Tony Joe White

Music showcase

SXSW Liveshots
Photo By Gary Miller

Tony Joe White

Antone's, Wednesday, March 12 This relatively rare appearance by Tony Joe White was one of the most highly anticipated shows of this year's SXSW. How else to explain the crush at the door almost an hour before he was scheduled to appear? Still, it was only a moderate success and less a testament to the 60-year-old songwriter's many talents and more to how he chose to present them. Sitting onstage with an electric guitar, a harmonica around his neck, and only a competent drummer as his accompaniment, the first thing that grabbed you was that voice. Deep and dark as the swamp he conjures in his songs, it's still the marvelous instrument we all remember from his heyday. The Louisiana-born White laid down one slinky groove after another, with the occasional changeup like his great soul ballad "Rainy Night in Georgia" thrown in to keep it interesting. But there were times when he veered too close to generic singer-songwriter fare, which only drove the large crowd to talking louder. It was, however, interesting to hear the many styles and influences he was able to distill into one relatively brief set. You could pick out snatches of the low-down, gritty blues of J.J. Cale and Ray Wylie Hubbard, while ZZ Top and John Lee Hooker were obviously in there, too, haw haw haw. As expected, White closed the set with his big hit, "Polk Salad Annie," but minus the original's horns, it seemed just a little too laid-back. Then, as a coda, he revved up his guitar to a nasty tone that could have been a tribute to Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan. When the crowd gave an appreciative, if restrained, ovation, it matched the set's intensity. They had come for a blazing fire, but had gotten smoldering coals.

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