SXSW: The Young and the Old

Boots Riley, left, and Tom Morello in the Street Sweeper Social Club

The death of Alex Chilton may have put a bit of a chill on the SXSW festival in Austin this weekend, but many of the younger people who don’t know the work of this genuine original couldn’t care less.  They are here to see the thousands of new faces visiting Texas in the springtime of their careers, and to hear some fine music.  When the occasional big name drops in that’s just icing on the cake but they do tend to steal the spotlight away from the showcases of up-and-coming talent.

Friday night the line to get into the not-so-secret Muse show at Stubb’s snaked all the way down Red River, an even more impressive queue than Metallica mustered last year.  Those without those cool badges or VIP designations were out of luck, and many lined the roof of a nearby parking garage to get a glimpse of the light show and hear a snatch of music.

The Jim Jones Revue

Badgeless and wristband-less, we plunged headlong into the music on a sunny Friday, sampling the tasty sounds of Music By The Slice at Home Style Pizza, which is part of the South Congress scene quickly growing to rival the antics of better-known Sixth Street.  We caught electro-poppers the Woodhands, from Toronto, who had a fine set of melodic emo.  Lead singer Dan Werb plays a Roland “key-tar” while drummer Paul Banwatt keeps a steady beat.  Local faves A Giant Dog kept the between-set energy going with some really nice garage band rock.

We hoofed it to a grassy field on the Sixth Street on the other side of the freeway for the Mess With Texas festival, wishing to see the Jim Jones Revue from England.  We reviewed these guys a while back and were eager to see how their high-energy rock and roll translated live.  No disappointments here, even though lead vocalist/guitarist Jim Jones was a bit rough-voiced from playing the night before, and there were some audio problems.  But they played it in the red – and guitarist Rupert Orton kept dipping back into his bag of truly nasty lead work, while piano player Elliott Mortimer became the crazed offspring of the Faces’ Ian McLagan.  Man, these guys are great!

I wore this goofy hat with a peace sign that I bought at the 40th anniversary of Woodstock last year.  A few people commented on it, maybe to make fun of the old guy, but I must say there’s no way you can stand out in a SXSW crowd.  It’s about as over-the-top as you want.  We saw one rap group, Medicine Man, who had raps about legalizing marijuana for medical purposes (wha?).  That was their whole show … they are led by DJ Ignite, winner of two Global Marijuana Awards, whatever the hell those are.  Ignite’s son, E-40, is also in the group.

Anyway, after their set DJ Ignite found me and said “I saw you in the audience, I love that hat.”  He already had his flat-brimmed A’s ball cap turned backward, so I didn’t offer it to him.  But he saw the Woodstock 1969 date and commented that Woodstock is a touchstone in his life, even though he was actually born in June 1969.  “Guess I’m the old guy in this crowd,” he chuckled.  I didn’t tell grandpa I’m nearly 15 years older than him.

Tom Morello jokes with the crowd

And what would SXSW be without some unexpected craziness – we were beckoned to snazzy club the Belmont for a promised show by guitar legend Tom Morello and his new band, the Street Sweeper Social Club.  With the Coup’s rapper Boots Riley providing the rhymes, the group is really powered by Morello’s guitar pyrotechnics.  Because it’s Tom Morello, you’re going to get plenty of socially conscious lyrics and stuff set over a fiery rock-rap beat.  Riley is no Zack de la Rocha, thankfully – he is a much better showman, though.  “I don’t just want to listen to the music,” he told the crowd, “I want to get involved!”

They played most of their eponymous first album, with highlights including “100 Little Curses” and “The Oath,” with its rousing “fight, motherfuckers!” chant.  Toward the end of the show, Morello thanked the enthusiastic crowd and told them the SSSC’s mission and message is “Feed the poor, fight the power and rock the fuck out!”  Don’t know how they’re coming with the first two, but on the third one they sure did.

Morello’s appearance didn’t create the buzz that the Muse appearance, and scheduled sets by Courtney Love’s band Hole, Snoop Dogg and others caused.  People seemed to be determined this year to seek out the unknowns, and that is certainly a good sign for the future of this big festival.  The “side” parties with free admission outnumber the “official” SXSW events by nearly three-to-one, and it’s even more heartening to see so many young people at these events.  This is their moment, this is their Woodstock.

YouTube: “The Oath” by Street Sweeper Social Club at SXSW, March 19, 2010

Video: “Mama Said Knock You Out” at SXSW, March 19, 2010

Vodpod videos no longer available.

One Response to “SXSW: The Young and the Old”

  1. Great post 🙂

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