‘Atomic Bomb in Red Lipstick’
–To quote Dylan…
And to cover Dylan: play, video!
“He pushed me and he pushed me,” Wanda Jackson says of the special young man who came into her life recently. “God bless him, he’s a wonderful guy.”
The former White Stripes mastermind Jack White was also responsible for the full back patio at Jo’s coffee on South Congress. Like The Third Man of film, who perhaps inspired White’s record label name, White’s presence is felt in places where he is not physically present. All around, pairs of primed dudes talk in close-lipped speculation about “Jack showing up.” With Wanda Jackson’s The Party Ain’t Over album we see a reversal of Fitzgerald’s often quoted phrase “there are no second acts in American lives.” Wanda is pursing her lips and sassing her trumpet player–who is doing some pelvic thrusting himself. She’s whipping out phrases that make the women in the audience laugh. The sequins on her shiny white jacket are too much, which is just enough. The girls next to me laugh adoringly when Wanda persists in calling her glass of Cabernet cough syrup for her singing voice.
“See how much better that sounds?”
The full band of suits and Texas t-ties played midnight cool grooves while Wanda worked the stage. She was also wearing itty bitty diamonds on the ring Elvis bought her. They were poor, then, but those were still real diamonds he’d given. Jackson took time to talk about her friend The King before tearing into “Good Rockin’ Tonight.” Not so unlike Jack White, Elvis knew what people would buy into and pushed Wanda Jackson toward finding her step with a wider audience. Elvis told Wanda he knew she loved the old country songs, but the young people were buying, and buying rock ‘n’ roll.
“It was harder for me than is was for the guys,” Jackson said. “He gave me the courage to try.”
The move to new genres and styles is still not an easy one for this lady of Oklahoma. But another courteous gentleman has apparently coaxed her into it. She confessed she was very nervous to play Amy Winehouse’s cover “You Know I’m No Good,” but no trace of doubt showed on her stage presence. I mean, at some point during this set she starts yodeling.
Thousands who wouldn’t normally listen to Wanda were now, thanks to super scout White, standing in thick crowds at an otherwise very busy festival, to see if she still had it. They listened while she took some time out to talk about Jesus. They pretended to know what “I got a furlin in my huskie” means.
It was a past and future kind of set.
In keeping in line with Oklahoma country/folk/rock theme, I’ll talk a bit about The Buffalo Lounge, which we would like to say held acts representing the future of Oklahoma music, if Wanda represented its past, and risk taking present.
My party line on this is as partisan and the same as it has been for years. The guy I drove around outer Austin with listening to The Staples Sisters (“Respect”), John Fullbright, is the guy who I think posses the most vigor, curiosity, talent, reverence for the old, awareness of the now etc., etc. to really craft a piece of expression that will blow our minds. Some people’s minds were blown. I noticed two gentleman local rockeres Ryan LaCroix and Quentin B. digging on Fullbright’s noon set at the lounge, which concluded with an uncanny, ballsy cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying.” Unfortunately a mix-up at the door prevented a line of people from coming in right on time. There was someone from Rounder records posted somewhere in the back. And thanks to the generous hospitality working the lounge, I was eased into the day with a Bloody Mary.
John Fullbright strummin’ at the Buffalo Lounge
Later on the Sherree Chamberlain band hit the set with so much gusto the songwriter planted her electric keyboard into the ground. The two English guys I was talking to at the bar had their attention completely diverted by “that lovely lady,” when the band started. They moved on from keyboard crash impressively. A few clicks after that I was reminded of Kevin Barnes and his sultry, poppy self when Kite Flying Robot hit the stage. They seem to have all the things necessary to break out and find listeners outside of their Oklahoma City mad lab. Driving home with another music writer, he seemed to think the same. Up-and-comer Ryan Lawson played that Tuesday night with an intensity and hints of a noir/country/folk perspective that could be conducive to some interesting songwriting.
An interesting fusion happened on the closing night of the showcase. When Jabee burned into a rap with The Pretty Black Chains providing the gnash I wondered to myself if that’s the longest I’d actually heard Jabee rap. The mix of highly refined crude oil riffing Detroit rock with Jabee’s experience-hewn delivery was certainly one of the highlights of the lounge showcase, and it certainly intimated that our community here was strong. Or at least, comfortable or uncomfortable enough to take chances. Plenty of folks I know from the city also came to support the venue.
