Saturday, March 24, 2012

SXSW 2012 - Bruce and Big Star

Thursday - Day Two

Highlights – Bruce Springsteen’s keynote speech, which should be required viewing for anyone with a passing interest in rock and roll. Part history lesson and part fatherly advice, Springsteen’s passion for and grasp of rock history is unsurpassed. If you care deeply about rock and roll, carve 50 minutes out of your life and watch the whole thing here. Tom Morello’s closing set at the New West party was a revelation– we all knew he could do wonders with six strings and a whammy bar, but he’s also a charismatic and riveting band leader, with megawatt charm and movie star presence.  I loved the understated brilliance of Big Star Third performed live by Chris Stamey, Jody Stephens, Mitch Easter, Austin’s Tosca String Quartet and a few dozen others – it was a music geek’s wet dream (I am looking at you, DJ Mertter). There were loads of guest stars (M. Ward, Tommy Stinson, Peter Buck, Peter Case), but the real stars were the songs themselves.

Lowlights – TK fave Ezra Furman’s nasal whine brings to mind the skittishness of the Violent Femmes and the wide-eyed playfulness of Jonathan Richman, but his intentional on the verge of nervous breakdown, exaggerated bleat during a slowed to a crawl “Sweet Jane” was a sure-fire room clearer at the Continental Club. It may signal a new direction, as Furman appeared earlier in the week in only his socks and boxer briefs and declared “I was supposed to be a wide-eyed sort of singer-songwriter, but I don't feel like that anymore. Too bad, marketing team." Get well soon, Ezra. Other lowlight – not winning the Bruce lottery (but not really since it freed up the time to go see the Big Star Third show),

Moments to savor – Getting up on stage, jumping up and down and singing along with new best bud Tom Morello during “World Wide Rebel Songs”.  During his SXSW keynote, Springsteen playing a verse and the chorus of the Animals “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and declaring after a dramatic pause “ That’s every song I’ve ever done. I’m not kidding, that’s all of ‘em.” The ageless Martin Zellar transporting me back to 1990 with a snappy take on the Gear Daddies’ “Stupid Boy”. Zellar is one of the great under-appreciated songwriters of the last 25 years. Tommy Stinson, revered ex-Mat, killing us with the Bash and Pop classic "Never Aim to Please".

Also Got to See - A superb set of Woody Guthrie songs by Jimmy LaFave, Eliza Gilkyson and Colombian superstar Juanes preceding the Springsteen keynote. Lydia Loveless' badass cowpunk, Aussie Henry Wagons arch, droll set full of wit and self-deprecation to a nominal crowd in a small, upscale bar, a scorching set by Columbus' Two Cow Garage (someone please figure out a way to get these guys heard), the melodic but stiff pop punk of Cheap Girls, the vibrant traditionalism of the Punch Brothers and the wonderful Southeast Engine, whose quiet, bittersweet beauty should be all the rage with No Depression types.

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