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Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 91
Rick Wood's Concert Diary - Vol. 91
3/18/10 SXSW Thursday. After a sleepless Wednesday night and an uneventful Thursday morning flight, I took my rented car (my first ever, at SXSW) through some intense, bumper-to-bumper traffic, arriving at Jovita’s right before the first band was to take the stage for the Twangfest/KDHX party. It was a relief to be out of the traffic and all set for an afternoon of live music. But almost as soon as I got out of the car, I was sent back out to get a few cases of bottled water and $100 in small bills. On the plus side, I got to hear “Ballad Of El Goodo” by Big Star (R.I.P. Alex Chilton) on the radio.
By the time Nicole and I got back to Jovita’s, Tim Easton was almost done with his opening set. Backed by drums, guitar and bass (Alex from Grand Champeen), they closed things out with a bluesy rocker. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, I bounced back and forth between the indoor and outdoor stages, never catching more than three or four songs by any band. Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore (d, g, viola/bass and a woman on violin) played first on the outdoor stage- gentle songs and instrumentation. Lyrical content was all about liberal themes like community and the environment (their merch table was accompanied by a booth campaigning against Appalachian strip mining). On one song, their drummer did some clogging with a big grin on his face.
Elizabeth Cook (backed by a stand up bass player and Tim Carroll on guitar) was up next on the indoor stage. She played lots of songs from her soon-to-be-released Welder CD. The comparisons to Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn hold true on many levels- she’s got songs that are sassy and/or bawdy (“Yes To Booty”, “Balls”), dense with imagery (“Rock N Roll Man”, “Girlfriend Tonite”) and simple and personal (“Heroin Addict Sister”). I personally prefer her sweet side to her sassy/risqué side, but she’s spunky enough to go where she wants to go, without much regard for cultivating a particular image.
Carrie Rodriguez and band (b, g, d and CRod on fiddle and four-string electric thing). I was a bit distracted, walking the tip jar through the crowd during her set and didn’t get a chance to really take it all in. The only song I can remember by name was “Never Gonna Be Your Bride”. These United States played next. This guitar band from Kentucky did a bunch of ragged electric originals plus a cover of The Violent Femmes’ “Do You Like American Music?” I made it out to the outdoor stage to hear a couple of songs by Glossary. I’ve probably said it before, but I got glimpses of Thin Lizzy and early Graham Parker And The Rumour.
Ray Wylie Hubbard (backed by a drummer and his teenage son on electric guitar) played next indoors. He did a pretty bluesy set that included that new bouncy one called “Snake Farm”. Ray’s Texas drawl and irreverent sense of humor account for a lot of the general tone of what he does. I missed a couple of the acts on the outdoor stage, but you can’t be everywhere at once.
Gordon Gano And The Ryans closed things out on the indoor stage. The atypical instrumentation (d, accordion, saxophone, guitar and GG on guitar and vocals) suited Gano’s quirky songs just fine. Interspersed amongst a bunch of new originals (“Wind And Water”, “Oholah Oholibah” and “Man in the Sand”) were a couple of songs from Gano’s days as frontman in The Violent Femmes- “Country Death Song” and “American Music” (the second time it was played on this stage today!). They closed things out with the Femmes’ “greatest hit”- “Blister In The Sun”.
When things wound down at the Twangfest party, I picked up Ellen (my host) and we headed over to Curra’s for enchiladas and Coronas. From there, I met up with Jeff and Steve back at Jovita’s where everything had changed from a couple of hours ago: a whole different crowd was now on hand for the weekly set by The Cornell Hurd Band. This local eight-piece band (apparently, they all have day jobs) is like a less slick Asleep At The Wheel. The instrumentation is of a high quality, but there’s a real down-to-earth, “you’re among friends” feel to things. No cover charge, but the wives of the band members worked the crowd with the tip bucket. Lots of classic country songs from all over the map: Buck, Ray Price, Johnny Bush, etc. This being a school night, things wound down as scheduled right around 10PM. Me being wiped out from the last couple of days, I called it a night and was crashed on Ellen’s couch by eleven.
