Thursday, March 27, 2008

SXSW - Day Two (3/13 - Night)

Thursday night looked to be a little uneven, even if it still provided much to savor. We started at a cool little venue with the awful name Bourbon Rocks (yay Miller High Life tall boys!) and the Cincinnati band Wussy, who share at least one member (Chuck Cleaver) with the late, lamented, demented Ass Ponys. But for some reason Wussy, who sounded perfectly fine, were boring us. So we guzzled up the tall boys, cut bait, and ran.

Where to? The closest venue on our hit list was the Central Presbyterian Church, where a rare reunion performance of 60’s bubblegum kings and real-life Partridge Family inspiration The Cowsills was a-happening. It was a little bit creepy, but also a lot of fun as the surviving Cowsills (they gotta be in their 60’s) played a short set of late 60’s hits (“We Can Fly”, “Poor Baby”, the sublime “The Rain, the Park, and Other Things”) while trading sunny harmonies with wooden, stiff jokes about family and aging. For some reason they felt the need to include an awful political song - thankfully the name escapes me. Note to all artists not named Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg or Pete Seeger – don’t play your political screeds. They’re no good and we don’t want to hear them.

They also did a wonderful, reverent version of C,S,N & Y’s “Helplessly Hoping” and a spirited if slightly icky version of their biggest hit “Hair” (but skipped my favorite “Indian Lake”) as the greybeards and curious rose for a slow, creaky standing ovation. Perversely entertaining… and it got me to church.

Quickly back to Bourbon Rocks (yay Miller High Life tall boys!) and an engaging, if not spectacular, set from Austin-based alt-country stalwarts San Saba County. I loved the blend of instruments, the lead singer’s arid vocals, the drummer’s SXSWSUX t shirt, but I didn’t hear enough in the songwriting department. Probably my loss.

I decided on a whim to check out L.A. singer-songwriter Jim Bianco, who was thoroughly captivating a few weeks in an acoustic opening slot for Jeremy Fisher. Bianco’s Waits-ian growl, spooky lovelorn lyrics and rubbery mug provided a smoky mix of Fats Waller meets beatnik bop folkie cool. His off-hand, snarky stage patter puts across a wise-guy attitude while naked lyrical songs like the stalkerly “Somebody’s Gonna Get Hurt”, the restlessly horny “I’ve Got a Thing For You”, and the bawdy “Goodness Gracious” (which he requested all audience members to hoot, holler and make “strip club noises" throughout the song) are imbued with a gruff, jazzy swing that should be impossible to pull off. For some reason the addition of a full band made tonight’s show slightly less enjoyable than the acoustic show a few weeks back. More is less?

I met up with my buddy Vince at Esther’s Follies, a tiny, sit down theater that was perfect for my virgin encounter with The Asylum Street Spankers. After struggling with the venue’s sound system, the ASS decided to go completely acoustic. Their kitchen sink mix of jazz, country, vaudeville, blues, show tunes, hillbilly romps and yes, even Tuvan throat music proved delightful for about 5 or 6 songs, then became grating as their shtick started to wear thin. Towards the end of the set, I was anxious to head to the next show but still happy I’d experienced one of Austin’s most original acts.

We arrived at a beyond packed Mohawk Patio to see Jens Lekman, whose most recent disc Night Over Kortedala, has been steadily growing on me. Lekman comes on like a cross between Stephen Merritt and Jonathan Richman singing the Bacharach songbook. His mostly female backing band provided sweet stringed (violin, cello) counterpoint to Lekman’s tales of romantic heartbreak, deception and loneliness. A string fueled, rousing “The Opposite of Hallelujah” was interrupted with a perfect dj break of The Chairmen of the Board’s AM masterpiece “Give Me Just A little More Time”, complete with Pips-styled arms outstretched dancing moves by Lekman and his band. Although heavily hyped in indie world, this show was a real treat and nice surprise for me. Color me impressed.

Postscript from the Lekman show - To all you fuckers at shows that aren’t blisteringly loud: SHUT THE FUCK UP.

Back once more to Bourbon Rocks (yay Miller High Life tall boys!!) for long time favorites Bodeans, who are back out on the road supporting their ninth record, Still, which continues the fine return to form started by 2004’s Resolution. Playing a spirited selection of both old (“Idaho”, “Good Times”, “Fadeaway” and “Texas Ride Song”) and new, Beau and Sammy’s timeless Everly-inspired harmonies and bouncy pop hooks still endure, even if Sammy has morphed into some weird hybrid of Cheech, Yosemite Sam and Chong. While I felt like maybe I should be checking out some next big thing, I really wanted to see these guys. So the heck with hype… long live the Bodeans!!

No comments: