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Saturday, March 19

On Saturday I stopped in for the Denver party, hosted by Reverb. There were some great bands playing, and A. Tom Collins turned in a really, really excellent set. His music, on the second floor patio, brought in plenty of folks off the street to see what the hubbub was all about. His band is really gelling nicely, the songs are getting fleshed out and things are tightening up quite a bit. I predict great things for this group of super-talented folks this year.

Frank Smith is an Austin band that I've seen a few times over the past few years, and every year they get better and better, through various line up changes and a changing of sound; this band has slowly morphed from more of an indie rock band into an Alternative Country powerhouse. The newer songs are nice and gritty with huge dynamic presence. The songs are fantastic, filled with masterful songwriting and brilliant musicianship. Layers of guitars and keyboard make the sound even more beautifully lush and huge than ever before.

I decided I would spend most of the rest of my evening at the Bloodshot Records showcase. I arrived in time for the inimitable Maggie Bjorklund to begin her set. She was joined on stage by an excellent backing band and the beautiful and sultry Rachel Flotard on vocals. Bjorklund plays the pedal steel guitar, and she definitely has her own voice on the instrument. Her songs are very Old World sounding, drawing heavily from the European folk music that she surely grew up with, but mixing in copious amounts of the Southwestern flavor that the band themselves provided. It made for a sound that would be more aptly described as European Cowboy Music or Old European Southwest music. The music is dark and sad, but filled with the spirit of the Spaghetti Westerns, but without the twang. Moody and beautiful,. I will definitely be finding Bjorklund's new record.

Exene Cervenka was next… and I was so totally underwhelmed with her performance this year, much like I was when I saw her perform solo about 8 years ago. Her new record is probably going to be amazing, the songs are obviously wonderful and well-written, and her voice sounded fantastic. She was her normal crotchety old self on stage, more gruff than friendly, although she did try to interact nicely with the crowd and express her gratitude for all the years of fans that had listened to her sing. The soundman really started to do a bad job at this point, and I begin to feel like no one could hear themselves on stage. Exene's guitar playing slacked a bit and would constantly be going out of tempo and racing to catch up to the rocksteady drummer. Maggie Bjorklund joined Exene on stage for a few songs and that helped pull everything together a bit more. These songs are wonderful, filled with clever sentiment and beautiful lyricism, but so much of that gets lost to distraction when the rhythm is constantly falling a little bit apart. I just wish she had sung and had an acoustic guitar player to accompany her and the band.

Eddie Spaghetti was next, and the set was once more plagued with shitty sound. But with an unstoppable juggernaut like Eddie at the helm, the band forged ahead, rocking the night in a supremely country way. Eddie's new record features a lot of older Country and Western cover songs, and his show reflected that. The microphonic feedback and muted instruments were distracting, but not nearly as much as they had been during Exene's set, because this 4-piece band just played right on through it. Once a train of seasoned musician starts rolling, it just keeps on rolling as good as it can. Eddie covered a lot of ground during his set, touching a lot on his latest record Sundowner, a collection of trucking songs new and old, but also playing some classic Supersuckers tunes as well. Cha Cha Cha!

The Waco Brothers were not having a very good time of it with the soundman. The mandolin player couldn't hear himself at all, and as the band tried to get the sound guy to give them some monitors over and over it got to be a bit overwhelmingly bad. Finally ringleader John Langford good naturedly just told the band to start the set and forge on ahead. Despite the horrible sound problems, the band tore it up from the very first note of their set, ripping through song after song from their catalog. Langford spent a few moments between songs joking with the band and the audience, and getting folks riled up a bit, building the energy in the room like a true master. This set proved to me once more that no one rocks like the Waco Brothers. Well, almost no one.

As a side note… this venue [Red Eyed Fly] had the worst soundman I have ever seen in all my years of attending SXSW. I don't know what the story was or whose cousin the dude behind the board was, but I was so distracted and enraged by halfway through the Waco's set that I just had to leave.

I finished up my night by heading down 6th street to see Jesse Malin play. I hadn't seen him play in probably seven years, and man, a lot has changed. Malin is definitely playing up his Ryan Adams fetish even more, moving away from his alt. country beginnings and building a tight, rock and roll band. But by abandoning his country roots, Malin also sounds more like himself. I would just call this Brooklyn hipster hard rock, but laced with tons of soul and meaning in the lyrics. The music and the band were gritty and earthy in their rockiness, harmony vocals making the songs much better than they would have been without. Malin took a couple of his older songs and revamped them to fit with this new harder rocking style and the beautify of the songs still shined through the new loud mayhem… unfortunately, his nonsensical ego got hold of him and he started believing that he couldn't hear himself on stage, which caused a bit of a meltdown and caused the stage manager to have the soundguy pull the plug on the vocals. The medium-sized roo he was playing got very tense very quickly, with Malin flipping the middle finger at the sound guy and the crowd getting restless and chanting that they wanted him turned back on… It seems Saturday was to be the night of sound problems and ridiculous egos…

-David DeVoe


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