Friday, March 15, 2013

SXSW 2013 day two: Billy Bragg, Allah-Las, Thermals and Skatalites

Since I’m yet again endeavouring to make it through another South by Southwest Music Festival without paying for any food, my awesome host Tara King-Cohen made me a breakfast of scrambled eggs and brisket as I was typing away through Wednesday morning.

Billy Bragg
Music for me began at 3 p.m. at the Hangar Lounge with Billy Bragg. I interviewed him over the phone last Friday and had a few words with him in person at the bar before he did an on-stage interview and a four-song, solo acoustic set. A bee or a hornet or something stung my arm while I was sipping my Shiner 966 Farmhouse Ale, and it’s still slightly swollen and painful, but that didn’t draw my attention away from Bragg opening with two songs from his new Tooth & Nail album: “No One Knows Nothing Anymore” and the humorous “Handyman Blues.” He followed it up with his biggest American hit, 1991’s “Sexuality,” and ended with a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “My Flying Saucer” from 2000’s Mermaid Avenue Vol. II.

The Allah-Las were one of my priority acts to see here, so I caught a 3:30 p.m. set at the packed back tent at The Stage on Sixth. I couldn’t get that close to the young Los Angeles garage rock quartet, so I hung back by the bar enjoying a very nice, dry-hopped Red Hook Long Hammer IPA, and the band sounded great from there. The chiming guitars would fit perfectly on the Nuggets box set. The playing is strong and the lead singer has an edge to his voice without being close to out of control, and subtle backing harmonies rounded everything out nicely. The Allah-Las don’t have a lot of stage presence, but they certainly have songs and a sound that I totally appreciated.

I saw The Thermals for the first time down here three years ago, and the dynamic, spiky rock trio’s high energy left a big impression and prompted me to catch the 4 p.m. set at The Parish. I stood at the bar with a Stash IPA and listened to a set heavy on songs from the group’s Saddle Creek Records debut, Desperate Ground, which comes out on April 16. I loved the last album, 2010’s Chris Walla-produced Personal Life (via Kill Rock Stars), so I’m looking forward to this new one. The 25-set left me wanting more, but the Portland, Ore. group is playing several SXSW shows so I may catch another one.

I then made my dutiful appearance at the Canadian Blast party in Brush Square Park, where I heard Paper Lions playing on the other side of the VIP area as I ate free barbecued chicken and beans and drank a bourbon and cola while catching up with the lovely and talented Jennie Punter, who’s here from Toronto covering films for Variety.

The Skatalites
She accompanied me to The Ginger Man, where we drank nicely hopped pints of Bear Republic Racer 5 while grooving on the back patio to The Skatalites. Alto saxophonist Lester Sterling is the only founding member of the legendary ska group still remaining, but the nine-piece band still plays the old favourites, including “Phoenix City,” “Guns of Navarone” and even the Flintstones theme. Doreen Shaffer got up for Millie Small’s “My Boy Lollipop,” which increased the dancefloor action.

I was assigned to cover the Spinner showcase at the ACL for the entire night, so you can read what I wrote about Natalie Maines, Dawes, Iron & Wine, Family of the Year and Lord Huron while drinking free IPAs at ACL Live at the Moody Theater here.

I returned to the condo for beer, barbecue, conversation and writing until turning in at 4:30 a.m.

Amount of money spent on food during SXSW: $0.

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