3 wild weeks – Trip-Report SXSW '97

25-Feb-97
Georgia Satellites
Koeln,Germany - Luxor

At a time when Heavy Metal "Hair bands" ruled the charts, the Sats offered a welcome alternative in the form of plain, straightforward guitar rock. Ten years later, they were just a disappointment. God, you just cannot replace Dan Baird with a keyboard player!!! Sure, they play lots of the old songs, but Rick Richards was either drunk, unmotivated or had just too much hair in front of his eyes and managed to miss a few chords on almost every song.
I'm looking forward to another Dan Baird or Yahoos record, but I guess I'll skip the new Sats CD they just recorded in Denmark...
 

27-Feb-97
Vernon's Burnt Chicken feat. Joey Harris
San Diego,CA - Pourhouse

I came to San Diego to see Ashley MacIsaac, the canadian fiddler, but when I heard that ex-"Beat Farmer" Joey Harris was to play with a Blues Band the same night, I changed my mind. They played three one-hour sets, with Joey playing three or four of his songs each set. It was hard to sit through the blues standards waiting for his songs, but it was worth it. I still think, that he was the best songwriting Farmer and I hope to hear some new material from him soon.
 

2-March-97
"For the sake of a song" - A tribute to Townes Van Zandt withRuss Bartlett, Rick Shea, The Lonesome Strangers,Carolyn Edwards, Russell Scott, Dan Janisch (w/ Kirk Swan), Walter Salas-Humara + Michael Hall, Michael Fracasso (w/ Beaver Nelson), Dan Bern, Kris McKay, Peter Case (w/ Greg Leisz), Bob Neuwirth (w/ Greg Leisz), Mare Winningham + Carla Olson, Beaver Nelson, JT Van Zandt, Jimmy LaFave, David Olney, Kimmie + Gabe Rhodes, Steve Young, Butch Hancock
Santa Monica,CA - Ash Grove

It was a long, long afternoon/evening (starting at 4 pm and continuing without any breaks worth mentioning until almost 11pm). This tribute was held in various cities across the US and was usually stretched out over two days, but here it was crammed into just one. Most performers did an excellent job at playing their own as well as Townes' songs, but there were just too many "guys with an acoustic guitar" in a row. A few random notes:

  • Mark Olson and Victoria Williams were scheduled to play but did not show up.
  • Walter Salas-Humara + Michael Hall (= 2/3 of The Setters, Alejandro Escovedo could not make it) mixed their own songs with some of Townes' favorite jokes.
  • Kris McKay was a welcome break between her all-too-serious male colleagues.
  • His record label touts Dan Bern as the next big thing on the singer/songwriter scene. Don't believe the hype. While he is certainly good, he is not the "Dylan" for the next century.
  • Carla Olson is the producer of Mare Winningham's (who is also an actor) debut (?) album. Judging from what they played, it might be worth checking out.
  • Beaver Nelson has been playing around Austin for a few years, mostly Rock-oriented material. For this occasion he presented his quieter side. It should be interesting to see him with a band.
  • It is just amazing, how much JT Van Zandt sounds and looks like his father.
  • Most of the performers came back on stage for a 2-song finale.

  • 3-March-97
    Jason Falkner, Further, The Silos
    Hollywood,CA - House Of Blues

    Whoa, what a place! A RnR dream club. Every detail is close to perfection, from the sound system to the ultra-plush backstage area.
    Jason Falkner used to be a member of Jellyfish, although he did not contribute any songs. The songs he played at the HoB made it clear why. He also did one song to playback music. Strange.

    Further sounded very English. And somehow very 80s. Could someone please press "Fast Forward"?

    The '97 version of The Silos sounds a lot like the '87 version. Loud guitars dominate. The new songs sounded very promising and they fit in seamlessly with older material like "Tennessee Fire" or "Caroline".
     

