Monday, March 17, 2008

SXSW Report

OK, maybe I should have done an advance tip sheet before the event, but I learned my lesson a long time ago to quit trying to do everything and catch all the acts I want to see. This post mortem of highlights will have to do.

*The business of music may be in the toilet, but South By Southwest is bigger than ever. The Outsiders have taken over, mainly because there's precious few Insiders left.

*The Tampa Bay hippie party aka Florida Bandango, behind the Yard Dog folk art gallery was rocking, and I don't mean the free Tampa cigars or the alligator chili. I mean neo-primitivist Malcolm Holcombe, ukelele sensation Sylvie Simmons, with the sweetest voice this side of the cane fields, and Ronny Elliot, self-described "aging hippie and do-gooder" who is the story song Bard of T-Bay (and writer of "Valentino's Dream" based on an article I'd written on the producer Huey P. Meaux) who dueted with Rebekah Pulley. Ronny didn't get to sing many of his brilliant compositions but he and Pulley did a haunting cover of Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" in all minor keys that made it all the more haunting.

*Redwalls at the Bloodshot party were a fresh-faced four piece whose shag locks and stage presence suggested like refugees from the Sweet or some such 70s vintage Brit power pop band and whose sonic punch more closely resembled the Beatles (which is a compliment since I usually dislike three part harmonies in that context) or the Hollies. They're pretty great at the club level. Whether it translates into something bigger remains to be see.

*Robert Hardy, author of the new Townes Van Zandt book.

*Willie Nelson/Paula Nelson. Father-daughter duet assisted by Mickey Raphael on harmonica at ME Television was a moment of forever. The two Willie concerts at the Backyard were moments of clarity. Paula has really matured her own over the past three years and is becoming a star in her own right. Kevin Connor rocks for staging this unhyped event.

*Chuck Prophet. I was curious about Chuck and his wife Stephanie Finch and band for several reasons, not the least of which is his songwriting collaborations with Alejandro Escovedo on Al's new record, Real Animal. Prophet's engaging, sorta charismatic and definitely a goofball judging from his white shoes, rolled up jean cuffs, and seventies vintage disco belt. His songs reflect that.
High point: at the end, posing the rhetorical "Who put the bomp.....?" and answering it with the rejoinder, "You did!" And you know, he's right.

*XM Radio's coverage allowed me to hear Salvatore Santana (chip off the old block with an added dollop of Hip Hop), Martha Wainwright (beyond charismatic) and the Ting Tings (engaging boy-girl Irish duo who mix acoustic charm with electronica modernism) on my way to a show.

*Second-hand buzz I trust on acts I missed: Billy Gibbons joining Roky Erickson on stage at the Ice Cream Social; San Antonio's Krayolas, the Tex-Mex Beatles fronted by Hector Saldana and joined by Augie Meyer, King the Vox organ; Freddy Powers' picking session; Motorhead; REM; the Fwends, the Sparrow Quarter w/Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn at St. David's Church ("I cried twice," my spy reported), Was (Not Was), the Resentments at the Saxon, Al Escovedo closing it all out at the Continental.

*Roland Swenson, my friend who is the director of SXSW, made the front page of Friday's Wall Street Journal along with his dot-drawn likeness. The article tried to make the point that now there are no major labels left to paint as the Man, Roland and the directors have become the new heavies, mainly for directing the Fire Marshall to unauthorized, outlaw, and bootleg parties that were allowing crowds in excess of legal capacity. The directors have complained that outside events are negatively impacted official events and putting SXSW at risk. Whatever. I just think it's cool that Roland has achieved dot-drawn status, making him the envy of CEOs and captains of industry.

*The thrilling, come-from-behind 17-16 victory by Clubs/Talent Buyers over the Mixed Media Mongrels for the SXSW Softball Tournament championship Sunday afternoon. Kevin Connor and I called the game for the fans at Monroe "Lefty" Krieg Field. There was some disappointment the Musicians fell short in the semi-finals because the team was loaded with Cowsills. Instead, there were precious few celebrities remaining to witness the championship. I had no idea Kim Fowley was a baseball fan.

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