SXSW 2014 — The Sounds, Part 2

The Hold Steady

I’m a big Dave Alvin fan. Unfortunately for me I discovered the Blasters, the seminal band co-founded by Dave and his brother Phil, after they went their separate ways. I was hooked, though, on their encyclopedic knowledge of American music — everything from folk to country and from blues to vintage rock and roll — and their ability to infuse that knowledge into their own incredible music and performances.

Well, guess who’s back? The brothers have reunited and are about to release an album of songs by blues musician Big Bill Broonzy. Their late afternoon appearance at the annual Conqueroo/Guitartown day party was easily one of my SXSW highlights. After several songs from the Broonzy album, they joined together on a fiery take of “What’s Up With Your Brother” from Dave’s most recent solo outing. They closed with the Blasters classic “Marie Marie,” sending the crowd into a euphoric state.

Brooklyn-based Mills jump-started my musical year with the outstanding Alexandria, an album destined for my best of 2014 list. He enlisted a trio of “pick-up” musicians to support him for his SXSW appearance. One would never know that the group had minimal rehearsal time. They rocked through a short set of Mills’ gems, songs both new and old.

I’ll once again thank Jimbo Hart, bassist extraordinaire for Jason Isbell and others, for introducing the Twangville posse to the Muscle Shoals sextet the Bear. Their music can be a bit somber but is always joyful in its own subtle way. Their live performance brilliantly captured the nuanced arrangements from their recorded work.

Duhon’s 2013 Grammy-nominated release sounds better with each subsequent listen. His all too brief set included all of my favorites while showcasing his soulful voice and satisfying melodies.

I’d heard a bit of buzz about this young (no member older than 18) quartet from Ireland. They didn’t disappoint with a powerful set that came across as a mix of the Who’s bombast and Oasis’s attitude.

Click HERE for more Twangville coverage of SXSW.

Photo credit:  Jack Epsteen.

SXSW 2014 — The Sounds, Part 1

The Hold Steady


While I may not be as crazy the friend who chased the band around Austin for the band’s 7 planned shows, I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to see the Brooklyn rockers celebrate their first album in 4 years. I accompanied said friend to the front of the stage where we were treated to what was easily the most intense show of the week.

Craig Finn has always been a passionate and entertaining singer. Having him stare you down while he is spitting lyrics at you, however, is an experience that I won’t soon forget.

I’ll proudly say that Loveless was the first artist that I saw perform upon arriving in Austin. I can’t imagine a better way to kick off my 2014 experience. Loveless and crew certainly did some kicking as they powered through a set that leaned heavy on her fine new album.

I violated one of my SXSW rules and caught the Columbus Ohio trio a couple of times over the course of my visit. One minute I was enthralled with the depth of their songwriting, the next I was lost in the potency of their performance. Damn if it wasn’t a righteous racket.

As much as folks complain that SXSW has become a showcase for mega-stars*, there are some real gems to be found if you look for them. One such discovery was Austin singer-songwriter Ramirez, who I watched play an early evening solo acoustic set in a hotel lobby. Apparently I wasn’t the only one who wanted to catch him as the lobby quickly filled with people. Ramirez didn’t disappoint. His set was a wonderful showcase for his restrained yet emotionally charged songwriting.

*Kanye and Jay-Z? Intrigued, but no thanks.

I rarely pass up the chance to see Doe perform, even more so as his solo outings to the East Coast have declined in recent years. He had a full band in Austin, giving his cutting songs an even sharper edge.

The husband and wife duo of Chris and Eleanor Masterson were among the last sets that I saw in Austin. They led their band through a rocking set that leaned heavily on songs from their forthcoming album. If their performance was any indication, it should be their best release yet.

Click HERE for more Twangville coverage of SXSW.

Photo credit:  Marc “One-Hour Photo” Cusa.

SXSW 2014 — The Scene

The Hold Steady

For me, the true harbinger of spring is the arrival of the SXSW Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas. Or rather, spring begins for me when I arrive in Austin for SXSW. With upwards of 2,500 bands and 20,000 attendees from around the world, SXSW is the world’s premiere music conference. Even better, it is one heck of a party.

Over the next week I’ll be sharing some of my highlights from SXSW 2014.


Any discussion of SXSW has to start with the horrifying hit-and-run tragedy that occurred early Thursday morning. There are two schools of thoughts, views that are not mutually exclusive. First, that SXSW has simply grown too big to control. Second, that is that it is near impossible to prevent stupid people from being fucking idiots. The irrefutable truth — this was a senseless tragedy that will forever scar the event, the city and all those whose lives were impacted.