    4-March-97
    Engine 88
    Hollywood,CA - No Life Records

    This band has two CDs out on Caroline, but before that they also released a 7-inch for No Life. So this was a "back to the roots" show in this tiny store. The audience of about 25 included members of the Counting Crows.
     

    6-March-97
    Jon Dee Graham, Sexton Sextet
    Austin,TX - Cactus Cafe

    Despite technical difficulties a tired Jon Dee Graham (plus slide-sideman Mike Hardwick) played a convincing acoustic set.

    I picked up "Under The Wishing Tree" by the Charlie Sexton Sextet in Austin last year and was pleasantly surprised. With the addition of Sextons brother Will the band became a real sextet (despite the name they were only a quintet before) and is now referred to as the Sexton Sextet. And yes, they are as good live as they are on the CD.
     

    7-March-97
    Freckle
    Austin,TX - ABCD's Records

    Freckle is a band from New York City with some roots in Austin. They are fronted by a very attractive redhead. The music is a mix of country, folk, pop and rock. A very visual performance, despite the fact that there were only about 10 people in the store...
     

    Trish Murphy Band, Jon Dee Graham, Loose Diamonds
    Austin,TX - Hole In The Wall

    Trish Murphy is a very beautiful and very talented young lady. She was backed by an excellent band including Dave McNair on drums, who is also the producer of her upcoming CD.

    Jon Dee Graham. Again. Tonight with a full band. Rockin'. He will also have a new CD out shortly. By the way, if you don't know who Jon Dee is, check your "True Believers" or "Dan Stuart" CDs.

    After some legal problems the Loose Diamonds are back on track and their set included new songs as well as old favorites. Jon Dee played with them for a few numbers.
     
     

    11-March-97
    Jimmy LaFave
    Austin,TX - Waterloo Records

    I was not overly impressed. He certainly has a unique voice, but I found it to be more annoying than amazing. Even his excellent band including Gurf Morlix couldn't make up for that...
     

    2nd Annual Swollen Circus, hosted by Walter Salas-Humara and Dave McNair with
    Damon Bramblett, Kacy Crowley, Trish Murphy, The Mary Janes, John Keaney, Tom Freund, Gerald Bair, Jon Dee Graham, The Silos
    Austin,TX - Hole In The Wall

    It was a year ago that I saw Damon Bramblett for the first time. I was impressed then, and he got even better since. If he could just quit wearing these huge cowboy hats.

    Kacy Crowley mixes the stage presence of Kris McKay with Liz Phair-like songs + lyrics. It looks like her career is about to take off and Island is to release her "Anchorless" CD.

    Trish Murphy played solo tonight. She was still recovering from a cold, which made her voice sound even sexier.

    The Mary Janes are from Bloomington,Indiana and were founded by the Vulgar Boat(wo)men Janas Hoyt (vocals, guitar) and Kathy Kolata (violin). The group has grown to include drums, bass, cello and harp. Nicely crafted songs, very relaxing.

    I must admit that I'm not sure who J ohn Keaney is, but what I heard sounded good.

    You might remember Tom Freund as the former bass player for the Silos. Two years ago he played a solo showcase at SXSW, and he has been working on his own material since. Now he is back, playing guitar with his own band. Tonight he was backed by JD Foster on bass and Daren Hess on drums. Tom played three songs and even a guitar solo. His future looks mighty bright...

    Gerald Bair is a songwriter from New York. I would like to hear more from this guy.

    I saw Jon Dee Graham 3 times in 5 days. And it just got better and better. Tonight he played with JD Foster on bass and Dave McNair on drums, plus of course Mike Hardwick on guitar. Smokin'.

    The Silos played five songs in 45 minutes. Are they turning into a Jam Band? Not really, but they just seemed to feel very comfortable working their way through three old songs, a new one and a cover ("Mama Told Me Not To Come"). Jon Dee, Tom Freund and Rich Brotherton all joined the band towards the end of the set.
     

