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Guest SXSW Blog by Michael B. Ackerman: Part III

31 March 2007

And as noted in the last two blogs, I am putting aside the part two of my comments on 2006 I promised momentarily, so I can post the four-part summation of Michael B. Ackerman’s diary from this year’s SXSW, recently concluded.

Here’s part three anyway; part four is coming in the next few days!

Thanks Michael! Readers of our mag know he is one of our regular editorial columnists every issue, so this is a treat.

SXSW Diary, by Michael B. Ackerman

Day Three, Friday:

Because I am a lawyer and it is a requirement in both California and New York (the two states in which I am licensed) that I attend continuing legal education classes, I attended a couple of these classes during the day at the convention center. Unfortunately, this precluded me from attending some of the one hundred or so daytime parties that were taking place at the same time, all featuring bands playing.

However, the musical portion of my Friday began in late afternoon when I went to the Pop Culture Press party at a pub a short trip from downtown. Ostensibly, I went to meet up with my friend MICHAEL KRUMPER and to see the HOODOO GURUS, because Michael and I had seen them together on their first tour of American twenty three years before. To the great credit of the Pop Culture Press people, the lineup of bands playing at the party was outstanding (and the fish and chips weren’t bad either—although someone stole my beer when I set it down and turned my back for a minute. THE PAYBACKS were playing when my friend DRUE MITCHELL (Dallas DJ), his friend Chris (who actually won his SXSW badge in an online contest sponsored by the Independent Film Channel) and I arrived. They were loud, fast, hard, and full of attitude—check all the boxes for real punk rock! They rocked the tent, mightily and we were all impressed, if a little deafened.

The Hoodoo Gurus followed, and they were just as great as they were the last time I saw them almost 20 years ago. Their set leaned heavily on their first album Stoneage Romeos and everyone was pleased. They haven’t lost one bit of muscle, if they have lost a bit of hair, in all the years of their absence. After the Hoodoo Gurus, fellow Australians SAINTS took the stage. I had never seen the legendary CHRIS BAILEY or the Saints so I was excited to see the first of the Aussie punk rockers. Bailey still has the spirit and he played all the notable tunes, but his drummer was undoubtedly the worst drummer I saw at SXSW. It must have been Bailey’s son or certainly a relative, because the drummer was clearly not a professional. Even Bailey and they bass player exchanged smirks and surprised glances when the drummer dropped beats, turned the beat around, sped up or slowed down noticeably. Not exactly a triumph, but not a complete failure either.

Next it was back to Sixth Street for a performance by a New York group called the LAST TOWN CHORUS. The lead singer and band leader sits in a chair and plays a lap steel guitar with finger picks. The other guitarist also sits in a chair and the drummer (REGINA SPEKTOR producer ALAN BEZOZI) plays a good deal of percussion rather than the actual drums. As you might imagine from this description, the sleepy atmospheric sound of this band was very nice but, in combination with the comfortable chair that I was sitting in, proved to be a dangerous sleep-inducing mix. I don’t mean to suggest that the Last Town Chorus were boring, they were not; but their dreamy soundscapes were not the right thing for me at the time. Although they did make me sit up and take notice with their COWBOY JUNKIES-inflected cover of DAVID BOWIE’s “Modern Love,” recognizable only from its lyrics.

Full disclosure: I represent the next artist I saw—MICHELLE SHOCKED. Whatever the circumstance, I have never seen a bad Michelle Shocked performance. She always brings the show. To my surprise, when I arrived at the stroke of 9 P.M. for a performance scheduled to begin at 9 P.M., Michelle was already playing her third song. It seemed the set was a mix of some of her more well-known tunes, including “Anchorage” and “If Love Was a Train.” It seemed as though the band backing her was RUTHIE FOSTER’s band, where I had seen Michelle rocking out two nights before. If it was Foster’s band backing her, the band could only have had a day and a half to rehearse. Any lack of rehearsal was unapparent; although the show was loose, both Shocked and the band were great and clearly having fun. The many people in the packed room, as well as those standing outside watching through the picture windows, also seemed to be having fun.

