The final day of Austin's body-taxing SXSW Music Festival kicked off for yours truly with none other than the legendary Rakim. Anyone into hip-hop knows Rakim is straight up the man, and after his Stubb's show his stock as a performer went through the roof. Live hip-hop is so often a disappointment, but what Rakim did with a bangin' ten-piece band was inspiring. There were drums, keys, percussion, turntables, bass, guitars, flutes, and more, all mixing in the warm Austin air as Rakim let it flow smooth and easy. By the time "Paid In Full" emerged there were hands in the air, women gyrating, and sweat pouring everywhere. Towards the end of his set, Rakim pointed at the band as he spoke to the crowd, "This is why we started sampling. We wanted it to sound like this." The man's word is golden, and so was this band.
Rakim :: 03.17.07 :: SXSW
Seeking shelter from the sun led me to David Dondero in a dark, beer-drenched bar known as Room 710. When folks first hear Dondero they may pick up a heavy Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) influence. What these people don't understand is they have it all backwards - Conor is influenced by Dondero. They both have a shaky, fragile delivery and write deeply personal tales but Dondero was doing it first, something Oberst is happy to confirm. Regardless of the timeline, what Dondero does on stage (and record) is criminally overlooked. The guy lets his heart hang heavy on his sleeve but doesn't get bogged down in the usual whining "why me" mentality. Instead, Dondero songs like "Rothko Chapel" feature a man expressing his views on religion, art, music, nature and more. Performing for an intimate SXSW crowd, Dondero won over every soul in the bar.
David Dondero :: 03.17.07 :: SXSW
THE JAMBASE SHOWCASE
This year the JamBase showcase was held at Opal Divine's Freehouse and began with West Indian Girl. By the time this six-piece psychedelic, electro-rock band took the stage there was a line snaking around the corner. Featuring fabulous male-female harmonies, a pulsating, dance-heavy backbeat and spaced out synth jams, West Indian Girl delivered the goods.
West Indian Girl :: 03.17.07 :: SXSW
The second slot belonged to Electric Apricot, Les Claypool's tongue-in-cheek jab at the jam world (think Spinal Tap). Although there is an element of comic relief you wouldn't know it by the quality of their playing. Sure Les plays drums, goes by the name "Lapdog," wears tie-die, burns sage and sings about "going to Burning Man" and "opening Chakras" but the music is good enough to recall Traffic and other legendary rock outfits. After watching Electric Apricot one can't help but be impressed by the versatile bass-man-on-skins. In addition to the music, it's about time someone addressed the hypocrisy that runs through parts of the jam scene. I've always laughed at those dirty "vegan", extra kynd, uber-hippies hawking crappy E. coli-infested burritos and bumming cigarettes while their dogs lay chained to the car. Leave it to Claypool to pull a movie and rock band out of such chuckle-inducing subject matter.
Stephen Kellogg was scheduled to play our showcase but got snowed in and never made it to Austin. In a last minute swap, the fine folks at SXSW assigned Dark Meat to fill the void. With what appeared to be 15 people on stage, this massive collective was a wonderful surprise. A swarming horn section washed up against the reed instruments, percussion and large vocal component for drugged-out rock with a punk esthetic and Albert Ayler mentality. Refreshingly original and captivating.
JJ Grey & MOFRO :: 03.17.07 :: SXSW
When JJ Grey & MOFRO play you know you're witnessing the real thing. JJ oozes soul and his revamped band with horns (featuring members of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings for SXSW) is better than ever. Starting off with the title track from the band's new release, Country Ghetto, their set was hot from the start and never let up. Other songs of note included "War" and a spine tingling "Lochloosa." Moving from guitar to harmonica to organ, JJ can do it all, but it's his songs and delivery that make MOFRO special. The only thing we could have asked for at our showcase was more time for MOFRO! It was an honor to host these guys, and we look forward to this band's continued rise.
I've been keeping an eye on Outformation since they got their start in 2004. Having seen guitarist/vocalist Sam Holt perform with Widespread Panic I knew he could shred but as the band begins to gel one gets the sense that these cats might just make it to that proverbial "next level." It took a little while for Outformation to find their groove, but once they did it was on. While the vocals and some of the song structures have room to improve, when the instrumental jams started firing it hit hard. Of particular note were the last two songs they played. Looking around folks were absolutely letting loose. In fact, I saw one guy flat out fall over in a "I can't take anymore" motion. Outformation is a young band with a bright future. I was impressed with their growth and look forward to my next encounter.
Sam Holt - Outformation :: 03.17.07 :: SXSW
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