    12-March-97
    SXSW - Day One...

    Horseshoe @ Tower Records
    Unoriginal and boring Alt.country wannabees. Yawn...
     

    Backsliders @ Liberty Lunch
    A 50/50 experience. Half of their set was quite enjoyable, the rest a little "too country" and not as "Tar Heel" as expected.
     

    Jason & The Scorchers @ Liberty Lunch
    Now here is someone who was great ten years ago and is still in top form today. Jason sported a new haircut (shaved head except for a little patch of semi-long hair behind his left ear), bounced around the stage like it was still '85 and got the crowd moving.
     

    Pure @ Liberty Lunch
    These young fellows from Vancouver,BC presented tunes about "dope" and a "drinking song" from their Mammoth debut entitled "Generation 6-Pack". Go figure. Spaced-out Modern Rock.
     

    Seven Mary Three @ Liberty Lunch
    If 7M3 are "a derivative imitation of an unoriginal group" (to quote Ira Robbins), then it seems that on their upcoming "Rock Crown" release they can't decide who to imitate. The songs they played during their extra-long 80 minute showcase were certainly very different from the "American Standard" material.
    Poor MTV kids. SXSW really wasn't for them. No big names on the Outdoor Stage, and not too many big names in the clubs, either. So they were ready for 7M3 and filled up the club to the last place. And what a disappointment for them: 7M3 played lots of new songs and refused to play the "hits", at least in the way the kids wanted to hear them. Like "Water's Edge", which was played in a "slow motion" version. So the kids were annoyed, kept on yelling for "Cumbersome", which annoyed the band, which went on to play another new song, so a lot of kids left and by the time the band finished, Liberty Luch was half-empty.
     

    Loose Diamonds @ Steamboat
    No SXSW would be complete without seeing the Diamonds. And they are always a good band to see at the end of a long night out...
     

    Missed: Frosted, Thrush Hermit, Ditch Witch, Dahmnait Doyle, Ron Sexsmith, Tito & Tarantula, Anodyne
     

    13-March-97
    SXSW - Day Two...

    This was the best day. Great weather, great bands...

    Carolyn Wonderland & The Imperial Monkeys @ Tower Records
    A Janas Joplin with purple hair mixing blues, rock and a little bit of country backed by a mediocre band from Houston. Carolyn, why don't you move to Austin and find yourself a decent band?
     

    The Gourds @ Yard Dog
    Alternative Folk? Folkrock? They don't really fit into any category, but they are a great live act.
     

    The Silos @ Yard Dog
    A successful dress rehearsal for their showcase on Saturday. They will be touring the US in April/May, go + see them if you can.
     

    Beat Angels @ Hole In The Wall
    Does the world need a "New York Dolls" revival? I don't think so! Next band please...
     

    Sand Rubies @ Hole In The Wall
    A dream came true. The Sidewinders / Sand Rubies were always one of my favorite bands. And I had never had a chance to see them live. The Hole in the Wall was packed with old fans and the Rubies rose to the occasion. In one word: Perfect.
     

    Mr. Henry @ B-Side
    One of the pleasant surprises this year. Mr. Henry reminded me a lot of Toad The Wet Sprocket, especially the vocal harmonies. But at the point where Toads music becomes boring, these guys change gears and take the song into another direction. Highly recommended.
     

    Blue Mountain @ Driskill Hotel
    The Crystal Ballroom of the Driskill Hotel was certainly an unusual setting for bands like Hangdogs, Slobberbone or Blue Mountain. Blue Mountain delivered a solid alt.country set, nothing more, nothing less. It was similar to last years showcase, which a few new songs thrown in.
     

    Treble Charger @ Babe's
    The Austin Chronicle wrote: "The band's comparisons range from Teenage Fanclub to AC/DC to REM". What I saw was a generic Modern/AlternaRock band, which failed at merging its influences into a unique sound.
     