I left Michelle a little early to see JAMES MORRISON, a Brit who has a lovely hit called “You Give Me Something.” I had heard bits of the rest of his album on the BBC and other outlets and I’d liked what I heard. However, when I arrived at La Zona Rosa there was an announcement from the stage that due to a snowstorm in New York Morrison couldn’t get a plane out and therefore would not be playing. SCOTT MATTHEWS was introduced and admirably took Morrison’s place. While Matthews played a lovely NICK DRAKE-inflected brand of folk, I had come to see Morrison and I was disappointed, as were many in the nearly full house (many of whom were intent upon waiting to see AMY WINEHOUSE immediately after). So in the best example of expectations dictating the audience impression of a show, Matthews was received politely but not overly enthusiastically.

Because Morrison wasn’t playing, I ran over to the Ponderosa Stomp show. The Ponderosa Stomp is an annual event that has taken place in New Orleans and Memphis. I had met the founder, MC, and guiding light of the Ponderosa Stomp, IRA PADNOS (an anesthesiologist and Professor by day) two days before and he told me how it had evolved from booking bands to play at his wedding. Padnos’s excellent taste shined through the two sets I saw. BARBARA LYNN showed what real soul singing is about (without all that MARIAH CAREY/CHRISTINA AGUILERA damage) and played pretty great guitar to boot as she smoked RAY CHARLES’ “What’d I Say” and other classics. The “all killer, no filler” format of the Ponderosa Stomp meant that after four songs, Lynn would cede the stage to the next performer, DENNIS COFFEY. Coffey was a Motown house-band guitar player who played on many of the later-era Motown classics produced by NORMAN WHITFIELD (“Psychedelic Shack”, “Ball of Confusion”, “Smiling Faces Sometimes”, among others). Moreover, he had solo hits in the early ‘70s whose breaks became some of the most notable beds in hip hop music. Coffey played with the house band which included STANLEY “BUCKWHEAT” DORAL, forsaking his BUCKWHEAT ZYDECO guise as an accordion player for his first instrument, the Hammond organ, and BUCK SENNECAL, who played with SLIM HARPO and CLIFTON CHENIER. Coffey and the band played some classics like “It’s Your Thing” and “Just My Imagination” (which Coffey played on originally), and smoked Coffey’s classic hit “Scorpio.” Coffey is a dazzling player—I would bet that 95% of all guitar players playing the conference would be slack jawed at what he can do—and it’s nice to see that age has not diminished his skills one bit. A brilliant performance.

I tried to see SHARON JONES AND THE DAP KINGS but apparently the bill at Antone’s was running late, so I saw ANITBALAS, a Brooklyn based Afro-Cuban band. This large band, about ten or eleven in number, was a veritable United Nations with its mix of ethnicities and backgrounds. They created a very potent FELA-esque stew of heady Afrobeat. This was an excellent surprise; the kind of surprise that sometimes happens when you have to camp out at a venue to see an artist who is performing later on the bill. However, I craved a more upbeat rocking fix, and therefore I left to see THE WOGGLES.

Perhaps the best live band in America, The Woggles floored me when I saw them at South by Southwest several years ago and again last year. They are America’s great party band, with matching outfits and choreography as well as great frat rock tunes. My friend D. IRWIN MACKENROTH says “they will restore your faith in rock ’n’ roll.” Sadly, the venue was at capacity and despite waiting for some time, we never got to have our faith restored by The Woggles.

However, we realized that because Antone’s was running late, we still had a chance to see Jones and the Dap Kings. We arrived just as they were taking the stage and they played a great set despite extreme provocation (sound difficulties including a broken microphone and no sound check). The Dap Kings are about the best (and the only) band I have ever seen to play JBS-style funk. They really have that genre nailed and Jones can surely sing as well as whip up a crowd. While Jones is not as explosive as JAMES BROWN, she is a better pure singer and that says a lot. They rocked the house fully and completely before being told that they had to leave the stage at 2:15 A.M.

Quite a mix of styles for one day, but that’s one of the things that makes South by Southwest great.


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