Memphis at SXSW



8Ball & MJG headlined the Memphis Music Foundation showcase at SXSW.
  • 8Ball & MJG headlined the Memphis Music Foundation showcase at SXSW.

SXSW 2010 was frenetic, a mix of almost frantic hype over up-and-coming talent and recognition of established artists from Smokey Robinson to Hole to Stone Temple Pilots. But the sudden passing of Big Star’s Alex Chilton on the opening day of the festival cast a pall over the weekend. Reverberant excitement from the festival, at events like the Memphis Music Foundation showcase at Barbarella, and the Goner Records show on Saturday afternoon, couldn’t alter the poignant emphasis on Memphis music’s loss, embodied in Big Star’s Chilton-less reunion show.

The Memphis Music Foundation event at Barbarella offered a strong line-up of local talent, starting off with Harlan T. Bobo, shrouded in darkness save for one electric blue light. Then the effervescent, dreamy, and sweet Star and Micey took the stage, encircled by white string lights and a row of cardboard green grass. The two started the show with a short lead-in from Big Star's “Thirteen”. Big Star drummer Jody Stephens played alongside the Ardent Music group, and said a few words in Chilton’s honor.

The Magic Kids were a feature attraction at the Goner Records showcase.
  • The Magic Kids were a feature attraction at the Goner Records showcase.
Ben Nichols and Cory Branan were set to play next, but Nichols was in absentia for unknown reasons and a friend of Branan’s stepped in for his boot-stomping, acoustic brand of Memphis music. Lord T and Eloise got aristocrunk to smoke machines, blue strobes, and dancing crowds, and, after Hill Country Revue brought it all back to the blues, 8Ball and MJG played to the biggest crowd of the evening. Although SXSW is a festival of fairly peripatetic crowds, the Memphis Music Foundation event was well attended and should have been a good learning experience for the woman I heard at the bar saying “I came to hear Memphis music. This isn’t Memphis music.” Wrong. And a perfect reason why having a Memphis contingent at the festival is so important.

The Saturday Goner Records event at Beerland was equally crowded, although the post-Friday-bender haze made for a much more subdued group, head bobbing to Sector Zero, Ty Segall, and The Limes. I got there in time for CoCoComa, the punk band from Chicago with an unfinished feel, full of false starts and straight out of the garage. Magic Kids were up next with ’60s surfer pop, and if The New York Times was right that this year “catchiness was king,” then the Magic Kids were right on track with “Hey Boy” and “Good to Be.” Bobo was the capstone of the event, playing songs from his soon to be released album, Sucker.

Big Star’s performance at Antone’s, sans Chilton, was one of two tributes to erstwhile Memphis artists; the other a gathering of punk bands and River City Tanlines on Thursday, playing in honor of Jay Reatard, who passed away in late January. It has been a rough start to the year for Memphis music. Memphis artists at SXSW took time to pay respects while keeping an eye on the road ahead.


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