There is live music 365 days a year in Austin - I'm just going to report on what I've seen or what new music I'm listening to!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Catching Up on New Music

For whatever reason I just haven't found time to write lately. Trips, work, taking a class, just killed all my free time. So a week in Midland can fix that so here is a quick look at a bunch of new stuff that's been added to the IPod:

Court Yard Hounds – self titled – this is the project of 2/3 of the Dixie Chicks. They were the talk of the town during SXSW and this disc came out not long after. The missing 1/3 is Natalie Maines (lead singer) so this album ends up being much more country to me – lots of fiddle and banjo highlighted which makes sense since that's Martie & Emily's forte. "Ain’t No Son" is a high energy song and "The Coast" is getting tons of airplay. It is a great song and has lots of Fleetwood Mac influences in it. It’s probably the most non-Country song on the disc and an easy song to sing along to. This is a nice CD to play as background music but it didn’t set my ears on fire.

The New Pornographers – “Together” – one of my favorite new albums of 2010. This “supergroup” includes Neko Case who I have come to really like after some recommendations from my friend Bill in Seattle. The disc opens with the song “Moves” which has a really catchy sound to it and the refrain “These things get louder” just sticks in your head. The second song features Neko singing “Crash Years” and she just has a really unique voice. Another really catchy song with some great whistling in it – yes I said whistling. I honestly have no idea what the song is about but it’s just a fun song. I can imagine a big whistle along when this is played live. The thing I really like about this group is that the lead singers rotate and lots of harmony from the rest of the group. Other strong songs are “Your Hands” which sounds like a 70’s song from Yes or one of those art rock bands and "Silver Jenny Dollar" which could have come from the 60’s with it’s sound. A really fun album – not sure it’s making any great social statements but I am enjoying it none the less.

She & Him – “Volume II” – the sophomore effort from M. Ward and Zooey Deschanel. I have heard lots of good things about their debut and missed them a few times at SXSW so I was looking forward to this disc. I would have to say I’m disappointed as nearly every song sounds the same as the previous one. I guess she is some movie / TV actress but I’m not familiar with her but her voice never seems to change. The first song “Thieves” caught my ear but even though the melodies change on every song they sound the same to me. There just doesn’t seem to be much life in her voice to me so I’m not a big fan of this combination. It’s become another background album that seems to lead to a good nights sleep.

Alpha Rev – “New Morning” – a hot new Austin band that I have been hearing a lot about. The opening song “New Morning” is a great opener to the disc even if I don’t know why they think the Mona Lisa is broken. The more I write about music the less I really know what people are singing about – but don’t we all just want a catchy song with an easy to sing along to chorus. If that’s something you like this song fills the need. Good driving in the car tune that’s for sure. The next song “Phoenix Burn” may be an even stronger song. It’s a traditional power ballad and I can see it getting great airplay once “New Morning” loses steam. Other strong songs include “When Did I Wake Up” and “Face Down”. 4 out of the first 5 songs are in the power ballad mode and the album seems to mellow a little after that but 4 good songs on any disc is a win in my mind these days! I’d definitely recommend you give it a spin.

The Hold Steady – “Heaven is Whenever” – lasts year best new find and so much fun when you see them live. This is a slightly different Hold Steady with the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay which ought to affect the live version since he was a real character. Another guitar was added to the band and this album reflects that sound. “Boys and Girls in America” and “Stay Positive” are 2 of my favorite albums from the last few years and they get a lot of IPod playtime. This new disc has a a similar sound but just not the quality of songs to me. “Sweet Part of the City” is a good opener but a little slow for my liking. “Rock Problems” is an interesting story about the problems of becoming rock stars which I think the Hold Steady is on the verge of but still not there. “Hurricane J” is the single from this album and it’s a classic Hold Steady song – my fear is has this group just becomes stereotyped – girls and bar songs – and have we grown tired of the same story over and over. It will be interesting to see where they go from here but I think the missing keyboards are an issue they are going to have to address. Need to see this new version live to see what the results look live in the club.

The National – “High Violet” – there is a huge buzz about this band and so I finally have checked them out. The voice of lead singer Matt Berninger is really unique and you certainly know it’s the National when they come on the Ipod. The opener “Terrible Love” just sounds dark – maybe more from his voice than from the song. It certainly is a unique sound and song 6 “Bloodbuzz Ohio” is getting a ton of airplay. It’s a great song but I’m not exactly how the bees are carrying him to Ohio – I guess it’s a really big swarm of bees. It’s a bizarre tune when you listen to the words – but still catches your ear everytime it’s played. Not sure I find much else on this disc to be excited about to be honest. Maybe I need to see them live.

That's it for now- next up an in depth review of Tift's new album as well as a spectacular new release from the Gaslight Anthem as well as the story of our Denver and Neil Young excursions!

Monday, May 24, 2010

That old guy from West Texas can still ROCK

With Jo in Mexico for the week I had plans to catch a lot of live music this weekend. It didn't turn out exactly like that but landscaping projects overruled music several nights. My original plan on Friday was to see the Band of Heathens at Antone's but during my drive back to the ATX I heard about a free show at Republic Square Park sponsored by Car2Go. Car2Go is a company that has smart cars all around town and if you are a member you just swipe your card and drive off in the vehicle for as long as you need it. Pretty cool idea for city dwellers who use public transit for normal transportation. Just not sure it will catch on in Texas!

As part of this event there were 5 bands playing starting at 4 PM. Considering it was a 90+ degree day I decided to catch the later acts and arrived at 7 PM just as the Gourds were taking the stage. I have been wanting to see these guys for a couple of years ever since their CD "Noble Creatures" came out. I really like the song "How will you shine?" and recently I heard Mr. Springsteen say when he was dj'ing on E Street Radio "Man, I wish I wrote that". Pretty good recommendation in my mind. Anyway they are 4 guys who look nothing like a rock and roll band. More like some mechanics but they put on a fun show. They are high energy in a funky NOLA kind of way and closed with Shine - overall it was a good hour long set. And I know the pictures are crappy but all I had was my Blackberry so they have to do.

The headliner for the night was Joe Ely. I had never seen Joe with his band, only with Bruce twice at Austin shows where he was called up to sing "Working on the Highway" along with "All just to get to you". We'd hear neither of these this night but a lot of other great songs. I had to look it up when I got home but Joe is 63 and still puts on a heck of a show. It started out a little slow for my liking but of course I was there by myself. Things picked up when he played Robert Earl Keen's "The Road Goes On Forever" which is always a hit in Austin. From there he really featured the excellent guitar playing of David Grissom who is one fine player. He had a lot of solos and each one seemed to get better. Highlights for me were "Workin' for the Man", "Me and Billy the Kid", "Dallas" and "Cool Rockin' Loretta" to close. I will have to say that "Loretta" in the final spot is the way a rock and roll show is supposed to finish - long version, lots of guitar, crowd sing along and everybody just having a good time. Joe is constantly on the road so make sure you catch him when you get a chance. I know we'll be out to see him again. A great way to spend a Friday night that's for sure.

My Saturday night plan to see Jimmy LaFave at Threadgill's and Sunday night to see Junior Brown at the Continental Club was scuttled by some shrub removal and flower bed building. I will see Junior soon on the advice of my friend Christopher but it was not to be this weekend.

