Wednesday, March 14, 2012

SXSW day one: Joe "King" Carrasco lives up to his name

I've been coming to the South by Southwest Music Festival since 2004 but haven't seen any more of Texas beyond the Dallas and Houston airports, so I changed things up a bit this year and spent a day in Houston and another in San Antonio before jumping full on into SXSW. I'll take San Antonio. Houston? Probably not.

New Town Drunks
The music began Tuesday night at tenOak, which I'm hoping isn't a music venue the other 51 weeks a year. Chapel Hill, N.C.'s New Town Drunks, a sextet featuring acoustic guitar, saxophone, upright bass, keyboards, drums and the sexy Diane Koistinen on lead vocals had the honour. Two dozen people were there to take in the group's mix of folk, rock, cabaret,, jazz and tango. Koistinen came into the audience to dance and the best line of the show came in the last song, which included the lyric "Like John and Yoko all night long, lying naked with a bong."

Whiskey Daredevils
Another band with a booze-related name, Whiskey Daredevils, was a step up. Greg Miller had crazy eyes, but was an excellent showman and I thoroughly enjoyed his three band members' backing on a set that featured old school country music played loud and fast. "Long Gone" inexplicably incorporated some of The Doors' "The End," "Bakersfield" mocked Buck Owens' hometown as being filled with strip malls and 7-11s and not being Nashville West as the band members had expected, and "Trucker Bomb" was about running over plastic bottles filled with urine on a highway median with a lawnmower. Good times.

I first saw Frank Turner three years ago in Austin and have continued to be a big fan, including hosting the launch of his 2010 North American tour in my living room. The British singer/songwriter played a solo acoustic show at Latitude 30 on Tuesday night and opened with "I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous," "Try This At Home" and "Peggy Sang the Blues" before doing a couple of new tunes. One was about getting tattoos, and Turner got a pretty bad tattoo in Austin before, and the other was called "Time Machine."

Turner returned to more familiar territory with "Substitute," "Wessex Boy" and "Me and My Friend Dan" before covering Tom Petty's "American Girl." It hurt to tear myself away from the club after "I Still Believe" and "The Road," but I've seen Turner quite a bit over the past three years and have been waiting to see Joe "King" Carrasco and The Crowns for 30 years.
Joe "King" Carrasco and The Crowns

I finally got my chance at Skinny's Ballroom, a relatively small room that wasn't even full. That was a major injustice. Carrasco's nuevo wavo mixes new wave, rock and roll and conjunto and is a total blast. Carrasco lives and plays regularly in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and told me that a lot of his neighbours are from Ontario, but I don't think he's performed in Toronto since I moved there in 1988. Carrasco's early albums were big favourites of mine and he pulled out some classics like "Let's Get Pretty" early on.
Joe "King" Carrasco

But the band has a new album to push, and title track "Que Wow" just became my favourite song written by a guy stricken with typhoid in Mexico. Carrasco said he was friends with both Manu Chao and ? and the Mysterians' Bobby Balderrama, which gave him even more credibility points along with his cover of "96 Tears." I don't know Spanish, but I sang along to every word of "Buena." Carrasco changed crowns mid-set and came into the audience a couple of times, including climbing on top of a table beside me at the bar, and ended the 80-minute set with an extended "Don't Bug Me Baby." He wanted to do an encore, and we were all ready for it too, but the club unfortunately nixed that.

I talked to Carrasco after the show and traded business cards, so hopefully that planted enough of a bug to get him up to Toronto. In the meantime, folks in Austin can see the man and his band at the Austin Music Awards tonight and at The Dog and Duck Pub on Friday at 4 p.m.


New Town Drunks said...

Thanks for coming to our set and posting a review. dig the photo too.


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