Monday, March 18, 2013
5 favorite musical moments at SXSW
There’s nothing small, independent, or labor-of-love about this six-day music extravaganza. It’s a corporate elephant.
AUSTIN Those clinging to the idea that SXSW is a holy haven for struggling artists hoping to get heard by somebody that would impact their careers, I have a dozen names for you: Prince, Justin Timberlake, Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins, Dave Grohl, Stevie Nicks, and Diddy.
Those superstars either performed, spoke, or otherwise made their presence known during the super-packed music festival that officially ended Sunday night. I’m probably forgetting a good handful of others. The buzz about this year’s shindig was the Purple One and the “Suit & Tie” fellow, both of which played at clubs that held only a few hundred lucky spectators. I can imagine the lottery system, or just sheer mob force, to get into those shows. I have a Facebook friend who spent five hours in line to ensure he’d step foot inside the 400-capacity venue where Billy Corgan and his Smashing Pumpkins took the stage. Yes, he got in.
SXSW is gargantuan. More than 2,000 artists performing on 104 stages in downtown Austin. But pretty much every single indie music band hungry for attention got usurped by the mainstream media hogs. Hey, I’m just as guilty. I was at Green Day’s two-hour show Thursday night at ACL Live at the Moody Theater. Last year I caught Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s set at the same venue. The little guys may fill the slots, but the big boys bring the numbers.
SXSW in DFW: Why hit the road when you can stay home?
SXSW show of the night: Charlotte Church's raucous performance served with a side of honey
SXSW: Stevie Nicks talked magic, history, and developing a persona
SXSW review: The Phuss, from Fort Worth, gave rude and crude show
SXSW review: Dallas’ Larry g(EE) gets upstaged by Diddy
SXSW review: Dallas’ Air Review lifted spirits
My beef here isn’t the attendance of the giants, it’s the lingering perception of the festival. SXSW long ago joined the ranks of the very mainstream media hogs it caters to. There’s nothing small, independent, or labor-of-love about this six-day music extravaganza. It’s a corporate elephant. Its aim is to draw in thousands of paying registrants, which it does handily each year. The projected number of 2013 SXSW participants, when you combine the interactive, film, and music portions of the festival, flew past 60,000.
But I’m just one music critic in the midst of the melee. And I’m going to focus on the musical moments that stayed with me, the seemingly insignificant intricacies that made a particular performance memorable. Here now are my Top 5 favorite musical moments of SXSW 2013.
1. Emmylou Harris: She’s sitting next to Rodney Crowell and they are performing “Invitation to the Blues” from their glorious new duet album Old Yellow Moon. This is an acoustic performance Friday afternoon at the Hotel Saint Cecilia courtyard, very up-close-and-personal. Just the two of them and drummer Brady Blade banging on a cardboard CD box. Anyway, Harris hummed during the instrumental break of the tune, telling us it was supposed to be “the really big guitar solo.” Loved that! It was so spontaneous, so earthy.
2. Charlotte Church: The one-time Welsh pop-opera singing child prodigy is all grown up and making very different music now. Her sound is a dramatic, intense blend of Radiohead and Kate Bush with a little bit of Motown tossed in. Her Thursday night gig at Rooftop on 6th was punctuated by a curious little bottle full of brown syrup perched by her feet. When she first picked it up, she immediately told the intimate crowd, “This isn’t whiskey, unfortunately, it’s just some honey.” That’s Church, totally off-the-cuff.
3. The Wagoneers: This is all about Monte Warden’s left leg. The lead singer of Austin’s celebrated vintage country-meets-classic rock ‘n’ roll band brought his mates Brent Wilson, Craig Pettigrew, and Tom Lewis for a rousing show Saturday night at the Continental Club. Except that Warden’s left leg was caught up in its own wow-the-crowd moment. It danced, twitched, kicked, shook, vibrated, and almost skipped. It was hilarious and further proof that Warden is a passionate singer-songwriter enjoying every second of his time behind the microphone and in front of a happy, dancing crowd.
4. The Phuss: When Joshua Fleming, frontman for Fort Worth garage rockers The Phuss, wasn’t thrashing as hard as he could during the trio’s 30-minute stint Friday evening at Doc’s Motorworks, he was talking. And most of what he was saying can’t be printed in a family newspaper. But he made me laugh out loud with his fed-up comments. There is one I can use, and it seemingly came out of nowhere, which made it even funnier: “I’ll be damned if you get a ballad out of me.” That’s a given, Joshua. Don’t even think about it.
5. Nataly Dawn: Calling her quirky is an understatement. San Francisco singer-songwriter Nataly Dawn had only 15 minutes before the intimate crowd Friday afternoon at the Hotel Saint Cecilia courtyard. She sang tunes from her new solo album, How I Knew Her. One of those songs, “Please Don’t Scream,” Nataly informed us “may or may not be about the dysfunctional relationship with my cat.” For that song along, not to mention the riveting “Back to the Barracks,” you should pick up her album. I’m sure her cat would appreciate the extra income.