Up next - maybe Alejandro at the Continental Club Tuesday night, if not Big Head Todd at Red Rocks in Denver in 10 days and then Neil Young solo acoustic in Dallas on the 7th. Neil was my target for 2010 so I am really looking forward to that show.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

West Coast listenin' and buyin' - The Bay Area

After a few more days in Seattle and some more great food we were headed to the Bay Area. Unfortunately Jo had to head back to TX to help Brittany find an apartment in Houston (she is going to be teaching 4th grade there in the fall). This kind of scuttled some of our Bay Area plans but I forged ahead. Before I leave the Seattle review a couple of recommendations for eating – the Potato Latkes (think hash brown pancakes) at the Steelhead Diner near Pike’s Place Market (they were so good Jo went back for a second order one day) and the “Little Doughnuts” at Lola which are really beignets. A box of those made the flight back to the ATX with her along with the spectacular rhubarb jam! My Bay Area music highlights paled compared to Seattle but leave things to do the next time. In a recent article in Paste they named Amoeba Records as the best indie record store in the country with Waterloo in second. So Thursday night after dinner with my old boss from the Trend Tech days in Round Rock I ventured out to Berkeley to see this Amoeba place.

I agree it’s a huge store and the staff seems very knowledgeable and maybe the other locations are better than Waterloo but the Berkely location is no Waterloo. One of my favorite things about Waterloo other than the great selection, rare CD’s and IPod listening stations is that all music is alphabetical. You don’t have to know what genre they think an artist is to find them. Tift is a perfect example – is she rock, is she country. To me she is rock and roll but to Amoeba she is country so it’s a pain in the neck to find people. I love that about Waterloo – you know the artist you can find them! I did really enjoy the fact that Amoeba has recommended racks of new music that each have a little write-up from a staff member about the disc. I used this to buy 2 bands I had never heard of.

Mayer Hawthorne’s A Strange Arrangement – I had never heard of him. If you look at the CD you probably aren’t buying it as he looks like some kind of nerdy computer geek and maybe it’s some kind of electronica. So far from what you hear. How surprising to find out it’s really R&B and sounds like it was recorded in 1968. It brings back the sound of Dozier-Holland-Dozier with the rich sounds. It was a definite good addition to the collection and not my normal rock / Americana sound. The second CD I grabbed was The Soft Pack. A new group with a pop/rock mix it is a solid CD and I am still working on it.

I also got a copy of KFOG Live from the Archives 16 from my friend while I was in the Bay Area. Similar to the KGSR Broadcasts CD this disc includes many bands I listed to but some new ones that are making me investigate them. I’m especially enjoying Susan Tedeschi’s “People” and David Gray’s “Fugitive”. I have been listening to David for a while and struggle because it seems like every song of his sounds the same but I always like the sound of individual songs. I think I’m going to have to jump out there and get a whole CD to really test it out. The compilation also includes Alejandro, Gomez, Chuck Prophet and a host of others. It’s a really good mix of artists and a good way to sample new artists. It’s why Austin loves the KGSR Broadcasts discs so much and donates all proceeds to the food bank which makes it even better.

That was the end of the journey and I came home with a bag of new CD’s and a lot of new music to listen to. Even more new music is coming with all the Spring releases and in the last two weeks I have added new music from The Hold Steady, The New Pornographers, Courtyard Hounds, Alpha Rev and The National. Reviews to be coming in the next week or so as we wait on the mailman to deliver the new Tift CD by June 1.
Hope everyone is enjoying all the great new music that is out there!

West Coast Listenin' and Buyin' - Seattle

Our trip to Seattle and San Francisco resulted in a bunch of new CD’s, a good show and a confirmation of one of my beliefs. We started out in Seattle staying at Hotel Max, a trendy boutique hotel in downtown Seattle. Highly recommended for any of you headed that way as not only is it convenient to downtown but also to the Seattle Center area. Just make sure you ask for a room with a big bathroom because even those are small. After a little shopping on Saturday we headed out early Sunday morning to the Experience Music Project at Seattle Center. The EMP is a “museum” of rock and roll focusing on Seattle bands but also covering the whole rock era. One exhibit has continuously running films on Jimi Hendrix and I have to say I learned quite a few things about him. I haven’t been the biggest Hendrix fan but have a new found appreciation for him after watching several of the films. I had no idea he had been in the Army before becoming a rock legend. Unbelievable the amount of music he created in his far too short life.

They had an awesome exhibit going on of rock photography curated by Graham Nash, a veritable who’s who of rock and roll and it was fun to look at the exhibit and realize the great music that has been made in the last 50 years. Then it was off to the area of the museum where you can play nearly every instrument. This is where one of my core beliefs was confirmed. I HAVE NO MUSICAL ABILITY. I am sticking with playing my Ipod. I tried them all – guitar, drums, keyboards. None, Zero, nada, not even a clue. You’d think I could at least get one of them. Jo instantly picks up on the drums and is ready to play with Mick and Keith the next time the Stones tour. Oh well, at least I can find good music because I sure can’t play it.

After the EMP we walked over to Easy Street Records in the Queen Anne district. This is my favorite record store in the world not named Waterloo. A few years ago we stayed around the corner and every day I came to the store and had one of the associates pick out something to buy. It’s where I found out about Brandi Carlile and Josh Ritter on that trip and on subsequent trips about Star Anna and Shane Tutmarc (he actually sold me his CD). They are very similar to Waterloo in having musicians who are trying to make it working there and lots of in-store appearances by bands. I have bought recorded in stores from Brandi and Pearl Jam that are excellent. Definitely on the "must do" list when I am in Seattle. I picked up a few new CD’s with the highlight being The Cave Singers. They would definitely fit in the Americana segment of the music world and I like it a lot. They had just been in Austin for SXSW but I had never heard of them. They are on the follow-up list now and I look forward to seeing them the next time they come around.

Sunday night’s target was a show at the Crocodile CafĂ© by Jackie Greene. The Crocodile is a classic rock and roll place. Stage, cement floor and a few tables and chairs. A pretty big crowd was on hand for a Sunday night and I soon found out that at least on this night the crowd was hear to drink first and hear music second. One of my pet peeves is people who have to talk during or over the music – if you want to gab there is a Starbucks across the street! We have a similar problem in Austin but this crowd was far worse. We moved twice to try and get away from the shrieking girl and then the two drunk 50 year olds with their 20 year old girlfriends (as Jo said “Yuck”) and still it was hard to focus on the music. I have not seen that many trashed 50 year old women in quite some time – maybe the constant rain just gets to them but they could barely stand up and on a Sunday night! Besides that Jackie put on a great show. He played several songs from "American Myth" I knew including a nice version of "Farewell, So Long, Goodbye" and finished with a great version of B.B.’s “The Thrill is Gone”. His first set was an hour and he was coming back for a second set but it was 11 PM and our thrill was gone so we walked back to the hotel. A great music day in Seattle with a museum, a record store and a live show- can’t get much better than that.

Next - On to the Bay Area and America's #1 record store.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Do all these people even have a way to play Vinyl???

