of diving in for more, I ended up taking most of the afternoon off.  Joe and I met up at Flatstock…it’s a trade show of rock concert poster artists, held in the Austin Convention Center.  Dozens of artists were set up at booths displaying their work.  I was particularly taken by the work of the guy at Ocho Loco Press  (http://www.ocholocopress.com ) who prints his posters onto ¼” plywood.
From there we walked through the ongoing parade of music fans/party dudes/urban hipsters to Stubb’s…we could hear The Hard Lessons playing inside at the invite-only Village Voice party, but that was as close as we got…guess they’re not gonna let us squeeze in the see X a little later, either.   We then looped west to La Zona Rosa, where hundreds of people were packed in to see/hear And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead.  They played all hard and dramatic in a way that reminded me (& Joe) of U2.  Somehow, it just wasn’t registering with me and I felt old.  Hell, I was a good ten years over the average age of people at SXSW when I first started coming in 1993.  Now I’m almost 50, while that average age seems to have stayed at right around 25.  We headed over to Chuy’s for Tex-Mex tacos before grabbing a quick power nap over at Joe’s hotel.
After the early evening re-charge, we braved the traffic/parking hassles of downtown, arriving at Momo’s just before Austin’s Future Clouds And Radar (b, d, g, k & accordion/trumpet) went on.  Fronted by Robert Harrison (ex-Cotton Mather), these guys do a bright, playful pop thing.  Reference points might be The Beatles, by way of the likes of Squeeze and XTC.  The only song I remember was “Hurricane Judy”.
Then it was off to The Continental Club for the showcase presented by The Ponderosa Stomp (that cool New Orleans soul/rockabilly/garage festival).  The first act we heard was Little Freddie King.  He’s this old guy (maybe in his seventies?) playing this juke joint style electric blues…the kind of down and dirty picking patterns that always make me want to mutter “how, how, how…”  The only song I recognized/remembered was “Hideaway”.  When Freddie’s set wound down a few people headed out and we were able to grab a couple of barstools…a real asset for old guys like me.
Next on the bill was Michael Hurt And The Haunted Hearts…they’re a pretty standard rockabilly band, complete with stand-up bass.  I think they covered a Buddy Holly song (it gets to be a bit of a blur after a while).  The last band we saw was Kenny And The Casuals, who were apparently, a quasi-legendary Texas garage band, operating in the approximate orbit of The Sir Douglas Quintet and The Thirteenth Floor Elevators.  When they did “Gloria” I noticed how similar it’s structure is to that of “The Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me”.  Shortly after this set, I caught my 2AM ride back out to the ‘burbs.
3/15/08 SXSW Saturday.  The whole KDHX crew drove in from our suburban rental house around eleven and set up to host our second all-day party at Jovita’s.  There was a decent crowd at noon when Kevin Gordon (backed by drums & guitar) started off on the indoor stage.  Today he struck me as a minor league version (not meant as a slam) of John Hiatt…he’s got a loose, white soul/blues shuffle thing going and his voice is in a similar range to that of JH.  He did the song about a Cadillac, as well as “24 Diamonds”.  I only caught brief glimpse of Alaska’s The Whipsaws out on the outdoor stage…grungy country rock, approximately along the lines of The Drive-by Truckers or Two Cow Garage.
Next up on the indoor stage was The Redwalls.  They were the first of five acts on today’s bill who have played at our house in St. Louis.  Their bright, catchy pop caught a lot of people by (pleasant) surprise.  Song selection was similar to that of their recent set at Bluebird in STL…heavy on material from their current, self-titled CD: “Hangman”, “They Are Among Us”(features a swirling guitar doing something resembling the theme to “Twilight Zone”), “Falling Down” (with it’s trademark Lennon-esque “ohohohoh”), “Edge Of The Night”, “Modern Diet” (“They say…”), “Game Of Love”, “Build A Bridge”, etc.  A few people buying CDs afterward were surprised to learn that they were from Chicago, not UK.
