Friday started out badly as we headed out to catch a Team Love showcase featuring my best new buddies The Felice Brothers. But either I got bad info or I can’t read but the gig we were looking for wasn’t happening (and yes, Vince, I know you think it was over on South Congress). But this gave us a chance to head over to the WXPN/Paste day party at Volume, a sharp little club with a balcony surrounding the stage. Once inside the sweltering club (I believe the outside temp topped 90… perfect for rock and roll) we say hello to homeboys and XPN staffers David Dye, Bruce Warren and Jim McGuinn. They’re busy putting on a radio show and live broadcast and we need to get some beer – it’s almost 1 pm!
First up is my old buddy from two nights ago, Lightspeed Champion. I like this dude’s moves (psych pop alt-country with crazy hat) and today’s set is much better than the Wednesday night's Antone’s gig. First of all, crowd conversation is kept to a minimum and our vantage point is superb. Today’s show includes a gorgeous cover of Weezer’s “Perfect Situation” and healthy sampling of Lightspeed Champion’s debut disc, Falling Off The Lavender Bridge. One to watch.
David Dye steps up to introduce Winnipeg, Manitoba’s favorite sons The Weakerthans and he is rocking a Teenage Kicks t-shirt, the latest in ultimate chic fashion wear. John K Samson, the Weakerthans’ singer and guiding light, writes three minute radio ready should-be-hits that remind me of Squeeze’s melodic, detailed story songs, but with less of Squeeze’s pop classicism and more of indie rock’s spit and spirit. The crowd was dominated by pasty faced, bespectacled, doe-eyed… boys? Where all da chicks at? Most of the set was taken from 2007’s Reunion Tour (highlights were “Bigfoot!”, “Civil Twilight”, “Virtue the Cat…” and especially the melancholy look back “Night Windows”) but the set closer was the heartbreaking “Left and Leaving”, which is about as good as pop music gets.
Vince headed back to the hotel for a cigar and a snooze (I’m betting he was checking email and making phone calls) and I headed to the Free Yr Radio outdoor stage on Red River to catch She and Him, a collaboration between wide-eyed actress Zooey Deschanel (you know her from Elf and boy is she cute) and indie guitar hero M. Ward. I need to mention that SXSW runs with brutal efficiency, with sets beginning right on time or within 5 or 10 minutes (a practice I highly endorse for all clubs!). As She And Him fumbled with a balky sound system, their 2:15 start floated to 2:45 and they wound up with time for only three songs, ‘cause you can’t keep Billy Bragg waiting, can you? Despite Deschanel’s nervousness and stock still, semi-terrified stage presence, the three song set (“This is Not A Test”, “Change Is Hard” and “Black Hole”) seemed to signal an emerging new talent. Deschanel’s voice is sultry, airy and playful like Jenny Lewis channeling the spirit of Patsy Cline, and M Ward is just badass.
Billy Bragg followed with a short 3 song set that included "Farm Boy" from his new album, Mr. Love And Justice, "Old Clash Fan Fight Song" recorded under his Johnny Clash alter ego and a benefit 7" for Jail Guitar Doors (dedicated to "Clash fans from 9 to 90"... I took that personally) and the rallying cry "Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards". If you like half the music written about here on Teenage Kicks, you owe it to yourself to go see Billy Bragg next time he’s in your town.
A quick walk back to the hotel to rouse Vince and head back to the Paste/Stereogum/WXPN party for Athens,GA power trio The Whigs. By this time the club is jam-packed and we head upstairs for a Shiner and better vantage point. The Whigs kicked things off with “Like A Vibration” and nothing on the record had prepared me for the Nirvana meets Crazy Horse assault of their live show. No frills, loud-louder-loudest, sweaty (did I mention it was 174 degrees in the club) rock and roll delivered with passion and classic rock poses (drummer flailing like a maniac, guitarist with legs split, etc) that we all need but rarely get. The set included several tracks from their outstanding new disc, Mission Control, with highlights “Need You Need You” and the magnificent “Right Hand on My Heart”. William Henry Harrison and Henry Clay would be proud.
Walking back to the hotel for the pre-dinner rest, we pass a bar and my buddy says “that sounds like Billy Bragg”. So we cross the street and walk into a tiny little bar and there’s some secret-handshake industry schmoozefest going on with our old pal Billy. We catch 45 seconds of “There Is A Power In A Union” and Uncle Bill leaves with this parting thought:
“Don’t Network. Organize.”
Only in Austin.
Only in Austin.