A Good Run or Last Panic (at the Backyard)
Geezerville tries to keep up with Nick and Todd and friends
By Jim Caligiuri, 12:45PM, Wed. Oct. 15, 2008
It’s easy to see why Austin is the "Live Music Capital of the World” during the bacchanalia that surrounds South by Southwest and the Austin City Limits Music Fest. It’s the weeks in between that continue to surprise, offering proof that the music scene here bests much larger cities like Chicago and Los Angeles. Last week was one of those weeks. Four nights, four diverse and exciting shows, a run that reminds me why I couldn’t leave town if I wanted to.
Wednesday things kicked off at the Cactus Café, where Todd Snider held court to a SRO crowd that was obviously delighted to be there. Surprisingly, Snider had a threepiece band with him - his last couple of appearances in town were solo affairs - and though they seemed a little under-rehearsed (something he admitted afterwards), his wit shined through. Looking and sounding like a mix of his mentors Jerry Jeff Walker and John Prine, the Nashville singer-songwriter put on a clinic on how to keep things lively while reaching out to heads and hearts. His reworking of “Fortunate Son” was genius. One could only hope any aspiring folk singers attending were taking notes on how it’s done.
The next night, pop-punk godfather Nick Lowe taped Austin City Limits, a performance that attendees will not soon forget. In his latest incarnation, Lowe envisions himself as a crooner, although one who is closer to Nick Cave than Tony Bennett.
It was unlike almost any other ACL taping I’ve witnessed. Armed with a single acoustic guitar, the man formerly known as Basher covered tunes from his 30-year career with the audience providing backing vocals on chestnuts like “I Live on a Battlefield” and “When I Write the Book.” A band might have improved tunes like “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock & Roll),” but his hour onstage seemed like five minutes. With his songs, who needs a band?
Friday night, Dana had another bash at her palace not far from Downtown. While throwing some of the best parties in town, she likes to turn her friends onto new bands. This night the featured guest was Drew Smith’s Lonely Choir. The Choir includes members of Dustin Welch’s House Band, including Welch himself on banjo and dobro, and in the stone walled living room, Smith and friends came across as a blend of Bruce Springsteen and the Grateful Dead, sprawling American music too big for the place. I’m sure to catch them the next time they perform – they’re regulars at Momo’s, which was the point of the evening in the first place.
Something magical happened at the Backyard on Saturday night, besides the last appearance by Widespread Panic at the soon-to-shutter venue. The ticket that was supposed to be left for me at will call was not there. As I was standing outside the gate trying to figure out what to do, someone came up to me, handed me a ticket, then disappeared into the crowd. Still shaking my head once inside, the Georgia-based sextet put on a typically potent show; two sets of funky jams and metallic-tinged Southern rock in one of their favorite places to play. (The 2003 DVD Live from the Backyard in Austin, TX is a good primer for those not familiar with the band.) Still-new guitarist Jimmy Herring impressed with Duane Allman-like dexterity. A spacey cover of the New Rider’s “Dirty Business” was downright colorful, while inserting “Green Onions” into “Henry Parsons Died” was a pleasant surprise. During the encore of “Chilly Water,” the water bottles splashing among the crowd was a Rocky Horror moment – that energy matching what was happening on stage is what makes a Panic show special.