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!

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!