Let's Build a City

Phases and stages on the road to Austin's Grammys: The 2010-11 Austin Music Awards

Let's Build a City

Stages change, but platforms arise at every level.

Austin City Limits Music Festival 2009: The Sound and the Jury contest winner the Bright Light Social Hour takes the Zilker Park stage like an afterparty at high noon. The four locals crowd giddily onto an intimate stage setup, vibrating as if today's fiesta began last May. Jumping, jamming, pounding (keyboards), the band's performance whips by in a trail of long hair and bassist Jack O'Brien's facial turf.

Forty years earlier, Bubble Puppy also shot the moon.

Top 20 strut, 1969's "Hot Smoke & Sasafrass" preserves a San Antonio-birthed foursome that moved to Austin in the Summer of Love. Twin lead guitars zigzag to the pastoral chorus, the tune's San Francisco-by-way-of-Kashmir riffs wiring psychedelic folk harmonies. A Gathering of Promises that same year, the only Bubble Puppy studio LP – recorded in Houston for psych rock monopoly International Artists – pools together the same open-air crackle, a rustic/progressive UK backbone beginning at the radio-rung first track and plowing through to Southwestern hippie mystics "Hurry Sundown" and "Road to St. Stephens." Grateful shred.

What had previously been called an AMA "revue" has now become a full-fledged Bubble Puppy reunion with all four original members – Todd Potter, Rod Prince, David Fore, and Roy Cox – back together and smoking.

Freshman belle Sahara Smith stepped into national competition last year with Myth of the Heart, on an Austin indie label that can and does, Playing in Traffic – shelter to Los Lonely Boys, Speak, and the Steps. Guitar mercenaries Marc Ribot and Greg Leisz rode in for the Myth after o' brother T Bone Burnett, but Smith's gifts are made in Austin. "The Real Thing," lived by the young twentysomething same as the dozen roses on Myth of the Heart, drives all night to wake up in Laredo, but Smith's sublime voice saturates an indigenousness every bit as local as Austin landmarks Patty Griffin, Shawn Colvin, and Eliza Gilkyson.

Sahara Smith: They're still minting 'em, Kenneth Threadgill.

Smith's onstage sponsor last March at the Austin Music Awards – practically born into Threadgill's via the Armadillo World Headquarters that preceded it nearby – Will Sexton gave his first public performances alongside his brother Charlie under a couple of chairs in the latter, long-gone landmark's biergarten. Still today a segment of old A-town recalls the native singer-songwriter as a sleeping rug rat at some Armadillo rock & roll hoedown. Hearing Sexton's melodic uptick "Let This Heartbreak Begin" open recent pop triangle Carter Doster Sexton will change their minds (warp).

Monte Warden, Brent Wilson, Craig Pettigrew, and Tom Lewis, the Wagoneers – what if they'd played the Armadillo? Opening for the Flying Burrito Brothers, say – the locals' George Strait to the L.A. crew's Waylon Jennings: the Derailers and Dale Watson in one quartet. Warden and Bruce Robison wrote Mr. Strait up the charts with "Desperately," but even as the Wagoneers' 1988-1989 major label soundtrack, Stout & High and Good Fortune, ticks off one story, Michael Corcoran in an Austin Chronicle dated June 26, 1987, red lines another:

"This is a real honest-to-god musical democracy; not Monte Warden and his hired hands, those goddamn ingrates. When it's time to play, however, Warden still stands in the middle and dispenses that lopsided Tupelo smile that looks so damn phony until you meet the kid and realize that it could be real. He sometimes becomes so wrapped in the music that he swivels his South 40 just like Elvis on Ed Sullivan and then winks to let us know that he knows we know he got it from Elvis and he knows this is Austin, where obvious imitation is frowned upon, not Houston where it is downright inspiring, but he doesn't care because Elvis came to him in a dream and said it was OK."

Joe Ely certainly blew out the Armadillo, and paired with Warden and the Wagoneers, the "Fresh Blood" Corcoran spilled on the latter act just prior to its New Music Seminar showcase in NYC saturates here. Catch Corky, meanwhile, at the convention center Friday, March 18, 11am (Room 10A), for Fun Fun Fun?: Thirty Years Chronicling Austin Music.

Either the AMA's de facto emcee or else its sergeant at arms, another International Artist, Roky Erickson, comes well-met as a guest of the Meat Puppets at this year's Austin Grammys. His oracle on the 13th Floor Elevators' 10-CD meteorite Sign of the 3 Eyed Men (see "Livin' On," Aug. 14, 2009) cooled into last year's True Love Cast Out All Evil, presided over by Okkervil River's Will Sheff. That two-headed dog – Rokkervil – cooked up by the Austin Music Awards in 2008, took the Kremlin and other sheds by storm last year. Downtown at the Paramount Theatre's CD release – and throughout South by Southwest before it – Rokkervil blasted out all evil.