By the time The Redwalls set had wound down, I had totally missed Tim Easton on the outdoor stage.  The overall vibe all afternoon was very relaxed and familiar…a big ol’ party with lots of familiar faces and good music.  I managed to catch the last couple of songs by Tommy Womack (backed by bass and drums) on the outdoor stage. “It Was A Nice Day” and “Alpha Male…” are a couple of my favorite Tommy songs; both carry his “it’s weird, but I’m OK with it” bent.
Shortly after, Chuck Prophet (and band) were up on the indoor stage…very similar to yesterday’s set at the Yep Roc party.  “You Did” stood out, with it’s dark, soulful groove. 
The room was packed when The Waco Brothers ripped through their revved and rollicking set on the indoor stage.  Seven band members onstage (b, d, fiddle, mandolin, g, g & steel).  They packed this brief set with lots of their tougher, catchier songs: “Harm’s Way”, “Plenty Tough And Union Made”, “Do What I Say” and “Revolution Blues” (maybe my favorite Neil Young cover).  The crowd ate it up.
Attribute it to the prevailing loose, party atmosphere or how quick it happened, but I was not especially nervous when I walked up to the mic to introduce Blue Mountain.  The room was still packed as they ran through a good mix of old (“Mountain Girl”, “Band Called Bud”) and new (“Mississippi Midnight”, “Butterfly”) songs.  They had the full room in their hands as Cary’s guitar rang ragged and righteous.  They closed with “Blue Canoe”.  Yowza.  The crowd was hollering for more as they left the stage and I walked back out to the mic to thank the band and tell everyone there was still time to catch the last few songs of the set by…
Sarah Borges And The Broken Singles on the outdoor stage.  The outdoor deck was totally packed and the sun was shining as SBBS did “Just Between You And Me” and “Stop And Think It Over”.  Somewhere in there, Sarah’s microphone went out…without missing a beat, she stepped into the crowd and continued to belt it out, unplugged.  She sang a bluesy one, working in lyrics from the shouted suggestions of someone in the crowd.   They came back out for an encore: “Open Up Your Back Door”. 
I missed the indoor set by Wussy while Aaron Robinson closed things out on the outdoor stage.  His voice reminded me of Buffalo Tom’s Bill Janovitz.  Wish I remembered more, but I’ve fallen woefully behind on this concert diary thing and am now reconstructing things from my month-old scribbled notes.  You can check out Roy’s description (and a couple of photos) of the proceedings on the outdoor stage at: http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/atoz/2008/03/jon_hardy_the_public_tim_easto.php
When the last band had finished, everyone got a little more time to catch up and say “goodbye”.  When this all-day marathon finally wound down, we adjourned to Romeo’s for some outdoor dining beneath the live oaks before heading back out for…more music. 
Roy, Dana and I were able to negotiate the whole traffic/parking thing and find a decent spot at Stubb’s just before Okervil River went on.  Their sound was big and shimmering…my off-the-cuff, uninformed notion was “Ryan Adams doing a U2 impression”.  Since OR preceded (and then backed) Roky Erickson on stage on Wednesday night, I assumed that was what was gonna be the pattern tonight…not so.  After one of those long-winded Beatle Bob intros, Roky Erickson And The Explosives came out and delivered as long of a set as I’ve ever witnessed by them.  After many shaky years, it seems like Roky’s getting more confident and capable all the time. The set list was chock full of the good stuff from Roky’s vintage psychedelic/garage/Texas blues/quasi-occult catalog: “Don’t Shake Me Lucifer”, “White Faces”, “Bermuda”, “Two-Headed Dog”, “Night Of The Vampire”, “Mine, Mine, Mine” and “Starry Eyes” (with a revised guitar hook).  The only time/place I’ve ever seen Roky play is during SXSW, and every time it’s a big ol’ lovefest with his adoring fans.  Between each song, Roky would deliver his trademark grin and angular wave. He closed things out with his biggest hit, “You Gonna Miss Me”, spreading that smile all around as everyone filed out into the night.  Somewhere down the street, there was a line out the door to see X…their set of appearances this week has created a lot of buzz.
