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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

There is no better way that I can think of to begin this week of what I assume is going to be pure madness than with a set by an amazing songwriter and performer. John Moreland most certainly fits the bill on both points. Moreland weaves deep and mostly dark stories about the human heart and the South, drawing from the same well as Springsteen does and certainly did for his amazing Nebraska record so many years ago. Moreland's songs bring to life vivid characters to which we can all relate, tales of pain and love and life and friendship and betrayal; the kind of songs that sink into the listener all the way down to the bone. It is always a treat to hear Moreland play his songs solo acoustic, as they are presented in their most stark and basic form, bare and perfect, with nothing extra to obscure their potency.

It is rare to find any good entertainment on the streets of Austin during SXSW. There is a cavalcade of college kids with dreadlocks and acoustic guitars sitting around strumming their awkward nonsense and this year there has been a plethora – already – of dudes beating sticks on all manner of plastic bucket drum sets. So it is really a joy when a band really delivers on the street. As I was moving to the next show I wanted to see I heard the unmistakeable sound of Moon Hooch coming to me from the corner of 6th and Neches. The bands very unique sound, based entirely around a drummer and two - yes TWO - saxophones, always makes for an interesting show. The band is ultra dynamic live and busking on the street corner of Austin proved no different. The band played for just over 30 minutes and when I arrived on the scene they already had about 75 people around them, leaving them plenty of space to move. People were dancing in the streets, clapping their hands, bouncing up and down, and yelling for more. By the time the crowd realized the band were finished playing and started chanting for an encore, there was easily more than 300 people surrounding the guys, leaving them very little space to move about. I have never in my 21 years of coming to South By Southwest seen a band that could captivate a street audience the way that Moon Hooch did tonight, not only holding folks' attention, but growing a crowd larger than I believe I've ever seen assemble for an unknown indie band. The power of good music to make a crowd feel alive still exists!

I caught the second half of the set from Austin's UME. This semi-traditional rock'n'roll 3-piece has changed quite a bit since I last saw them two summers ago. UME's music was always full of energy but their sound has evolved into a thicker, more vital and rich aural experience. Somehow, the band seems to be making more sound and doing it with a bit more aggression, recalling the energy of early Black Sabbath at times.

I had come down to the new Cheer Up Charlie's to see a set by Residual Kid, a band I saw for the first time at last summer's Denver Post Underground Music Showcase. If you haven't already heard the mythology of Residual Kid, I will give you a quick brief. The band is a 3-piece affair, skirting the line between punk and rock that we have come to term grunge, a style that was put forth in the early 1990s by bands like Nirvana, but the real catch is that none of the three kids are over the age of 16 and at least one of them is only 12. These kids know how to play some rock though! Their set showed that they have been writing new material that has matured and the band seems to be trying new things, stretching their wings as it were. Building on the core of noisome grunge rock the boys incorporated some more psychedelic guitar effects into one or two songs and their overall sound is less straightforward, building more melodic guitar parts onto the still-throttling rhythm section. Residual Kid played a Sonic Youth cover, and that is a great idea of where the band's new material seems to be leading them. But let us not be concerned about them losing that youthful brashness we came to love when we first saw them, they ended their set with a Nirvana cover, complete with kicking over the drum set.

11:00 on a Tuesday night and already the lines to get into venues are in full effect. I stood in an alley for most of the set by Archie Powell and the Exports and finally got into the venue to catch the last three songs. Archie and his band turned in an excellent, high energy set full of klanking guitars, full force drumming, and gritty organ. Their sound is American rock'n'roll in its most basic and pure form, a little bit noisy and feeling a touch loose. Their songs are solid and fun to listen to and to dance along with, and this crowd was certainly no exception as everyone's heads were bouncing along to the beat. Archie ended the powerful set with a little bit of a crowd surf... and nothing says rock'n'roll more than being hoisted above the heads of the audience by the members of the audience.

-David DeVoe


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Mike Doughty



Pink Floyd

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