SXSW2001 - Cold weather, traffic jams and 1001 bands

The days before SXSW2001...


Saturday, 10-March-2001

Wakeland @ Oklahoma City, OK – Bricktown Brewery

"Only rarely does a band wear its power-pop heart on its sleeve to such thrilling effect as Wakeland does. Think Gin Blossoms without the Byrdsy twang, or Big Star with a light coating of grunge, and you've pretty much nailed where this Okie quartet is coming from." (Howard Roland, Houston Press)

I drove up from Dallas for the CD Release Party for Blur, the first Studio album in four years from the local veterans of radio-friendly Guitar-Pop. After two dreadful local support acts (one of them a Cover-band!), the group, plus a percussionist, treated their fans to some fine versions of their earlier material (they have been around for 10 years), before introducing songs from the new CD. I'm not sure whether it was in response to the "It’s Saturday night – let’s have a party + by the way, do you know who the band is?" portion of the crowd, but they also indulged in a few covers by The Outfield ("Your Love"), U2 ("Running To Stand Still") and John Mellencamp ("Jack & Diane"). The band’s weakest spot is clearly singer Chris Sullivan, whose live delivery is best described as shaky. The new CD is very good - nothing new, but strong melodic pop songs from songwriter + guitar player Brad Heinrichs. You can find a full history of the band here .

Sunday, 11-March-2001

Like last year, Say ZuZu, The Silos and Slobberbone played a few shows together on the way to SXSW and stopped at the Continental Club on Sunday night.

Gina Graziano & The Grappa Bros. @ Austin, TX – Continental Club

"Artist description: If Bruce Springsteen were an Italian American girl who spent some time in Texas honkytonks he might sound like us.
Similar Artists: Sheryl Crow, Shawn Colvin
Artist history: Gina Graziano and Brian Wahl are veterans of the Austin, Texas music scene. At that time they recorded and toured with their band The Novellas. Back home in the Bay Area now, they have recruited Larry Dekker of Translator on bass and Andy Dillard on drums. They have just released their first album, Martinez Italian Social." (MP3.com band info)

Similar to Sheryl Crow and Shawn Colvin? In her dreams. A boring set and a waste of time.

Say ZuZu @ Austin, TX – Continental Club

"Say Zuzu's ray of Alt Country sunshine warms the wayward hitchhiker into falling in love over coffee and biscuits at a truck stop in Middle America. The shimmering keys of a Hammond organ buoy the band's rose-colored lyrics to the surface, while the soft percussion and loose guitar rhythms catch listeners dancing in their headlights." (Jennifer M., listen.com)

Say ZuZu had left lap steel, banjo and mandolin on the bus, and played a short electric Rock set of mostly new songs. The band had had a bad trip to Austin and looked pretty worn out, explaining Cliff's black eye with him "landing on his face in a parking lot in Canada". The problems with their bus on the way down from New Hampshire ("we learned that you should not use Diesel instead of Regular Gas"), but all was forgotten by the time Brent Best joined them for a smokin' version of "Like A Hurricane". This was by far the best show I have seen from those guys... I'm looking forward to hearing their new album.

The Silos @ Austin, TX – Continental Club

"Now based in New York City and still led by Walter Salas-Humara, the Silos have been rocking the planet since 1986. Their new album, Laser Beam Next Door, is as passionate and hard-driving as any of their previous work, while retaining a musical spirit that continues to be refreshing." (Jim Caligiuri, Austin Chronicle)

Since finishing recording their new CD, The Silos have spent the biggest part of this year on the road - and it shows. The Power-Trio (Walter Salas-Humara, Drew Glackin and Konrad Meissner) rolled through their set like a well-oiled machine. Check out "Laser Beam Next Door", it captures the raw energy of the live show very well. Setlist: "Four On The Floor", "Satisfied", "Drunken Moon", "Find A Way", "Caroline", "Eleanora", "Porque No", "Get Out", "I Believe", "I'm Over You" and "I'm Straight".

Picture: Amy Boone (Damnations, TX), Brent Best (Slobberbone) and Cliff Murphy (Say ZuZu) watching Drew Glackin (Silos)

Slobberbone @ Austin, TX – Continental Club

"Over the past year, this Denton quartet has kept the alt.country flag flying higher than any band working similar territory. Slobberbone knows how to rawk, but keeps it twangy (mostly), while frontman Brent Best's lyrics are straightforward and razor-sharp. Their 2000 CD, Everything You Thought Was Right Was Wrong Today, garnered nearly universal acclaim." (Jim Caligiuri, Austin Chronicle)

The sweaty, beer-soaked show belied the fact that this was a Sunday night. Well, technically it was Monday morning by the time Slobberbone hit the stage, but it certainly felt like a Saturday night. From the opening chords of "Lumberlung" until the last tones of "Billy Pritchard", it was a wild ride. It's only Rock'n'Roll, but I like it....