Going from the very familiar to “hardly at all”, we managed to beat the rush to get in to Esther’s Follies in time to buy drinks and popcorn (and even find seats) in this comedy club in plenty of time to see/hear Soundtrack Of Our Lives.  My vague notion of what this Scandinavian band does was something along the lines of the more folk/acoustic moments of Pink Floyd.  Tonight it was much more dramatic, full, lush and hard than that.  They had this Nordic, quasi-mystical thing going (picture the Stonehenge scene in “Spinal Tap”); the lead singer wore a robe.  Beyond that, my powers to absorb and process were beginning to fail me (I’m afraid to count the number of bands I’ve heard today).  Since I was kind of numb to what these guys were doing, I was happy going along with Dana’s suggestion to head across the street to catch another band, but a funny thing happened on the way to the door- the band’s lead singer had hopped off the stage and continued to sing, seated in the first row of seats, right in front of us.  Dana, not realizing this, filed right in front of him on her way out, eliciting some kind of “oh man, man don’t steal my thunder” comment from the guy.  At this point, all we could do was laugh and head out the door and over to Bourbon Rocks where…
Minipop was “headlining” this year’s SXSW…at least that’s the way they referred to playing in the last timeslot on the last night (I guess those other 1,599 bands were just a prelude to this blessed event).  Fronted by a pretty girl (in that alternative, hipster, waif-like way), this San Francisco four piece were alternately dreamy and desperate (Mazzy Serveert?).  Wish I could remember more, but it’s been a long day/week/month.  Once they closed out this year’s SXSW, I headed out amongst the drunken throngs on Sixth Street and met up with Nico.  We grabbed some late-night fast Mexican food (a click or two up from Del Taco) and made it back out to the ranch at around 4AM.
The next morning, I got dropped off at Jo’s Coffee, where I was soon met by Andrew and his twin daughters.  The four of us checked out the canines at the dog park before heading over to Zilker Park.  Andrew and the girls rode the train while I swam in the 68 degree waters of Barton Springs…it might have been the highlight of my trip.  After a late lunch at Shady Grove, Ellen dropped me off at the airport and that was it…another SXSW in the books.
3/17/08 John Doe, Vintage Vinyl.  John, Marie and I showed up just in time to hear JD do a handful of songs in solo acoustic mode: “Just A Little More Time”, “Silver Wings” (a request from the crowd…maybe the highlight of my night) and “White Girl”.  As you might guess, John’s simple, strummed acoustic guitar gave these renditions a much more simple feel than they have in full-band mode. He ended with “Golden State”. A few of the forty or fifty people in the crowd were mouthing the Kathleen Edwards backing vocals on this one.  John stuck around to shake hands and sign stuff before heading over to Sauget.
3/17/08 X, Pop’s.  Two nights ago, there was a line around the block to hear this band play at SXSW…tonight, I’m guessing there were only around 400 people on hand.  Location, Location, Location.  When Paul and I showed up at around nine, the opening act had already played…after a few minutes of catching up with a few people, X took the stage. 
The effort they put in tonight was every bit as spirited and tuneful as the shows they put on in this same room in 2003 and 2006, but the intensity (and crowd size) has continued to decline…this time around, the band was set up on the smaller stage on the right-hand side of the club (as opposed to the full-blown main stage).  The set list contained all of the hits from twenty five years ago: "White Girl", "Soul Kitchen", "Blue Spark", "Johnny Hit And Run Pauline", "Breathless", "True Love", "The New World", etc.  Billy Zoom’s guitar licks and DJ’s drumming were as impressive as ever and the vocals were clearer than last time around.  I gotta admit that it just didn’t feel right that I could stand twenty feet from the stage with plenty of elbow room and freely go back and forth to the bar.  I tried not to let the lack of intensity influence my appreciation of the music, which was still impressive.  Toward the end, I found myself up close jumping around with Bobby Sweet.




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