|14th annual Swollen Circus - hosted by Michael Hall and Walter Salas-Humara
Blackstock, Dickie Lee Erwin, Andy Friedman, Romantica, Freedy
Johnston, The Savage Trip, Grant Hart, The Silos, Amy Cook, The Blue
Aeroplanes, Michelle Anthony, David Halley, Chip Robinson & Terry
|Austin, Texas - Hole In The Wall
||2009 / Photoindex
original schedule for the 14th incarnation of the Swollen Circus had
listed the first band for 9 pm. When I arrived at 8:40 pm a last-minute
addition to the line-up was just getting ready on stage: I had seen
former No Depression magazine editor Peter Blackstock sing a song with Mary Lou Lord many years ago, but I must admit that I had no idea that he was a songwriter in his own right. He
kicked things off with two of his own tunes: "Down Time" (later
recorded by Gary Heffern) and "Julene", a SXSW-inspired song. He
wrapped his set up with a nod to one of the hosts: "Roll Around Heaven
This Way", the opening track from Michael Hall’s first solo album.
Dickie Lee Erwin
Lee Erwin sings and performs with his gospel bluegrass band the Altered
Boys as well as his hard-country group the Dickie Lee Erwin Band. Texas Midnight Highway
is firmly on the secular side of the equation, with a rough,
blue-collar country sound driven by a powerful band anchored by
producer and drummer Hunt Sales (noted for his work with David Bowie
and Iggy Pop) and Erwin’s gruff tenor. […] Erwin’s not a pretty boy and
he’s not young, and the miles he’s traveled are evident in his singing,
lending his words an authenticity that many of today’s prefab country
outlaws can only pretend to possess.” - J. Poet , No Depression
year, the Swollen Circus had moved from the tiny, crowded main room to
the more spacious back room. This made it a bit easier to move around
between sets and the sound was considerably better. Dickie Lee Erwin
reminded me a lot of Billy Joe Shaver and played “Just One Night” from
his most recent Poppin’ John album, followed by the title track from Texas Midnight Highway, and "Sleepy Bird".
Andy Friedman & The Other Failures
autobiographical tunes like "I Miss Being Broken, Lowdown, and Alone,"
"Guys Like Me Don't Get Grants," and "Freddy's Backroom," this
third-generation Brooklynite and his band the Other Failures nail the
ambivalent impulses confounding the hearts of hard-drinking,
Haggard-spinning, middle-aged urban family men everywhere.” - Richard
Gehr, Village Voice
The place was starting to fill up a bit
more by the time Andy Friedman and band played their three songs,
although it was hard to tell with the constant flow of green-clad St.
Patrick’s day revellers making their way to the back patio. The Other
Failures cranked up volume and energy-level and got a good reaction
from the crowd.
anyone worrying that the Americana genre has become a repository of the
bad irony of hipsters and has-been quacks, fear not: Romantica is here
to save the day. […] Kyle - in songs and voice that sit comfortably
between Jeff Tweedy and Ryan Adams - dwells comfortably in the long
shadows cast by his forefathers while leaving his own undeniable stamp
on the proceedings.” - David Mead, Paste
Unfortunately Jessy Greene (Geraldine Fibbers, Jayhawks, Wilco) who played violin on Romantica's America album tours with Pink (!) these days and couldn’t make it to the Swollen Circus. Nevertheless, Romatica played a solid set of relatively straightforward Americana/Alt.Country material and brought the first dancers out on the dance floor.
gifted songwriter whose lyrics paint sometimes witty, often poignant
portraits of characters often unaware of how their lives have gone
wrong, Freedy Johnston seemingly appeared out of nowhere in the early
'90s and quickly established himself as one of the most acclaimed new
singer/songwriters of the day.” - Mark Deming, allmusic.com
Johnston lives in Austin these days where he has assembled an ace band:
Jon Sanchez (Summer Wardrobe) on guitar, Mark Addison (The Borrowers)
on bass, Dony Wynn on drums and Jon Dee Graham on lap steel. They ended
their set with a wild version of “Substitute”.
The Savage Trip
still don’t have a real presence on the web, but compared to their
appearance at the Swollen Circus in 2008 Michael Hall (git, voc, keys),
Julie Lowery (vocals + keys), Randy Franklin (git) and Jenny Smith
(violin, vocals) had added a rhythm section to the band, which resulted
in a much fuller, psychedelic-tinged sound. They finished their much
too short set with "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)", a Sonny
Bono song originally recorded by Cher.