3/19/10 SXSW Friday. I started the day off about mid-morning with a veggie chorizo burrito and coffee from a hip little café in south Austin. From there I made my way over to the ever-popular Bloodshot Records party at Yard Dog Gallery. The outdoor courtyard wasn’t too crowded as I heard sets by The Silos (mandolin, bass, guitar and a woman on keyboards)- melodic, mid-tempo songs with ringing mandolin. The song that struck me was “Holding On To Life”. Ben Weaver then played a solo acoustic set. He wasn’t as ragged and angry as I remember from the Frederick’s days. Next up was Whitey Morgan- this burly bunch from Michigan play a gruff, hard, twangy electric guitar thing that most often resembles seventies-era Waylon, with glimpses of Hank, Jr. thrown in.
After this set, Chris, Theresa and I made a quick drive over to La Zona Rosa, hoping to catch the 2PM set by Superchunk, but a line around the block told us it wasn’t gonna happen. I dropped C & T back off at Yard Dog and drove downtown to the convention center where I met up with Joe at the Euclid Records booth at the record show. We made the rounds through the various tables of Flatstock- the convention of rock poster artists…it’s fun going with Joe because he knows lots of the artists and we get a little back story to what they’re doing.
By the time I got back to Yard Dog, it was a familiar scene: The Waco Brothers were playing in front of a dense crowd of roots rock weirdos. Unlike certain live music settings where the crowd seems to be forever in that twenty-something college-kid range, the general demographic of this bunch seems to be aging along with the band (and me). The Wacos’ set was the usual rompin’, stompin’ rave up: “Harm’s Way”, “I Fought The Law” and “Too Sweet To Die”, among others. Jo Walston (The Meat Purveyors) got up and sang with them on one song. The song that always blows me away is their dark, searing cover of Neil’s “Revolution Blues”.
From there, I headed over to the south bank of the river and met up with Joe and Rob at the big outdoor stage. We found a little standing room right by the light towers just before Cheap Trick started up. Joe is as big of a CT fan as anyone I know- of all of the times I’ve seen them, Joe has been there every time but one. Tonight Bun E. Carlos was not on hand and the drumming was handled by the son of guitarist Rick Neilson. A keyboard player was also in tonight’s lineup and the sound was loud and clear. Somewhere right up front, Dana P was geeking out and snapping photos.
My familiarity with Cheap Trick is fairly limited, so suffice to say that in this long (almost two hours!) set, they played every song I knew and plenty more. The memory of the recently departed Alex Chilton is hanging heavy all over SXSW this weekend (AC was set to play a showcase set tomorrow night) and Cheap Trick threw in their loving eulogy in the form of “Hangin’ Out” and less directly, “Heaven Tonight”. Needless to say, all of the hits showed up (I love “Surrender”, “I Want You to Want Me” and “Dream Police”), but Joe and Rob were gushing about the obscure stuff they broke out, as well. I felt somewhat left out by my limited awareness, but liked what I heard, anyway. For a more detailed and informed account, ask Joe about it next time you see him- he said it was the best Cheap Trick show he’s ever seen.
Given the major post-show traffic snarl, the three of us walked to Chuy’s for a late dinner and that was it…I was crashed on Ellen’s couch by around midnight.
3/20/10 SXSW Saturday. In the wee hours of the morning, things turned cold (mid 40s) and rainy. I met up with the other Twangfest people at Jovita’s around 11AM. With the outdoor stage not an option (at least early on), we had to revise the schedule of our party on the fly. Roy introduced Gina Villalobos (he’s a big fan) on the indoor stage right around noon. GV plays melodic country-rock; her voice recalls Syd Straw at times and the husky rasp of Kim Carnes at others. I walked the tip bucket through the crowd.
Since they played/stayed at my house last August, I introduced Deano Waco & The Meat Purveyors, who opened with “Vacant Lot”. Just as I was set to take it all in, Nicole and I got sent out to a music shop to buy a double-pedal for a kick drum (this little piece of equipment would allow one of the next bands to use our backline drum kit, avoiding a time-consuming switch-out). About an hour (and $100) later, we got back to the club. By now, the place was “can’t move” crowded as The Carolina Chocolate Drops played. I heard the last three or four songs from the corner of the stage- banjo/fiddle field-hand music that varied from song-to-song. The dense crowd loved it.
