We just wrapped up another year of SXSW, and wow was it a wild ride, as usual!
For the Sake of the Song: The Story of Anderson Fair premiered at the historic Paramount Theater on the opening day of SXSW music festival. This documentary tells the story of one of Texas’ oldest and most significant live music venues, the iconic Anderson Fair in Houston, with interviews and archival footage of many of the musicians that have performed there in its forty year history. Legendary musicians like Gurf Morlix, Nancy Griffith, Lyle Lovett, Carolyn Hester, Robert Earl Keen, Lucinda Williams, Slaid Cleaves, and Townes Van Zandt have all played there and are included in the documentary. This film contributes a significant piece of the story about the history and evolution of live music in Texas.
Probably the biggest highlight of SXSW for me was NPR’s showcase at Stubb’s opening night of the music festival. It was hard to top this lineup, and while I experienced a feast of amazing music the rest of the week, I was still riding high on the wave created by Wednesday night at Stubb’s.
That night, one of the biggest revelations for me was The Walkmen. I was not very familiar with their music before I saw them live, and inspired by their show, I went home and purchased a bunch of their music which has been in heavy rotation here at the world headquarters of AustinLiveMusic.org ever since. The Walkmen do not disappoint, in fact, chances are they will totally blow you away with their melancholy melodies, substantive lyrics, and soaring vocals. I particularly love how frontman Hamilton Leithauser steps back from the mic and gives his band plenty of room to flesh out the amazing instrumental parts of their songs.
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings followed with an epic performance. I’ve seen them three times now, and each performance is a unique experience to behold. Sharon Jones is a spectacular vocalist and performer, her dance moves evoke the spirit of James Brown, and the Dap Kings bring the funky soulshine like few others. Led by Bosco Mann, this group is unbelievably tight, they can – and often do – turn on a dime while leaving plenty of space for Jones to do her thing. They dance the fine line between sophisticated complexity and simple elegance, and they do it with loads of style.
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings are the most well known group off the Daptone Records label which is co-owned by Dap King bandleader Bosco Mann and tenor saxophonist Neal Sugarman. Every single album released on Daptone is well worth your time – and if you are a vinyl enthusiast and funky soul lover as much as I am, I highly recommend getting every Daptone LP and 45 you can get your hands on!! Seriously! I am particularly fond of the releases by Sugarman Three, Poets of Rhythm, and Naomi Shelton. I also have to give a shout out to Dap Kings guitarist Binky Griptite who produces the Ghetto Funk Power Hour radio show which is included in some of the Sharon Jones deluxe cd packages. He is smart, hilarious, and brings the deep funk back with impeccable class and style. Check it out!
Next up was Broken Bells, the recent collaboration between The Shins’ James Mercer and Danger Mouse. I was anticipating this show more than any other. Their first single, The High Road, has been in regular rotation on KUT, my favorite local radio station, for what seems like months, and I went out and bought the LP as soon as it came out the week before SXSW. I wondered if the atmosphere of the studio recording could be captured in a live performance. There is a lot going on instrumentally and vocally, and the seven piece live band certainly delivered. The complexity of the aural landscape that Mercer and Danger Mouse create comes through brilliantly in the live performance. The band performed their entire debut album, set to a moody, dark video projection that created a totally engrossing experience of the music.
Austin’s own Spoon headlined the opening night’s showcase. To be honest, I didn’t stay for much of their show. I took a few photos (I’m glad I stuck around to do so, one of them was chosen for the cover of SXSWorld magazine!) and then headed off to an after hours party some of my favorite rockstar friends were throwing. Regardless, Spoon is riding high in the wake of their seventh and most recent release, Transference, which debuted at #4 on the Billboard 200. Austin is proud to call them our own.
