SXSW Day 2: They Love Us, They Like Us

Thursday started at a party thrown by HBO’s Treme, and even without anyone from the production (the show’s still shooting) and really, music directly associated with the show – a Boutte or Kermit, for instance – I had to wait in a 20-minute-long line to get in while Henry Butler was playing, and there were still people in line when I left after the Pine Leaf Boys set. One blog reported that the first episode of season two would be shown, but in fact a teaser reel longer than anything online was played, I suspect the same one shown in New Orleans at the “My Darlin’ New Orleans” gala (I missed it, so I’m not positive). If so, it promises more violence (appropriate for the 2006-2007 time frame) and the continued presence of Kim Dickens’ Janette Desautel, even if she was leaving as of the end of last season.

The party may have been short on Treme news, but I picked up a few other things. ¬†Country singer and guitarist Jamey Johnson produced the new album for the Blind Boys of Alabama, and they’ll join him when he performs at Jazz Fest this year. Trombone Shorty’s selling out shows on his European tour right now, and Josh Charles is working on his second album. The Pine Leaf Boys inspired OffBeat contributor Geoffrey Himes to try to get some Cajun dancing going, but his dance partner wasn’t picking it up quickly enough and the effort, sadly,failed.

After that, the New West Records party had Ponderosa, a band people were talking about after their set at Voodoo this year. The band played the classic-est of classic rock – heavy, mid-tempo, ’70s blues rock a la Mountain with the exception of one brief deep, perplexing reggae interlude. The sonic weight and the riffage was impressive and fun, though the band didn’t seem to have any stronger song sense than their dinosaur forefathers.

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day, which meant a Bourbon Street vibe permeated downtown Austin, even if the Young and Green couldn’t carry their green beers with them. This became an issue later that night when the Preservation Hall Jazz Band taped an episode of Austin City Limits at ACL’s new Moody Theater (something NO could use – floor space for 1,500 and two balconies that probably hold another 1,000, and a lot of social space outside the performance room. Pres Hall was joined for the night by the Del McCoury Band (more on their album, American Legacies, in our upcoming issue), but from the floor, it rapidly became impossible to hear Preservation Hall because the St. Pat’s celebrants who were there couldn’t stop talking while waiting for Widespread Panic, who’d be up next. If this upset the band, no one showed it, and from the balcony, I could hear better, and the show was worth it. It slightly awkward when My Morning Jacket’s Jim James got a bigger ovation than either the Pres Hall band or McCoury’s band when he came out to sing “Louisiana Fairytale” and “St. James Infirmary” (actually, SJI obsessive Rob Walker’s pointed out that this version’s closer to “Those Gambler’s Blues,” though the songs share some lines and a melody). After his songs, he fist-bumped Rickie Monie at the piano while exiting the stage, and returned for the set-closing “I’ll Fly Away” – not “Saints”!!! – with both bands, standing at the back of McCoury’s band and leaning in as the group sang around a communal mic. The episode’s due to air in the fall; it’ll be interesting to see how the production deals with the noise.

Bookending Pres Hall for me were Capsula and Charles Bradley and the Menahan Street Band. The former is a punk trio from Spain that is exactly what I hope to find every year at SXSW – something foreign and great that I’m unlikely to ever hear again. In this case, they visually kept 1977 alive, something the singer/guitarist did with a T-shirt that read “1977,” but he also signaled his allegiance with black jeans, black Beatle boots, and greasy black hair while playing a Fender Jazzmaster. The female bass player had black hair with straight-cut bangs at her eyebrow level, Chrissie Hynde cheekbones, and an all-black ensemble broken up by leopard print stockings. Musically, Capsula owed more to the Stooges and MC5, preferring simple, throbbing, hypnotic songs that stretch out into guitarsound freakouts, but everything had a hook – part of its 1977 inheritance. I didn’t see CDs or T-shirts – too bad – but it’s hard to imagine that they’d live up to the moment.

Charles Bradley and the Menahan Street Band are on Daptone Records, and they’re another retro soul band – one I went back and forth on. The first time Bradley let out a throat-ripping scream, it was chilling, and in a song with a great, mid-’60s soul groove, the moment caught everybody outside at Stubbs’ attention. But there came a point when the problem I had with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings’ early albums cropped up; the songs aren’t memorable. The hits by their soul models were immediate. Wilson Pickett songs didn’t slowly reveal themselves to you; you got them right away. Whether they were what you wanted or not was another story. There was too much commonplace in the set to hold me. For a while, I re-engaged as I contemplated Bradley as the singer for this moment in history, singing songs with choruses about “heartache and pain,” and “don’t you see me crying” and “how long.” Sure, they’re standard soul tropes, but they’re also resonant right now. Then he did a soul arrangement of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” and the whole line of thinking felt like a reach. This much back and forth says I’m still interested, and cratediggers will love him (a cratedigger friend from Tucson recommended him to me).

Finally, as the next generation of iPhone is in the works, let’s hope it’s easier on batteries than the recent incarnations, which make Road Warriors of us all. People walk in venues with one eye on the badges of people walking toward them – Someone important? Someone I read? – and one eye on the baseboards looking for outlets to tap into precious juice. For having the temerity to tweet part of the day, I hit a plug at the New West party, where a woman and I hovered over a socket like rummies trying to stay warm by a trashcan fire, then I stopped to tweet while plugged in at ACL’s Moody Theater while tapping into their supply. Can we not have to live like scavengers? It’s so hard to maintain my Apple-born smugness living like this.