March 23, 2011

Rock Over Boston Austin: SXSW Night 7

But wait, there's more!

Every year for the last decade or so, hometown hero Alejandro Escovedo has curated a post-SXSW benefit show at Austin's legendary Continental Club. He hand-picks the acts, enlists guest-stars aplenty, and essentially takes back his mantle of being a kind of mayor of Austin music after beating back the invasion of the world's bands, bloggers, music businessmen, and fans. Though I doubt he thinks of it that way - he couldn't have been a more gracious host.

We joined the 6:30 pm - 2:00 am show already in progress (hey, I have to draw the line somewhere) and caught the last half of St. Louis rockers The Incurables' set of solid, catchy... well, rock and roll. There was palpable sense of excitement in the club about what came next. Candy Golde is an odd duck of a Chicagoland supergroup: Rick Rizzo of Eleventh Dream Day, John Stirratt of Wilco, Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick, and Chicago mainstay Nick Tremulis have put together a hell of a rockin' band that tore through covers of "Hey Joe" and an unlikely revamp of Paul Simon's "Boy In The Bubble," as well as a bunch of original material from their new EP. (Recommended!). Ivan Julien of Richard Hell and the Voidoids (who produced Candy Golde's EP), played guitar on a song too.

Richard Barone, formerly of 80's Hoboken pop outfit The Bongos, who opened for Escovedo's Rank and File back in the day, was next with a set of energetic pop songs with accompanying violinst Deni Bonet, who we last saw on tour with Robyn Hitchcock some years ago. Shifting gears again, New Yorkers Jesse Malin and The St. Mark's Social Club blasted through their set, ending with "Instant Karma." Sounds like a groaner, but Malin and company's energy was infectious and I was a believer.

Willie Nile might be the most legendary singer/songwriter/rocker you've never heard of (take a gander at his Wikipedia entry to get the gist). His was an old-school rock and roll show - a bit corny by today's hipster standards, maybe, but convincing nonetheless. He absolutely detonated a cover of Jim Carroll's "People Who Died."

Some friends of mine first recommended Hamell on Trial to me, oh, 'round about 15 years ago, and I finally got around to it this night. I do wish I had taken their advice sooner - Ed Hamell's a bitter and hilarious spoken wordsmith, delivered over his jittery acoustic guitar. Funny, but not novelty. A good way to clear the decks for our host's headlining set.

Alejandro Escovedo's recent tour was a stripped-down rock band affair, but at the Continental, we were treated to a set by the "Orchestra" lineup (or part of it anyway), that he sometimes uses. Strings, trumpet, organ - there were never less than 10 people on the tiny Continental stage, and often as many as 12 when the guests started joining in. Fellow local Charlie Sexton stuck around on guitar for a good chunk of the set, and everyone went (justifiably!) wild for Lucinda Williams' appearance, though her half of a duet with Escovedo was on pretty shaky ground from the get-go. This may have been, unfortunately, a bit too late in the night.

Modest and gracious throughout, Escovedo simply delivered a great night of his great songs. Hell, not known particularly for his guitar playing, he even unleashed a blistering solo during his "Chelsea Hotel '78" that was at least as good as anything I'd heard all night.

By closing time, he'd shed his guitar and was winding up a passionate take on "Beast of Burden" (they'd done "Miss You" earlier), and that was the real end of SXSW, as far as I was concerned.


So closed 7 straight days of music. It was a blast, as always, but there were a few wrinkles this year. There's already been a lot of hand-wringing going on about this year's SXSW due to a few unfortunate incidents. Indeed, it felt significantly larger than even the last one I attended two years ago. Still, it remains a great time for the music (and taco) obsessed. Considering the number of people in the city for the event (an amazing 200,000ish, according one of the linked articles), it seems remarkable how few problems there are. The talk of cracking down on day parties seems especially ominous since they've become such a huge part of the fun. Then again, I don't live there. Given the exponential growth, I suppose it is inevitable that there would be potential for a tipping point where it is just too taxing on the city's infrastructure (to say nothing of how it gets increasingly difficult to see what you want to see when you're on a wristband budget in a town full of badge-holders - which reminds me: who wants to sponsor badges for Clicky Clicky next year?). Let's hope they're not there yet. It would be a shame to damage the good cheer of SXSW.

Now, it's never too early to start thinking about lodging for next year!

-Michael Piantigini

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