    Psycho Sisters @ Maggie Mae's West
    Luckily Maggie Mae's is only one block away from Babe's and the Psycho Sisters were, as always, very entertaining. Vicky Peterson looked smashing and the Psycho harmonies never sounded better...
     

    Matthew Sweet @ Waterloo Brewing Co.
    On the way back to the car I suddenly heard the familiar sounds of "Sick Of Myself". It was after 2am, but Matthew Sweet wasn't ready to call it a night just yet. He continued to play until the stage manager threatened to turn off the power. No big news from Matthew, but if you like crunchy guitar sounds entwined with sweet pop melodies, then he's your man.
     

    Missed: Tony Bennett (just kidding!), Hangdogs, Volebeats, Slobberbone, Old 97's, Magnolias, Waco Brothers, Sexton Sextet, Brenda Kahn, Martin Zellar, Troy Campbell, Neal Casal
     
     

    14-March-97
    SXSW - Day three

    This was a very cold day (< 50F or 10C).
     

    Bill Janovitz @ Outdoor Stage
    They started way behind schedule. In fact, The Supersuckers were still soundchecking by the time Bill was supposed to start. So I did see them doing "Hungover Together" with one of the Deal sisters (I guess Kelley?). Great song.
    Bill performed both solo and with band; he even threw in a few Buffalo Tom "covers". By the way, Buffalo Tom will have a new CD out soon.
     

    Hazeldine @ Waterloo Brewing Co
    Did it ever happen to you? You know someone's voice from phone conversations, but you have never met the "voice" in person. Then you finally meet, and he/she looks totally different than you expected. Well, if you like Hazeldines' music, prepare for the worst if you are going to see them... But hey, they sure sounded great...
     

    Haynes Boys @ Waterloo Brewing Co.
    Good. Nothing new. Solid, rocking guitarwork, great harmonies, and a hint of country influence. Dead Hot Workshop were not playing SXSW this year, so I guess this was the next best thing... They certainly warmed up the crowd.
     

    Marlee MacLeod @ Katie Bloom's
    Another good one. A lot better live than on CD, thanks to her excellent band. Again, not the future of RnR, but solid work.
     

    Matthew Good Band @ Maggie Mae's
    Alternative rock, Canadian style. Not bad.
     

    Box The Walls @ Katie Bloom's
    Why do they sound so much better live than on CD? I saw them last year and liked them. Then I heard "Stuff" and was very disappointed. Let's hope things will improve with their next CD.
     

    Cheri Knight, Austin,TX - Waterloo Brewing Co.
    It was not only Cheri Knight, in fact it was this band known as Blood Oranges. It was nice to see them back together on one stage.
     

    Missed: Varnaline, SkeeterHawks, Trish Murphy Band, Gravel Pit, Derailers, Richmond Fontaine, Fastball, Crybaby, Kacy Crowley, Bamon Bramblett, Bettie Serveert, Universal Honey, Picketts, That Dog, James McMurtry, Yo La Tengo, Swell, Whiskeytown, Jo Carol Pierce, Prescott Curlywolf, Harvester, Five-Eight, Hammell On Trial, Dieselhed, Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Stacey Earle, Supersuckers, Calexico, Mark Eitzel, Kristen Hersh, Victoria Williams, Giant Sand
     

    15-March-97
    SXSW - Day Four...

    Again, a cold day...

     No Depression / Bloodshot Records party @ Yard Dog

    Whiskeytown: I had missed them last year and again last night. A little too early in the day for me to really enjoy it, and a little too short as well. I hope to see them again soon.

    Lonesome Bob is a big guy. Think Country Dick Montana. And he's not really lonesome. Musically typical Bloodshot material. Amy Rigby sang one with Bob.

    Hazeldine: Hmm, they certainly did not look any better in daylight than last night. Again, I enjoyed listening more than watching... Neal Casal played guitar on a couple of songs.

