AUSTIN Another long day of Memphis music at Austin's South by Southwest Music Festival began concurrently. At the convention center, indie-poppers Two Way Radio delivered an acoustic set in front of the Memphis Music Foundation booth. Several blocks away, at the Scoot Inn, John Paul Keith & the 145s kicked off a day party hosted by Memphis' Goner Records
"Good morning everybody," Keith said to a sparse 1 p.m. crowd that consisted of two Memphis journalists, Goner co-owner Eric Friedl, a few stray music fans, and three members of one serious-looking motorcycle gang. "Welcome to the hangover special."
And so it was: At a festival where live music runs from noon to 2 a.m. everyday only if you skip after-parties, three days can feel like three weeks and most Memphians who had been in town since Wednesday were feeling the drag. During the day, we alternated between two Memphis-centric day parties within a few blocks of each other: There was the Goner party, where the crowd picked up considerably later in the afternoon and Memphians No Comply inspired high-school nostalgia from both me and photographer Justin Fox Burks with their blast of Antenna Club-era hardcore. Just down the road, at the venue Shangri-La, an Ardent-sponsored "Six Degrees of Memphis" party turned into a relaxation-friendly home-away-from-home affair with a large group of Memphians watching local faves such as Jack O & the Tearjerkers, Amy Lavere, and Snowglobe. Most memorable might have been former Memphian Cory Branan, now living in Austin, who played an alternately fierce and funny acoustic set.
Later last night, at the MusicMemphis/$5 Cover showcase at Halle Cabana 6, the instrumental trio City Champs (supplemented by a horn section here) got the party started with a hot set of Memphis-style (meaning all groove and punctuation, no jam-band noodleing) jazz and R&B.
After having Eightball & MJG no-show at the Music Foundation showcase the night before, MusicMemphis/$5 Cover had their own scheduling issue when Harlan T. Bobo pulled out of the show. Showcase organizers needed a quick fill-in and found a good one in the form of Valerie June, a local folk/country/blues singer who appears in $5 Cover but didn't have any shows booked in Austin. She was just in town to support the other local acts, so organizers had to hunt down an acoustic guitar on the quick, which none of the local bands playing last night had with them.
MusicMemphis's Jeff Schmidtke heading out on 6th street searching for an acoustic he could borrow. Just when he had given up hope, he was approached by a man eyeing his bright blue University of Memphis T-shirt. The man didn't live in Memphis anymore, but had attended the U of M. After a bit of small talk, Schmidtke asked, "You wouldn't happen to have an acoustic guitar we can borrow?" The Tigers pulled one out again.
June charmed the audience with an impromptu set, joined onstage by fellow Memphian Jason Freeman (of the Bluff City Backsliders) for a Mississippi John Hurt cover. She was followed at the showcase by Ron Franklin, Keith and the 145s, Hill Country Revue, Susan Marshall (set to play with Jody Stephens and Teenie Hodges), and Amy Lavere. Meanwhile, a few blocks down 6th street, Lucero's Ben Nichols was playing a solo showcase to a packed house, flanked by Rick Steff on a accordion and Glossary's Todd Beene on steel guitar.
After a long day of seeing Memphis bands, we closed the night (and our abbreviated-by-a-day SXSW trip) with the New York Dolls. The proto-punk, glam-rock, "American Stones" band that released two classic albums (New York Dolls and Too Much Too Soon) in the early 70s and then fell apart, only to resurface (with two lone original members singer David Johansen and guitarist Sylvain Sylvain) with 2006's impossibly grand comeback album One Day It Will Please Us to Remember Even This.
Despite their three-album discography, I think the New York Dolls are one of the very greatest rock-and-roll bands. And I also love that comeback record to pieces. But I still had muted expectations for the live show: Johansen and Sylvain and getting up there and their new sidekicks are just that. But the Dolls were amazing, ripping through classics like "Trash," "Looking for a Kiss," and "Personality Crisis" with an almost shocking blast of noise and spirit, Johansen such commanding presence that I wondered how his "lost" years could have lasted so long. And 2006 gems like the utopian "We're All in Love" and the party anthem "Dance Like a Monkey" sounds just as classic as the old stuff. They also played a couple of terrific new songs, whetting the appetite for second comeback album due in May.
With that, were back on the road home, missing the final day of the festival, where Goner Records will present their official showcase. Look for more festival coverage in next week's print edition of the Flyer. -- Chris Herrington