SXSW: Classic Collabs

Pete Townshend


15 March 2007 @ La Zona Rosa So I couldn’t make it into the stupid Pete Townshend conversation/interview the day before. All was lost. Or so I believed, until an industry insider gave me the heads-up on this delightful late-afternoon distraction, a special SXSW series of one-off collabs. Singer-songwriter Rachel Fuller, a UK artist and Mr. Townshend’s special ladyfriend, introduced each singer-songwriter performer, starting with the night’s featured guest and, aptly, SXSW’s guest-of-honor. Pete Townshend, dressed in a black suit with a white shirt and red bandanna, picked up his acoustic guitar with ease as Fuller announced that the two of them would play periodically throughout the night. Each artist introduced would play three songs, the first a solo dive, an introspective take on what they gravitate to when alone with a guitar, harmonica, or piano. Townshend started off the show with a Quadrophenia track to loosen up the muscles. Not that it was necessary, but his playfulness won over the crowd instantly. “I’ll close the show, I’ll open the show, and in the middle, I’ll ruin it.” The artists Ms. Fuller introduced throughout the night included Willy Mason, Mika, Joe Purdy, Martha Wainwright, and Alexi Murdoch. Martha Wainwright single-handedly made me forget Pete Townshend was on the same stage. Her voice was a safe passage into dusk-dropping reveries, and Fuller’s voice had flashes of Carly Simon’s honeyed trickle, working its way around her graceful, seemingly good-girl image. She introduced a song, “Cigarettes and Housekeeping,” by explaining, “There’s really nothing more to this song than what the titles suggests, which was smoking fags all day and cleaning the house naked, really.” Joe Purdy and his harmonica brought out Mr. Townshend for a stripped-down “Let My Love Open the Door,” trading vocals and cooing the version into a quiet whisper. Alexi Murdoch was the last singer-songwriter showcased, bringing vocals of twilight blue horizons through a layered hush. I never thought I’d say this, but what a sensational reprieve from the rock. A showcase of talented artists — young and old — playing beautiful music alone and together. It speaks volumes for how we aim to please the creative urges inside each of us, whether it be across a canvas, dribbling full court toward a basketball net, raising children, or turning simple notes and chords into magical measures. Did I mention this guy Townshend? He finished the nearly three-hour set by reading a Who song over Ms. Fuller’s hypnotic piano, and the last song was an older Who number that he was positive had never been played before, until that evening. How does one soak up this experience? How can I explain seeing this event in the middle of a festival? This person onstage was a direct order from my brother if I ever wished to really feel the music of our time. This opportunity will almost never come again. “Time of my life,” Ms. Wainwright stated earlier. I couldn’t agree more.


17 March 2007 @ Stubbs What? Funk with hip-hop lyrics? Salted and peppered through rock riffs? What could be wrong with that stew? The crowd immediately gravitated toward the stage as Blackalicious’ Gift of Gab took the reins alongside Galactic. It’s a shock that these artists haven’t brought their talents together sooner (the good news being a forthcoming album where each song presents a different hip-hop talent backed by the legendary New Orleans quintet). I’ve always been fond of Galactic. The very good friends who were kind enough to let me crash with them during SXSW were the very people responsible for introducing me to the band’s eclectic, experimental sound. The founding members have a punk background, while others combine genres (New Orleans jazz/R&B, Southern-cooked keyboards, anything brass). Gift started off with a slow drip that spread into a verbal attack on the Pabst Blue Ribbon-chugging listeners, typing his lyrics into the air faster and faster as the song continued. Lyrics Born, meanwhile, arrived in St. Patty’s Day green, working the crowd into a frenzy with his scratchy vocals as the audience began to catapult into the thick bass-beat laid down by virtuoso drummer Stanton Moore. The only complaint was Lyrics Born’s inclusion — he only had one song to bring down the house! The other artists reached three, but time was an issue, so they had to cut it short and play the song from the new album, which was by far my favorite. Less is more, kids. Sadly, the band had to quit, but it was well worth the brevity of what’s in store down the road. Nothing wrong with dope hip-hop spread over an Austin ice cream sandwich of funk and awesome.