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I’m old, I’m tired, and I went to a rock show last night (part II)

March 20, 2012

“All music comes from God.”

~Johnny Cash

If I wrote about the power of music to bring people together, would you hold it against me?

I know.  It’s been said over and over again.  Everyone from Plato to John Denver to T.S. Eliot has referred to music’s ineffable potential; its capacity to unite, to soothe, to embolden.  I guess everything I’ve ever written or said aloud — everything I’ve ever thought — is a concept previously crafted by someone far more skilled than I.  If I avoided writing what’s already been written, there wouldn’t be anything left to say.  I suppose that’s really the point:  to talk/think/write about what’s already been talked/thought/written about, bending it to my will, making it my own.  Still, I’m compelled to acknowledge that I’m unoriginal, lest anyone out there think I believe differently.

We’ve now completed the navel-gazing portion of this post.  Thanks.

In Friday’s post, I introduced the Yep Roc showcase Steve and I attended Thursday night at The Continental Club.  The whole South by Southwest experience really began, though, the moment we parked the car and walked out onto the street.

It is intimidating, if you’ve never been, wandering down South Congress Avenue in the middle of SXSW.  There were lots of beautiful, exotic, young, strange, exuberant people.  A tangible energy throbbed just underneath the surface of the sidewalk.  People said “hello” as they walked by.

At the Continental, we almost immediately found our friend Billy and our seats very near the small stage.  The crowd was a mash-up of young hipsters, a few silver-haired industry people, and everything in between.  Opening the set was Durham-based Django Haskins (who often plays with his band The Old Ceremony, but this night was solo).  He is described in his bio as “an intersection of Randy Newman’s gruff flamboyance, Nick Cave’s gothic élan and Leonard Cohen’s pithy wisdom.”  A tall order, indeed, but (in my opinion) Django delivered.  I loved his jangly (“djangly?”) guitar and clever lyrics, and was sad to see his set end.  I am definitely a new fan.

Next up was the ethereal Cheyenne Marie Mize, whose haunting sound reminded me a little of Fiona Apple swirled around with Mazzy Star.  In addition to singing beautifully, she adeptly played guitar, keyboards, and percussion (aside: she is also stunning, and Steve is definitely a new fan).

The third act we listened to was an irrepressibly poppy threesome out of Philly called Jukebox the Ghost.  Again, I was impressed by their musicianship, even though their sound was less attractive to me than the first two artists’.  With their good looks and up-tempo melodies, I could imagine them appealing to my sixteen year-old niece (in fact, I think I will share them with her).  I also admired their guts in boldly covering Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”  [I still think it was too soon, though, guys.]

While there were other acts on Thursday night’s lineup, it was late, we were tired, and (as I’ve previously mentioned) I am old.  We had to go home.  Still, I felt very rock ‘n roll when I bought tickets for my children at the Dinosaur Park on Friday, looked down at my hand, and noticed the large black stamp that read “F*** Cancer.”  Classy.

No sooner was I able to scrub the profanity off of my right hand, but we were back downtown for another SXSW show (this stamp turned out to be a simple “M,” though).

One of Steve’s college friends works for the internet music-sharing site MOG, and invited us to attend its party on Saturday afternoon.  Miraculously, we scored free parking right on 7th Street (a momentous event), and entered the throng of green-bedecked revelers.  That’s right — it was both SXSW and Saint Patrick’s Day in downtown Austin, resulting in a choke of spirited leprechauns on every street.  Our friend Scott (whom you may remember as the host of our Mad Men-themed dinner party) was in town for the festival from North Carolina, so we met up with him at a nondescript venue called Rusty’s.  While the music there sounded great, the bar was extremely loud (remember?  we’re old) and we decided to search for greener pastures.  As we were about to leave, I looked up and saw a flash of dreadlocks attached to a very familiar face. 

“It’s Adam Duritz!” I stage-whispered, spying the lead singer of the Counting Crows and one of my long-held celebrity crushes.  The band had performed a free show the previous night that we’d been unable to attend.

Sure enough, there Adam stood in all his bespectacled, fuzzy-haired glory.   Starstruck, I was unable to do much more than stand still and grin at him like an idiot.  Scott approached him and we said hello. While Adam was unwilling to have his photo taken, he was extremely nice and — may I say? — looked fantastic; far better (fitter, healthier) than he did when I last saw him in concert fifteen years ago.  His healthy appearance made me wonder if he tired of the rock n’ roll lifestyle and found yoga or veganism.  Regardless, my day was made before we’d even arrived at the show.

Still, onward we went to the Mohawk, a new-to-us music venue with tons of outdoor seating and a large stage.  The line to be admitted to the show was painfully long and forced me to sidestep tiny, foul-smelling rivers of stale beer/cigarette butts/God-knows-what-else (two comments:  1). platform shoes are a good means of creating distance between one’s foot and a disgusting street; 2) if you have to smoke, could you please throw your butts in the garbage can?).  Still, it was so worth it.

The War on Drugs

We heard The War on Drugs first.  While their sound was familiar to me, I hadn’t ever intentionally listened to them before.  They had already begun their set when we arrived, and the young guy behind us in line was anxious to get inside to hear them, saying they were one of his favorite bands.  I figured I needed to give them a listen, and I enjoyed what I heard.

Next up was Bob Mould, most famous for fronting the bands Husker Du and Sugar.  I’m not cool enough to have been a Bob Mould fan before Saturday, but I’m a fan now.  His energy and stage presence were powerful, and he is proof positive that anyone can keep rocking through middle age (he is 51).

The band I was most excited to see at the MOG show, with whom I was most familiar, was The Roots.  Sometimes described as hip hop, sometimes described as neo-soul, The Roots are a jazzy Philly-born conglomerate who’ve been around since 1987.  They’ve also been the house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon since 2009.  For the entirety of their hour-and-fifteen-minute long set, the crowd at Mohawk thrummed.

The Roots. Serious ebullience.

How can one not love a band with a tuba (or is it a sousaphone)?  How can one not love a band featuring D.J. Jazzy Jeff as guest percussionist? 

Watching The Roots finish up their set with a cover of Guns n’ Roses’ Sweet Child o’ Mine, I looked down from my perch on the balcony at the vibrating crowd.  All kinds of arms waved in the air — all colors, some sleeved in tattoos, some attached to Polo shirts, all engaged.  All arms attentively in the moment.  I was hit by the solid truth of that cliche, “Music brings people together,” in a way I haven’t been hit before.  I am thirty-eight years old, I have been to hundreds of concerts in my life, and I’ve never before felt quite so palpably that if we can agree on The Roots’ covering Guns n’ Roses, well, we might be able to agree on a whole lot more.  If we can unite all of these disparate, waving arms in celebration at a concert, what else can we accomplish?  In what other ways are we more similar than we care to admit?

This past week, music certainly brought us together.  South by Southwest got Steve and me out of the house and made us active participants in our new-old city.  It reunited us with old friends (Billy, Scott) and new ones (Adam Duritz :)) we never would have seen otherwise.  It exposed us to new sounds and fresh perspectives.  It was really, really good.

Raise your hand if you believe in the power of a few good people coming together, the beauty of happenstance, and Adam Duritz’s dreadlocks.  Thanks, as always, for showing up.

To see video of Bob Mould’s and The Roots’ performances at Mohawk, and to read a more professional perspective on the show, check out this post.

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