The room remained packed as I helped with set-change and tried to manage the timing of the rest of the day’s acts. We got Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers on around 2:45. They did what they do, this time with a new guitar player. Front man J. D. Wilkes has that crazed methabilly thing down- never at a loss for what to do next in a non-stop, impromptu barrage of stage moves/physical comedy. You can’t understand a word as he sings through his distorto-mic. I don’t listen to their records, but I’m always entranced when I see them play live. Somewhere near the end of their brief set, the tip jar was going around right up front…J. D. reached down and pulled it up high in the air, before dumping all of the money onto his sweat-soaked, shirtless body. He finished the last song with a dollar bill adhered to his forehead.
The crowd remained dense throughout the afternoon…it was nice to catch up with some familiar faces during the relatively long changeover. Next up was Chuck Prophet And The Mission Express, opening with “Sonny Liston’s Blues”. The whole band lit things up right away and my preoccupation with all of the details of running this all-day change-on-the-fly party pretty much went out the window- time to enjoy. Other memorable moments of this set included “Queen Bee” (sung by Stephanie) and “Bangkok” (yet another Alex Chilton tribute moment). They ended their set with “Who Put The Bomp…”, sending things into that intense “Cowgirl In The Sand” zone; hands-down, the musical highlight of my weekend.
Yet another set change (slide the drum kit back against the wall) before I stepped up to that fancy microphone to introduce Chatham County Line. Dressed in their sharp suits and singing around that one high-quality mic, they opened with one of my favorites- “The Carolinian” (I had to call Nancy in Knoxville to give her the long-distance live feed). They did a handful of new songs (presumably from their forthcoming album) as well as “Birmingham Jail”. It was nice to get a chance to catch up with them a bit after their set. This year, my SXSW is shaping up to be much more about meeting up with friends and hearing lots of bands I’m already familiar with…quite the contrast to those times in the early nineties when I would take off all by myself, pursuing heavily-touted “buzz bands” with my ragged SXSW schedule stuffed into my back pocket.
Detroit’s The Deadstring Brothers closed things out on the indoor stage with another set of Stonesy rawk….guitars/piano/organ/steel. I miss looking at Masha (their former backup singer) but they still rock hard. Songs I remember: The Band’s “Get Up Jake” and Dylan’s “From a Buick 6”. When they finished up, I stepped up to the mic to encourage everyone to go check out the band on the outdoor stage (it was still cold outside, but the rain had stopped).
St. Louis’ The Brothers Lazaroff closed things out in front of maybe thirty people with a set of songs that found a funky, soulful groove. A handful of drunk frat boys danced with each other and then eventually with a group of little kids (the moms were good sports about this) as things wound down. After we loaded out and said “thanks” and “goodbye” to the folks at Jovita’s, a handful of KDHX/Twangfest people ended up over at Magnolia Café for fish tacos.
From there, I headed south to The Broken Spoke. I had been there a couple of times before when bands played in a “concert” setting, but tonight was the first time I witnessed the place in it’s true “Texas dance hall” mode. The live music had yet to start up, but there was a woman wearing a headset giving instructions to about twenty couples boot-scootin’ around the dance floor to some recorded music…women with their hair done up and men sporting cowboy hats and big belt buckles. As famous as this place is, you might envision it to be some grand-scale, first-class public hall, but it’s actually fairly modest in its dimensions, most notably the vertical. The ceiling height at its highest (on the dance floor) is barely eight feet tall. But the unassuming lay of the land fits the overall mood of the place just fine. You can order a bar-b-q sandwich and a cold Lone Star and enjoy them sitting at one of the picnic tables tucked into the alcoves off to both sides (with even lower ceilings!) I briefly said “Hi” to a couple members of the band before finding a seat at one of the picnic tables (a sign let me know that the main floor was for dancing only).
