Sometimes the events with the fewest people at SXSW are the most fun.
Thursday's noon showcase at the Park across from the Convention
Center (nicknamed Concentration Moon) did not draw many contestants
but provided more than a few delights. Hosted by New York's Bowery
Poetry Club, the gig offered attendees the chance to hear scruffy
young poets deliver gnarled observations about the New Jersey turnpike
in between some exhilarating music, especially by the outstanding
young band Fireflys, who closed their set with the dance
anthem "It's a Party."
That song could have been the theme for the week because behind every
club door, inside every parking lot, behind every chain link fence
somebody was having a party, showcase or music blast all over town. I
made my way over to the New West party but didn't stay long as the
music was less inspiring than it has been in the past and I didn't
recognize as many people as usual. South Austin beckoned. Up and down
South Congress there was one wild time after another. Hard to beat
the all day party at Yard Dog, the great art and curio shop with
bands in the back yard and free beer under the blistering hot Texas
sun. Toward the end of the day Black Joe Lewis played a transcendent
set at Yard Dog, which as usual was wall to wall people in the
backyard spilling out into the alleyway up and down the street. Lewis
is a young blues player with a great voice and an instinct for Texas
blues guitar. Working with a San Antonio-style horn section Lewis
plied his way through blues warhorses like a seasoned veteran. It's
great to see a new generation of Texas bluesmen (Gary Clark is
another) carrying the torch for this great music.
Speaking of Lewis and Clark, they were joined on the SXSW Austin
Chronicle Music cover by a real pioneer, Roky Erickson, and that same
day Roky was at the bottom of the hill at Threadgill's hosting his
ice cream social. At the end of Roky's set the crowd went wild as the
red bearded Billy Gibbons strapped on a guitar to join Roky for the
last four tunes of his set, including "Red Temple Prayer (Two Headed
Dog)" and an incredible version of "You're Gonna Miss Me," songs
Gibbons knew from Roky's days leading the legendary Texas psychedelic
rockers 13th Floor Elevators.
"I told 'em I'd do it if they ley me play the electric gong solo,"
joked Gibbons, who fit into Roky's tightly-knit band like he'd been
playing with him all his life. It was really interesting to hear
Gibbons back up a harmonic line, play a fill or just accent a single
note and recognize that unmistakable tone from a million Z Z Top
records. At the finale Gibbons finally cut loose after playing the
respectful backing musician, unleashing a fearsome solo that ended
with him playing with only his left hand as he let the neck slide
down through his fingers in a showcase move.
"I've idolized Roky all my life," Gibbons later explained. "When he
was 19 I was a 16 year old following his every move. As far as his
singing goes, it's like him and Little Richard, forget the rest. When
you have a voice like that you don't realize how you're doing it, it
just comes naturally."
Gibbons was in such high spirits that he jammed again later that
night upstairs at the Continental with the Mike Flanigin B3 trio, playing Albert Collins-style blues licks while Flanigin played his B3 and Chris Layton sat in on drums. It's good to see Gibbons hanging and playing in different settings. Could it be that this Texas guitar giant is paving the way for a solo project?