Jabee and Pretty Black Chains mashup at the Buffalo Lounge
Some words have been made on this Web site about the ambiance of the place – huge buffalo, plenty of Okie history mementos strewn everywhere, drinks and swag. Though it’s a testament to my ability to lose everything that I can’t tell you what that swag was, and the drink had a lemon in it, and maybe ice. So I won’t overstate the fact that the Oklahoma Film Office and other sundry volunteers, workers assembled a nice hub where all the peoples of our cultural scene could mingle. I actually met Brian Hearn for the first time, which was, for me, exciting, if 8 years late or so. And in a different city from the one I was in the 21 other times I saw him.
Pretty Black Chains at Buffalo Lounge
Talking Music Writing Trends
I took time out to meet with a reporter of all things arts and entertainment. He got his start in writing at OU, as did I. So who better company to wonder about the future of music criticism with? I understand there will be a few people who’ve read Lester Bangs or Greil Marcus or the music-era Chuck Klosterman and might care about this kind of thing. The deeper I get into other aspects of life, the less I stress about what’s happening with culture criticism. On the critic’s person was a phone for checking Twitters and posting twitters and two different hand-held cameras sat ready in cargo pockets. “I can’t just take notes anymore,” he said. This was my experience at my first concert review. I watched the Brian Jonestown Massacre melt down and my friend Mack was there to let me know that the Rickenbacker bass was the precise thing a retro-indie band would want to play. I took notes and went home to write and it felt good. Everywhere I look at SXSW I see cameras and cameras. I understand when it comes to those parades of random carnival types marching down the middle of 6th. Someone is filming them for a reason. I guess I just saw a lot more cameras than I did notepads, and it makes me wonder about the breadth and depth of discussion we have in our future. I can’t claim to have the best scalpel for this jump, I just would ask for something wilder, considering the times at all. If we were to read local media music writing we would think that The Pretty Black Chains were the second experience to listening to Raw Power with a whiskey soaked rim of thoughts. But when I watch them perform it seems a little safe, for someone’s who’s most exhilarating time was seeing Isaac Brock–the last angry guy in rock left, apparently– beat up a jackass on the stage then pick up right where he left with Interstate 8, simultaneously wanting to kill his guitar and make love to it. This quality of intensity is missing in a lot of our local acts, and there’s no one who has told us why.
Rudeness, the anger of the classic punk stuff, is still a spirit that makes up the milieu of SXSW, but it seemed to be found in the Odd Future Wolfgang Kill Them All rap anarchists that the NYT wrote up in their review. They are savvy, they completely control their image and we completely eat it up. They wore costumes and found all sorts of garments in which they could look the way they want for the myriad cameras. They say things we just about can’t say in public to lure us in.
In so many ways, now, the bands direct the media treatment of them. I wonder if the plot of serious interpretation has been lost. The control is with the bands themselves (as eye damagingly dress dance rockers Health attested to me wickedly proud once). They plant the info, they craft the image. And then watch it run in our alt weeklies. I guess they always have, but surely in no other time in rock’s fresh history was there this many people on one street eating it up. We don’t form a lot of hard questions for these acts, anyway. We let them dominate us. I feel like it’s the passive listener who can make the most of bands sometimes. We can trust that the audience is smart enough to get the message themselves or take what they will, and not reify it, and definitely won’t need the critics to relay the message. I’m talking about the kind of person who comes to this festival to enjoy themselves and have their once in a three month concert–these kind of fans were out there. It seems the critics, by new media, have made music interpretation irrelevant anyway, or at least scarce. What matters is getting the music out there, and plugging the tours. Word of mouth and blogs will spread the basic need-to-knows about their sound. It’s more in the people’s hands than the “critics,” college, trained 33 1/3 reading time wasters we are.
Was it Frank Zappa who said music writing is done by people who don’t know music writing for people who don’t know how to read? So perhaps a necessary confusion has been eliminated?
Jon Parales at the NYT notes that all you really need to do artist repertoire (scouting) work anymore is the click of a mouse. This is probably true, but the tight squeeze at the day and night parties in Austin testify to the desire for the human element anyway. Much research can be done, but much is still caught by surprise. And some things just need to be seen in person.
I feel the deflations of the scouting mentality a few times during my searches at SXSW. Some of them come after the fact, like when just now I found my favorite meditative style Canadian band Do Make Say Think played (!). Other hang ups in my spirit happened when I’d be in a line with the knowledge of another act already in style of rocking. Other times it would be from word of mouth, like when I heard a band I hadn’t heard of had played 11 times. Hadn’t I known? I take comfort in my friend Maddie’s statement. She said no matter where you go at SXSW someone will be there to tell you that you missed something and that it was immeasurably cooler than what it is you are about to see. You should’ve been somewhere else. Even though there is no way you could’ve been there. Maybe next year, but even then, that won’t be the same.
