One of the good things about SXSW is the mix of all kinds of styles. There is a misconception among some of my fellow Norwegians that in Texas, everything is about country music. They can’t be more wrong, and specially during SXSW. I’d rather say there could be a little more country at the festival. On Wednesday I managed to see two metal bands – one sludge metal, the other doom metal – two country/Americana acts, a psychedelic pop act, one old time rock hero, a pop and rock singer songwriter and a modern pop artist. (Picture above: Aurora)
To make sense of all this diversity in styles, luckily the festival has programmed the festival so different clubs have some sort of unity in their acts. And some of the clubs are known for their specific programming outside of the festival, so you have a fairly good chance to not only check who are playing the festivals, but you can check the venues for who are playing there if your tastes go to a specific style.
I had never been to the new Antone’s since they moved from East Riverside, so I started there with Ron Pope from Nashville. He is best know for his 2005 hit A Drop In The Ocean, which he co-wrote with Zack Berkman. As a songwriter he is competent and writes good, catchy melodic songs that he performs with a characteristic voice. His band was good, and he was a positive surprise to me.
Next out at Antone’s was Hailey Whitters. She is a country singer from Iowa, who lives in Nashville, and describes herself as a late bloomer, having released her first album last year. The album, Black Sheep, is a good collection of personal songs, like One More Hell, which is about her brother who died at 19. Another gem is the slow waltz Low All Afternoon, who has been recorded for an upcoming album by Martina McBride. On stage Hailey Whitters does a good job with her band, and her strong and clear voice.
After Hailey Whitters, I ran over to the Dirty Dog Bar to se Khemmis, a sludge metal band from Denver, Colorado. They have a hard, but melodic sound. They are also, as is usual with most metal bands, extremely precise and well played. In 2015 Khemmis released their first full-length album, Absolution, and it is well worth listening to.
From Dirty Dog Bar it was back again to Antone’s to see Corey Smith. His music is also country, but he mixes some old-time bluegrass vibes with newer and more rock-oriented elements. Corey Smith is to me the typical country storyteller. He did his first hit song from the 2003 album, Undertones, Twenty-One at Antone’s, and it is easy to understand why it became popular. He also did his live favorite, F*** the Po-Po and songs from his latest album, While The Getting’ Is Good.
After Corey Smith I went up to 6th Street, the first and only time during this year’s festival, to see Aurora at Maggie May’s Rooftop bar. Aurora is the young new Norwegian star who was a guest at the Jimmy Fallon Show two days before she sang at Maggie May’s. The Maggie May Rooftop is a rowdy joint, with sounds from the band below and from 6th Street, so I was a bit apprehensive to how Aurora should take it. But she was a sport and did an excellent performance, in spite of all the noise, which shows her professionality, even at the age of 19. Check out her debut album, All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend, if you like high quality modern pop music, she is definitely worth it.
I left Maggie May’s Rooftop to see Leon Russell at Antone’s. He is the man who wrote Delta Lady for Joe Cocker, and was part of the infamous tour with him, Mad Dogs and Englishmen in 1970. Before and after that Leon Russell worked as a studio musician and sideman with the Wrecking Crew in the mid 60s, playing with who’s who in pop music from that decennium.
Leon Russell played with Delaney & Bonnie’s band and wrote songs that have been recorded by many different artists. His maybe best known song, is A Song For You, which have been recorded by, among them, Willie Nelson, Amy Winehouse, The Carpenters, Ray Charles and Whitney Houston. On stage Leon Russell sits behind his white grand piano and doesn’t do much more than sing and play. But just to see and hear a legend like him topped the night for me.
After Leon Russell it was time for something completely different, and back to the Dirty Dog Bar to see the last couple of songs by Conan, a doom metal trio from Liverpool, UK. The trio released their latest album, Revengeance a couple of months ago. What I heard of Conan’s style is less melodic than Khemmis, with many rhythm changes and an energetic drummer.
The last act I managed to see Wednesday night, was Mercury Rev. The last time I saw them was in 2006, and they had the same members then as now, with singer Jonathan Donahue prominently in center. Their latest album, The Light In You, was released in October last year. Musically Mercury Rev is often described as psychedelic rock or dream rock. Whatever the name, their music is both catchy and floating, with a creative use of electronics together with guitar, bass and drums, and with Donahue’s voice floating along on top. Mercury Rev was a perfect musical end to a long night.
All photos are © Per Ole Hagen and must not be used without written permission.