one of the co-leaders of the seminal post-hardcore punk group Hüsker
Dü, Grant Hart was one of the most influential musicians of the '80s,
blending raw sonic aggression with pop melodies and songs. Following
the group's demise in 1987, he launched a solo career that was marked
by an erratic work schedule. After releasing one solo album, he formed
a trio called Nova Mob in 1989, which released two albums between 1991
and 1994, when Hart became a solo artist again.” - Stephen Thomas
In the 80’s and 90’s I had closely
followed Grant Hart’s work from his days in Hüsker Dü to Nova Mob. In
fact, the last time I had seen Grant was in Seattle almost 15 years ago
on October 13, 1994: the show was billed as Nova Mob, but the band had
disbanded in Portland the previous night, and it turned out to be solo
show by Grant. It was great to see him on stage again after such a long
time. He introduced himself (“Hey, my name is Grant - I’m gonna play now”) and launched into
a set which included Buddy Holly’s “Oh Boy”. Last year Grant Hart had
released a CD containing three live songs of Hüsker Dü in memory of
saxophone player John Clegg, who recently died of cancer. He handed out
the CD for free to everyone who was not Irish and wasn’t wearing green.
Just the right thing to do on St.Patrick's day!
music of Salas-Humara and his bandmates is the sound of ideas, styles,
and maybe even cultures colliding. It deftly combines a big beat with a
nothing-wasted leanness, and it's music that possesses a unique
blending of intensity and approachability, with the ferocious rockers
tilting you back on your heels just as quickly as the hushed, tightly
coiled ballads draw you closer.” – SXSW Band Info
introduction “The Silos from Flagstaff, Arizona” still sounded a bit
strange to my ears, but following Walter Salas-Humara’s move to
Arizona, the Silos are becoming more of a collective with members
in New York City, Austin and Flagstaff. This appearance marked the
first time in many years I had seen Walter play an electric guitar,
with Randy Franklin and Jon Dee Graham completing the 3-guitar
attack. Konrad Meissner on drums, Steve McAllister on bass and
Michelle Anthony on keyboards completed the line-up at the Swollen
Circus for a set of new songs: "Teenage Prayer", "Getting Trashed" and
"The Ring Of Trees". Listen to "Behind Me Now" from their last album here (SXSW web site).
that Austin/Marfa's Amy Cook almost became the thinking emo girl's Joni
Mitchell when TV shows such as Dawson's Creek, Veronica Mars, and
Laguna Beach used her evocative compositions to illustrate youthful
angst. Her Sky Observer's Guide
gazes far past that realm and closer toward the environs of
folk-informed rock. That she's an engaging performer live only adds to
her myth-in-process.” – Margaret Moser, Austin Chronicle
David Pulkingham on guitar, Amy Cook played a set of complex and quirky
yet highly melodic songs which required the audience to listen.
Alejandro Escovedo signed on to produce her next album, further
evidence to the strength of her songwriting.
The Blue Aeroplanes
lost in time among the grunge and Britpop of the early 1990s, the Blue
Aeroplanes released several albums of poetic post-punk mingled with
folk-rock jangle that drew comparisons to Lou Reed and R.E.M. Led by
vocalist Gerard Langley, the Bristol-based group has been on and off
since 1995 but is readying When Things Are Good for release this spring.” – Jim Caligiuri, Austin Chronicle
The Blue Aeroplanes played one of the most energetic and impressive sets of the night. Vonnie De Brett of The DeBretts joined the band for “25 Kinds Of Love”. Listen to "Jacket Hangs" here on the SXSW site.
Anthony has a big, full-throated, blues-tinged voice reminiscent of
Bonnie Raitt or Lou Ann Barton, but she lacks much interest in plowing
the same old roots rock field one might expect from a singer with this
kind of instrument. Aimee Mann's post-punk take on the '70s
singer/songwriter sound is much more what Anthony has in mind on her
second album: […] The only problem with Frozenstarpalace is that at seven songs in just under 25 minutes, it's too short by half.” - Stewart Mason, allmusic.com
Anthony had played the Swollen Circus once before – in 2005 when she
was still living in Wisconsin. Since then she has moved to Austin and
assembled a band which included John Chipman on drums. She played the
piano on two songs, then switched to bass, but still managed to pound
the keys with her left foot. Hopefully a new record from her
will be released in 2009.
Halley], known originally as part of Lubbock's songwriter Mafia, writes
uncommonly somber tunes with heart-rending lyrics that are a perfect
match for his smoky voice.” – Jim Caligiuri, Austin Chronicle
Halley had played the very first Swollen Circus in 1996, shortly after
releasing two critically acclaimed records in the early half of the
90’s: Broken Spell and Stray Dog Talk.
I had not heard about any other musical activities since, although his
website indicates that he most recently collaborated with Jo Carol
Pierce on her Dog Of Love
album. It was nice to see him play after such a long time, although it
was difficult to keep the attention of the crowd with his solo
performance of relatively quiet songs.
Chip Robinson & Terry Anderson
the final set of the night Chip Robinson & Terry Anderson cranked
it up a bit more. Chip sang on the first two songs (the title track
from his upcoming album Mylow and the old Backsliders tune “Abe Lincoln” from the Southern Lines record), before handing things off to Terry’s Olympic Ass-Kicking Team.
(c) Steffen Paulus 2009