Monday, March 24, 2008

SXSW - Day Two (3/13 - Afternoon)

Day two we begin to get comfortable with our surroundings (hey look, there’s Lou Reed in the lobby) and I also know (Vince doesn’t) that we’re in for a treat with the Twangfest day party at Jovita’s, a suitably skanky roadhouse with an indoor room and makeshift outdoor stage on a fenced in wooden patio. This is where the This Is American Music revue will celebrate good ol’ fashioned, bare bones American rock and roll. These bands, they believe.

Upon entering Jovita’s we are almost face to face with Amy Lavere, and believe me that is a great place to be. While waiting for the TIAM revue, two songs by Amy Lavere convinced me that a) she was quite the little bunny and b) I wanted to hear more. I have no idea what songs she did, but neither of them were “Killing Him” (thanks XPN). More on her in Friday’s recap.

This Is American Music is a loose gathering of four bands from Ohio (Two Cow Garage), Tennessee (Glossary) and the great state of Texas (The Drams and Grand Champeen). They come together to play in a Motown style revue with bands switching instruments, members and set order depending on the day and the song.

It’s a breezy, sun smoked Texas afternoon with $3 beers and the only folks that make it out to Jovita’s really want to be there, as it’s a very long walk or a ten minute cab ride. We’re old… we cabbed it. Two Cow Garage start the festivities with a rousing “The Great Gravitation Massacre”, a bluesy crawl imbued with mid-period Stones-y swagger and an irresistible “na na na na na na” chorus. I know most of you have never heard these guys, but godammit they’re trying to get you to listen. This is accessible, heart-on-your sleeve songwriting. Next up is “Skinny Legged Girl“ with special guest Grand Champeen’s Channing Lewis and his 2 (3?) year old son Calder, who proceeds to bop around with Vince Vaughn approved headphones (c’mon – I know you saw Old School). Just as airplanes and kids don’t mix, generally neither do rock and roll and kids. But the back porch ambience and family vibe of this show leads me to the conclusion that the kid is alright. TCG finish with two more rockers and like each of the day’s four bands, four songs go by in a blur and leave you desperately wanting a little more.

Next up are The Drams, grizzled road warriors from Denton, TX. Featuring former members of alt-country troublemakers Slobberbone, the Drams surprise by including exactly zero songs from their sole album, Jubilee Dive. In short order, they bash out four rough and ready tales of losers, broken hearts and broken dreams including three Slobberbone tunes (opener “Barrel Chested”, “That Is All” and “(I Can Tell) Your Love is Waning”) and a newer, unreleased call-and-response world beater “Man of Note”. Brent Best is the best songwriter you never heard of.

Pop inside for another for another Shiner and catch one song by two man punk blues band Black Diamond Heavies. They are stirring up a righteous racket and I’ll bet they’d appeal to fans of The Black Keys and The White Stripes.

Hailing from Murfreesboro, TN, Glossary are rooted in the southern fried RnB of Muscle Shoals and Stax Volt but with enough guitar scuzz to fit right in on this bill. Led by diminutive soul man Joey Kneiser, Glossary run through four songs from their latest album, The Better Angels of Our Nature (still available here as a free download), including piano soul stompin’ opener “Almsgiver”, Lowell George inspired “Only Time Will Tell”, life on the road travelogue “Blood on The Knobs” featuring gospel-esque harmonies (“still holding onto rock and roll”) and perfect set closer “Shout It From The Rooftops”, which actually lives up to that great song title. During “Only Time Will Tell” Shane from Two Cow Garage let loose some colorful language only to be admonished by Glossary’s Kelly Kneiser. He says “When I’m drinking beer, I assume everyone else is drunk”. Kelly’s response: “Drink up toddlers”.

Inside for another Shiner and David Bazan (Pedro the Lion) and his christian emo-folk for a cheery little number called “The Devil is Beating His Wife”. Time to head back outside.

Last on the bill were hometown heroes Grand Champeen, whose sparkling power pop included liberal doses of Replacements kicks and Cheap Trick hooks, sprinkled with Badfinger’s merseybeat love. Standouts included “Nice of You to Join Us” and “Wonded Eye”. Then it was most hands on deck (the Drams were out the door already to another showcase) for a rousing and suitably ragged fist-pumping “Born to Run”.

This is American Music, indeed.

Next it was mad cab ride to the west side of Sixth St. (music industry scum called it a “douche move” for us to take the cab we had called ahead for – label wanks suck) for the New West party (thanks Todd!!) at the outdoor Club de Ville. As we walk in we spot our friend Lou (who was everywhere in Austin) and hear the last minute or two of a bluesy “Hound Dog”. Now I recognize everyone's favorite guitarist Buddy Miller but not the singer. And that’s because I’m an ass. The band launches into a note perfect version of Johnny Rivers’ “Mountain of Love” and I’m thinking this guy really sounds like Johnny Rivers. At this point my buddy Vince seemingly reads my mind and says “That’s ‘cause it is Johnny Rivers.” D’OH! “Mountain of Love” morphs into a ragged “Kansas City” and back and it’s done.

A short set change and Dallas alt-country hitmakers (yeah, I know) Old 97’s saunter onstage. This being an industry schmoozefest, it’s pretty easy to get right up front. Let me tell you – Rhett Miller is ready for his Hollywood close-up. I think Vince mentions that Rhett “would even be pretty as a girl”. (Note to self – keep an eye on Vince back at the hotel).

I had pegged the Old 97’s as a band to break out of the americana sales ghetto – they’ve got the matinee idol lead singer (looks and hooks), a talented singer/bassist foil in Murry Hammond, a compact and concise guitarist (Ken Bethea) and secret weapon drummer Philip Peeples who kicks their rockers into high gear. But the last record (Drag It Up) was sluggish and too democratic. Based on today’s performance, the new record sounds like a return to form. Highlights include the sunny “No Baby I”, the sweet “She Loves The Sunset”, the propulsive “The Fool” plus “Early Morning” and “Dance With Me”, the leadoff single. I’m not sure how these guys balance the Old 97’s / Rhett solo career dilemma, but it certainly seems like they’re ready for this upcoming tour.

Older songs played include their debut recording “St. Ignatius”, “Won’t Be Home” (a highlight from 2004’s Drag It Up), the Ken Bethea lead vocal of “Coahuila” and Murry Hammond’s exuberant country swing shuffle of Too Far To Care’s “West Texas Teardrop”, a song he placed on a mix of Texas music (mostly Don Walser) he made for his young child’s birthday.

Finishing the afternoon were The Drams (again) in a set that was even better than three hours ago. They seemed a little more awake and it was family time as wives, aunts, sisters and kids danced stage left right in front of the band. Highlights were “Man of Note”, “That Is All”, “Hummalong”, “Des Moines” “Dunk You In The River” and a dedication to the late Drew Glackin with “When I’m Gone” (“Now I’m old / My dreams are not the same”). This is a rock band, plain and simple, that should have carved out a bigger piece of the music biz pie by now. They haven’t, and probably won’t, but yet it seems they are determined to carry on. And that’s a scene played out many times this week.

And that was just the afternoon.

1 comment:

Shuggie said...

Excellent recap Trip. Worth the wait.