Saturday, March 15, 2014

SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST DAY 3: Call of the Moose

J.D. Wilkes of Legendary Shack Shakers (right) joins Left Lane Cruiser
at Austin Moose Lodge for Hillgrass Bluebilly showcase

Two years ago, my favorite new venue discovery during SXSW was Austin's Moose Lodge -- yes, the actual Moose Lodge ! -- on the city's east side. That was the place where Hillgrass Bluebilly Records held its showcase (that year, with the Muddy Roots Festival and Saving County Music). I loved the venue, not to mention the musical lineup, which included James Hand and The Calamity.

I went back to the Moose Lodge last night for this year's Hillgrass Bluebilly show for another fantastic show. If anything, the music was even better this year. I really do like this place. I like the crowds I've seen both years, which were big enough to provide a good springboard for a performance, but not enough to make you feel claustrophobic.
Possessed by Paul James gets all possessed

Possessed by Paul James, the musical superhero whose secret identity is mild-mannered teacher Konrad Wert, was one of the main reasons I went to the Moose Lodge this year. For those of you not familiar with his music (and who didn't read my recent review of his excellent album There Will Be Nights When I'm Lonely).

Although that album found Wert working with backup musicians on some songs, last night he was in his one-man band mode, playing a small arsenal of stringed instruments and using his trademark stomp-box -- which basically is a board that is miked -- as percussion.

All that, and his voice. I'm certainly not the first to note this, but when Wert gets to wailing, sometimes it seems as if he really is possessed. Before he started his set, he said he was having some trouble with his throat. But when he got going, I didn't notice many problems. Possible there were one or two scratchy moments, but that just added some character.
The Skidley Bow.

The other main attraction was Left Lane Cruiser, which plays a raw slide-guitar-based sound you might
 call "damaged blues." They are billed as duo --singer/guitarist Frederick Joe Evans IV and drummer/ harmonica player Brenn Beck, both from Indiana --  in recent press material.

But last night, they had a bass player who also made crazy noises on a bizarre homemade instrument fashioned from an old skateboard and a beer bottle. I asked him whether it was a type of diddley bow. He said he calls it a "Skidley Bow."

And on the first song LLC was joined by a fourth player -- Col. J.D. Wilkes from The Legendary Shack Shakers. He played harmonica on an instrumental and the crowd went nuts. Wilkes, whose other band, The Dirt Daubers is in Austin for SXSW, made a similar cameo earlier in the evening with The Pine Hill Haints.

Peewee Moore (center)
I was completely unfamiliar with the rest acts I saw at the Moose Lodge last night, but I liked every one of them. There was the Pine Hill Haints, who began playing a few moments after I walked in. They're a group from Alabama who describe their sound as "Alabama Ghost Music." In addition to stringed instruments, they also have a drummer playing just a snare, a washtub bass, an accordion and -- on their first song, at least, a musical saw.

Pee Wee More, a Tennessee-born songwriter also played with his band -- a lead guitarist and a mandolin player -- who like Moore, sport long Z.Z. Top/Duck Dynasty beards. He writes good honky-tonk tunes that work fine with his acoustic lineup. Buut I'd like to hear him sings these with a full country band -- fiddle, steel, drums etc. Apparently Moore has played at the Cowgirl in Santa Fe before. I hope he comes back so I can catch him again.

And unannounced was a group from nearby San Marcos, Texas called The Rock Bottom String Band. This is a group of countrified hippie kids who play a variety of instruments and sing with so much enthusiasm it was impossible not to get into the spirit. One lady played a bunch of homemade percussion instruments including washboard, spoons and a large plastic water bottle, which she beat the hell out of.

How Gelb
Before I went over to the Moose Lodge, I stumbled into the Continental Club just in time to catch former Giant Sand mastermind Howe Gelb. Seeing him just made me extremely happy. I saw Giant Sand over at the (long defunct) Electric Lounge in 1995, my first South by Southwest. I saw Giant Sand once or twice after that, but it's been years.

Gelb's act was a little lower-key than his Sandy heyday. He was backed by a bass player and a second guitarist who doubled on drums. Some of his quieter songs sound like Marty Robbins after a three-week peyote trip, And on one song, he played an electric cocktail-lounge piano, tickling the ivories (or the plastic) with a subtle insanity that seemed like he could break out and pounce on the audience at any time. But my favorite songs were the ones where Gelb tore lose on electric guitar. He's still got weird vision and fire that made us love Giant Sand to begin with.

And, as I've written so many times before, it wouldn't be SXSW without seeing The Waco Brothers at Bloodshot Records' annual party at Yard Dog Gallery. I was lucky to find a decent parking space and make it just in time for the first song.
Viva Los Wacos!

They did some of my favorites such as "See Willie Fly By," "Plenty Tuff and Union Made" and, the Lonesome Bob tune "Do You Think About Me," which I hadn't heard them perform in years. They also did their covers of Johnny Cash's "Big River," (which Jon Langford introduced as "Hotel California" by The Eagles), "I Fought the Law (and the Law Won)," and a rousing (and I suspect spontaneous) "Hey Bo Diddley."

But I have to play grumpy old man here. As much as I love The Wacos, I couldn't help but feel a little nostalgic for the old Yard Dog Parties of yore, when the size of the crowd squeezing into that back yard of the gallery were smaller and easier to navigate. Back in those golden days of yore (late '90s, basically) I never had any problem finding a space on the front row. The past couple of times I was lucky to even get near the stage.

O.K., back to be being a rock 'n' roller and not an old fart. It's Saturday night already!


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