Tuesday, 13-March-2001

6th annual Swollen Circus hosted by Walter Salas-Humara and Michael Hall

For the first time in it's history, The Swollen Circus moved to the big back room at the Hole In the Wall, which allowed for a much more relaxed party atmosphere than in the over-packed front room last year. As always, the ground rule was "3 songs per band"...

Mary Lorson @ Austin, TX – Hole In The Wall

"Mary Lorson, the frontwoman whose taintly sweet vocals have surrounded the indie rock band Madder Rose since 1990, returned in early 2000 with a solo project Saint Low . Lorson was looking for another creative outlet and decided to take a break from Madder Rose in 1997, twisting the edgy indie stylings of her previous band's sound for a clear jazzy feel complete with funkadelic vibes and smooth pop hooks in Saint Low." (MacKenzie Wilson, allmusic.com)

I arrived at the end of Mary's set, but having seen her twice last year (opening for the Willard Grant Conspiracy), I knew that I hadn't missed much. Madder Rose never did much for me, and Mary's songs simply make me feel very tired and depressed.


Willard Grant Conspiracy @ Austin, TX – Hole In The Wall

"Gorgeous, lush arrangements surround the serious baritone of Robert Fisher on Boston ensemble Willard Grant Conspiracy's recent Rykodisc release, Everything's Fine. Death and despair carry the weight and resonance they did in the old Appalachian tunes that resonate throughout the record, made golden by every song's musical magnitude." (Christopher Hess, Austin Chronicle)

Mary Lorson joined the WGC for their set, as she had done in Europe last year. Her harmony vocals worked extremely well with Robert's lead, often adding a whole new dimension to songs. Additionally, Walter Salas-Humara sat in on drums and Drew Glackin on lap steel. In case you didn't know already, it became apparent from the set list that WGC focuses on the darker side of life: "Notes From The Waiting Room" (introduced as "a prayer before dying") and "Wicked" (introduced as "a song about self-loathing") from Everything's Fine started the set, which ended with what is arguably their saddest song: "Love Has No Meaning". Everything's Fine contains some of their strongest work to date, and shows how much the band has grown over the last few years.


Lisa Mednick @ Austin, TX – Hole In The Wall

"Lisa Mednick has been around the musical block. She began studying classical piano at age seven. Continuing her studies until she dropped out of college, she then moved from Ann Arbor, MI, to Washington, D.C., and from there to New York City. Mednick launched her first band, Pop Decay, there and played on a record by Half Japanese. After an audition with Joe Jackson, she enrolled at the Howard University Music Conservatory in Washington, D.C., to study jazz. She also studied with John Malachi and, in 1984, moved to New Orleans to study with Charles Neville. There, Mednick backed Earl King and joined the Song Dogs, later moving to Austin to form the acoustic duo Ship of Fools with Bill Conley. She then played with Alejandro Escovedo's Orchestra and both recorded and toured with the Chills on their Soft Bomb tour. Artifacts of Love, on DejaDisc, was her first solo album." (John Bush, allmusic.com)

Lisa played keyboards and was joined by Kevin Carroll on electric guitar. The three new songs from her upcoming CD Semaphore still sounded quite raw, but seemed to continue where Artifacts Of Love had left off.

Michael Hall & The Woodpeckers @ Austin, TX – Hole In The Wall

"Back in the day, Hall was partly responsible for two of the best ever non-Reivers (aka Formerly Zeitgeist) Austin songs in the heyday of what was then termed "college music": "Let's Take Some Drugs and Drive Around" and "I'm Sorry I Can't Rock You All Night Long." His latest LP with the Woodpeckers, last year's Dead by Dinner, is another walk on the wild side through American roots pop. (Michael Bertin, Austin Chronicle)

"Roots Pop"? I don't know, Roots Rock is more to the point. The Woodpeckers rocked tonight. "Heaven Know How" from their superb Dead By Dinner album opened the set, and was followed by two new songs, both with typical Michael Hall titles: "Autopsy Blues" and "Sometimes I Wish I Had Never Heard The Rolling Stones".

Chip Taylor @ Austin, TX – Hole In The Wall

"Chip Taylor probably will always be known as the songwriter who wrote "Wild Thing" and "Angel of the Morning." Born John Wesley Voight (the actor Jon Voight is his older brother), Taylor began playing country music while still in high school in Yonkers, NY. In 1962, he signed to Warner Bros. Records, and his single "Here I Am" "bubbled under" the Billboard Hot 100 in November. He became more successful, however, as a songwriter, scoring his first hit with "I Can't Let Go" (co-written with Al Gorgoni), which was recorded by the Hollies for a chart entry in March 1966. Then came the simplistic, but unforgettable "Wild Thing," recorded by another British group, the Troggs, who topped the charts with it in July, creating a much-covered standard. Taylor's second standard was "Angel of the Morning," a ballad about pre-marital sex that pushed the boundaries of acceptable subject matter in pop music. He released a new album, The Living Room Tapes, in 1997, followed by Seven Days in May in 1998 and The London Session Bootleg+ in 2000." (William Ruhlmann, allmusic.com)

Unrehearsed, the Woodpeckers turned into the Chip Taylor Band for what was clearly the highlight of the night. Chip came on stage, all conversations stopped and a few minutes later the whole room was swaying along to "Angel Of The Morning" and shouting "Wild Thing". Wow!

