Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Taste of SXSW 2012

South By Southwest 2012: Over 2,000 bands and artists, over 90 venues, 4 nights, hour long slots running 8pm - 2am. Once you figure out who you want to see, that's only half the battle; most bands play four or more times on different nights at different venues, at any given hour of the night there are upwards of 90 shows going on simultaneously. Figuring out your plan is a day by day exercise in logistics and prioritization. And that's only the evening hours which are given over to the official SXSW showcases.

On top of that you have day parties, barbecues, and sponsored showcases, all of which are put on by commercial companies and organizations like NPR and numerous radio stations. This year there were even morning showcase concerts put on by Austin radio station KUT-FM at the Four Seasons Hotel from the unheard of hour of 7am - noon. KUT carried some of them live on the air but broadcast all of them eventually and archived the recordings on their website where you can listen anytime.

The festival is so huge that there is no way to summarize it all in an article like this, so in order to give you a little taste of what it's like, below you will find nicely produced videos from the KUT showcases. But before you check them out, start with the SXSW Keynote Address by Bruce Springsteen if you haven't seen it, and even if you have, you can also see some cool video of Bruce's SXSW performances.

SXSW is not really about seeing major league artists like Springsteen. It's not even really about seeing artists you can easily see at home. The real beauty of SXSW is the opportunity to discover great new artists that you didn't know of before; artists from all over the U.S. and all over the world, artists that you would otherwise never have a chance to see. Just listening to the KUT broadcast, I was delighted to hear Nneka; I was also excited to hear Kat Edmonson, I've heard her on record but I've never seen her live. All the sets represented below are really good and will give you a nice taste of the variety and diversity that is SXSW.

Major thanks to KUT-FM, for putting on the three days of showcase performances with a great variety of quality artists, for broadcasting the full sets and for archiving the full sets on their website, for streaming their signal on the web, and finally for producing the best looking and sounding videos I've ever seen come out of SXSW.

I encourage you to watch all of the videos, especially if you don't know the artist; that is the real essence of SXSW. If you find something you like on video, follow the link and listen to the complete set, they run between 20-40 minutes long. Enjoy.

Kat Edmonson: Austin has such a rich music scene that a great many artists choose to live there. Another great thing about SXSW is the chance to see some of them. Kat Edmonson is a jazz singer and songwriter from Austin who is going to release her second album, Way Down Low, next month, and it's a good one. In this video she does the title track. Listen to her complete set from the Four Seasons here.

Nneka: At SXSW 2009 I saw an amazing singer-songwriter from Columbia, Central America and an awesome band from Spain, just to mention two. In that vein, Nneka is the sort of artist that I would go to Austin hoping to find. She is from Ethiopia and now lives in Germany. Nneka mixes just enough hip-hop into her soul/folk to make it spicy. Friends who saw her last week can't stop raving about it. Listen to her complete set from the Four Seasons here.

Ruthie Foster: Ruthie Foster is an Austin based blues singer, songwriter, and musician whose last album made my top ten list for 2009. She is something of a cross between Bonnie Raitt and Aretha. Her latest album, Let it Burn, was just released, and it's exciting whenever she performs. Listen to her complete set from the Four Seasons here.

Jimmy Cliff: Along with Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff has been a pillar of Reggae music for over fifty years. I've always enjoyed his music but I've never had a chance to see him live. Listen to his complete set from the Four Seasons here.

Trampled by Turtles: Like Polica, who made a big splash at this year's SXSW, Trampled by Turtles is from Minnesota. Their name might suggest how hard it is to categorize their music. With banjo, mandolin, and fiddle in the band, the temptation would be to call it folk, but an almost primitive rock and roll energy turns it into something else again. I'll grab a term from Bruce's Keynote and call it alt-alt-folk, but whatever you call it, it's entertaining. Listen to their complete set from the Four Seasons here.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Bruce Springsteen is on Fire, The Apollo, Wrecking Ball & SXSW

The Apollo Theater, NYC, 3/09/12: A week ago Friday night, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played Harlem's Apollo Theater in NYC. The event was organized by Sirius XM Satellite Radio to celebrate ten years of satellite radio and they broadcast the concert live. I am about to say two things that I haven't said in over twenty-five years: 1) I listened to the concert live as I recorded it, and 2) the concert was amazingly great, the best live Bruce I've heard since the Tunnel of Love tour. Bruce was energized, the band was tight (even expanded), and the performance was so intense that it left me with the feeling that I had just heard the old Bruce, the guy who in his first ten years made his concert performance a life changing experience.

