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!