Austin, Texas. Once again, the crowds were too big, the traffic was too crazy, and the hype is getting way too obnoxious. Yet here I was again back in Austin for another South by Southwest music festival. And here I was again enjoying some of my favorite bands and having a great time — despite the crowds, the traffic, the unrelenting hype.
I was there without actual festival credentials. (I don’t need no steenking badges!) So I didn’t go to very many “official” festival showcases. But, as veteran attendees know, there are more than enough unofficial shows to make up for that.
Here are some of the better ones I saw.
|Thee Oh Sees|
* Thee Oh Sees at Hotel Vegas. This is the third time I’ve seen John Dwyer and his merry band. But neither of the first two shows I saw was half as fierce, aggressive, or intense as the one I saw this year. They started off on full-blast warp speed and rarely eased up for the hour-plus they played. The latest version of Thee Oh Sees has two drummers, a bass player and, of course, leader John Dwyer on guitar, vocals, and occasional keyboards. The crowd was well-past fired up, immediately forming a frenzied mosh pit, which inspired a seemingly endless stream of stage divers/crowd surfers. It was as if the early’90s never ended. And yes, that can be off-putting to us older fans who don’t want to lose our dentures to some idiot slam dancer. Dwyer’s crazed otherworldly musical vision — the distorted falsetto vocals, the crazy sci-fi guitar bleeps and bloops — cuts to the bone.
And the next night, I caught Trusnovic playing at The 04 Lounge with the latest version of his garage/punk group Monkeyshines, which he started years ago in Santa Fe. Monkeyshines still has that wild joyful noise.
|Jean Cook and Jon Langford of The Waco Brothers|
Records party has been a SXSW highlight for 20 years now. You always know it will be a fun show. But this year, Jon Langford, Dean Schlabowske, Tracey Dear, and the others seemed supercharged. The old songs — “See Willie Fly By,” “Plenty Tuff and Union Made,” “Do You Think about Me” — sounded more vital than that they have in years, and their new tunes from their recently released Going Down in History were all punches that landed.
* Timmy Thomas at Saxon Pub. Thomas is a Miami-based soul singer who had a hit in 1973 called “Why Can’t We Live Together.” That was his biggest success, though Thomas kept recording for another decade or so, routinely hitting the R & B charts. He basically dropped out of sight for a few decades. But then last year Drake sampled a little bit of “Why Can’t We Live Together” and that seemed to give Thomas a late-career second wind. Playing with a band complete with a couple of sax players, Thomas, whose vocals remind me a little bit of Swamp Dog, performed a funky set including old hits and material from an upcoming comeback record.
* Eve & The Exiles at The Continental Club. Eve Monsees, a local Austin favorite, is one amazing guitarist. She’s a longtime friend and former schoolmate of bluesman Gary Clark Jr.’s and a co-owner of Antone’s Record Shop. She’s been playing since she was a kid, and the fact that she loves it is obvious in every note she plays. The first time I saw her was a couple of years ago when she was performing with The Bluebonnets, ex-Go-Go Kathy Valentine’s group. On Wednesday she was fronting her own band, The Exiles, at a Continental Club event called Garage Fest Day Party. It’s a simple guitar/guitar/bass/drums quartet with Eve handling nearly all the vocals. Together they make a tasty bluesy, garagey, early Stonesy stew.
* The Woggles at Garage Fest Day Party. This veteran garage band from Georgia specializes in
unrelenting, raw-rocking, soul-informed good-time sounds. They’ve been around since the early ’90s. They definitely look their age, and they seem a little uncomfortable in their little matching red-and-black uniforms. But all this only adds to their crazy charm. They’ve got more energy than a hundred horny teenagers, and singer Mighty Manfred takes the role of a hyped up master of ceremonies of a party that might just last forever. Manfred announced that “Karate Monkey,” a Chubby Checker song The Woggles cover, is the best dance song in the world. I was skeptical at first. And then, The Woggles removed all doubt.
* Night Beats at The Mohawk. This Seattle-based psychedelic trio, which has roots in Texas, was playing all over Austin during South by Southwest, but I didn’t catch the group until late Saturday afternoon, near the end of the festival. They looked exhausted, but they managed to play an energetic set. Like many of the first-wave acid-rock groups, Night Beats fuse spacey guitar with hopped-up soul riffs. While their instrumentals hint at mind-expanding excursions, unlike your typical “jam bands,” they tend to keep their songs nice and short. The group has a new album, Who Sold My Generation, which I just ordered. Stay tuned.
Here are Thee Oh Sees, same place I saw them but I think a couple of nights later.
This is from the Timmy Thomas set I saw at The Saxon
Here's "Karate Monkey" by The Woggles at the Continental Club last year
I wasn't at this show, Saturday night. But allegedly this performance got Jon Langford, playing with one of his bands, Bad Luck Jonathan, kicked out of The Saxon Pub. He's quite a lovely dancer.