Picture: Beatle Bob at work during Chip's set

Phil Tagliere @ Austin, TX – Hole In The Wall

I don't know much about Phil - you may have read his name in conjunction with his brother Steve and Gingersol. He also played on The Silos' "Heater" CD.

Phil obviously had the toughest slot playing after Chip Taylor. He played solo / acoustic, which made the job even harder. His songs were well-crafted and were met with polite applause. And that's pretty much all that I remember about his set...

Deanna Varagona @ Austin, TX – Hole In The Wall

"Put in years as a member of Lambchop, Paul Burch and the WPA Ballclub, and Chris Mills. From the school of Hazel Dickens, the Replacements and Bob Dylan, she tells a tale with a voice both powerful and sweet." (SXSW Bandinfo)

Deanna's voice is probably more powerful than sweet, which distracts a bit from her songs. Also it was about time for a quick trip to the restroom and the bar...

Picture: Hole In The Wall - Men's Room

The Silos @ Austin, TX – Hole In The Wall

"Salas-Humara's songs are as straightforward, physically affecting and musically uncompromising as can be found anywhere in the American pop underground." (Robert Lloyd, L. A. Weekly)

The Silos cranked up the volume to give the event a much needed power boost after the two previous low-key acts. "Disfrute", "Drunken Moon" and "Satisfied" from the new CD were crammed into a 10 Minute, energy-laden set.

Laura Cantrell @ Austin, TX – Hole In The Wall

"Ironically, Nashville-born singer-songwriter Laura Cantrell had to go to New York City to fulfill her traditionalist country vision. After graduating from Columbia University with a degree in literature in the late '80s, Cantrell spent a brief time working for the ABC radio network before developing a following spinning old records on her "Radio Thrift Shop" show on New Jersey's famed free-form station WFMU. At the same time, she began building up a reputation as a performer, garnering comparisons to predecessors like Lucinda Williams and Nanci Griffith (though, as a singer, Cantrell's clear-eyed neo-traditionalism lies much closer to Kitty Wells than the rangy emotional dynamics of Williams or the good-natured folkyness Griffith)." (Erik Hage, allmusic.com)

I was skeptical and expected her to be "too country" for my liking, which proves that I hadn't done my homework properly. I was instantly won over when she started off with a breathtaking rendition of the Volebeats' "Two Seconds". She continued seamlessly with the self-penned "Queen of the Coast", before finishing with a Tom T. Hall song. I was impressed.

Kathy McCarty @ Austin, TX – Hole In The Wall

"Singer/songwriter/guitarist Kathy McCarty helped make her former band Glass Eye one of the most interesting, if not commercially successful bands to come out of the Austin, Texas music scene. When they disbanded in 1993, McCarty decided to record an entire album dedicated to the songs of another local favorite, Daniel Johnston." (Brett Hartenbach, allmusic.com)

Kathy managed to cram 4 Songs into her 15 minutes. She did 3 Glass Eye songs, plus a Daniel Johnston tune. She seemed to be a bit rusty on some of the older material, but the songs did stand the test of time (especially "Christine" is still a great song). While searching the Web for info, I found an amusing article she wrote for the Austin Chronicle in 1999. Check it out...

Sexfresh @ Austin, TX – Hole In The Wall

"With lush male/female harmonies, well-crafted melodies and off-normal instruments like the banjo, the 5-piece creates memorable and emotive tunes grounded in American roots." (SXSW Band info)

Some new faces at the Swollen Circus: three members of Sexfresh from San Francisco were in town early and did only one song, which was good enough to convince me that I should see their official showcase later in the week....

The Setters @ Austin, TX – Hole In The Wall

"They were never supposed to be a band. Michael Hall had attended the Berlin independent Days Festival in 1990. He wanted to return the following year, but the festival had a rule against performers playing two years in a row. Around the same time, both Alejandro Escovedo and Walter Salas-Humara asked about attending the upcoming BID. The idea seemed natural, calls were placed to Berlin, insisting the three were a band with a great show, when in fact, they'd never all been in the same room at the same time. It worked, though the BID authorities insisted on a band name, immediately. With some hesitation, and to the chagrin of the other two, Michael came up with the Setters." (Jeff McCord, liner notes of The Setters, Dark Ballad Trash)

Alejandro Escovedo was supposed to play this years' Swollen Circus, but he didn't show up. This also meant that The Setters were incomplete, but Walter and Drew joined Michael + The Woodpeckers for rockin' versions of Michael's "Let's Take Some Drugs And Drive Around" and Jonathan Richman's "I'm Straight" - two songs in 20 Minutes! By then it was 2:30am on the first day of SXSW2001 and it felt good to be back in Austin...

Show count: 17 ...  click here to read about the next day!