Ok, maybe I’m starting to sound like a grump but it was damn near impossible to navigate through the thousands of people who descended on Austin. The mass of humanity on 6th St was at best frustrating, at worst unnerving (but apparently not for the infamous pizza-eating guy.)

Still AvailableI’m hardly the first to make note of the ever-increasing corporate presence. Of course, that didn’t stop me from taking advantage of the fully-charged replacement batteries being handed out by a cell phone manufacturer or catching a complimentary ride from the car manufacturer showcasing their latest vehicles. The definition of absurdity, however, was Lady Gaga performing a private concert for those who posted to a particular social media channel about a specific brand of corn chips.


Dan BlakesleePerhaps it is because I’ve become a bit more passionate about my home town, but Boston damn sure came on strong at SXSW this year. You’d think that I have plenty of opportunity to see these artists in Boston so would focus my attention elsewhere while in Austin. Yet there I was, loving every minute of it.

A plethora of New England artists planted the regional flag on 6th Street for the two-day South by Northeast celebration. The Silks, Tigerman WOAH, Old Jack and others demonstrated why the region is such a hot-bed of great music these days.

Personal faves Girls Guns and Glory, Amy Black and Sarah Borges all but set up shop at the G&S Lounge. The Girls Guns and Glory crew told me that they played a whopping 17 shows in five days, a mix of their own gigs and backing up Black and Borges.

The icing on the proverbial cake? After an absence of several years, Boston busker Mary Lou Lord made her return to the streets of Austin. There’s nothing like closing out a night watching her strum a couple of tunes, both originals and classic covers.

(That’s the always colorful Dan Blakeslee in the photo.)


The Singer-Songwriter Rises Again
One of this year’s great pleasures was the return of the song. Sure, it’s never quite gone away but it came into clearer focus this year. Brooklyn’s Chris Mills and New Orleans artist Andrew Duhon brought bands but let their songs stand front and center. Later in the week I watched Austin songwriter David Ramirez captivate the crowd in a hotel lobby.

Bring on the Rock
Never Mind the Punk RockThere was plenty of good ol’ rock and roll to be found all over Austin. Personal favorites the Hold Steady celebrated the release of their latest album with a healthy dose of their dual guitar attack. Lydia Loveless raised the stakes to three guitars with her spirited sets while her fellow Columbus Ohio residents Two Cow Garage served up their own sets of ferocious rock and roll. Austin’s own the Riverboat Gamblers celebrated their first ever gig at their hometown’s legendary Continental Club with an electric performance with no less a rock authority than Peelander Z’s Kengo Hioki rushing the stage towards the end of their set.

Sidemen Stepping Out
It was great to see some notable musicians step from the shadows and into the light. Chief among them was Social Distortion guitarist Jonny Two Bags (aka Jonny Wickersham) who just released a solid new roots-rock album. Among the others that I caught were longtime Paul McCartney guitarist Rusty Anderson who, not surprisingly, played a healthy dose of melodic power pop.

Click HERE for more Twangville coverage of SXSW.

Photo credit:  All photos courtesy Mike Panico except “Space Available”, courtesy Brandon Carson

In Memoriam – Dave Lamb

Dave Lamb of the Providence, RI-based duo Brown Bird passed away this past weekend. The circumstances are heart-wrenching. Lamb fell ill with mysterious symptoms while touring Texas last year. In a tale that is all too familiar, Lamb had no insurance. Fortunately, he was able to get home and secure insurance for what became a year-long battle with leukemia.

Lamb was a fighter to the end, persevering through chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. He kept an optimistic attitude and continued to write as he counted down the days until he could return to the road with his wife and musical partner MorganEve Swain.

When all seemed hopeful, the situation suddenly changed as his leukemia returned with a vengeance. Within a week he was taken from us.

The outpouring of support that Lamb received during his battle and upon news of his passing is a true testament to the man and the musician. His appearance was somewhat intimidating yet he was, by all accounts, a gentle giant. His music, while seemingly dark, was rich in texture and vibrant storytelling.

Rest in peace, Dave. You’ll be sorely missed.

Here’s a song that Lamb wrote during — and about — his battle. Below is a video from Brown Bird’s appearance at the legendary Newport Folk Festival in 2012.

Pete Seeger, 1919 – 2014

We lost a legend yesterday, a man who changed the world with both his spirit and his song.

Here are two videos to celebrate Pete Seeger’s legacy. First, Seeger leads Neil Young, John Mellencamp, Dave Matthews, Willie Nelson and the entire audience in a version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” at the 2013 Farm Aid concert.

Second is a vintage Seeger performance from a late 1960′s appearance on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.”

We’re gonna miss you, Pete.