Saturday was the 3rd installment of Record Store Day but the first we have been in the right place at the right time. In case you don't know over 200 special releases were created to be sold at the independent record stores - no big box stores for this one. Waterloo was our target and we got there about 9:45 AM but unfortunately Austin really gets it, because the line was all around the block. The good news was that for me anything we got was a bonus - what better to do on a cloudy Saturday morning. My only real target was a single from Bruce but even that was optional. The good news to me was that most of the crowd seemed to have a shopping list and it didn't seem like a real Springsteen crowd.

When the doors opened at 10 the line moved quickly and within 8 or 9 minutes we were in the door. Jo had come with fortunately as there was a one copy per shopper rule - which is a great rule in my opinion. With two aisles of special releases we decided to split up and good thing we did. My first grab was some Hendrix - a bootleg from a show in Mass in 1968 that included Foxey Lady and a cover of Wild Thing. Got to say that listening to it later it was a good pickup for $10 or so. Further down the aisle was a John Lennon packet that includes three separate singles and a poster and although I'm not a huge Lennon or Beatles fan it's a great Christmas present to have in stock. I also grabbed a Doors single with "People are Strange" as well and then the Stones released a single that was at the end of aisle 1. So it was a good start but still looking for Bruce.

The bad news was that turning corners was a struggle as the restocking guys were already out and about and shoppers were grabbing singles out of the box before he even got a chance to put them on the shelves. Looked like one of those classic shopping scenes on TV with the ladies fighting over purses and to be honest most of the bands that caused the struggle I hadn't even heard of. My next pickup was the new Josh Ritter full length LP - "So Runs the World Away". Great thing about this was not only did you get the new full length album but also a CD version inside - all for $17. And better yet the CD isn't being released until May 4 so we got it a couple of weeks early. I was a big fan of his "The Animal Years" CD that the folks at Easy Street in Seattle turned me on to a few years ago. His last disc, "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter" didn't do much for me so I'm hoping this one grows on me!

Right about this time I also spotted an interesting single with the Courtyard Hounds (2/3 of the Dixie Chicks) on one side and Jakob Dylan on the other side. After seeing him at SXSW I have his new project on my list for the year of shows to see so I took one of these as well. Just about that time I ran into Jo as her aisle was much more crowded than the one I went up. And she had found the Bruce single and grabbed two copies -one for each of us. And fortunately we had split up since after she took the two there was only one more left and from what we could see the rest of the day - no restocking! The single has Wrecking Ball on side one (song written for the last show at Giants Stadium and which he also performed both nights we saw him at MSG in November) as well as "The Ghost of Tom Joad" featuring Tom Morello from Rage Agianst the Machine at the Anaheim show a couple of years ago. Even though I already have that on a Magic Tour Highlights CD it's always nice to have it in vinyl as well - it's a spectacular performance that my friend Bill in PHX was lucky enough to see live!

At that point we figured we had spent enough money on vinyl and decided to head for the check out line. It looked like Black Friday at Best Buy - all the way to the back of the store with two lines but it moved fast and only took about 15 minutes with a bonus! Not only did Waterloo get just about every one of the special releases but when checking out we were each given a special "Record Store Day" promo album featuring a bunch of new and breakout bands (including Austin's Alpha Rev who I have heard a lot of good things about) as well as a special Record Store Day shopping bag to carry your albums around in!

I have read a lot of complaining on some sites about the lack of inventory, copies being held back, etc but isn't that part of the fun. If there were unlimited copies would people really be all excited and stand in line? Even if I had been shut out it was a fun experience, I am lucky to live in a place with a spectacular record store (#2 in the newest Spin magazine ranking of Indpendent record stores) and we should be grateful that Record Store Day exists. Looking forward to Record Store Day #4 in 2011!

Up next - Off to the Northwest, at least one visit to Easy Street Records and hopefully some live music at the Crocodile Cafe!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Beautiful Spring Night in the City

Wednesday night was a great night of music - and two kinds of music. Our friends the Sierra's oldest son is graduating from UT in May with a degree in Jazz Performance. As part of that program he had a Student Recital early Wednesday evening in Bates Hall on the UT campus. First off, what a beautiful room for music, the acoustics were perfect. David is an exceptional drummer and even though I don't profess to be a jazz afficionado it was a really nice set. Four songs were played with David on the drums along with fellow music majors on stand-up bass and electric guitar really highlighted the relaxing effect of Jazz. Songs by John Coltrane and Henry Mancini were followed up by an original song of his that he played on the piano and sang on. I continue to be amazed by the ability to change instruments and still be a great musician - I guess it's kind of the same as going from the basketball court to the baseball diamond which I can at least relate to! Still, it would be nice to be able to play more than the opening bars of Frere Jacque on the piano.

When we went to see Elton John Saturday night we had grabbed some food at Scholz Bier Garten before the show. For those of you who don't know Scholz's is the oldest beer garden in TX - since 1886. What we didn't know until Saturday night was that they also have some of the best sausage we have had anywhere in town. We also saw a sign advertising their Wednesday night free music series starting this week with Slaid Cleaves. So when Jo brought up David's show there was an added bonus to me - sausage and Slaid! We headed back to Scholz's which was right down the street from the concert hall. The outdoor patio was pretty full as we got there 10 minutes before the show but we found some seats in the back that had a little table for us to have dinner on.

Slaid has been one of my favorites for a couple of years every since he released his album, "Unsung", which was him singing songs of others that had not been recorded. We went to his CD release party for "Everything You Love will be Taken Away" last spring at the Cactus Cafe and Jo was hooked! The front row seats didn't hurt either, he seems like one of the nicest and most honest guys playing music in town. It was a perfect 70 degrees out with a slight breeze and we had some more of the sausage, a brat and some great fajita nacho's along with a few Dr. Pepper's (only downside is Scholz's serves that other soft drink that I can't mention and not our fine Coke products).

Slaid opened with "Green Mountains and Me" from the latest disc and since he is a Maine native this song obviously means a lot to him. He seems so comfortable on stage and his band was Rick Richards on bass and Chojo Jacques on fiddle and mandolin. During the set when Slaid introduced the band he pointed out Rick and Chojo had not met until before the show - that just blows my mind how these guys just can play with anybody and sound great! Next up was "Hard to Believe" from the latest release which is a Midwestern tale that really hits home about the cold winters that I still do not miss.

Other highlights were:

Drinking Days - from the Wishbone CD - just a great song and one of my favorites - as well as Stephen King's about the changes one goes through as you "grow up"

Flowered Dresses = a song by Karen Poston from Unsung - it's just a beautiful song and tells the story of a young person who thinks all the problems between mom and dad are their fault.

Quick as Dreams - the true story of a jockey named Tommy Arthur - Slaid told a great story about going to Saratoga Springs and actually singing this song for Tommy's widow when she was in her 90's - brings back the stories from the early 1900's and ends as a very sad song

Wishbone - just a catchy song - still struggle to understand how this great singer of Americana doesn't have a bigger following while other knuckleheads with very few skills sell out much bigger places. The songs are just so good I could sit there and listen to his entire catalog.