The Derailers took the stage a little while later and the whole swirl of dancers started into their thing. Song selection was pretty similar to what I heard when they played in STL a couple of weeks ago, but the overall scene was vastly different from the setting I last saw this band (my living room). Toward the end of their long first set, I drove back into town (still not quite used to having my own wheels in Austin) to a small microbrewery where a couple of my favorite artists from the eighties were about to play.
Technical issues delayed the start of the set by Tommy Keene, but once he and band (b, d, g) got going, they laid on some of that hard, catchy guitar pop that I remember him for. TK is still lean and healthy looking and played with lots of energy. The drummer was a teenage kid who I think might have been TK’s son. Songs I remember from back in the day included “Highwire Days” and “Back To Zero”. He saved his “greatest hit” for last, going out with the melodic, soaring “Places That Are Gone”. I was lost in a zone.
The crowd thinned out some (around 20 dudes showing interest and another 20 talking back toward the bar) as Grant Hart took the stage around midnight. Unlike Tommy Keene before him, GH is looking worse for the wear…a bit thin with long, stringy hair hanging out from his knit cap, he ran through a set that included songs from his post Husker Du output (“Last Days Of Pompeii”, “Admiral Of The Sea”, “2541”) as well as a few vintage Husker songs (“Never Talking To You Again”, “Flexible Flyer”, “Books About UFOs” and “Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill”) all done up solo with his hollowbody Gibson guitar. A couple of new songs were more light and theatric…one had a whistling part.
Along the way, there were a couple of moments of friction with the audience- one in the middle of the set when he told the “douchebags” in the back of the room to stop talking and another near the end when someone from the back walked up and held up a handwritten sign (I didn’t see what it said, but I assume it was something confrontational)…GH stopped mid-song to call out this asshole and finished up the song and set. All-in-all, he’s written some great songs, but the sloppy solo guitar treatment didn’t let them roar and soar…which any Husker Du fan will tell you is where the magic happens. I enjoyed the nice, long walk back across the bridge into south Austin…kinda like fifteen years ago when I was tirelessly out late on foot four nights in a row.
3/21/10 SXSW Sunday. It was sunny and cool out as I made the late-morning walk over to Jo’s Coffee on South Congress for lunch. I ran into Roy and Dana and we hung out in the sunny parking lot for a good part of the afternoon, alternately talking and hearing a few bands that were playing on the big stage in the back corner. Woodboss (ex-Weary Boys, plus a female fiddle player) covered Dylan’s “If You Got To Go” and The Band’s “Evangeline”. I hardly paid attention to the next band, but enjoyed it when Jeff Davis And Chaparral (b, d, g, g & steel) closed things out with a nice, long set of country/country-rock. Covers included Buck’s “Made In Japan” and Rodney’s “Aint Livin’ Long Like This”.
Ellen and I ate dinner at Green Mequite (rib plate with fried okra) before I headed down to the South Congress (Penn Field) location of Opal Divine’s. They’ve got a nice, big outdoor deck where the bands play. It was chilly out (somewhere in the 40s) when Susan Cowsill and band went onstage around 8PM. A few sound issues delayed the start of her set, but once they figured out what they could (and couldn’t) do, things were OK. Susan’s voice was a bit raspy and ragged from the last few days, but still enjoyable. Songs I remember included “I Know You Know”, “Happy” (Cowsills?) and Jimmy Webb’s “Galveston”. Toward the end of the set, I ran into Sarah Borges and band in the relatively small crowd.
I hung with Rob (Sarah’s drummer) toward the back for the closing set by Bill Kirchen. Backed by a rhythm section of Austin friends, Bill did a set of familiar favorites, blending warm songs/singing, humor, with always-impressive guitar. Songs that stood out were “Hammer Of The Honky Tonk Gods”, “Get A Little Goner” (one of my faves…it’s got an infectious swing/sway to it) and (of course) “Hot Rod Lincoln”. After the set, I got a chance to catch up a bit with Bill and Susan before heading back for one last night on Ellen’s couch. One more SXSW come and gone.
