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Travelin' Bands

Austin's South By Southwest bleeds over into Memphis to create an accidental

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Austin's South By Southwest Music Conference, set for Wednesday, March 12th, through Sunday, March 16th, may be the largest annual gathering of up-and-coming bands and music-industry tastemakers in the country. And while, on one level, it may be sad to see this event happening in Austin rather than Memphis, our relative proximity to that Texas music capital does have its rewards: So many bands stop off in Memphis (and nearby Oxford) on their way to and from SXSW, local clubs become host to a sort of unofficial music festival for a few weeks each March. (And the exchange works both ways: Check out Local Beat on page 33 for a rundown of the Memphis and Mid-South acts heading to Austin.)

This year may boast the biggest and best crop of SXSW-related local shows ever. Snax Booking's Chris Walker, who had a hand in setting up many of these shows, says he can't remember there ever being so many notable shows hitting Memphis due to SXSW. We count 19 shows over the next 18 days featuring more than 30 bands as a direct result of SXSW, and that doesn't even include a few shows that have already happened (Florida emo band Further Seems Forever) or that finally stroll into town at the end of the month (garage-rockers the Detroit Cobras). What follows is a critical guide to all the action:

Thursday, March 6th

Willie Nelson & Family

The Library (Oxford)

This living legend needs no introduction, of course, but of late there are at least two Willie Nelsons: There's the aging icon who makes gimmicky, star-laden albums such as The Great Divide and Milkcow Blues for major labels, the former a Grammy nominee despite being one of the worst albums he's ever made. And then there's the living, breathing musician, who makes modest, spontaneous little records with his family and touring band, like the jazzy instrumental record Night & Day, the stripped-down Me and the Drummer, and, best of all, the life-affirming, family-holiday singalong Rainbow Connection. Chances are the latter is what you're going to get for this show, and that's good news indeed.

Friday, March 7th

Ol' Yeller

Two Stick (Oxford)

This three-piece bar band from Minneapolis fits comfortably within the Twin Cities tradition of rootsy white-guy guitar bands, which runs the gamut from post-punk touchstones the Replacements and Soul Asylum to more recent alt-country elder statesmen like the Jayhawks, the Gear Daddies, and Golden Smog. This modest but reliable outfit, led by Rich Mattson, whom the Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages has called the Cities' best songwriter, will be making their second area appearance, after playing Murphy's a year or so ago.

Saturday, March 8th

The Oxes and Cass McCombs with Automusik

The Hi-Tone Café

The Oxes are a three-piece (guitar-guitar-drums) instrumental metal/hard-rock band from Baltimore whose taste for over-the-top live antics and publicity stunts precedes them. Frequently compared to instrumental outfits such as Don Caballero and the Fucking Champs, the Oxes reportedly use cordless guitars to assault the crowd and even outdoor passersby in a more direct manner than is conventional. But trickery aside, the band's purported solo-less mix of power-chord blasts, riffs, and martial drums sounds like a good recipe.

Label-mate Cass McCombs couldn't be more different. A solo singer-songwriter who's an emerging star on the "anti-folk" scene, McCombs has played with Will "Palace" Oldham, and his richly melodic new EP, Not the Way, sounds sort of like current-model Beck without the single-minded mopery.

With local musical performance artists Automusik rounding out the bill, this could be the sleeper show of the month.

Jucifer with Go Fast

Young Avenue Deli

A two-piece band made up of a fetching rock-geek girl and a scrawny, dark-haired rock-geek boy, frequent visitors Jucifer are sort of a Southern grunge version of the White Stripes, only, in this case, the girl (Amber Valentine) sings and plays guitar, while the boy (Ed Livengood) pounds the skins. The band's Athens, Georgia, buddy Michael Stipe calls them a Southern gothic version of PJ Harvey, which is being a bit too kind to Ms. Valentine despite her considerable talents. Musically, Jucifer is closer to the metal side of Nirvana, a two-person racket where dreaminess and horrible noise are in constant conflict for musical supremacy. Little Rock's good-rockin' Go Fast, who frequently share a stage with Memphis' own Subteens, open.

Edwin McCain

The Lounge

South Carolina singer-songwriter Edwin McCain isn't a typical SXSW performer. Amid a landscape of cutting-edge post-punk bands, boozy garage-rockers, and hard-edged roots performers, McCain's fraternity-friendly roots-lite is a decidedly mainstream sound. He's also different from most SXSW performers in that he's sold platinum before. But McCain's latest is The Austin Sessions, recorded partly in that SXSW home and in Nashville. McCain also has his hand in our own music mecca between those two country-music capitals, serving as the host for the pilot version of the local song-swap The Acoustic Highway.

