Southern Rock Opera

SXSW 02 Music Fest Wrap-up

Tom House, Palaxy Tracks, Shearwater & Cinders

Mercury Hall, Friday 15 For one afternoon, this small, historic chapel off South First was the most special place in the world. Rows of faces were lined up in folding chairs, absolutely enthralled by a middle-aged man with a guitar confessing his sins, lamenting his regrets, and trying his best to make sense of the very mixed-up stew of religion and reality. The man was Nashville's Tom House, whose slightly quirky folk style transcends his hometown and draws on the spirit of a more rustic, forgotten time of hard floors and hard living. "Jesus didn't die for faggots like you," sang House, telling a gay-bashing tale from the perspective of a guilty bystander who did nothing because, "I sure didn't want them thinking nothing crazy about me." His emotionally charged tales resonated throughout the rustic hall, wafting through the open doors and into the inviting spring air, serenading the folks who trickled in late to this poignant scene. The cheers were loud, and the claps came from the heart, as this late-blooming songwriter made converts out of the twenty- and thirtysomethings who came to see the ostensibly indie rock sounds of Centro-matic and Palaxy Tracks. Centro-matic's ever-busy Will Johnson played it mellow early that morning to an appreciative throng of coffee-drinkers, but even by the time Palaxy Tracks came on around 2pm, folks were still nursing hangovers and munching on the pastries from La Mexicana, courtesy of sponsor Grey Flat Records. Palaxy Tracks, prodigal Austinites on their first trip back home after leaving for Chicago one year ago, played a loose, delicate, slide-guitar-heavy set that emphasized the pure songwriting and deep, distinctive voice of frontman Brandon Durham. Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg joined them on wurlitzer for the last song, "The Awful Truth," shedding light on Palaxy Tracks' unlikely beginnings as a trad country cover band. Then Austin's Shearwater took the stage, backed by the local strings-and-piano chamber trio Cinders. Frontmen Meiburg and Will Sheff (both also of Okkervil River) played fleshed-out favorites off of 2001's The Dissolving Room, and even a cover of a Tom House song. They then yielded to Cinders, whose rich, emotive blend veered from sublime to cacophonous, adventurous and old-world at the same time. It was another timeless moment on a truly special afternoon that will remain a part of everybody who was lucky enough to be there.

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More by Michael Chamy
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Tom House, Palaxy Tracks, Shearwater, Cinders

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