I saw a lot of other great shows the next few days, including the Thursday night showcase at La Zona Rosa with John Hiatt, The 88, Ray Davies, and Roky Erickson with Ockerville River. Friday, I was pleased to see Diane Birch again at the Day Stage Café. I loved her sound and presence the first time I saw her at Stubb’s back in August of last year, and her performance at the Day Stage reaffirmed my very positive initial impressions. She opened for a sweet lineup that included Citizen Cope, Courtyard Hounds (the recent formulation of Dixie Chicks members Martie Maguire and Emily Robison), and Jakob Dylan. All of these performances were great in their own right. Jakob Dylan’s songwriting ability has become particularly impressive, and his band is top notch and even included Neko Case on backing vocals. I then made it on over to Auditorium Shores to check out the BoDeans. Austin’s own Bukka Allen plays keys and accordion with them, and they definitely put on a hell of a show.
Later that night, I saw another festival highlight, a showcase at the Austin Music Hall that included Austin’s Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, Raphael Saadiq, Smoky Robinson, and Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. Raphael Saadiq is one amazing performer who stands out even amongst the tremendous talents with whom he shared the bill. On a somewhat tangential note, I’m very happy to report that there is still plenty of orange and yellow confetti from the Flaming Lips show that is stuck in the rafters at the Austin Music Hall. Every so often, a big booming bass sound will dislodge a few pieces and come floating down into the unsuspecting crowd. The magic from that show continues to live on…
As always, there is a plethora of high quality unofficial SXSW shows. Among the best this year was Music Fog’s multi-day showcase at Threadgill’s. Among my new favorites who performed there are two young musicians and songwriters that ought to be on your radar, Sahara Smith and David Beck. Sahara’s debut album, produced by T. Bone Burnett, will be released in August. In the meantime, she and her band (Jake Owen on guitar, Will Sexton on bass and guitar, and Mike Meadows on drums and percussion) are building their fan base while opening for the likes of Los Lonely Boys and Mason Jennings. David Beck’s debut album, Grand Island, is due for release in the next couple of weeks. You can see him weekly here in Austin at his Wednesday night residency at the Saxon Pub. Music Fog also featured a bunch of our longtime local favorites like Guy Forsyth, Carrie Rodriguez, Gurf Morlix, Ray Bonneville, Joe Ely, Asylum Street Spankers, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and a slew of others. Be sure and keep up with the fine folks over at Music Fog, you can bet that if they’re in on it, it’s got to be good!
I also had a great time at Leeann Atherton’s Full Moon Barn Dance, what better way to come down from ten sleep deprived days of SXSW than with this long standing South Austin tradition. The lineup included one of my favorite Austin-based musicians, Ray Bonneville (with Mike Meadows on percussion). Ray’s groove is earthy, often uplifting, sometimes dark, and always takes me on a journey that I don’t want to end. Be sure and check out our video footage of Ray and Mike from that show, I know you’ll be hooked on his groove as much as we are!
Last year, we caught up with Mike Meadows at the Austin artist showcase at Momo’s where he was performing with his band, porterdavis. SXSW 2009 marked the official launch of his Black Swan drum, and things have really taken off for him in what seems like no time at all. In addition to the Black Swan drum, he and co-inventor Eric Holland have created a number of innovative designs for other percussion instruments like a cajon with replaceable strings, a variable shaker that you can easily change the sound of by replacing the stuff inside, and a stomp box that can also be mounted on a stand and played with hands and drumsticks. Everything these guys dream up is innovative, versatile, elegant, and impeccably handcrafted by Eric Holland. You can find Mike playing the Black Swan with porterdavis, Ray Bonneville, Sahara Smith, and occasionally with the BoDeans when they do acoustic shows. Mike is most definitely one of Austin’s very bright rising stars, and we at AustinLiveMusic.org are looking forward to sitting down with him later in April to talk about everything he’s up to. Stay tuned for our interview with Mike Meadows and other very special guests in the coming weeks and months.
See more of Laura Lea’s SXSW 2010 photos here.
Watch video footage from some of the shows discussed in this review here.
Written and photographed by Laura Lea Nalle, all rights reserved.