3/26/10 Bruce Robison, House Concert. Bruce’s current tour finds him in duo mode, accompanied by Miles Zuniga (lead guitarist from the Austin band, Fastball). For a duo, they sure don’t travel light- they pulled onto our street with a big ol’ RV pulling a trailer. It took a couple of laps around the quirky arrangement of medianed streets to get their big rig situated pointing the right direction in front of our house. Bruce, Miles and Gary (their tour manager) were all plenty friendly and easy-going as they set up and did a quick sound check- Dylan’s “Simple Twist Of Fate”. Bruce is really tall- maybe six foot, six? I was a little concerned that he would find our not-quite 8’ ceiling a bit claustrophobic, but he did just fine.
As is the pattern, the place filled up to capacity (around 85 people) just before Bruce and Miles jump-started things with “Poor Man’s Son”, one of Bruce’s more up-tempo songs. Bruce is a fine singer and player, but his strong suit is his songwriting. Over the years, he’s written lots of songs that have had commercial success for big-time artists like Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, George Strait and The Dixie Chicks. The appreciative crowd seemed to realize they were witnessing something special as he ran through his non-stop string of memorable songs: “Red Letter Day For The Blues”, “I Have Not Forgotten You” (introduced as the first of his songs he ever heard Kelly Willis (his wife) sing on the radio), “My Brother And Me” (a warm, humorous ballad about the interesting characters in his family) and “The Good Life” (a classic-sounding honky-tonk song).
They did one new song co-written by Bruce and Miles- a delicate arpeggio-driven ballad that I’m guessing is called “Once In A While”. The sound of the guitars through their amps was loud and clear while Bruce’s vocals varied in volume, depending on how close/far he was from the mic. I think the intimate nature of this setting may have led him to believe amplification wasn’t as critical. Set one wound down with “Angry All The Time” (another of his seemingly effortless melodic ballads) and “Born To Roll” (a trucker-themed rave-up ala “Aint Livin’ Long Like This” with lots of raucous acoustic/electric guitar interplay).
Bruce opened set two by honoring a request for “Tonight” (one that has been covered by his brother, Charlie). “What Would Willie Do?” showed up early in the set, as well…another of Bruce’s warm and funny songs. Miles got a moment in the spotlight when he sang “Fire Escape”, an original from his days in Fastball. “Travellin’ Soldier” was a real highlight; this spellbinding ballad/love story was a big hit for The Dixie Chicks, but I found tonight’s plaintiff, unpolished version more genuine. He introduced “California 85” by explaining that it was written as a lament about drinking cheap wine to forget…less apparent today, as that vintage is now probably a pretty pricey bottle. He also busted out a new ballad (“Can’t Let Go”?) that he has just recently recorded with Kelly.
Bruce saved his most well-known song for last. Shortly after he started into the warm (that word, again) and reassuring “Wrapped”, a good amount of the crowd was joyously singing along…he even stopped singing during the chorus and just let the crowd carry things. It was one of those heartwarming, fuzzy, feel-good moments. The two-song encore featured “Blame It On Me” (Bruce rendered this tender ballad without Miles) and a loose, learn-on-the-fly version of Neil’s “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”.
During the usual post-show cleanup/wind-down, Brian and Lisa talked me into coming with them to catch the end of Scott Miller’s set downtown. I said “good night” to Nancy, the band and a handful of other people who were still hanging out and headed down to The Old Rock House.
3/26/10 Scott Miller, Old Rock House. I rode down with Brian and Lisa in time to catch the last handful of songs. This was my first time at this relatively new venue, which apparently can hold close to a thousand people. Tonight there were only about 40 or 50 scattered about a few tables and the dance floor. Scott was up on the fairly big stage all alone, doing the solo acoustic thing…it all would have felt better in a more intimate room. He closed things out with a couple of his tried-and-true classic covers: The Stones’ “Street Fighting Man” (an appropriately rowdy set closer) and “Motion Pictures” (I love this fractured Neil Young ballad, but rocking, it aint). So the bad news was that I only heard about fifteen minutes worth of music…but the good news was I got to catch up with Scott (we called our mutual friend, Bill, in Virginia) and a few other people before catching a ride home with Dave and Angela.