Of the nineteen songs played at the Apollo, seven of them were from the new album, Wrecking Ball. Audiences often don't take kindly to new material, but in this case, all the songs from Wrecking Ball sounded great. The set construction was itself ingenious; I won't take you through the whole set song by song (setlist follows), but the first six songs will give you the idea. He opened with "We Take Care Of Our Own" and although I did not care for this song initially when it was released as a single in advance of the album, I must admit that in live performance as a set opener, it's unstoppable. Out of the end of the song comes the rhythmic cymbal opening of "Wrecking Ball"; a song that works well both on the album and live and with this pair of songs he has set the bar high both in terms of lyrical theme and musical energy.

As "Wrecking Ball" is ending, Bruce counts off and the band rips into "Badlands", the theme continues and the crowd is eating out of his hand. Out of the end of "Badlands" comes the count off and all of a sudden it's the anthemic Irish sounding "Death to My Hometown" and a subject no less weighty than the 9/11 disaster; another song that sounds great on the new album also.

From there it's on to "My City of Ruins" which after a horn driven intro drops into a soul simmer and the talkative Bruce who used to delight the crowd with stories in the old days returns to greet the audience, restate the mission of the E Street Band, introduce the players and give perfect tribute to the recently deceased band members, Denny Federicci and Clarence Clemmons, all within another song inspired by 9/11. This is a genius moment and I encourage you to listen to all 12:56. Perhaps the biggest question prior to this tour was how would Bruce handle the death of Clarence musically, in terms of the sax being so integral to Bruce's music. For this tour they use a whole horn section to replace Clarence, which takes a little of the pressure off the guy playing the sax, who as I understand it, is Clarence's nephew and although it must have been tough for him, he really played some great sax.

Listen to "My City of Ruins" (live at the Apollo)

At the end of the song Bruce says, "We're going to take you back to the beginning of it all" and with that they're off into the "E Street Shuffle" and the concert continues in that fashion for over two hours. The Apollo Theater photographs are courtesy of Gary Dell'Abate via Twitter. He tweeted that Bruce was all over the theater, singing from the audience as you can see below.

The Apollo Setlist:
We Take Care Of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
The E Street Shuffle
Jack of All Trades
Shackled and Drawn
Waitin' on a Sunny Day
The Promised Land
Mansion on the Hill (Acoustic)
Wilson Pickett Medley: The Way You Do The Things You Do / 634-5789
The Rising
We Are Alive
Thunder Road
Rocky Ground (With Michelle Moore)
Land of Hope and Dreams
Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
Hold On I'm Coming

Wrecking Ball (Special Edition)

SXSW, 30th Annual Austin Music Awards, Austin Music Hall, Austin, TX, 3/14/12: Bruce began his Texas onslaught the night before his scheduled events with a surprise appearance at the Austin Music Awards. Alejandro Escovedo was the headliner and I'll let the guy who filmed the video (DownThunderRoad) tell it.

I will not forget this night. Alejandro brought Joe Ely out first and they did a song and then Joe asked if there were any other guitar players in the house. Curtain popped open and here came Bruce. I had my camera on but was so excited when I saw him I turned it off by mistake. I was shaking!
Bruce did 4 songs with Alejandro. They started with "Midnight Train," then covered Woody Guthrie's "Goin Down The Road Feeling Bad," Alejandro's "Always A Friend" then Joe left the stage and they brought back Garland Jeffreys to finish with the Stones "Beast of Burden!"
Lord Have Mercy

SXSW, The Keynote Address, Austin Convention Center, Austin, TX, 3/15/12: It was a first for SXSW to allow live television coverage of a keynote address and NPR streamed high def video that looked great when thrown up on the big screen; as a viewer I felt as if I was right there in the room. Bruce did not just give a great speech, he Testified. He talked about the state of music now and what it was like when he started out as a kid with his first guitar. He talked about his influences and asked for a guitar to demonstrate and went on to state that everything he's ever done is derived from "We Gotta Get Out of This Place" by the Animals. He talked about a lot of things including Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and ended with some sage advice for young bands. The speech was nearly an hour long and was as compelling as a concert. Check it out.

SXSW, ACL Live, The Moody Theatre, Austin, TX, 3/15/12: A couple of months ago, Bruce's people contacted the people who run SXSW and offered that Bruce would like to play the festival this year. SXSW now has about 2,000 bands that must be scheduled in hourly blocks for upwards of 60 venues. It's a logistical jigsaw puzzle of the highest order. Even though a lot of the scheduling was complete, that's an offer you don't say no to. SXSW could not have known that Bruce, with a great new album and a triumphant show at the Apollo still fresh in memory, would come down to Austin and totally tear the place up.

For the scheduled concert, Bruce touched on a lot of the themes that he bought up in the keynote including a couple of Woody Guthrie songs and a lot of musician guests, like Eric Burden of the Animals who joined Bruce on stage to sing "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place". There are many reviews of the show, like this one, but all the reports I heard said that this show was the stuff of Austin legend. Watch some of the better videos and check out the setlist.