    Skull Orchard: Another Jon Langford project. Even Beatle Bob thought they were the Waco brothers.

    The Volebeats felt very much at home in Austin. If for nothing else, the weather was very much like up north in Michigan. Their set was marred by almost constant feedback (I guess the soundguy was on a break and had switched off his ears) but their ultra-melodic, bittersweet beatlesque songs warmed some hearts in the audience.

    Moonshine Willy: These guys (&gals) are definetly more country than alternative. But they are fun to watch. Nice fiddle work.

    Grievous Angels: Great name, but they are just a little too country for me.

    Waco Brothers: The Mekons never meant too much to me, so I initally ignored Jon Langfords Waco Brothers. However, I found them quite entertaining.

     Marc Olsen @ Club DeVille

    Do you know Marc Olsen? I think you know Mark Olson! Marc used to play in a band called Sage, Mark played in a band called Jayhawks. Maybe I should have read those band bios in the festival brochure. Anyway, as it is often the case with things you stumble upon, I quite liked what I saw & heard.

     Gerald Collier @ Club DeVille

    Gerald Collier is also from the Northwest and lead the band "Best Kissers In The World", a power-pop band with surprisingly well-written songs. Now he is on his own and moves closer to alt.country territory. I can strongly recommend his first CD "I had to laugh like hell".

     Chuck Prophet @ Atomic Bar

    I have yet to see a disappointing live performance by Chuck. This guy has released four excellent, but largely overlooked albums and I think, that his music could very well be used as a definition for the term "timeless". Enough said. Now go and buy his new CD.

     Quinsonics @ B-Side

    You have probably read and heard a lot of good things about this band, but I was very disappointed. They certainly are good at what they do, but it comes across extremely slick. The singers voice is a mix of Chris Issak and Jeffrey Lee Pierce, but the music is clearly more Isaak than Gun Club. If the Quinsonics were a beer, they would be a Bud Light: The songs are watered down and there is absolutely no aftertaste.

     Richard Buckner @ Driskill Hotel

    I get bored fast. Especially by singer/songwriter guys playing an acoustic guitar. Not with Richard. He's one of the few who can hold my attention in an acoustic setting for longer than 20 minutes. His voice is just out of this world. For his showcase this year his was backed by a band including the Giant Sand rhythm section and JD Foster on bass. He finished his set with an a-cappella song. Amazing!

     Joe Henry @ Driskill Hotel

    Joe played electric guitar and was accompanied by Son Volt's (?) pedal steel player. They presented stripped-down versions of songs like "Trampoline", "Kindness Of The World" and "Fireman's Wedding" in the wee hours of sunday morning. A perfectly nice and (almost) quiet way to end day four...

    Missed: Carlo Nuccio, Elysian Fields, Pushmonkey, Jon Dee Graham, Mary Janes, Silos, Kris McKay, Abra Moore, Mark Eitzel, Honeydogs, Perfect, Parlor James, Sister 7, Buick MacKane, Poster Children, Tina & The B-Side Movement, Kevin Carroll & The Sleestacks, Jayhawks, Matt Keating, Lisa Mednick, Roger Manning, Tom Freund.

     

    16-March-97
    SXSW - Day five...

     Alejandro Escovedo @ La Zona Rosa

    The traditional SXSW closing event: Alejandro and his 14-piece orchestra. It always is amazing to see how well his songs work with a big band like this. For the encore, Alejandro returned with/as Buick McKane, finishing the evening and SXSW off with a few rockers.

     Missed: Javelin Boot, Beaver Nelson & The Beauticians

     

    18-March-97

    Better Than Ezra @ Frankfurt,Germany - Batschkapp

    The ultimate test for a band: Here I was, after a night on an airplane and after seeing 80 performances in the last three weeks. Would the band be able to keep me awake? The answer is yes. I did not get overly excited, but the yawns-per-minute ratio was relatively low.