Jon Dee Graham
My SXSW show list is usually built around bands that I’ve never seen. Jon Dee Graham is the rare exception who makes the list every year. His gruff voice fits well with the bit of his lyrics, not to mention his razor-sharp guitar-playing. And his stories and between song banter, rich with a distinct dark humor, are equal to his songwriting.
This is thowback soul in all the best ways. Saadiq has the presence and moves of the classic soul men (Sam & Dave, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke) and the songs to match. Saadiq was backed by a top notch band, complete with a mighty fine horn section, making for a stirring performance.
Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings
The real deal. ‘nuf said.
J Roddy Walston & the Business
This band came highly recommended by an acquaintance who knows of which he speaks. And he was right. Roddy and the crew are, simply put, a rowdy rock and roll band. Most songs have a sing-along component and the quartet are intent on throwing down a feel-good groove. And when Roddy hits the keyboard, what out!
San Diego’s Steve Poltz playing an outdoor patio on a sunny afternoon, a cold Shiner Bock in my hand. Does it get any better? This was the moment when all my cares and concerns disappeared. Damn it felt good.
Adding to the fun was 2-year old Tassie, who competed with Poltz for the crowd’s attention. Poltz climbed off the stage to sit on the ground and sing to her. He even played kazoo. Surprisingly, she played it coy. She did, however, clap for him at the end of the song and waved to the band. They waved back.
Not to be outshone, Poltz and company then performed an impromptu song called, you guessed it, “Tassie.” Brilliant.
It is hard to go wrong with a Lucero show these days. The new album is tremendous, the horns give the songs a shot of soul. Heck even the old songs sound great with the horns, and they were pretty darn good already.
This was one of those special SXSW moments, the chance to see an established artist play an intimate venue, in this case a small function room at an upscale hotel. Citizen Cope kept the capacity crowd enthralled with just his voice and guitar. His songs are a potent blend of acoustic blues with a touch of hip-hop flair; his lyrics are intense and challenging.
Roman Candle has a dual personality. On record, they are tremendous purveyors of smart pop, intelligent and well-crafted, with an organic, roots feel. Live, however, they crank up the energy and volume for a full-on rock show.
I kicked off my SXSW experience with a rousing set from this Murfreesboro, Tennessee quintet. Kelly and Joey Kneiser share vocals in a manner that recalls vintage X while the band fuels them along with a whiskey-soaked Southern barroom feel.
The band’s late 2009 album “Message to Garcia” slipped under the radar for many. The sound walks the line between punk rock and power pop, keeping the best qualities of both genres. Singer-songwriter Rachel Flotard is an engaging presence, mixing humor and attitude.
I only caught a bit of this LA rhythm and blues band but it was more than enough to impress. The nine-piece group hits the sweet spot between a contemporary sheen and a classic 1960’s soul groove. I’m anxiously awaiting the chance to see a full set soon.
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About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.