The SXSW experience you’re hoping to have is one where one band seamlessly gives way to the next, where not too much of the evening is wasted away waiting in lines, and where you wind up seeing excellent bands you’ve never heard before that reward you with the satisfaction that even though 100 other acts are on stage at that moment, you’re happy to be right where you are.
That’s a lot to ask, and going into my last night in town, I hadn’t exactly been hitting it out of the park, what with long lines and pesky deadlines getting in the way of non-stop live music consumption. It had been a week of mostly good-to-great stuff, but I hadn’t come to close to having a night where everything went right from start to finish.
I didn’t expect that to change on Saturday, either, what with seemingly every bands I wanted to catch - New Zealand indie-rockers Preatures, English psych band Temples, Austin one man band Shakey Graves, hard core country throwback Sturgill Simpson - all scheduled to be on stage at 11 p.m. It’s a SXSW problem.
Whatever. Rather than worry about it, I started off with a band I had never heard but whose name I could not resist: Guantanamo Baywatch. The band name of the week, and the best flippant reference to a geopolitical flashpoint since the Gaza Strippers.
Turned out that Gitmo B’watch are a surf-rock band from Portland, Oregon, a frisky threesome that trashes up its Ventures sonic adventure with a fair share of scuzzy grit and low down rockabilly rave-ups. Good times, and in my favorite new thumbnail sized Austin venue, just around the corner from Stubb’s.
J. Roddy Walston.
Next, it was over to that outdoor space for J. Roddy Walston, the Baltimore piano man who my astute friend Trip places at the crossroads between Little Richard and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I had never seen Walston before, but I’m sure I will again: The hirsute frontman write songs worth investigating - check out "Don't Break The Needle," for starters - and brings a preacherly intensity to pulling the crowd into action. Also: Best hair waving of SXSW.
I hung around Stubb’s for the first few songs of Preatures, the Australian buzz band I had attempted and failed to see twice earlier, including at Maggie Mae’s earlier in the day when a long line inside the venue (after a different long line outside the venue) turned me away and towards the scary gentlemen of Black Parrot you see pictured here that were playing on another stage inside that venue.
But I digress. Preachers are fronted by captivating lead singer Isabella Manfridi, who plays keyboards and, on the basis of the band’s 2013 single “Is This How You Feel?” has been hyped as perhaps, quite possibly, it could happen... this year’s Haim. Not likely, I say: Preatures aren’t nearly as disarmingly odd as that L.A. sister act, but on the basis of the three songs I heard, I’d say there’s a chance Manfridi could be this year’s Feist.
Onward to Sturgill Simpson, the Kentucky hard-core country singer who Waylon Jennings fans need to investigate immediately. He played at another excellent venue I had never been to before this year: The St. David’s Church Sanctuary, another testament to the uniqueness of South by Southwest, where a multiplicity of traditional venues are augmented by lots of makeshift ones, some of which, like the mechanical bull bar Rowdy’s where Jon Langford was unjustly relegated to on Friday night, don't work at all, and some of which like St. David’s, which are superb.
As was Simpson, a man who spoke few words, other than to dedicate one song to recently deceased Texas songwriter Steven Fromholz. Simpson has the kind of badass baritone that air-brushed beefcake contemporary country stars dream about. But he’s doesn’t overdo the tough guy stuff. No need to show off when you're in command of so many moves, from scuffed-up honky tonk to precisely picked bluegrass after the manner of fellow Kentuckyan Bill Monroe. Most impressive.
Where to next? A quick scan of the schedule, and a move was made to catch Cody ChesnuTT, the guitar slinger still best known for penning The Roots signature song "The Seed 2.0.", at the Holy Mountain Backyard. Bingo: ChesnuTT, who finally followed up 2002’s The Headphone Masterpiece with 2012’s Landing On A Hundred, performed while wearing a Carolina blue hardhat too small for his head, which it seems is his wont.
I think of the Atlantan as a guitar slinger, but he took the stage not playing his playing his axe at all, instead letting his crack band lay down a sleek, funky groove and concentrating on unleashing his inner Marvin Gaye on a catchy set of old school R & B flavored tunes, mostly drawn from the new Landing On A Hundred B-Sides album which is peppier than you might expect. ChesnuTT’s definitely his own man, too. You knew he was going to end with “The Seed,” right? Had to. Sorry, he didn’t play it.
Time for one more: Back to Headhunters for The Dollyrots, the two-thirds female L.A. punk-garage trio whose singer Kelly Ogden took a year off to give birth to her first child, and thus named the band’s new album Barefoot and Pregnant. Guitarist Luis Cabezas is the father, and together the two of led the way through an hour long set packed with original nuggets like the Underground Garage radio hit “Because I’m Awesome,” as well as a handful of deliciously fun covers - “Melanie’s “Brand New Key,” The Ronettes “Be My Baby,” The Ramones' “I Wanna Be Sedated” that were enough to tell you that to know The Dollyrots is to love them.