And then my favorite thing to talk about. At the Cactus show Slaid told the story of a friend of his from Maine who is crazy sometimes and just leaves him messages with suggested song lyrics. One such lyric was "Where can a good man go crazy, where can a cowboy get stoned" and he had written it down in his book. The friend kept talking about it and finally Slaid found a place for it in the song "Tumbleweed Stew." About three months later we were up in KC helping Brittany set up her classroom and I was in charge of organizing her book shelves when I stumble across a kid's book entitled "Tumbleweed Stew". I put the book in my carry bag and have had it in my office for 6 months or so. I brought it with Wednesday night and in between sets when Slaid was signing things I told him the story and gave him the book. He had no idea there was a children's book named "Tumbleweed Stew" but now he has it for his collection!

After an hour set the band took a break and we decided it was a good time to head home after enjoying nearly a dozen songs from one of Austin's best storytellers. If you get a chance check out more details at and when you hear of Slaid coming to town get out there and see one of the best songwriters you will see anywhere.

Next up - 2 big things - Saturday is Record Store Day so make sure you help support your local independent record stores - I know I will be in line at Waterloo Records early Saturday for the special Bruce release on vinyl of Wrecking Ball backed with Ghost of Tom Joad featuring Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine

And then next week we will take a little break from Austin and head to Seattle for the weekend and I hope to catch Jackie Greene at the Crocodile Cafe to sample the Seattle music scene.

Monday, April 12, 2010

"Let the Light In" from Amy Cook

We had not really heard of Amy until about two years ago when we spent the day helping Tift at KGSR. Tift introduced us to her but we thought she was just a friend - had no idea that she was a singer as well. When she seemed to be responsible for tuning Tift's guitar maybe that should have been a clue. She opened the show that night at the Parish and she played some good songs in that 30 minute set. I picked up "The Sky Observer's Guide" a few months later and a week ago got her brand new disc "Let the Light In". We caught her at SXSanJose as detailed earlier in this blog but now that I have the disc it's given me a much better chance to listen to the new songs.

This new effort is produced by Alejandro Escovedo and I can hear his influences. Two members of his current band are playing with Amy as well - David Pulkingham on guitar and Bobby Daniel on bass and it's always good to hear the Tosca String Quartet on any record. After a week of steady airplay on the Ipod here's my favorites and not so favorites:


Get It Right - great opening track with a classic line - "We get it wrong sometimes and then we get it right" - isn't that the basis of almost everything we do in relationships? best song on the record in my opinion

Moonrise - first time I hear the Alejandro influence - more of a rocker

Hotel Lights - good song and getting lots of airplay on KGSR

Let's Go Down to the River - really good song that I like a lot with Patty Griffin on backing vocals

I wanna be your Marianne - another rocker and a fun song - need to see this one played live

Let the Light In - title track is a good closer

Not so favorites:

Mescaline - just kind of bores me

I like to go to Parties - seems out of place and lost on this CD

The other four songs are ok and maybe they will grow on me. I have heard Amy's voice compared to Sheryl Crow but I personally don't really hear it. I like this CD, think it's a great second disc and could lead to bigger and better things. But we all know that is hard to predict in the crazy music business. Check her out and learn more about her in this very in depth Austin Chronicle cover story:

Rocketman returns to Austin

Elton John returned to the Erwin Center Saturday night for the first time since the late 90's. We returned to the Erwin enter almost a year to the day from our last visit - but not quite as close this time as a year ago when Jo had her elbows on the stage for Bruce last April! We didn't even decide to go until Tuesday last week and only because I got an email that they were releasing some additional tickets for $47. What a deal and they were great seats. Although we were behind the stage we had a direct line to Elton's piano when we sat down in the 6th row of the upper bowl and with the row in front of us having one seat and our row having only three seats we had our own little section all to ourselves!

An email had come in Friday advising that the doors would open at 7 PM and the show would start promptly at 8 PM. I guess not everybody read that since at 8 PM the place was really empty. But miraculously it filled up in the next 15 minutes and the show started at 8:15 PM - no warmup band just Elton and his band. Amazingly this band includes two of the original members with Davey Johnstone on guitar and Nigel Olson on drums. I just read this morning that this was the highest gross selling show ever at the Erwin Center with sales of $1.3M surpassing Pavarotti so I guess the crowd was all there!

The show started with an extended instrumental opening to “Funeral for a Friend/ Love Lies Bleeding” as I'm guessing that was done on purpose to give everyone a chance to get in their seats. We had seen Elton long ago in Chicago at the United Center and although this show was many of the same songs, he is always the showman and a great entertainer. The highlight of the show to me was a great version of "Madman Across the Water" which isn't even one of my favorite songs but it was a terrific rendition of it. Near the end of the show I asked Jo, "What have we missed?" and she had a hard time of thinking of a song she wanted to hear that he hadn't played, my only request was "Crocodile Rock". I guess that made sense since it was the next and last song he played in the main set. Another outstanding performance of that song as well and definitely a great way to end the main set.

After a short break Elton came back out and here was a great twist. He walked all along the front of the stage signing all kinds of autographs. A real treat for the fans and they must have known he was going to do that as they came prepared. I would have never thought to do that.

My only disappointment was the encore. I'm a big proponent of making the encores special and that usually includes songs that rock. I want to go home with high energy in my head and I am used to that with Bruce shows. Elton played a great version of "Your Song" to start the encore but then just played "Circle of Life" from the Lion King and that was it. Again, it's a beautiful song but doesn't have me leaving the arena buzzing. Overall at over 2 1/2 hours of show time that is a great performance. Maybe Bono and the boys need to take notes on that.

Another interesting story was that before he sang "Philadelphia Freedom", which is a song I am not a big fan of and don't know how it fits in a show in Texas, he was thanking people. He pointed out one guy in the front row who we had been watching. This guy was into every single song, a little too much from my point of view but at least he was into it. The guy told Elton this was his 167th show. Seriously - 167 shows???? Do you really want to see anybody 167 times? Do you have a life? I am harassed by some for seeing Bruce 11 times - 167. Man that is a lot of Bennie and the Jets that's for sure.

Overall, a really strong show, a great price and a great Saturday night in Austin.

Austin Setlist:

Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Saturday Night’s Alright (For Fighting)
Madman Across the Water
Tiny Dancer
Philadelphia Freedom
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Rocket Man
I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues
Sad Songs (Say So Much)
Take Me to the Pilot
Something About The Way You Look Tonight
Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me
Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word
Candle in the Wind
You’re Never Too Old To Love Somebody
Honky Cat
Burn Down The Mission
Bennie and the Jets
The Bitch Is Back
I’m Still Standing
Crocodile Rock

Your Song
Circle Of Life

Next up - Slaid Cleaves Wednesday night at Scholz Garden (hopefully)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New Albums on the Way

I'm really looking forward to a rash of new releases in the next few weeks:

Amy Cook - Let the Light In - actually picked it up Saturday at Waterloo - review to follow shortly. Produced by Alejandro - met her at Tift's show last time she was in Austin and her songs just keep getting better.

Amy McDonald - A Curious Thing - out in Europe now and trying to figure out how to get this one in America - her follow up to the outstanding "This is the Life" that is on my Island CD list! We need her to come to America for some shows.

Josh Ritter - So Runs the World Away - out May 4. I am a huge fan of "The Animal Years" but was underwhelmed by the followup - "The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter" - am optimistic this will be good. Will be at Antones June 14.

