Friday, March 14, 2008



Sorry, I'm late with this post. About 4 am, after a long day of rock 'n' roll, I realized I needed sleep. I thought I'd get up early enough to post it at a decent time. Guess I was wrong about that.

My SXSW day could have been complete even before Sundown Thursday. Nothing was going to top Roky Erikson, who headlined a fine afternoon of rock 'n' roll at Threadgill's known as the Roky Erikson Pyschedelic Ice Cream Social.

Roky, whose struggle with mental problems has been well documented, has been back performing for several years. But this is the first time I'd ever seen him play. And he was tremendous.
Billy Gibbons
He rips through his songs -- leaning heavily on tunes from his greatest album The Evil One -- with strength and confidence. "Cold Night For Alligators," "Bloody Hammer," "Don't Shake Me Lucifer," "I Think of Demons" ... These are songs that make me proud to be an American.

His band, The Explosives, is a tight little trio featuring guitarist Cam King. Yesterday, he was joined on stage for his last few songs by his told friend, ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons (who also played with him on his recent Austin City Limits performance.)

One of the most amazing aspects of Roky's performance is that after each song -- most of which are filled with images of horror, demons, vampires, bloody hammers -- Roky flashes the most angelic smile, waves to the crowd and thanks everyone.

Although this was the first time I'd seen Roky play, it's not the first time I'd seen him. Back in 1995, my first SXSW, I went down to Iron Works BBQ, where he was supposed to do a book-signing. (He'd just published Openers II with Henry Rollins' publishing company. When I arrived, standing alone in the parking lot was none other than Roky himself.

I approached him. "Hey Roky, my name is Steve ..."
"I know."
"I'm a big fan ..."
"I know."

But he was friendly and chatty and started bumming cigarettes from passersby. It turns out that he had bolted the book-signing -- got claustrophobic inside. A few minutes later, Henry Rollins comes out of the Ironworks, trying to coax Roky back inside. Finally he got Roky to agree to get into a car and sign books there.

I'm glad Roky's better now. I'm also glad he's rocking like he always was meant to do.

The Ice Cream social had a great line-up including Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore playing with an acoustic band, including a fiddler and SY drummer Steve Shelley; ... And You Will Know Them By the Trail of Dead (most of whom look baby-faced enough to be a boy band), The Black Angels (an Austin favorite who sound like a tasty blend of Jesus & Mary Chain and My Morning Jacket), and a cool, hopped-up, almost New Wavy little band called The Golden Dogs. (We missed another band, The Strange Boys, because the aroma of Threadgill's was just too good, so we went inside to grab some lunch right after The Black Angels.)
Here's an unexpected musical treat: At one point during the show, I wandered on Threadgill's to use the ATM. There I learned that Ray Wylie Hubbard was doing a short, acoustic set in the back room with his teenage son Lucas, who's getting pretty good with his blues licks.

All this happened before the official SXSW showcases even began. And even before this ice cream social I went to another fun little gathering. Joe Ely and accordionist Joel Guzman recorded a live set at ME TV studios. Beside Ely's tunes, which I always love, the best part was the homemade posole, cooked and served by Joe's wife Sharon. She told me the recipe comes from New Mexico. I suspect Terry or Jo Harvey Allen might have something to do with that.
Yo La Tengo
As far as official SXSW showcases go, the best I saw Thursday were Yo La Tengo, who played an amazing set at Austin Music Hall. I arrived late, and they were playing some of their weird poppy material, with Ira on the keyboards. I guess I'm just a guitar-centric kinda guy (a "rockist" as some fancy New York publications have labeled guys like me), but I vastly preferred it when Ira switched back to guitar. Like Sonic Youth at it's best, Yo La has a great knack of creating beauty out of sonic chaos. The band's version of "Tom Courtenay" Thursday was as gorgeous as Julie Christie, who is namechecked in the song.

Then came My Morning Jacket, which played for nearly two hours. (I remember a few years ago at the Music Hall when Little Richard wanted to play longer and, it seemed, nearly gave the SXSW organizers a heart attack trying to get him off stage. I wish they would have given him two hours ...)
MMJ started off with a great rush of energy. Their first few numbers were powerful and intense. I believe they were mainly new tunes from the group's upcoming album Evil Urges, though the set was liberally sprinkled with songs from their albums Z and It Still Moves.

I have some qualms about this band. Sometimes MMJ veers dangerously close to classic-rock pablum. Sometimes they sound like an overblown country-rock band. But Jim James' musical vision is so unique, most the time he's able to transcend these influences.

The middle of the first hour started to sag a bit as Jim James and crew concentrated on slower, more countryish songs. But then they got their footing again, and nearly every song could have been the blistering climax to a great performance. The last, say, hour and 15 minutes was nothing short of breath-taking.

For more photos CLICK HERE.

UPDATE: In the original version, I identified the title of Yo La Tengo's song "Tom Courtenay" as "Julie Christy." I like that title better, but out of respect for Yo La, I corrected it.

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