Driving to dinner on my last evening in Austin, I am trying to navigate the side streets outside the downtown core in my car, the GPS taking me to parts of the Texas capital I haven’t seen before. Specifically, near the airport. And that’s when I see her.
Suddenly, I drive by a gentleman’s club called Landing Strip. Not just any strip club. But the strip club from one of the best, if not THE best television shows of all time and surely the best show about Texas ever, Friday Night Lights. It's almost like discovering Santa Claus is real.
Take a look at how EPIC the Landing Strip is:
After four days of wall-to-wall music, food from a variety of trucks, and enough libations to fill a hot tub, I’m in pain.
My head hurts. I have a blister the size of an acorn on my left foot. My inner thighs are corrugated cardboard turned inside out from all the walking. I’m so exhausted, bleary eyed and sound blasted from the lack of earplugs, I feel like I'm living underwater.
But the Landing Strip gets me going and reminds me why I love this city. (If you must know, I didn’t go in, but I thought about it for a few seconds.)
I have a lovely Brazilian meal with my friend Jodi, the former director of the Khyber, now living in Austin, married and very pregnant. Then I head down to Club Paradise aka Canada House for the Halifax Pop Explosion showcase.
First up is Cape Breton songstress Carmen Townsend, who blows everyone away with her riff-tastic, 70s-influenced East Coast rock. While she started her career off in the folkie realm, Carmen has definitely beefed up her sound with a surefire backing band of Thomas Allen on drums and Shane O'Handley on bass that adds some serious muscle to her live show. It’s no wonder Heart took recently took her out on tour.
Unfortunately, lost on the night is her secret weapon: her voice. The sound in the club is atrocious, with very little vocals in the P.A. in a bar that looks like it serves as a pub during the week. It’s too bad because Carmen has one of the best voices in the business.
I encourage you to check out her album many-years-in-the-making, the aptly titled Waitin’ and Seein’ to hear for yourself. Add to that she’s got a crazy mane of shock red hair, the looks of a marathon runner, and is starting to perfect the scissor kick (she shows us how far she's come during her set...almost there!). Carmen Townsend is going places.
And as you can tell, she’s a sweetheart that ain’t afraid to cuss on camera. God love ‘er.
Next up is indie stalwarts In-Flight Safety, warming up for a long tour of the UK and mainland Europe. They’ve added more juice to their live show with an extra percussionist and backup guitarist in Pat Deighan and Jeffrey Romanyk to bring out the layers of atmospherics in the band's sound. It's a good move.
The songs from their latest We Are An Empire, My Dear sound great and the set ends on a high note with a rousing rendition of "The Coast Is Clear" from the award-winning album of the same name. Except Paradise House screws up and loses lead singer John Mullane’s expressive vocals in the mix, robbing us in the process.
Running into the In-Flight boys throughout the festival remind me of what great guys they are who haven’t let any rock star attitude get to their heads. The cockiest thing about this band is keyboardist Danny Ledwell’s Jeff Healy Band t-shirt. Anyone who has seen Roadhouse knows that’s pretty badass.
I got a chance to catch up with Mr. Ledwell, also known as a rising producer on the East Coast scene.
Perhaps the coolest thing about the night is the number of Haligonians I run into at Paradise. There’s Dave Ewenson of Let’s Get Baked fame and excellent sound engineer to boot. There's Johnny Stevens, formerly employed with Music Nova Scotia and now the executive director of the Pop Explosion. I see Jen Clarke of Jenocide.
There are so many people from Halifax that if I squint my eyes, I might be in the Paragon Club. For a guy that now lives in Texas, it's as close to home I've been in nearly three years. It also shows how much Halifax music fans can take its own music scene for granted with the sheer amount of talent shown on the night.
Here's Johnny Stevens talking about the Halifax Pop Explosion, dropping some hints about upcoming shows and artists that might grace Halifax with their presence, and talking about the live music venue scene in his hometown.
Following the IFS set, I quickly rush through the SXSW crowd once last time to Club Deville to see one of the most talked about acts of the week, Montreal's Braids.
Braids is a young act in the sense that not one of the members look over 21 years-old. The songwriting shows great potential. But as the layers of sound start to build, the percussive textures and ethereal voices wash over us, I wait and wait and wait for the payoff. None ever comes.
It's hard not to tell what albums influenced these art-school kids. Think Animal Collective, Panda Bear and any of those so-indie-it-hurts bands that are all sound and not much rock 'n roll. Bored, I leave mid-set to an audience that still seems to be really digging this four-piece.
I find my way back to Club Paradise for one of the best hours of music I see all week. Boy, I’m glad I saw Rich Aucoin play live again.
Rich's set at Spill earlier in the week didn’t do his act justice. First of all, the daytime hours made his backscreen of videos, such a big part of his show, pretty much obsolete. Also, a 4 p.m. slot is when everyone is still dazed from the night before, not 100 percent ready to give it all to a show that demands it. Tonight, everything is clicking.
Rich hands out 3D glasses to the front 50 audience members (with free music download instructions printed on them!) that make his elaborate Grinch and viral mash-ups jump at the crowd. He bounds into the audience, shouts out instructions and turns the night into a mini-rave. I'm hot, sweaty and elated at the end of the show, which has turned into a music fan love-in.
Dude kept this up throughout the entire show:
After a quick drink, it was off to the riot and well, you know the rest....
As for me, I'm headed to bed. Until South By Southwest 2012. See you then.