SXSW | 03.17.10 | Austin, TX - Day 1

Words & Images by: Sarah Hagerman

Wanda Jackson & Green Corn Revival

Wanda Jackson :: 03.17.10
SXSW is geared towards pushing what's up-and-coming, but it also provides exciting chances to see legends in intimate settings. When the MC strolled out onto the Palm Door stage to announce Wanda Jackson - "The newest member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The first lady of rock and roll! The queen of rockabilly!" - a gal that had roses tattooed from her wrist to her shoulder screeched in excitement and a dude with a pretty fierce wedge haircut and checkered jacket pumped his fists in the air. "I love singing to a pole!" she declared with a laugh, eyeing the rather unfortunately placed pillar smack dab in the center of the stage, before launching into "Mean Mean Man." As Green Corn Revival laid down rough-and-ready country, with slinky steel guitars and the occasional peppy trumpet, she wailed in her high, hundred proof voice. Armed with yodels, a kick ass pink guitar and stories about dating Elvis, at 72, Jackson is one feisty firecracker in a red fringe blouse. With classics such as "I Gotta Know," one of the first rockabilly songs ever recorded from 1956, and a killer version of "Heartbreak Hotel," she oozed timeless rock and roll attitude. But this was no nostalgia set. With a new album produced by Jack White, Jackson is still a force to be reckoned with. During her fantastic take on Amy Winehouse's "Trouble," she leaned suggestively against the pole, posing and pointing to folks in the audience as she drew out the lines, "I told ya I was trouble/ You know I'm no good." I overhead someone behind me declare, "Yeah, she's still trouble." I would suggest to anyone that comes to SXSW to try and catch at least one such show to realize, even in the midst of flash in the pan culture, there are artists who endure, and even stay fresh, after decades in the music industry.

Anais Mitchell

Anais Mitchell currently has an ambitious project, Hadestown: A Folk Opera. Based on the Orpheus Tale and set in a post-apocalyptic, depression-era America, folks like Justin Vernon, Greg Brown, and Ani DiFranco play the roles of Orpheus, Hades and Persephone, respectively. But tonight, it was just Mitchell and her guitar. She hushed the intimate crowd at The Ale House, some of whom sat frozen on the floor, causing Mitchell to remark, "I feel like it's story time in the library." With the Guinness and Lone Star-soaked mayhem of 6th Street's rage-a-thon pumping a block away, it was a welcome slice of peace, though her words touched on places that shook you to the core. For example, "Why We Build the Wall," where Hades asks a series of rhetorical questions to a group of children living in his walled city. "Why do we build the wall?/ We build the wall to keep us free." Freedom in this case means protection from the starving, poverty-stricken masses outside the gate. It was a bit Orwellian, and at a time where the social problems that confront us are often met with hostile indifference by those that feel entitled to clutch their piece of the pie, it hit a nerve. I couldn't help but imagine the stark, barbaric wasteland of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and woke up this morning unable to escape this image below, sung by Persephone in another tune:

The earth is a bird
On a spit in the sky
How long?
How long?
How long?

Bowerbirds

Danny Barnes :: 03.17.10
You had to feel for Bowerbirds. The crew running the Brooklyn Vegan showcase at Club De Ville took over half an hour to sound check the band, and after the first song, "Silver Clouds" from their stunning album Upper Air, guitarist Phil Moore broke both his pick and one of his strings, causing keyboardist and accordion player Beth Tacular to sigh, "Disasters everywhere." But the band took it in stride, playing a set that positively glowed, with a warm, inviting folk sound that you just wanted to join under the covers. "House of Diamonds" is Zen philosophy set to music, a reminder that true freedom exists inherently in our mind and once you open yourself to that place, you have the strong heart to let the world inside: "Yes, you own the stars/ You own the thunder/ But you have to share it all." This is the kind of band that builds you up into something stronger and reminds you, "Hey, shit happens." It's all strikes and gutters, ups and downs, and all you can do is abide.

Danny Barnes & Honky

It's a rare artist that can slip their material into different mediums and have it work just as well. But when you've got a set of songs as strong as the ones on Danny Barnes' latest, Pizza Box, the work speaks for itself. Although he usually plays his solo shows with his banjo and laptop, using Ableton software to loop and create texture, this night Barnes was backed by Honky - Jeff Pinkus (Butthole Surfers) on bass and Justin Collins on drums, later joined by Bobby Rock on guitar. It was an amped-up approach that suited the songs to a tee, as Barnes' latest work travels from the sincerely touching to the unabashedly badass. At one point, he had us all verklempt during love song "Overdue," his banjo dancing lightly over Pinkus' melodic low end. Later, he picked up a flying-V guitar and wailed with a beaming Bobby Rock on "Road," his tale of a methamphetamine dealer hell bent on destruction. The latter was the perfect lead-up to an end cap of Honky songs. Running on pure diesel, where even the girls on the mud flaps would be giving you the middle finger, Honky took us for a whirlwind ride as they stretched their time to the max. There's a dirty grind with a rough-and-tumble heart in their sound, and Barnes' wild guitar freakouts fit perfectly. The grins on their faces and laughter as they would catch each other's eyes said it all – these cats were having a hell of a party up there, ripping it apart for those of us left standing at the brink of 2 a.m. at The Palm Door. Although he hasn't called Austin home for awhile, at one point a gentleman in the back cried, "Welcome home, Danny!" A true original who has never fit in anyone's box, Barnes' presence is certainly a welcome addition to SXSW this year.

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