4/2/10 Daddy, The Ranch House. There was a full house tonight. I got there maybe a half hour before show time and volunteered my time as the doorman. That stool toward the back of the room was a nice vantage point as Dave introduced Tommy Womack and Will Kimbrough as two of his favorite people in the world.
The duo version of Nashville’s Daddy opened with Tommy’s “Nice Day”. This deadpan but heartfelt story/song about the tempered pleasures of family life always brings a smile to the whole room…tonight it got a little unique instrumentation as Will added banjo. “Piece Of Work” was significant tonight as there was a woman in attendance who has the complete lyrics tattooed on her arm (somehow, in Will’s handwriting, according to Gina). The whole evening was filled, song-after-song, with relaxed, fun (and often funny), loose blues-based material. Other early highlights included “Wings” (this one, written and sung by Will, reminded me of the late John Stewart), “He Aint Right” (a song about the days before we had a range of three-letter designations for what was wrong with kids), “Guilty Snake Blues” (a typically self-deprecating Tommy song, Will on National Steel, I think) and “Three Angels” (a sweet, endearing ballad about Will’s wife and daughters). Set one closed with “Alpha Male”, Tommy’s dense/intense, stream-of-consciousness, up-tempo rant…toward the end, he wound things out on guitar, ala the Velvets’ “Rock And Roll”.
I got to catch up a little with Tommy and Will a little bit in the between-sets break. They’re very different people who are very good friends. Set two opened with “Glory Be” (more of Will’s National steel/slide guitar) and “I Just Want You To Know” (a new Tommy shuffle, Will on banjo). At this point, Dave M became the third member of the band, Tommy giving a nice shout-out to Dave’s abilities. From there, set two found a nice, fluid, vibe. Highlights included “The Ballad Of MLK” (a loose groove with lots of harmonica from Tommy…I think they did this one at the school where Angela teaches earlier today), “Wash And Fold” (imagine Little Feat playing “Aiko Aiko”), “I Don’t Like It” (again with that “Don’t You Tell Henry” lick), “Too Much Truth” (a Tommy ballad about a world-weary woman) and the always fun “Yo Yo Ma” (Chuck Berry meets J. S. Bach). As is the pattern, I hung out late with the host and a few other friends after the show.
4/3/10 Raul Malo. The Duck Room. My evening started off at The Ranch House, hanging with people before the Daddy duo started up their second night of back-to-back house concerts. I hung near the back and heard a couple of songs (“It’s Been A Nice Day” was a highlight) before I headed out with Kim and Kathy over to The Duck Room. There were lots of people we knew milling about at the bar…we all hung out for a while before heading downstairs right before Raul took the stage. Accompanied by Michael Guerra on accordion, RM had the pretty full house drawn in. Raul is pretty well-known by lots of people, but not so much by me. I had a couple of Mavericks’ (his country band from the early nineties) records, but haven’t kept up with his considerable output as a solo artist.
Combine my lack of familiarity with a major time-lag in getting around to writing this (and throw in a few beers, at the time) and my account of this show is gonna be vague, at best. The overall tone of what Raul does comes from that cool, dark crooner territory occupied by the likes of Roy Orbison and Chris Isaak. I know these are some top-shelf names to throw around, but Raul’s voice is expressive, nuanced and evocative enough to warrant the comparison. Song selection ranged from country standards to Latino ballads with a few points in between. I can’t help with any song titles, but I do remember him covering Rodney Crowell’s “Til I Can Gain Control Again”. Toward the end, he made light of the Roy Orbison similarity by offering up a tease of “Puff The Magic Dragon” as if rendered by Mr. O.
Meanwhile back at the ranch house, the music had just wrapped up, but plenty of people were still hanging out. Gary and Joann showed up a little after we did, with Raul and Michael with them. We talked in vague terms about possibly having them play at our place to celebrate Joann’s birthday in July. I promise I’ll give a more informed account of that show if it ends up happening.