Friday, March 26, 2010

SXSW Adventures 2010 (part 3)

The home stretch for SXSW began on Friday with another tip from Pigeon O’Brien – this time, it was Jimmy LaFave, another local singer/songwriter/guitarist and a favorite of Pigeon’s, performing at the Red House Records showcase at Mother Egan’s Irish Pub. Josh stayed behind till the evening, but Levi was free so we started the day without him. Jimmy’s set was low key, subdued, and very twangy. His sound made for some really interesting and original Dylan covers (“Love Minus Zero/No Limit” and “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”), and worked especially well on his set closing rendition of John Waite’s big ‘80s hit “Missing You.”

It was the middle of the day, and after a set like Jimmy’s, it only seemed appropriate to kick it up a notch with a quick stop at Hoek’s for some Death Metal Pizza. Actual toppings on my slice were cheese, olives, sausage and sliced jalapeños, and true to the place’s theme, I was welcomed by a sweet blast of Slayer’s “Hate Worldwide” as I placed my order. I had one guy on my left enthusiastically talking up his death metal band, due to play inside that evening, and the guy who was about to give me window service rudely proclaiming “I’ll get to you when I get a chance!” when I asked if it would be better for me to wait in the line that was leading inside. I laughed it off, since the ‘tude was in perfect sync with the music, and he did stay true to his word and actually didn’t make me wait long at all. And the pizza was good. Can’t go wrong with jalapeños.

From there, Levi showed me the pedestrian paths that took us from the edge of downtown by the riverside over to Auditorium Shores. It was a roundabout route, and perfect in length for taking in the natural elements of Austin that you won’t find anywhere on 6th Street. There were folks canoing in the river, bicyclists all around, colorful plants and mounds of large turtles – more than I’ve ever seen clustered together outside of a pet store. I grew up near a pond that had some tiny little snappers, but they were very elusive and didn’t care to be seen much. These big guys in Austin were practically showing off.

By the time we made it to the bicycle valet at Auditorium Shores, the gates were just opening – perfect timing. We found a good spot at the edge of the general admission area, passed on the selection of Stetson hats, and invited gawkers with some huge 2-foot tall “margaritas” – if there was alcohol in there, it wasn’t evident.

The Ray Johnston Band, from Dallas, opened with some really cheesy songs about cougars and texting. At least the sax player sounded good. The less said about everything else in the set, the better.

Next up was Cracker – looking and sounding a little haggard these days, but no worse for wear and tear. The new songs sounded just as solid as the old ones, and leave it to those wise asses to open their set with their best known hit (“Low”) rather than saving it for last. Nice one. Glad to know they're still kickin’ around.

I had heard of the BoDeans, but their set at Auditorium Shores was actually the first time I had paid any attention to them. One song in their set sounded vaguely familiar, but other than that, their mix of rock, Tex Mex, country and folk left me thinking that maybe the guys in Los Lonely Boys were fans. It wasn’t totally my cup of tea, but they gave off a good vibe and they did exactly what a good opening band should do – they got the crowd riled up for the big headliners.

And those big headliners were the biggest draw for me at SXSW – Cheap Trick. I hadn’t seen them perform live since 2004, and lamented every year I missed them. Even with Bun E. Carlos ceding his drum duties to Rick Nielson’s son Dax (who’s far from a slouch and does Bun E. proud), this set more than made up for CT’s refusal to play in San Francisco since the day I moved there. From spotlighting half of their new album, The Latest (Rick reminded us that it's "the number one 8-track in the world!" and he's right - nobody else bothered to release an album in the 8-track format in 2009), to playing exactly half of my favorite CT album (their 1977 debut, Cheap Trick), the band showed more vigor than I remembered they had. They made Auditorium Shores feel like Glastonbury or Coachella, only far more laid back and comfortable than I imagine either of those two places would have been.

Rick also made a point of acknowledging Alex Chilton, who had died unexpectedly two days earlier. Cheap Trick’s cover of Big Star’s Alex Chilton-penned “In The Street” was used as the theme for "That ‘70s Show" and not only raised both band’s profiles, but also became another Cheap Trick concert favorite in the process. So Rick, who by the sound of his voice was clearly moved by the loss of Alex, dedicated “Sleep Forever,” “Heaven Tonight,” and of course “In The Street” to Alex. By the end of the set though, they were in classic Cheap Trick party mode, ending with an encore that included “He’s a Whore,” “Dream Police” and “Gonna Raise Hell.” I’d say it was the best Cheap Trick show I’ve seen since 1998, and I’ve seen them about 15 or 16 times at this point.

But it didn’t stop there. Levi, Josh and I headed straight towards yet another event after Cheap Trick’s set ended around 9:45 or so. We ended up at a party celebrating the birthday and the CD release of a beatboxing electronica artist by the name of Maestro over at a co-op near the UT campus. It was a slow-building event filled with beer, dancing, and people putting things into their bodies that made them act a bit shady. But it was a load of fun, enough to keep us awake till an hour I hadn’t witnessed with my eyes open probably since that night I didn’t sleep while waiting for the Super Shuttle to cart me off to my European flight last August.

Had the temperature in Austin not dipped down into the 30s on Saturday, I would have returned to Auditorium Shores to catch She & Him. It was freezing, and nobody wanted to venture outside in that weather, not even me. By Sunday, it was comfortable enough for a stroll outside again, but most out-of-towners were at the airport or hitting the road to return home, leaving Austin a little quieter and less lively, or as Levi put it, “more like how it really is.”

Cheap Trick's set list - Auditorium Shores, Austin, TX, 3/19/10

Hello There
Elo Kiddies
Welcome To The World
I Want You To Want Me
These Days
Wrong All Along
Sleep Forever
Heaven Tonight
In The Street
Taxman, Mr. Thief
The Ballad of TV Violence (I'm Not The Only Boy)
Oh Candy
Miss Tomorrow
Sick Man of Europe
Closer, The Ballad of Burt and Linda

The Flame
Dream Police
He's a Whore
Gonna Raise Hell
Goodnight Now

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