Thanks enough to Nathan Poppe’s end-of-year top ten in Look@OKC I was curious to see how the North Carolina band Lost in the Trees would fare. I marked my phone schedule the three different times I could catch them at a free day party. The first two opportunities passed. The third I vowed would happen. But then word came that Jack White just might be in the Third Man Records truck. I waited 45 minutes in that line with a friend, equally as loyal to lightening Jack as I was. I never imagined it would take this group so long to settle on a record. Everyone in the group was in yellow and black scheme dressed like Jack White. But Jack was not to be found once we got to the window. I picked up an EP from the inscrutable Swedish rockers Dungen.
Lost In The Trees
Running to the Paste party I rushed through the door and found Lost in the Trees members carefully packing up their gear. I scratched the third check off my calendar and iced my bruise with a chill but ineffectual band. Someone that caught the trees set made sure to let me know that I’d missed a frieken awesome, once-in-the-universe show.
There are ways to prepare yourself for such disappointments. Some things you can’t guard yourself against. One thing I noticed about my trip this year was that no matter how many people I knew there, who I was staying with on a particular night, that if my focus was on tracking and finding and then enjoying a particular band, then my journey would be a mostly solitary one. At one point I stood in the midst of friends and I was the only one who was going to see Ezra Furman and the Harpoons because that‘s just what I wanted to do. The river of people outside, the beards, the worn worn shoes, tattoos of stars and names and unlearn able codes, the sunglasses with bright stems, the light brushes from anonymous shoulders, all of it started to work on me as if I was missing out on something that was truly at the heart of my stay. I was scouting to hear the sounds of an excited Jonathan Richman student. But I did not know him or a Jonathan Richman. What did I know about anything, and who could I find that did? I had left something behind to hear it, and the realization of that was stirred into warm-sad something lit by falling sun and the pushing crowd.
“I’m in a crowd, but oh so alone,” Jerry Lee jokingly sang to Elvis on the Million Dollar Quartet tapes. But it wasn’t a joke at just those few moments where I felt the ache.
The line at Paste had grown in minutes it seemed. When was the last time I was here? I watched Furman in his crimson chucks and cheesy jacket give 101 percent with the harpoons. Their music surfs, and it has a joyousness to it. He played “The Stakes are High,” and some new ones. He played the crowd, he turned around and gave a flirty look to the girls watching from the window next to me. The street crowd was still pushing by, it would push forever. More people filming each other. On the other side of the cage an aging hipster sees me singing along. He asks if I know them. I say yes. He makes the Jonathan Richman connection. I guess we do both know Jonathan. He’s just back in the states. Turns out he was in Australia producing Sleepy Jackson records. Our man at the first SPY George Lang was always keen on playing The Sleepy Jackson I’d remembered.
Furman, covering Don’t Turn Your Back on Love, albeit somewhere else
The Guy Even John Cale Thought Was Weird, Jonathan Richman
Sleepy Jackson, Good Dancers
By the end of our talk this guy has that hungry interested look in his eye.
“Yeah. I’d like to produce these guys.”
And so, knowing the mp3 search is the way of the future, I still see a sea of scouts looking to catch that thing with their eyes and ears.
Last year I didn’t get to make it SXSW, and I was bent on catching the IT band Surfer Blood. Their easy to listen to Surf Rock is road trip ready and super mature for a group of 19-year-olds. I encountered a daunting line outside of The Flaming Cantina this year. But back in the alley, an empty alley, I found no problem sneaking into the Under the Radar showcase and experiencing 3 songs. When I yelled for another I was scolded by the singer. Which was embarrassing and 13 year old of me. I am supposed to be older than this guy. I watched next to some music heads and I faced the sharp drummer. I watched the dust rise and fall with each snare drum clap. Pretended the dust was the effervescence of the sea. And right then the riffs rolled. “Floating Vibes” careened into the most crammed, humid, dark club with one harsh white ray of sun. This was the tight tight fit, well executed SXSW set I’d been looking for. I’ll include a mini photo essay on my sneaky way in.
The Line to Surfer Blood
Finding the back alley
Bam. Closer than I ever could have been
View from behind the band
(c) Danny Marroquin All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce photos or written words without Danny’s permission – you can reach him through the emailz!