Tift Merritt - See You on the Moon due out June 1. Have heard most of the songs and am expecting big things and a few shows in TX from this one.

Alejandro Escovedo - Street Songs of Love drops June 29. I heard that a guy from New Jersey might sing on one of the songs! More of a rock and roll sound with just guitar, bass and drums is what we are hearing.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Celebrity Day at Stubb's

One of the decisions that had to be made Friday night was "should we stay or should we go". This was based on the forecast for Saturday - clouds, 40's and rain possible. The question was should we stay out for some showcases in case Saturday was rainy and the big Rachael Ray party at Stubb's was not doable. The decision was made to go home and it couldn't really be that bad on Saturday - it was still in the 60's Friday night. I guess we missed that one as the thunder rolled in around 3 AM and rain followed - a lot of rain. The troops were still up early though and at 9:30 it was decision time so the layers came out and off we trudged on a cold Spring Break day.

Good news upon arrival - easy parking right across the street, relatively short line to get in and no rain, just cold and windy. Note to self - SXSW'ers are fair weather fans. The line moved quickly and we were inside right at the start of the party. Unfortunately the weather had slowed down progress and the stages were not ready to go. Stubb's is one of the biggest venues in Austin and there were two stages - one at each end of what I call a gravel pit - because that's what it is! There was another stage inside and that's what the long line was for - to get in out of the weather. We stood in that line and got inside to see Shayna Zaid & the Catch play the final song in a 15 minute set and then back outside.

Next up on the North Stage - Mishka. Now we all know he is under the direction of Austin's most famous bongo player but would he show? Of course he would so after Matthew McConaughy introduced him we got some early morning Mishka. Unfortunately I think his biggest claim to fame is his introducer!

Next up on the big stage was Bob Schneider as well as our first Rachael citing of the day. She loves Bob as this was at least the second year in a row he has played her party. Later that night he won all the awards at the Austin Music Awards - something like 7 and Bob put on his normal quality set. Some days it's hard to figure out how he hasn't broken nationally yet. The new song "40 Dogs" seems like it should be getting airplay everywhere. His popularity in Austin continues to grow and on this day after the Jesse James news he seems to be in a lot better shape than his old "friend" Sandra Bullock except he doesn't have an Academy Award!

Now on the big stage - The Cringe. You may say who is this Cringe he speaks of - the answer is that it's Rachael's husband's band. And THERE is the reason most of us believe the party exists. Listen to the Cringe and come back and tell me that they sound like a band that would get a 30 minute slot at any day party if they weren't connected. Highlight as last year was a cover song and during the cover of the Beatles we get Bob Schneider back singing backup (with the lyrics on his hand) and Mr. John Popper of Blues Traveler playing the harmonica. Hey I don't blame them for using their connections - tell me we wouldn't all do the same exact thing given the chance!

While this was going on we got our chance to sample Rach's food specially made for the Austin event. There were some unique recipes but combining the outside temperature and the size of the crowd no way the food can stay hot. Somehow a pulled pork sandwich and a meatball sandwich just aren't the same when they aren't hot. I personally think Stubb's with a capacity of 2,100 is just too big for food - albeit free food. But it was a great setup with bands at both ends of the venue.

On Friday the kids had tried to see the man they call Andrew WK at another party in the afternoon but weren't on the right guest list. A valuable thing you learn at SXSW - miss somebody today see them tomorrow. I had no idea what his music was but now that I have seen him I can tell you I still have no idea what his music is! The only thing I got out of it was "party" seemed to be in every song - and oh yeah he can whip his long hair around like a maniac, had several band members who look like they could be serial killers, and a chick in a leotard doing some exercises. Other than that I have no idea why anybody would pay $1 to see that so called act - call me old fashioned.

The last name act we got a chance to see was Jakob Dylan and Three Legs (featuring Neko Case and Kelly Hogan). Now I am not a big Jakob fan as my only other experience with him was when he and the Wallflowers opened for Mellencamp a few years ago in San Antonio. The most memorable part of that was him complaining because no one was up dancing to his music - remember you are the opener, we are here to hear "Jack and Diane"! But I always want to give everybody a second chance and the three songs we got to hear all sounded great. They were rushed to the stage becasue Neko Case had a flight to catch as did all our guests so we had to cut short the set and head for the Austin airport. This meant we had to skip the remaining acts that we had hoped to see- Tom Morello's (Rage Against the Machine) new project Street Sweeper Social Club, Justin Townes Earle (Steve's son) and She & Him. I had been hoping to catch the Zoey Deschanel / M Ward duo all week but it never worked out. Well there's always next year.

Originally I had envisioned going back out Saturday night or catching Alejandro's Sunday night closer at the Continental Club as I wanted to catch Chuck Prophet. But after 5 hours out in the 40 degree weather any more music was pretty much out of the question. So SXSW 2010 was a wrap. It was a great time, our visitors were overwhelmed and impressed, and plans were already being made for SXSW 2011. Hope you all enjoyed the summary and got some new things to check out!

Next up - a last minute decision to grab some Elton John tickets for this Saturday at the Erwin Center - I know it's the same songs he played when we saw him 20 years ago but you can't beat a Saturday night singalong!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

SXSW Friday - The Low Anthem Steals the Show

Friday was the day I had targeted as the highlight of SXSW 2010 and I am happy to report that it did not disappoint. My plan was the Hear Ya Day Party at the Beauty Bar, mayne a little Canadian BBQ in the afternoon and the traditional Friday night show at South by San Jose with the Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra. We got downtown around 12:30 and there was music everywhere under a brilliant blue sky. It truly is a scene that has to be seen to be believed. Walking the three blocks to the Beauty Bar I passed at least 10 other parties going on!

Opening up the Hear Ya show were The Deep Dark Woods - unfortunately by the time I got in they were just starting their final song. I will have to check them out some more in the future as it sounded good. Next up - The Mother Hips. My pal Shug is the biggest Mother Hips fan in the world (see his website listed here - Sugartown) and I had seen them last year but was not sold on them. Not sure if it was the setting this year (the party tent held about 250 people) or just a better setlist but they were great. I definitely liked the songs and they seemed to really enjoy playing this set. I need to see a whole show of theirs now and pick up a couple of CD's for the collection to know their music a little better.

Next up was Lissie and I have to be honest I had never even heard of her. By far the biggest surprise of SXSW for me was this 21 year old from Rock Island, IL. I thought this was going to be a dull singer songwriter but she plays some great music. She is still developing her stage presence but she is a fantastic singer and I will be picking up her CD in the very near future. This is somebody to watch for the next couple of years. She played a great 5 song set (everybody got 25 minutes at this party) and was playing a full set later that night but I knew it was probably going to be too late and too hard to get in. I will definitely be looking for her next time she comes through Austin.

Joe Pug was on the stage next. I had seen him open for Steve Earle in Chicago last summer but we only caught the last two songs of his set and it was in a pretty big place so it was hard to tell about a guy and his guitar when you didn't know the songs. Joe had to be one of the hardest working guys at SXSW this year - something like 11 different sets! He plays some great songs, sings with real conviction and has great stories in his songs. I would love to see how good the songs could be if he had a band playing behind him. His story is pretty interesting as well - a guy just trying to make it by working hard - as he said - "Living the Dream". When Joe was finishing up he made the comment that The Low Anthem was up next and that they were the best f***ing band in the land. High praise so I wanted to see if he was right.