Cris Kirkwood's known a gulag or two as well, so when Austin dweller Curt Kirkwood got him back, the Meat Puppets jigged again. 2007's Rise to Your Knees took an ice pick to the titanic rust, but Sewn Together two years later helps crown a catalog going all the way back to SST. April 12 follows that up with Lollipop (Megaforce), whose initial sucker punch gets thrown by the trio's new drummer, local scion Shandon Sahm, piston to Curt Kirkwood's Royal Neanderthal Orchestra, which debuted at Liberty Lunch a decade ago when ye olde Meaties went without Cris. Music POWs, all of them. And with Roky Erickson out front ...

Ladies and gentlemen: the Rok Puppets.

Thursday, July 30, 2009: Oikos and Mother Falcon have loaded into the penthouse suite at Lamberts, once the southwest corner of Liberty Lunch. My two hosts, Music Awards doyenne Margaret Moser and Austin's own Difference Engine Graham Reynolds, are in my face. There's no place else to stand, frankly, and the tiny stage looks like the orchestra deck on the Queen Mary. Maurice Chammah leads Oikos through Okkervil River's local wake, then climbs aboard the Mothership, which lifts off as the big band's first violinist elbows out whatever space he can manage from the brass and bassoon. On Mother Falcon's 2011 debut LP – Alhambra – 18 symphonists list to one side of the CD credits.

High strung Andrew Bird fancy with Broken Social harmonies and Arcade Fire, plus The Hazards of Love Decemberists: All cram inside Alhambra. Nick Gregg, Tamir Kalifa, Claire Puckett, and okay: Laura Andrade (cello), Rita Andrade (viola), Kira Bordelon (violin), Clara Brill (violin/piano), Diana Burgess (cello), Nick Calvin (cello), Maurice Chammah (violin/vox/piano), Yun Du (violin), Austin Harris (violin), Matt Krolick (trumpet), Gilman Lykken (bassoon), Josh Newburger (violin), Matt Puckett (vox/sax/glockenspiel/piano/banjo/mandolin), Luke Stence (contrabass), and alphabetical anchor Isaac Winburne (sax/percussion) – new birds, new feather.

High (and very cold) Saturday night, SXSW 2010: Mother Falcon lights the Austin Music Hall like 30 Rock's Christmas tree. "Only [Austin Symphony Orchestra] conductor Peter Bay wasn't onstage when the assemblage's front line of cellos met its six violinists," I wrote. "Band leader Nick Gregg and his vocal foil Claire Puckett piloted the Falcon's sweeping movements like big-top acrobats flying above a Polyphonic Spree."

"Let's build a city," chants the Bright Light Social Hour on its eponymous September LP bow, "Bare hands bare feet."

Put the stage over here. And watch the bare bits.

2010-11 Austin Music Awards

Austin Music Hall, Saturday, March 19

7:09pm: Opening

7:15pm: Sahara Smith w/ Will Sexton

7:55pm: The Wagoneers w/ Joe Ely

8:30pm: The Bright Light Social Hour

9:10pm: Bubble Puppy

9:50pm: Meat Puppets w/ Roky Erickson

10:30pm: Mother Falcon

AMA Playlist

The Bright Light Social Hour, "Bare Hands Bare Feet," The Bright Light Social Hour (2010)

Bubble Puppy, "Hot Smoke & Sasafrass," A Gathering of Promises (International Artists, 1969)

Roky Erickson, "John Lawman," True Love Cast Out All Evil (Anti-, 2010)

Meat Puppets, "Rotten Shame," Sewn Together (Megaforce, 2009)

Joe Ely, "Fingernails," Live Shots (MCA, 1980)

The Wagoneers, "Stout & High," Stout & High (A&M, 1988)

Will Sexton, "Let This Heartbreak Begin," Carter Doster Sexton (CDS Records, 2010)

Sahara Smith, "The Real Thing," Myth of the Heart (Playing in Traffic, 2010)

Mother Falcon, "Serpent Tongues," Alhambra (2011)

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2010-11 Austin Music Awards, Sahara Smith, Will Sexton, Wagoneers, Joe Ely, Bright Light Social Hour, Bubble Puppy, Meat Puppets, Roky Erickson, Mother Falcon

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