Friday. The last couple years we’ve made our way down South Lamar Blvd to the Sin City Party at Maria’s Taco Xpress. I’m pretty sure it was Jesse Dayton 4 years ago that first brought us there. Some structural chages haven’t affected the funky vibe. And the distance from 6th St pretty much eliminates badges, and the crowd remains local and relaxed. A set by American Aquarium at noon got us there early and seated with a bucket of beers before the first note played. They were great. So good we immediately discussed leaving Maria’s early to see them across town mid afternoon at another venue. But more great music, beer, and tacos foiled those plans. Australian band Wagons followed with one of the more entertaining performances of the week. Frontman Henry Wagons bantered with the crowd, incorporated the taco order pick up numbers into a song, and the band rocked their way through a set not uninfluenced by Aussie greats Crime & the City Solution. The huge applause was more like a throwndown for Texans Chris Gates & Gatesville who promised to tear a hole in the stage for subsequent performers. They almost did with their long boogie-fueled jams and sharp guitar leads. Right after, Lereroy Powell didn’t stand much of a chance…
Mike Stinson, more memorable for the quality of his songs than the performance, was followed by the Might Stef (who we only partially caught at Maria’s last yeat). A smaller band, just as impassioned and compelling. Next was Maxim Ludwig – again. The prior hot sets inspired a more intese performance from the get-go, again capped by “C’mon Stacy.” But I realized – from the first appearance, too – the second to last song, “From The Alley View,” was a momentum killer. All clever and no fire. But thank goodness for “Stacy”… Tim Easton and Stonehoney closed out our great day at Maria’s.
For the evening, we headed to another off-festival event, the Hillgrass Bluebilly show at Hole In the Wall. We walked in just as The Harmed Brothers were starting. Unmiked, on the floor, and moving through the crowd, it was one of the most inspiring things this year at SXSW. Raw, honest, truly authentic. Their closing number, “One In The Garden,” was absolutely beautiful. The club only looks like the name from the front room. It opens up into a muti-stage venue with an open air patio and food – which we desperately needed…. We caught Willie Tea Taylor, Shake It Like A Caveman, and Soda before heading out to our next destination – knowing that we were passing up the rest of a great lineup. But Caleb Coy, in the stuffy setting of Stefen F’s Bar, was well worth it (as were the comfortable chairs). Simple and sweet. The quiet was a nice respite after a couple loud days – and clearly made the segue to Josh T. Pearson on the 18th floor of Hilton Gardens obvious. Pearson’s delicate exercise in silence was perfect for the venue – maybe the quietest spot in town. The 3-long-song set was punctuated by dirty band jokes before closing with “Country Dumb.”
My Swedish pop band fix was supposed to be Friska Viljor at Malaia. But the club filled with the throngs from 6th St, more interested in grabbing drinks and asses than listening to two beards from Sweden. The band appeared to be having a good time but unfortunately the crowd drove us out a few songs in. A call from a friend at Stubb’s – and a delay in the start of the night’s closing show due to a camera boom accident – meant there was still more music to see. I like Stubb’s open air venue. Big enough to avoid the crowds but also easy enough to get pretty close to the stage. I relived my new wave days with a nightcap of OMD’s “Enola Gay” and “Electriciry.” No apologies.
Saturday. Last day. And we were not going to miss the Ninebullets party. The past two years, Ninebullets have booked some of the most consistently great shows. Saturday’s was at Revolution Bar on the East side. The crowd was surprisingly light (what the hell is everyone else listening to?!) but enthusiatic, Autopsy was a great host, and the bands cooked. I’ve seen Austin Lucas before but the set with his sister Chloe Manor accompanying on banjo was special – showcasing the quality of his songwriting and depths of his lyrics. “Nevada County Lines” from his upcoming album “A New Home In The Old World” was especially good. Glossary followed suit with an easy-going, sweet set – an nice contrast to the usually rocking delivery I’ve seen from them over the years. The Only Sons, Have Gun Will Travel, and Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires rounded a highly satisfying afternoon.
That put us late back into town and threw off our original early evening plans, but we recalibrated and hit the Mind Spiders in the former Habana Calle – now Easy Tiger. Their hyper-catchy garage-pop-punk attack was an enjoyable – and needed – adrenaline charge for the eveing. Some last minute pangs about potentially breaking 9 years of tradition and missing The Waco Bros drove us over to Red Eyed Fly early. Early enough that we had to sit through Eddie Spaghetti. But after, and from down in front, the Waco Bros put on another great show – sloppy, loaded(?), and lose. At this time, the only thing keeping us afoot was volume so we headed to Jesse Malin & The Saint Marks Social at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room. I’ve seen Malin and been blown away. I’ve also seen him and been uninspired. This night he was on fire. A few songs in, it was obvous he was unhappy with the mix. A thrown mike stand, words and gestures to the sound man, and then he was storming off. Short and intense. All that was left of SXSW 2011 was a late night encounter with members of The Mighty Stef’s band – wandering 6th St looking a final drink and some food. After 4 days I was done with the former but I did have a plate of burritos to share…
(photos by okpete)