The Setlist:

Photo Courtesy Brucetapes.Com

Saturday, March 10, 2012

James Maddock - My Old Neighborhood (2012), New Single, EP, Video & Deluxe CD Reissue

Photo courtesy of Countesthorpe Parish Council

Saturday Video Fun: We love James Maddock's last two albums, think he's one of New York's best singer-songwriters. All those years of great songwriting come through loud and clear on James' new single, "My Old Neighborhood", complete with a really cool video shot in James' hometown, the Village of Countesthorpe in Leicester, England.

The My Old Neighborhood EP is an iTunes exclusive and contains the long version of the single, the radio edit, and the video.

James' latest album has also been reissued as Wake Up and Dream Digital Deluxe, which adds all three items from the EP to the album that we included on our list of the best albums of last year. The deluxe reissue is also an iTunes exclusive.

For a bonus video this week, we've got James and his fine band with a superb live version of the album's title track, from the Rockwood Music Hall, and that's Leslie Mendelson singing backup.

Buy "My Old Neighborhood" at iTunes.

Buy Wake Up and Dream at iTunes.

James Maddock's Website
James Maddock's Facebook


Saturday, March 03, 2012

Ray Charles - Live At The Olympia, Paris DVD (2000) & the Movie Ray (2004)

Saturday Video Fun: In general I detest biopics; I would much rather see a documentary biography with real footage of the real person. There is certainly enough film of Ray Charles to tell his life story, but I'm here to tell you that the movie Ray is the best biopic I have ever seen. Jamie Foxx is so good in the part that it's easy to forget that you're watching an actor. The movie does everything right from the casting to the acting, the script, the music, the cinematography, and the direction; it's all first rate movie making about a true musical genius.

So I had just finished screening Ray for someone who had not seen it, and I was of a mind to post some live Ray Charles clips to Facebook. Checking to see what I could find on YouTube, I ran across some clips that I had never seen before. I was initially taken by the quality of the performances, plus they had terrific picture and sound. Like so.

Maybe because I was wrapped up in Ray's performance of "I've Got A Woman", I didn't notice at first that the instrumentation on this clip was highly unusual, no horns, no big band, no Raelettes. It was just Ray on keyboard and vocals, backed with his trio of guitar, bass, and drums. The DVD package explains;

This concert was supposed to be a very emotional moment for Ray Charles. It was his 70th birthday, it was his first tour in this new millennium. This night, Ray Charles was supposed to play with his "big band" and his "Raelettes" but due to an air traffic controllers lightning strike in Lisbon, his famous Big Band and The Raelettes were stuck at the airport. So, the day of the concert, Ray arrived in Paris with a drummer, a guitar player and a bass player. They worked out a new show, set list and arrangements in the hotel room and came on stage late. It results a fantastic DVD of this unique "unplugged" concert recorded in 5.1, with a rare emotion and sensibility.

Ray did live performances for over sixty years and except at the very beginning, all of them used his big band and his backup singers, the Raelettes. On this one occasion, we have the privilege of seeing Ray perform with a very small jazz ensemble. This was an incredibly rare treat for the audience and we are likewise privileged to enjoy this show on DVD. Ray clearly enjoyed playing that keyboard and using it to sound like everything from a piano to a vibraphone, and at one point he even played with a guitar sound.

The small band format allowed Ray to really stretch out on the keyboard and play some intros and solos that we would never normally hear. The electric guitarist was really good and got his share of solos as well. Even the bass player and the drummer took solos. Because of this accompaniment, Ray threw out the usual set list and played some standards and other songs that you wouldn't normally hear at a Ray Charles concert.
  1. Intro
  2. Untitled instrumental (the title on the DVD box is wrong)
  3. Just The Way You Look Tonight (instrumental)
  4. Route 66
  5. A Song For You
  6. Hallelujah I Just Love Her So
  7. Georgia On My Mind
  8. Stranger In My Own Home Town
  9. Angelina
  10. I've Got A Woman
  11. Hey Girl
  12. Almost Like Being In Love Again
  13. Just For A Thrill
  14. It Had To Be You
  15. What'd I Say
The concert was significant beyond it being Ray's 70th birthday, it was also his return to the Olympia Theater, forty years after he had first played there. For all these reasons, they had arranged to film the concert and we are in their debt because someone made the decision to go on with the plans to record the show, even though most of the band and singers could not be there. We are also the beneficiaries of the amazing camera work and sound quality of the recording. From a technical standpoint, this is far and away the best looking and best sounding video of Ray that I've ever seen. The set list avoided most of the songs that utilized the Raelettes, until the end of the show when he closed with "What'd I Say" and he asked the audience to fill in. Enjoy.

From the artistic to the technical triumphs, this DVD is a total knockout and my favorite of all the concert videos that were shot of Ray. For a bonus video this week, it's the theatrical trailer for the movie Ray. If you haven't seen it, put it on your must list.