Wild Mercury Sound
SXSW: Pete Townshend, Bob Mould, Mary Weiss, Charlie Louvin, Holy Shit. . .
As promised, I have a guest blogger at Wild Mercury Sound today. Luke Torn is Uncut's man in Austin, Texas, and here is his report on last week's South By Southwest shenanigans - the 21st SXSW he's attended. Luke didn't get to see Psychedelic Horseshit, sadly, but at least he saw Holy Shit...
"Overheard during a mad frenzy down Austin's ridiculously jam-packed 6th Street: 'SXSW... It's like Glastonbury on concrete...'
Wednesday's SXSW festivities began with Pete Townshend, eloquent as ever, describing the ethereal quality of live music, and living for the moment, those unexpected moments, when something spectacular occurs. Unfortunately, those moments were few and far between on SXSW's opening night, providing more errant soundchecks and sluggish performances than apropos for the occasion.
Eighty-years-young Charlie Louvin did not disappoint, though, rambling through standards like "Waiting For A Train", "Cash On The Barrelhead" and tunes from his comeback album with a tough, Bakersfield-style band. The Grand Ole Opry veteran and ex-Louvin Brother sounded chipper enough to play a two-hour set, hitting a high point early on with the mournful "Must You Throw Dirt In My Face".
From there it was on to Club DeVille's Birdman Records showcase. Ex-Brian Jonestown Massacre man Brian Glaze's new combo and Gris Gris leader Greg Ashley's outfit the Medicine Fuck Dream Road Show played solid but shrill blues-tinged psychedelic sets that never quite caught fire. That was hardly the case at a place called Contaminated, though, as Milwaukee's kiddos Holy Shit burned through a Ramonesy blur of a
set marked by howling feedback, plenty of rhythmic oomph, and a racetrack version of "Hound Dog".
Chicago's 1900s, with their ambitious keyboard, harmony, and violin line-up, seemed like the next logical choice. But, plagued by (real or imagined) sound problems and an irritating, momentum killing tendency to gab, we fled to Buffalo Billiards to catch Nic Armstrong's combo IV Thieves. The sound was even more abysmal there, but the Thieves were nonetheless in top form, buzzing around the stage, whipping through a smart set of keening, hooks-a-plenty Britpop.
Thursday's festivities started at a near empty Soho Lounge, where LA's Chairs of Perception (formerly known as the Urinals) burned through a set of flawless guitar rock, drawing on their deep roots in the LA punk scene, but blazing through strong new material as well. Their classic early single "Ack! Ack! Ack!" and a souped-up, sped-up Elevators nugget, "You're Gonna Miss Me," closed out an exhilarating set.
We continued the old-punk class reunion at Buffalo Billiards for Bob Mould. Sans band, sans recent electronic trappings, Mould played the role of the troubadour, performing old hits and Husker and Sugar faves solo, banging them out with force on a battered acoustic guitar. Reprising many songs the audience was there to hear ("Shine A Little Light," "Makes No Sense At All"), Mould was positively uplifting for many souls among the crowd (shocking!), though it's clear his best material works better in full-band, rock'n'roll setting.
Next up was the Norton Records showcase at Red 7, where we just barely made it in through a large line to see the Alarm Clocks. A Cleveland garage-band legend come back to life after some 40 years, the band was staggeringly good, playing the part of Nuggets-like '60s party band deluxe, performing "Yeah," their highly collectible 45. Next up was Sam The Sham, who unfortunately lived up to his name with an eye-rolling mix of clichéd dance party hits and tired Texas blues, punctuated by lame between-song talk.
But in pure SXSW karmic, style, just out the door at the club's patio stage, Glasgow girl band the Hedrons were just hitting their stride, a fiery, nearly out of control Runaways-meets-the-Stooges performance that found singer Tippi leaving her stagebound bandmates for a crazed lap around the club, climbing tables, dancing with abandon to the band's thunderous waves of guitar on songs like "Be My Friend" and "I Need You". . .
Back inside the main club, North Carolina rockers Reigning Sound played a beatific, ragged-but-soulful set of raw southern-tinged garage rock, including an amazing, almost unrecognizable romp through the Beach Boys' "I'm Waiting For The Day" before backing Mary Weiss on the comeback trail, resurrecting the Brill Building glory years on a set of Shangri-La's hits and cuts from her new "Dangerous Game" disc.
Friday was set aside for tending to the Pop Culture Press day party, but Saturday started with a bang. Young Austin outfit (and I mean young, early teens) Jenny And The Wolfpack sounded fab at the Antone's Record day party, churning out nuggets like "For Your Love" and "Johnny B. Good" with the confidence of pros, before giving way to a solid power pop explosion by Paul Collins' Beat. With a great band of Spanish accompanists, Collins ripped his way through mixed new material from his "Flying High" album with classics like "Rock'n'Roll Girl" and "Workin' Too Hard" before welcoming Peter Case onstage for a near Nerves reunion set highlighted by a hammering "Hangin' On The Telephone".
The evening began in earnest at the Lava Lounge, where Pittsburgh's Black Tie Revue were the weekend's best surprise. A quartet with tough melodic songs and plenty of kenyboard/guitar interplay, the group played rousing power pop culled from their upcoming Gearhead Records debut, "Code Fun". Philly's Capital Yrs were next, but despite their off-kilter pop masterpieces on record, never quite hit the sweet spot, so we eventually landed at a place called Latitude for Outrageous Cherry's set, and they did not disappoint.
Matthew Smith's combo played intricate pop, Beatlesque if the Fabs had headed into darker textures following "Revolver", though their brooding, near unhinged cover of Junior Kimbrough's "Lord Have Mercy On Me" (on the Black Snake Moan soundtrack) shows this band is no one-trick pony.
The evening, and SXSW #21 in a row for me, ended back at Red 7, where English upstarts Mumm-ra sounded their anthemic best, having just exited their tour support slot with the Killers. Tightly constructed songs, with lots of keyboard texture to blend with their wall of guitars, lead singer Noo took command, at one point literally hanging from the rafters, accentuating the band's lethal guitar buzz with playful aplomb.
Zzzzzz . . . ."