And wow was he right. I have had The Low Anthem's "Oh My God, Charlie Darwin" for quite a while and really like "To Ohio" but the Anthem in person is not even close to the record - and in a great way. The foursome plays a different instrument on nearly every song. How you can go from playing bass to drums or clarinet to guitar I have no idea since all I can play is the Ipod! Lead singer Ben Knox Miller has the rock star look and seems to be very comfortable as the front man - during sound check he said "that's close enough"! After opening with three slower songs that had great harmonies (just like on OMGCD) they rocked the last two songs. That five song set sold me and left me wanting a longer set and sooner. Unfortunately their SXSW showcase was at 12:30 AM Saturday Morning - I'll just have to wait for them to swing through Austin again.

It was now approaching 3 PM and all I had for the day was a fine Coca-Cola Classic product so it was time to look for food. I had a plan to try and get into the Canadian BBQ at Paradise on 6th since Sass Jordan was performing at 5 PM. I know her through my boss who gave me a copy of her CD last year. I got to Paradise and found out the BBQ was upstairs and everybody was welcome. And better yet there was a mexican buffet with great enchiladas - beef and chicken. You can't beat that for free. While I was sitting there eating the whole group started texting me to see where I was since they were looking for some food too. Within 15 minutes 8 of the 10 people staying at our house were eating enchiladas! The Simon Collins band played from 4 to 5 - some traditional rock and roll. Sass followed up on that and her voice in person was just as good as on the cd. All the kids at that point decided to head for some house party a few blocks away where Zeelander P from Japan was playing. Or as they called them the Power rangers since they wear some funky plastic looking suits - 20 something's are easily entertained! I headed off to South by San Jose and since it was such a beautiful day I decided to walk the 15 blocks and cross Lady Bird Lake to South Austin.

I got to the Hotel San Jose parking lot around 6:15 and Adam Green was playing. The first thing I heard was him complaining about how bad his life was that he was playing a half filled Hotel parking lot. And less than 5 hours earlier I had heard Joe Pug say he was living the dream and his crowd was probably smaller! Attitude is everything. This Adam Green was playing some music but mostly talking and then the power went out once. It came back on and he was rambling more and then the power went out for good and he left the stage with his band - guess the music gods were sick of his rambling too!

Once we got rid of that character Amy Cook was up next. We like Amy a lot ever since we met her at KGSR when Tift was in town as they are friends. She has a new CD, Let the Light In, coming out later this spring produced by Alejandro and I am looking forward to that. She played several of the new songs and she has a couple of potential airplay songs it seems. She was joined by the Tosca String Quartet which really adds to her sound and later by Alejandro's guitar player David Pulkingham. She is someone you might want to look for later this year when she is out promoting her new disc.

Darkness was about to set in now so there are no pictures from Alejandro's set since they don't really come out with all the lights. By now 4 of the kids had joined us as the Power Ranger's show had lost their interest when they found the house concert was in the backyard - and there was a goat in the front yard and a cooler for help yourself beer at a $1 a can! Only in Austin during SXSW. Alejandro has been putting together a rock and roll Orchestra for the last few years for the Friday night show. He really has become the king of South Congress with this show as well as his Continental Club show on Sunday night to close out the week. This year's orchestra wasn't as big as last year's as the strings were missing. One of the things Jo and I have enjoyed the most in seeing him a few times in the last couple of years is the sound that a cello and violin add to a rock and roll band. But I have heard that on his new CD also out this summer he is going back to a basic rock and roll sound.

His set opened with "Always a Friend" and even after two years of hearing this song it's still a great song to me - and not just because he played it with Bruce and the E Street Band in Houston - it really is a classic rock and roll song. Later in the set he dedicated "Sister Lost Soul" to Alex Chilton who had just passed away on Wednesday. After this he launched into the new material - 9 songs in a row off of the new disc. Not exactly the way I would have written the setlist - mixing in old and new would seem to have kept the crowd into the set more. By the 5th or 6th song people were starting to leave. Take a note from Bruce and mix old and new and everybody stays happy and interested! After the new songs we got Chelsea Hotel '78 and it was time to go. A high energy set as always but not one of my most memorable shows of Alejandro. At this point we were pretty beat - about 9 hours of music by now. So with Rachael Ray's big party on Saturday AM we headed for the house and some welcome sleep!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Thursday at SXSW -They know Bruce in Iceland???

Thursday started out as another beautiful sunny day in Austin but still cool - which is the perfect weather for SXSW to me. Our plan was not nearly as complete as the day began. All the kids had signed up for the COS / Sled Day party that was originally to be held in East Austin but was moved to a new location due to expected attendance. One of the things you learn about RSVP's is that everybody and their brother responds to every party and last time I checked you can only be at one place at any time. So the party moved due to responses and nobody was there. I dropped them off and found some parking then hit Frank - the upscale hot dog place that had a temporary store setup inside to sell vinyl from Jack White. A friend in Atlanta is a huge Jack White fan and he wanted copies of De Stilj and whatever 8" singles were being sold. Got to admit I don't really get Jack's music but always glad to help out another music fan!

After getting the necessary vinyl I met up at the COS / Sled party and the first band was still on soundcheck an hour after they were supposed to start. I went out exploring and noticed that Sony Records had a party going on at Antone's with as their sign said "Free Food, Free Booze, Free Music". Checking back at COS the soundcheck was still in progress so the easy decision was let's check out Antone's. A mexican buffet was available and free beer and vodka drinks so everybody was happy about the decision. Nneka was playing on stage when we got there - a singer from Nigeria who has apperared on Letterman. Her final song "Heartbeat" is a great song with a terrific sound to it and you might want to check her out.

Next up on stage was Becca. She is a 21 year old who has had great success in Japan but is just having her first full length CD released in the US. Her music would be classified as power pop - lots of songs about boyfriends or ex-boyfriends as she said! She had great stage prescence and was a hit with the whole group. Several CD's were purchased and she hung around afterwards for some pictures before getting back in the Econoline van. It was an interesting collection that Sony presented from around the world. Kashmir from the Netherlands was up next and they played some classic sounding rock and roll. Of course about then I realized it was nearly 3 PM and no lunch so I headed out to Frank to test their hot dog quality.

Frank is advertised as a Chicago style hot dog place with a bunch of funky hot dog / sausage offerings. They do serve a darned good hot dog, poppy seed bun and all! It's not Portillo's in Chicago but it's a quality hot dog. Most welcome was a seat, a cold Coke and a chance to check up on first round NCAA games on the Blackberry.

Nothing else planned for the day time schedule so I headed to South Congress as there were six or seven places hosting multiple bands all day long. I hit the Yarddog Gallery first as they had a tent set up behind the studio. A band was just starting but they were horrible so I checked out the Freebirds Burritos show as well as Home Slice Pizza but found nothing better there either. There were bands playing everywhere - it really is an amazing scene. Bands at Guero's, in Cissi's Market ( a grocery store) and in the parking lot of the Hotel Austin. I settled on the parking lot of the Hotel San Jose for the South by San Jose show. This is one of our favorite spots as they have a good lineup every year. They had a new stage setup this year which is a great enhancement now putting the bands five feet or so above the parking lot and definitely helping with sight!