Sunday, March 9th

King Missle III

The Hi-Tone Café

The pranksters behind such early '90s novelty hits as "Detachable Penis" and "Jesus Was Way Cool" return with their first new album in five years, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, which comes with this helpful and appropriate warning sticker: "Parental Advisory: Contains lots of curses. Do not buy!"

This latest edition of the group is still led by John S. Hall, whose stand-up-comic monologues -- less out-there than Steven Wright, less politicized than the late Bill Hicks, but with elements of both -- are backed by a spare musical bed of piano, fiddle, percussion, and samples. He attacks Dubya with crude glee on "The President," congratulates Jennifer Love Hewitt for her post-9/11 "restraint" ("I didn't see her on TV at all") on "JLH," and ponders the taboo on "Eating People." In other words, things are back to normal for these guys.

Monday, March 10th

The Dirtbombs, The Forty-Fives, Whirlwind Heat

The Hi-Tone Café

For my money, the best bands playing Memphis as part of this month's spate of SXSW-related shows are Clem Snide and the Drive-By Truckers. But I imagine that a good many knowledgeable local music fans would choose the Dirtbombs, and as far as what the best show is likely to be, it'd be hard to argue.

Fronted by Mick Collins, whose early band the Gories gives him deep ties to the Memphis scene (the Reigning Sound's Greg Cartwright is the first person thanked on the liner notes to the Dirtbombs' most recent album, Ultraglide in Black), the Dirtbombs are a dual-drum, dual-bass garage-rock assault, perhaps the most overtly soulful of the current crop of garage bands. Ultraglide in Black is Collins' tribute to the black rock and soul he was raised on, mixing originals with hard-edged covers of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, George Clinton, and Gamble and Huff, among others. I was out of town during the Dirtbombs' last local appearance, over Memorial Day, but I've heard so many raves over it that I won't dare miss them this time around.

Filling out a raucous triple bill is Atlanta garage-rockers the Forty-Fives and Michigan's Whirlwind Heat, the first band the White Stripes' Jack White has signed to his new label.

Burnt By The Sun, Dysrhythmia

Precious Cargo

New Jersey's Burnt By The Sun debuted their take on post-hardcore extreme metal with last year's Soundtrack to the Personal Revolution, released on key heavy-music label Relapse Records. They'll be joined by Philadelphia's Dysrhythmia, whose own take on progressive metal is said to lean toward avant-jazz and indie rock.

Tuesday, March 11th

Clem Snide and Cub Country

The Hi-Tone Café

"Your favorite music/Well, it just makes you sad/But you like it/Because you feel special that way," Clem Snide's Eef Barzelay sings on the title track to his band's 2000 album, Your Favorite Music, and the attentive listener may be unsure whether Barzelay is commiserating with them or mocking them, because the answer is probably both --this is, after all, a band equally capable of a devastatingly sincere cover of Ritchie Valens' "Donna," which they include on Your Favorite Music, and a delirious, tongue-in-cheek cover of P.Diddy's "Bad Boy for Life," which they busted out during their last Memphis gig.

Barzelay has emerged over the last few years as one of the shrewdest and most gifted songwriters on the planet, equally capable of breaking your heart with an unexpected insight or twisting the knife with his cruel, cynical wit. And the great part is that his band's music actually matches his lyrical flights at every turn -- the band's 2001 near-masterpiece, The Ghost of Fashion, an acoustic-based gem that lightly references country, classic pop, and the string-laden gorgeousness of vintage New York soul with a musical depth largely unheard in indie rock. Stated plainly, this is one of the best bands around right now, and you should take the time to see them before these super-smart guys figure out a better way to earn a living than by swimming upstream in a music industry they're probably too good for. The band's next album, as yet untitled, is due in late spring.

Opening is Cub Country, an alt-country band fronted by Jeremy Chatelain, the erstwhile bass player for emo godfathers Jets To Brazil.

90 Day Men with The Glass

Young Avenue Deli

This Chicago band doesn't produce the most straightforwardly accessible sound around, but their mix of syncopated percussion, pastoral piano, and breathy, slurred vocals has a beauty to it. Tune in to the lyrics and you'll hear poetic non sequiturs, extended metaphors (life as turntable bound to wear out on "Last Night, a DJ Saved My Life"), and conflicted homages to Morrissey. Ah, indie rock. Locals The Glass open.

Wednesday, March 12th

Dead Meadow and The Witnesses

Young Avenue Deli

Among other things, SXSW is about catching a glimpse of "next big things" while they're still largely unknown, and, along those lines, this pairing may well be the most intriguing of the SXSW-related shows to hit town this month.

