April 01, 2005


Checking out Crowell and the rest at SXSW '05

"Is it four in the morning yet?" Rodney Crowell sarcastically asked the travel-weary faithful who stuck around into the wee hours at Antone's on the opening night of SXSW 2005.

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Crowell (above) proved to be as feisty and inspired in person as he is on his recent recordings. Crowell clearly was not happy with taking the stage at 1:15 a.m., but turned that energy to his advantage in one of the best performances of this year's festival, which ran from March 16-20 in Austin, Texas.

As the crowd thinned and SXSW goons tried to wave him off the stage at closing time, Crowell led his band from one song right into another while the clock ticked past 2:30. The veteran singer/songwriter picked up steam with each number, playing a rousing version of "Like a Rolling Stone" near the end of the set, inviting up several of the night's previous singers and seemingly anyone else who wanted to get on stage.

Crowell wisely drew mainly from his last two critically acclaimed albums, The Houston Kid and Fate's Right Hand, in addition to unveiling four or so tunes from his new one, The Outsider, due in June.

While the content of the previous two records was largely autobiographical, the new numbers cover topical and political ground. On first listen, they appear to cover it well with only "Don't Get Me Started" coming off a bit cumbersome.

Musically, Crowell may not be able to be pinned down as simply alt-country (although he obviously predates the label) for much longer. He allowed his band to stretch out and really rock, with Nashville, Tenn., guitarist Will Kimbrough taking full advantage and the rest of the band (a bassist, drummer and keyboardist) following. That tone was set in the opening number, the 2003 hit "Earthbound." Kimbrough took the smooth banjo riff that carries the tune on CD into a rocking jangle that rivaled Mike Campbell's heartbreaking best.

Crowell may forever be best known as the songwriter behind 20-year-old hits for the Oak Ridge Boys, Bob Seger, Emmylou Harris and dozens more, but as far as his own work goes, his SXSW showcase proved he is still in the prime of his career.

The Best of the Rest

* The Time Flys and The Gris Gris
A couple of rocking young bands out of Oakland, Calif., highlighted the Birdman Records showcase Wednesday night at Club DeVille. The Time Flys features Andy Jordan of the Cuts on guitar, but instead of structured garage-pop of the Cuts, Jordan's buzz-saw chords and blistering solos propelled The Time Flys on a trashy, fun punk course.

The Gris Gris mix Velvet Underground minimalism and Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd-isms to come up with a frighteningly (that's a positive) groovy mix, and the DeVille crowd ate it up.

* The Crack Pipes
Austin locals cobble together a dirty style of new wave funk and punk along with the gospel (!) ravings of front man Ray Pride to create a clatter that could pass for a garage version of Tom Waits' Island years. Pride and company were able to overcome the pathetic stage and sound at the Jackalope for the second year in a row on Thursday night to win over a new crop of converts.

* Th' Losin' Streaks
Four revved-up mod-punks from Sacramento, Calif., floored the Beerland crowd on Sunday night, sending SXSW out with a bang. Another hopeless sound system (a recurring theme at SXSW) was overcome by the frenetic energy of these Billy Childish disciples. Look for the band's album/CD on Slovenly.

* The George W. Bush Singers
Picking on W's grammatical flubs is an easy target, but this choral ensemble had the Cedar Street Courtyard rocking and rollicking, putting the commander in chief’s greatest hits to some sort of twisted Godspell soundtrack.

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* The Allen Oldies Band
They're all originals -- someone else's originals. Proof that bands to get signed at SXSW: A deal was cut right on the sidewalk in front of Rue's Antiques Inc. on South Congress Avenue on Friday afternoon to book these guys, led by Allen Hill (above), on their first tour of New Jersey in May. Don't miss it!

-- By Joe Belock

* Shakin' Street is a regular column by writer-at-large Joe Belock, the host of the Three Chord Monte radio show on free-form WFMU-FM in New Jersey.

Posted by medleyville at April 1, 2005 08:44 PM