March 22nd, 2012
Sunday, March 18, 2012
I was going to skip this last Critical Sun gig because I needed a day to get some writing done, both for this whole SXSW shindig and for some short stories and poems and new books and such. There’s always writing to be done. It’s a solitary endeavor, of course, this thing of writing, so after a week at SXSW I needed a break from the over-stimulation, I needed some quiet, time alone at the hotel out by the pool with a beer and the laptop and the word, but then I got some news last night while a couple of us were drinking slightly warm Budweisers with a band from Denmark (Foreign Resort). It might have been a slip of the tongue, but it was some good news so I decided the quiet could wait, that I could do some writing at the gig before that news needed to be acted upon.
The gig is at a place called Hardtails about thirty minutes north of Austin. It’s a cool place with a large outdoor stage in back with enough room on the lawn for a few hundred people, maybe a 1000, an amphitheater almost, and the ground slopes down from the bar to the stage in the back of the lot. It’s easily the best venue these bands have played this week, and that makes me glad, of course, for the news I received last night, the news that is confirmed as the bands are setting up when Jason Lightfoot of Sightseer repeats the same. He comes up to me, “Hey, man, …” then says the same I heard last night. I’m sitting at the bar with a Blue Moon (What else?) typing away, taking notes on the day when he says it. I look at him. We both smile. “Thanks,” I say.
And my note taking ends there. The news is too good, and it gets me thinking about Critical Sun as a whole, not just the individual bands and their musicians and whatever my relationship is with them, but the whole of the bands, the group of them, us, and the word that comes to mind is community, not record label, community, much the same way a group of regulars at a bar will form a bond in and out of the bar, form a family of sorts, or maybe a gang, or better yet, especially down here in Austin for SXSW, a traveling circus or carnival, people living, working, supporting and entertaining, pushing each other to be better, accepting outsiders when the connection is right, when the need is right. They accept new bands, musicians, friends, girlfriends, and as it turns out, even writers.
And today, it begins with the Stacy Jones Band, a bluesy thing supported in community form by Critical Sun recording artist, Rob Marcus, on guitar, and Darrius Willrich, also a CS artist, on keyboards. And her form of blues is good. It does what blues should do, makes you feel, though not necessarily in the way that Bleeding Gums Murphy said the blues should (“The blues isn’t about feeling better. It’s about making other people feel worse…”). Stacy’s blues is lively thing, it moves. It’s great beer drinking, outdoor venue in Austin, Texas music. In the Critical Sun Traveling Circus she is, say, the woman who dances atop a galloping horse, twisting and turning and even falling when need be, when it’s part of the show.
Then, Darrius Willrich plays a solo set much like he had a few days ago. He is the tight rope walker, soulful R&B smooth and easy high above the audience. He’s is followed by Rob Marcus who, again in traveling circus form, is helped by Furniture Girls bassist, Jim Watkins, Sightseer’s Jason Welling on keys and fiddle, and Stacy Jones Band’s Rick Bowen on drums. And Ms. Jones even gets up to trade some great riffing on the harmonica with Welling’s keyboard solos. All too wonderful. Delightful. Rob Marcus in this troupe is the … the hardest for me to figure so I think. I order Blue Moon. I think about the woman who will pick me up at the airport Tuesday night, and it comes to me. Rob is the Ferris Wheel of this carnival. It may be a bit mellow, may not move at great speed, but there’s still a thrill to it. The music is understated, leaves me feeling relaxed, makes me want to hold hands with Her.
There’s the poppy, driving punk of In Cahoots (writing here), the strongman of this carnival plowing straight ahead through the audience, the cello laden grooves of Seeing Blind (writing to come), the trapeze artists with movements that jump from handle to handle trailing cello notes that rock left and right like Jessica Kitzman does as she plays the cello but that always catch the bar. Interesting stuff, but I do find myself wanting a bit more cello in the mix, not the band’s fault though.
And Furniture Girls, electro rock, quite heavy at times, who are easily one of the better bands in Seattle now. I don’t care what any other press says or who gets played on KEXP or asked to play the “official” Seattle SXSW show case. FG rocks. Seattle, and thereby the country as a whole, needs to take notice. Within the Critical Sun circus, they are the big cats, the tigers and lions with singer Stacey Meyer whipping things into shape, SMACK, her head in mouth of lion, forcing tigers to jump through rings of fire. It’s quite the powerful thing as she belts, nearly screaming, over the largeness of lions and tigers playing those heavy chords, F# to C, F# to C, F# to C, “I’m coming, I’m coming, I’m coming for you baby!” It trails out and “baby” is said all by itself without losing any power, kind of like the roar of a lion. Nice. They’re recording now so hopefully the tune will be available soon.
Then Sightseer comes on (same recommendation as Furniture Girls as far as bands in Seattle these days), and yes, I’m biased. I’ve written about Sightseer more than a few times, played two shows filling in on bass for them, and as their set winds down, a bucket list item of mine is checked. It’s the news from earlier. Singer P.A. Mathison speaks into the microphone, speaks far too kindly of me, “We have world famous author, Dave O’Leary, here so we’d like to have him come up and play a number with us.” Me, I get to play at SXSW when I thought I’d just come to write and drink and live a little. Again, community. They have a new bass player who fits very well into the mold of the band, but they still see fit to ask me up knowing it’d mean a big deal to me. And it does. We play “When the Levee Breaks” and all is right in the universe, or at least my universe. There are very few things that compete with rocking on stage. I dare say it’s even better than sex. And Sightseer, how do they fit into this whole carnival thing? They play the tunes that summon the cobra, mellow the cobra, so that the rest of us may dare touch it on the back of the head.
The Januariez close out the night. The have a bluesy punk kind of groove thing that I dig, and I keep meaning to write more about them, but for now I’ll say that they’re worth a listen. They’re worth a trip to the local pub for cheap beers and moving bodies and rhythms that shake things, whatever those things may be. They are the clowns for red hair but also for fun factor.
It’s a community, a carnival, a family. They’ve taken me in but ask me for nothing. I give these words, these recommendations, because I want to. There are plenty of great bands in Seattle not on the Critical Sun label, but none with this kind of traveling circus vibe in which when band does well, many others will, in which they all support one another, befriend, maybe even love, in which after shows, they, we, end up as a whole out by the hotel pool at midnight with acoustic guitars singing Sightseer’s “Red Eye Haze” and taming the cobras amongst ourselves and knowing in the vibe of the moment that something will happen with one of these bands, maybe many. So you should see them now. They’ll welcome you, and if you can hold down a decent Led Zepplin bass groove, they might just have you up on stage once in a while.
So what am I in this carnival? Part fortune teller, part beaded lady, the oddball in that small tent off to the side who keeps saying things, writing things, and so who may one day get things right.
SXSW 2012 over and out.