By the time I got there Dax Riggs was playing. Their sound would fit in the Southern Rock category but nothing special to me. Next up was the Smokey Angle Shades from England. I liked their sound - again Southern rock tinges mixed with country but with an English twist. Alsways entertaining to see a lead singer with no shirt but a sport coat - interesting! After this I headed over to Home Slice Pizza for a slice of pizza as my dinner on the fly. This is definitely the best pizza in Austin in our opinion and a window especially for slices is just what we like.

Our friends the Sierra's have two sons who are musicians and they have a new band called the Sounds of Substance. They were playing their first show that night at a coffeehouse called Blu so I headed in that direction. It's in the bottom of one of the new skyscraper's in Austin and a pretty small space so when I got there all the bands waiting to perform were just out on the sidewalk. I saw a long line across the street and realized it was the Austin Music Hall where the Stone Temple Pilots were playing later in the night. It was a $30 ticket for the Pilots so I opted for the free show at Blu. A band called Wahnder Lust was playing when we got there and they are working at keeping Austin weird just with their dress. The female lead singer who said she also sings in George Clinton's Parliament had some goofy hat on and the guitar player / singer had on strange glasses and a top hat! Only in Austin. As is often the case at these unofficial shows the schedule gets way off and the 9 PM start for the Sounds became 9:30. I had committed to seeing an Icelandish singer at 10 with my nephew and his girlfriend so I coukld only catch a couple of songs before walking 12 blocks in 15 minutes to the Driskill.

The target was to see Olof Arnalds - a young singer from Iceland. I'm not sure how Natalie picked her out to see but I will say I'd never seen a singer from Iceland before - not sure I ever will get a chance to again. She was playing some kind of a ukelele in this small room in the Driskill. Intimate would be an understatement! The biggest challenge were the songs were in Icelandish I guess - some other language that's for sure. She did sing one song in English by somebody who I'd never even heard of. A few more songs in Icelandish and then she says she only has time for one more song. The first few chords seemed familiar even on her strange ukelele and them I looked at my nephew and said "it's a Bruce song". Even Icelandish girls like Bruce songs and she chose to end the night with "I'm on Fire". A great ending to a unique SXSW experience.

After this show we rounded the group up and decided to hit Gourdough's on our way home. Another trailer eatery that makes awesome donuts. My nephew had one with bacon and maple syrup and that's just the start of the menu. On the way home the mom's (Jo and Auntie Kar) called and said they were just leaving the show. We thought they had stayed at Blu for more bands but only when they got home did we find out they went across the street to see the Stone Temple Pilots with some friends. They said it was a terrific show in a small venue and we weren't sure whether to be jealous or not since we had crazy donuts in our stomachs. The end to a crazy Thursday at SXSW!!!!

Friday, March 26, 2010

SXSW 2010 - Tuesday / Wednesday

Tuesday was really a work day for me since the music really doesn't kick in until Wednesday AM but Shannon McNally was playing the Continental Club Tuesday night so I decided to finally see her live. I've been listening to Shannon ever since she put out her "Geronimo" disc several years ago. I was out in Phoenix working and had read a review of the CD so I bought it at the local Best Buy. I was telling my good friend and musical expert Kevin about it and he said if you like her sound you ought to check out Tift Merritt. And now you can see two links to Tift's websites on this blog. So Shannon really led me to Tift and so I was really glad to get a chance to finally see her. And a special treat was that it was at the Continental Club which is one of my favorite places to see music in Austin. You can't get better sound in an intimate setting. Shannon has a new CD out called Clearwater and she played the majority of it during her set as well as several songs off of the Geronimo disc. Although she didn't play my favorite song (Miracle Mile) it was a high energy set. Her band Hot Sauce is a solid backing outfit. After the set I picked up a copy of the new disc and got a chance to talk to Shannon for a few minutes. She seems like a genuinely nice person and I definitely look forward to seeing her perform again.

And so now the madness begins! Last year we hit the Guitartown Conqueroo party for our Wednesday and this year's lineup made it an easy choice as well. The show moved to Joe's Bar this year and it had a great setup with stages outside both in front of and behind the bar so you could just change stages after each set. That eliminated going through the soundchecks that become such a big part of your day as the bands change. We got there right at 1 PM and although we missed the first 4 bands there were 16 more on the bill so no worries! Dave Faulkner was first up and I have to be honest I had no idea who he was. Turns out he is one of the founding members of Hoodoo Gurus from Australia. More amazing was as a solo act this was his first ever solo performance in his life he said. I don't think he even came to SXSW with the idea of performing since he borrowed a guitar and amp from Jon Dee Graham. We caught a couple of his songs but they didn't really translate very well to a solo performance. At that point we headed to the backstage as James McMurtry was up next!

I don't think there is a better storyteller playing music in America than James McMurtry. As a lady from Baltimore said that we talked to it figures since his dad is Larry McMurtry of Lonesome Dove fame. James tells stories in every song that are complex and interesting - all while still having that dry storyteller expression! The 30 minute sets only allow for five or six songs but you can always count on a version of "Choctaw Bingo" and the entertaining "Hurricane Party". I've seen James several times now but always solo - one of my 2010 goals is to see him electric with his band!

Next up on the main stage was Jon Dee Graham. We discovered Jon Dee at this party last year and he tells more funny stories during a set than anyone in Austin. He nearly died a couple of years ago in a car accident and his latest CD is titled after his response to the Texas State troopers when they pulled him out of the wreckage, "It's not as bad as it looks". Jon Dee has a terrific band and his lead guitar player can really play - which shocks the first time listener since he looks like he could be an accountant or lawyer. Highlights were "Beautifully Broken" and "Burning off the Cane" and he closed with a cover of a McMurtry song - it's a close knit Austin family of musicians.

The next band I had targeted was Austin Collins and the Rainbirds. A guy at Sunday's event had seen them perform before we got there and said they were terrific. There music sounded great but I couldn't understand a word they were singing. At first I thought it was a lead singer issue but the third song was sung by the bass player and it was indecipherable as well so it was obviously a mix issue. I will try and catch them in the future since it seemed they played a good version of Texas Country music.

Steve Poltz was on the front stage next so I caught his show. And it was truly a show. He had a broken hand so he couldn't play guitar and he was a crazy guy on stage. Jumping around, out in the crowd, having a good time. I'm not sure his songs had deep meaning but the crowd was enjoying the show. I will say it's the first time I've ever seen someone play a baseball play by play recording off their Iphone through the PA system. Steve is definitely high energy and he was entertaining.

Anne McCue had the 7 PM slot and I hadn't heard of her. In fact when she took the stage I realized she had been sitting beside me at a table 30 minutes prior eating her dinner. I just thought she was a fan grabbing some food. Anne is from Australia via LA and now lives in Nashville. The most interesting thing to me was she told the story that she had a great band - who she had met on Sunday when she got to town. Austin's Amy Cook sang backing vocals on a couple of songs and I definitely have Anne on the list of new singer / songwriters to check out in the remainder of 2010.

