little or no compromise
James McMurtry has fierce dedication. SXSW began for me at the Coqueroo showcase at Mother Egan's. Small stage on the patio behind a deck with crowded tables. There is a chatter about the crowd. At a showcase of songwriters it seems a bit odd the songs take a back seat to the scene. James McMurtry stares down the chatter. His writing doesn't give in to commercial radio boundaries. In a moment, a song, he silences the crowd. There can be great power in uncompromised personal vision.
At the other end of 6th Street, Emo's hosts the next wave of songwriter/musicians in another outdoor tented venue. Jason Collett begins by thanking Austin for giving him an early leave of the Canadian winter. His songs, and performance, are very reminiscent of electric Dylan. He opens with "Roll On Oblivion", the first track on his latest cd, "Here's To Being Here". His live show takes the recorded versions of his songs one step further. His personal vision may be somewhat still in a formative state, youthful energy is a vision all in it's own.
Met a Norwegian producer and Californian promoter in line for Van Morrison later that afternoon. I'd never seen Van and decided it was worth the investment of time-in-line. These guys had great war stories of the music business, also photo credentials to get them in the photo pit at the front of the stage. Three song limit for photos, then they are out. Having invested probably too much time in line, I wound up at the fence right in front. There is no three song limit to stand there.
Van's band is eleven deep. Cindy Cashdollar on pedal steel, various guitars and percussion, bass, horns, background vocals, and great organist he seemed to particularly respect. Van smiled and even chuckled a bit in the opening five minutes, settled into a focused, intense awareness of the band's efforts. A couple off stern looks to the lead guitar, moving instrumental solos across the band's personnel. Van is Van. Unencumbered by the uncertainty of an early career, as Jason Collett may be, it's all about what he hears in his head, and how closely the band translates his sound.
He never reached the moment of vision James McMurtry did. Larger venues are not as accommodating to that sort of thing.
To close out the night I found my way to the front of Pangaea's, a overly controlled club with an uncomfortable sense of superiority. Security guys in black suits. Hmmm.
Texas songwriter in the country mode, Bruce Robinson, opened. Bonnie Bramlett followed. Haven't followed her career, and only marginally familiar with her earlier work with Delaney, she was a delight. Upbeat, happy, playing familiar styles, familiar songs. It began to put me to sleep.
I know Daniel Lanois from his recordings and work producing other artist, Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Neville Brothers, and was very curious to see his live show. He was accompanied by one drummer, Brian Blade from Louisiana. The guy next to me recognized him.
Daniel Lanois is a force. He is completely in touch with the musician within him. It was one of the most beautiful, challenging, edgy performances I've seen. Particularly given the tight corporate structure of the venue. He turned it upside down, and took the audience with him. It was a musical rebellion.
Then guy sitting next to me, when he recognized the drummer, said "This is going to one great show". Turns out he was right.
He looked very much like Buddy Miller.