Washington, D.C.'s Dead Meadow will get a boost this summer when their third album, Shivering King and Others, is released by venerable indie-rock label Matador (once or current home to Pavement, Liz Phair, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and Yo La Tengo) in June. Meadow is a "power trio" who proffer a post-punk take on such epic classic-rock bands as Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin. Their music is heavy and psychedelic, driven by dreamy, fuzzed-out riffs, sometimes hyperactive drums, and yearning, nasal vocals. I can't remember the last time I heard rock music this slow that held my attention so completely.

Joining them are the Witnesses, a bunch of Brooklyn kids who have been compared to the New York Dolls, Television, and um the Strokes.

Thursday, March 13th

Cherry Valence, Modey Lemon, and The Mistreaters

The Hi-Tone Café

Hailing from Raleigh, North Carolina, the Cherry Valence are a rock-and-roll band, straight, no chaser, splitting the musical difference between '60s garage-rock and '80s metal. The band's latest album, Riffin', couldn't have been more appropriately titled.

Perhaps more compelling is Pittsburgh's Modey Lemon, a raw drums-plus-guitar duo whose proto-punk blues with Bo Diddley beats seems to owe as much to the Animals as to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Chances are you won't be able to make out many of their B-movie lyrics, and chances are it won't matter much.

Rounding out the bill is Milwaukee's garage-rockers the Mistreaters, one-time labelmates of Memphis' Lost Sounds, who will join Cherry Valence on Estrus Records when their new album drops this summer.

Sunday, March 16th

Minus the Bear

The Hi-Tone Café

Seattle's Minus the Bear are a math-rock band whose musically complex post-punk sound owes more to that other Washington (D.C.) than to the grunge and indie-rock heritage of the Pacific Northwest. Imagine Fugazi with a sense of humor and you'll have some idea of what to expect.

Monday, March 17th

Avail, Ensign, and The Natural History

The Hi-Tone Café

Richmond, Virginia's Avail have been around for a decade, plying their brand of Southern-fried hardcore for standout punk labels such as Lookout! and Fat Wreck. New Jersey's Ensign are a more traditional brand of hardcore. The Natural History aren't hardcore at all: Led by former Memphian Max Tepper, these indie rockers are one of New York City's up-and-coming bands.

Om Trio

Proud Larry's (Oxford)

San Francisco's Om Trio are an organ-based, groove-oriented jazz band in the spirit of Medeski, Martin & Wood whose sole album at this point is a live two-disc set, so expect plenty of exploratory, improvisational jamming.

Tuesday, March 18th

Phaser and The Baseball Furies with

The Final Solutions

Young Avenue Deli

With soaring guitar anthems emerging from lengthy passages of ambient noise, Washington D.C.'s Phaser owe more to atmospheric bands from across the Atlantic, such as Radiohead, Sigur Ros, and Spiritualized, than to the punk and indie rock bands in their hometown. They'll be playing with Buffalo's Baseball Furies and locals the Final Solutions.

Wednesday, March 19th

Pleasure Club and Val Emmich

The Hi-Tone Café

New Orleans' Pleasure Club is a swaggering post-punk band that's been compared to Gun Club and the Cult and was recently named one of the "100 Bands You Need to Know" by Alternative Press. New Jersey's Val Emmich is a heart-on-his-sleeve post-emo solo guy, part of a growing new breed led by performers such as Dashboard Confessional and Conor Oberst (the Bright Eyes frontman who, perhaps to his credit, hasn't gone "solo" quite yet).

Saturday, March 22nd

The Drive-By Truckers

Young Avenue Deli

It's been a rocky road for the Alabama-based, Memphis-connected Drive-By Truckers, whose name suggests novelty band (think Dead Milkmen) but whose records and live sets suggest "World's Greatest Rock-and-Roll Band." Okay, so maybe that's a bit much, but the band's impassioned three-guitar attack and frontman Patterson Hood's intense, witty treatises on "the Southern Thing" are something special indeed.

Sunday, March 23rd

Kathleen Edwards and John Eddie

The Hi-Tone Café

With a singing style that sounds eerily like Lucinda Williams but with a songwriting voice all her own, Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards gets my vote for Best New Artist so far this year.

Joining Edwards is John Eddie. Who the hell is John Eddie? Eddie was a fixture of New Jersey's Asbury Park scene in the early '80s, his shows at the famous Stone Pony drawing the attention of favorite son Bruce Springsteen, who would occasionally join Eddie on stage. This helped Eddie get a major label deal that didn't amount to much. Now he's back.

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