Austin's Band of Heathens had the next set and their 30 minutes just confirmed what we already think. They are a terrific band. We had seen them last summer - actually in Midland so it was good to see them at home. The fact that they really have three lead guitar players and three lead singers makes for a great mix. Each of the three is different which makes the show like three shows in one. Jo is a big fan and can't decide which singer she likes the best. It was one of the bigger crowds of the day and there were people from all over the world who have seen the Heathens as they have built up a good following in Europe. This is a band you should definitely catch when they come to your town. The version of Texas Country / Rock and Roll they play is outstanding!

By now the legs were getting tired since it was mostly a standing day. But my real target for the day was Raul Malo. I have been listening to "Lucky One" for awhile and I wanted to see this former Maverick to wrap up my day. Unfortunately some issue caused the bar to stop using the back stage so there was a delay before Raul could play his set. Prior to him a band called Triple Cobra played. I will have to say it was one of the more bizarre sets I have seen in quite a while. The music was some kind of California speed pop or something but the entertaining part was that the two backup singers wore these giant peacock headresses. I have no idea who signed this band up but they didn't really fit the rest of the bill. That is the joy of SXSW though - you never know what is next and if you don't like it just wait 30 minutes and somebody else will be on stage!

Finally after that painful set and the continuing irritating announcements by the promoter lady (we know it's St Parick's Day and we know you want us to buy your drinks - stop telling us please) Raul Malo took the stage. He really has a great voice and a great band. "Lucky One" is a great song and I really need to learn more of his catalogue and check out his discs with the Mavericks. By this point the whole group was tired - we had been there for over 8 hours and it was time to get off our feet. I definitely want to catch Raul again and preferably in a more controlled setting. He was playing later that night at the Continental Club but a key to SXSW survival is pacing so it was time to go home.

All in all a great start to SXSW and 16 bands in total were seen - although some for only a couple of songs then off the other stage for a better view. Other performers included Stonehoney, Emory Quinn, The Cardinal Health (some kind of rap with rock and roll that was painful), The Silo's from NYC, Chip Robinson and Thunderosa (a very poor man's version of Motorhead or something like that). Time for the drive home and a good night's sleep before we get up and do it all over again. I've been criticized for seeing so many Austin bands at SXSW but what a great opportunity to see so many bands we like at the same time finding new and interesting acts to follow.

Coming next - Thursday's action including Becca - a great rock and roll band of Americans from Japan!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Brandi at Hogg

I've been wanting to see Brandi Carlile since I first heard her music nearly five years ago. On our first trip to Seattle we stayed around the corner from Easy Street Records and every day I had the clerks recommend some local music I should buy. One of the first ones they recommended was Brandi Carlile Live at Neumo's - a Seattle club. I immediately liked it and when she released "The Story" not long after I found her growth as a songwriter to be amazing. That was followed up earlier this year with "Giving up the Ghost". I still haven't decided which of her full albums I like better but you can't lose with either one. Right after the new release her show at Hogg Auditorium on the UT campus was announced so I grabbed some tickets. You may have heard some of her songs on the TV - she is a favorite of "Grey's Anatomy" I have been told.

We had never been to Hogg before but it's right around the corner from the Cactus Cafe. We had 12th row tickets and it's a great place to see a show - holds around 1,400 or so and Brandi sold the place out. The place brought back memories of old days as each seat had one of those fold away desks for students to use for writing on - it is on a college campus. After a non-descript opening band played a bunch of slow sad songs Brandi took the stage. She has twin brothers playing bass and lead guitar as well as a guy playing the cello and a drummer. They opened with an acapella version of "Oh Dear" which was a very unique opening. Highlights included "Late Morning Lullaby" which she sang from the edge of the stage with no mike, the new song "Dying Day" and my favorite song of hers, "My Story". A haunting version of Tears for Fears "Mad World" was performed to close the main set with Brandi solo on piano.

The Hanseroth twins opened the encore with a nice version of Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" and then Brandi covered Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues". Brandi closed the show with the great new song "Dreams" and the crowd went home happy after 90 minutes of performances from one of the best new singers out there.

If you haven't listened to the "The Story" or "Giving up the Ghost" give them a spin or better yet if she is coming to a town near you grab some tickets. You won't be disappointed!

Monday, March 22, 2010

SXSW 2010 March 13 -15

It's hard to believe that it took me nearly 10 years as an Austin resident to actually start attending South by Southwest. For the longest time I thought you had to have a wristband or a badge to see the "good" music. How wrong I was! In the last 7 days I've seen over 40 bands and spent a grand total of $8 in cover charges.

Here's a rundown of the good, the bad and the ugly:

Saturday March 13

My nephew, his girlfriend and our sister-in-law arrive from Chicago and after a sampling of Austin's finest trailer food we head off to Stubb's for the Diggnation party hosted by the Big Digg and a performance by the Walkmen. This is part of SXSW Interactive so we expect a few computer nerds there but no one could have been prepared for what we encountered. You see this Diggnation appears to be some kind of Internet show where these two knucleheads are on camera drinking beer, dropping f bombs and just rambling. And they actually have a following???? They spent an hour on stage doing their so called humor with the highlight being a visit from Austin film producer Richard Rodriguez. The strangest part was once they were done most of the crowd left - good for us since we moved to a spot 20 feet from the stage for the Walkmen. I had bought a CD of theirs a few years ago but could never really get their music. Well now that I've seen them live I can validate that feeling - I still don't get their music. They were proclaimed the best indie band in America by the Digg guys but I don't think I've ever been that drunk! Couldn't really understand what they were singing about and day 1 of SXSW ends!

Sunday, March 14

We try to flush the memory of Saturday night with a trip to the Salt Lick for the Bobby Flay proclaimed "best thing I ever ate" and man that is some good BBQ!

Late afternoon we are headed to the U S Art Authority for a show benefitting the Capitol Area Food Bank. My goal is to see Suzanna Choffel - one of the next hot things in Austin according to the critics. We get there just as her set is beginning and catch most of it. She is cute and has good stage presence but I can't really tell you what she was singing about - not sure if it is her vocals or a bad mix. Not anything to rave about but we may have to give her another listen in a different environment. Later on the bill outside was Shurman who I've been turned on to by my internet music friend Shug from They play a good version of rock and roll - only issue to me was that most of the songs sounded the same. Maybe the 50 year old drunks by us took away from the set but definitely worth checking out again. Day 2 is complete.

Monday, March 15

No music today or tonight as we are going to see "Lemmy" - the world premiere documentary about Motorhead's bassist. After getting over the fear of being the only person in line not wearing black and actually wearing a shirt with a collar we get in to the Paramount. Truly one of Austin's treasures it's such an awesome theater. The crowd is ready to roll and then Lemmy and the entire band enter the theater to a roar- not your normal movie crowd! The movie is entertaining - we find out he is a WWII collector and loves to play video trivia. But at some point it starts to drag and when we hit the two hour mark it's long. The show finally ends and although entertaining it's too long. We planned to go to the Mohawk to catch Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears at the ATXEmerge party as my nephew has become a big fan from the Ipod in the last 2 days but when we leave the theater it's raining - and soon pouring. So we grab some food on the way home and save our energy for the days to come.

Up next - Tuesday and then the madness really kicks in on Wednesday!