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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Getting a chance to see Steve Earle play is always a pleasure, and when it's the man by himself with just an acoustic guitar, it turns out even better. I caught Earle playing a short acoustic set at Auditorium Shores in front of the city of Austin. This dude sure can sing, and whether in a small club or a giant outdoor amphitheater, it is sure to be a great show. Earle played through a couple of newer songs, probably new stuff from his soon forthcoming record with what he claims to be the finest band he has ever had the pleasure of playing with. The songs were beautiful and perfect, full of heart and stories of America and its people. He played a couple of crowd favorites and ended the set with a ripping version of “Copperhead Road.” Even in a set this short the man easily proves that he is one of the country's greatest songwriters and an enduring and captivating performer.

I finally got a chance to catch a set from one of Memphis' true musical treasures, Star And Micey. This was their 16th set of the week and their last. The band was in fine form, full of energy and performing their collective ass off. There is so much heart in this band, and it shone through in the songs and the performance. I cannot imagine that the crowd was having a better time than the band, and the crowd was having an absolute blast. Not only that, but this is one of the tightest loose bands I have ever seen, not mising a beat when tempo changes came up or groove changes snuck in, the entire band of four moving as one solid unit. Amazing stuff. Their sound moves among so much that it is hard to pin down exactly, but it has ample quantities of Memphis soul mixed in, rock'n'roll rhythms, and campfire anthem energy. But one of the most impressive things about the band is their vocal harmonies. All four sing and whether it is two or four, the harmonies are vibrant and tight; perfect. The band is almost as much fun to watch perform as they are to hear; the band moving around, jumping back and forth, coordinated guitar moves, and the like. But at the end of the set, the band really brought the house down by putting down their instruments and grabbing acoustics and jumping down into the audience to play one last fantastic song, completely unplugged and intimate.

Anders Parker has been making great music since the late 1990s when he was in a band called Varnaline, then had a nice little indie rock solo career going with a couple of fantastic record. Lately he has been involved in a lot of great projects, including one with Jay Farrar and Jim James playing a bunch of “new” Woody Guthrie songs. His latest, and possibly greatest, project is called Anders and Kendall, and features the indescribably beautiful and uber-enchanting indie rock goddess Kendall Meade. This new collaboration has given birth to some amazing songs, songs that retain Parker's signature sonic print, while being remarkably more tender and intimate in tone and verse. The melodies are brilliant, and the voices work together beautifully on harmonies, not surprising since Meade has sung on most of Parkers' material over the past ten years. The guitar is tight and cool, perfectly underlying the beautiful vocals in an easy, relaxed manner. The songs include hints of '60s and '70s pop, indie rock, and modern Americana and everything rolls together perfectly into a thing of complex and shining beauty.

I decided it would be best to wrap my SXSW shenanigans up with a band that I have loved for more than two decades. (Is that possible already?) I remember when The Ocean Blue released their record Cerulean to rave reviews in the shoegaze community, at the height of the genre. Having not heard their last EP and record, but hearing a lot about a forthcoming new album, I was excited to see how the band has kept up the good fight. I'm very happy to report that they're still a great band, doing a fine job of continuing to make music, sidestepping a bit of the indie rock they'd fallen into during the 2000s and once more constructing songs with walls of guitars. Not every song, but a few of them. Some of the tunes still have a nice lilting indie rock vibe, clever melodies and chiming guitars, but at least two of the new songs were awash in swirling guitars and thick, droning bass lines. They rounded out their set with a couple of tunes from Cerulean; heady and beautiful! A perfect way to end my week of music.

-David DeVoe


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