Down the Line
2010-11's 'Monster' Austin Music Awards
Reviewed by Raoul Hernandez, Fri., March 25, 2011
Between cult Texan Josh T. Pearson taking a page out of Blaze Foley's beard on Urban Outfitters' back patio construction site at high noon ("I'm playing the Gap at 4pm and American Apparel at 6," he deadpanned), and the Plastic Ono Band stilling and thrilling Elysium 13 hours later – matching no less than Mr. Johnny Cash himself at Emo's for a once-in a-lifetime South by Southwest musical moment – the Austin Music Awards once again reaffirmed its local covenant. Whereas last year's launching pad for Mother Falcon occurred in the gloom of a wintery final Festival night, a balmy Saturday evening this SXSW was met inside the Austin Music Hall with a tropically blue stage set, burgeoning audience, and the sanctuary of homegrown bonhomie. Sahara Smith, a Southwestern warming trend at the 2010 AMAs, poured even thicker folk honey this time around, taking to her now Central Austin home a trio of plaques (Best Female Vocals, Best Folk, and Best Songwriter) and talking about being shy while performing with all the poise of Emmylou Harris at the Austin Convention Center's Radio Day Stage on Thursday. Smith's best song, "The Real Thing," again set like the sun, big and orange, "Thousand Secrets" and "Are You Lonely" cementing the five-song performance backed beautifully by Jake Owen on guitar and the rhythm section of Mike Meadows and Will Sexton on bass. That lead-in to the Wagoneers' ringing kickback couldn't have primed the pump better, the brand-new Hall of Fame inductees bridging a 21-year performance gap in 22 minutes flat, Elvis Presley to the Hole in the Wall. In matching suits and Monte Warden's red tie, the reunited country quartet opened its set with Ephraim Owens' Alamo trumpet cry ("Stout and High"), thumped its chest with special guest Joe Ely (a rumbling cover of Buddy Holly's "Down the Line"), and in Craig Pettigrew's Rio Grande bass lines, Brent Wilson's Telecaster shred, and Tom Lewis' Lone Star ricochet, the Wagoneers earned every penny of their keep: the evening's first standing ovation. The Bright Light Social Hour won Song of the Year just ahead of native 1960s psych sons Bubble Puppy holding high their Hall of Fame win, both quartets then shaking down the temple walls in successive AMA performances for the ages. "Detroit," chanting wall-banger and harmony constant, flexed its Song of the Year status like Grand Funk Railroad gone hippie, but the young foursome stomping the Who via Mose Allison's immortal "Young Man Blues" brought half the hall stage front and, at the close, another seat clearing audience salute. Billy F. Gibbons presented his psychedelic muse Roky Erickson with Musician of the Year, and if Bubble Puppy's live encore to the Bright Light Social Hour lacked the crackle of youth, its lightning struck just as suddenly and with equal auditorium hysteria. One original fourpiece, one auxiliary lead guitarist, and a single frilly shirt from the era added up to four Texas song tornadoes peaking in 1969's Top 40 anomaly, "Hot Smoke & Sasafrass." What had begun as a "revue" in the weeks leading up to the awards by guitarist Todd Potter and drummer David Fore became A Gathering of Promises in Rod Prince returning to vocalize Bubble Puppy's pastoral-lysergic blues grit and bassist Roy Cox de-mothballing his British Invasion look on the cover of the group's sole LP of Promises. Twin-lead guitars melted off decades of rust in a blaze of psych-rock glory that summoned the natural hot springs of Congress Avenue specter the Vulcan Gas Company. Cue ovation No. 3. Which left the Meat Puppets warming up that era's "Touchdown King" – Roky Erickson – by opening with Curt and Cris Kirkwood and new drummer Shandon Sahm reliving Nirvana's MTV Unplugged in the elder brother's "Plateau," then segueing into the aforementioned football monarchy from final SST LP Monsters. As J Mascis watched from the floor, Erickson came on in full lion mane, delivering "You're Gonna Miss Me" and "Starry Eyes" with enough static electricity to make up for an obvious lack of rehearsals. "You know who that was, right?" asked Sahm when clearing the stage, naming Erickson and his late father Doug Sahm to the Top 2 spots of Austin's all-time musical hierarchy. Band of the Year the Bright Light Social Hour celebrated just such a moment in the last award of the night, Mother Falcon's 18-strong orchestra providing everyone an exit suite in the live unveiling of its cusp of SXSW full-length debut, Alhambra. Welcome to the holy land.