BEYOND SXSW: The Silos, The Bluebonnets & Others Rock Beyond the Mainframe
Silos’ front man Walter Salas-Humara’s hair is now laced with silver, but the Florida ex-pat has lost none of the romantic tendencies that marked the Cuban songwriter/singer’s songs from the Silos’ earliest days. Also, a visual artist specializing in dogs, the appropriate place to decamp for South by Southwest was the backyard of Yard Dog Gallery, who’d hosted some of the week’s best parties.
Like the dBs, who had fans clogging the sidewalk outside their BD Riley’s Friday night show just to hear “Love Is For Lovers,” the Silos understand the sweeptspot between power pop and no frills rock & roll. True believers, Salas-Humara & Co have no problem putting their ardor out there.
Opening with the slight jangle of “Keep Your Heart Innocent,” battered acoustic guitar slung at his belt, the bandleader beamed. Not just a teen candy bromide, “Innocent” is an anti-entitlement , protect your wonder proposition. Indeed, that DIY-empowerment fuels much of their music – and not from rage or disgust, but more the sheer joy of feeling alive.
Perhaps if the Replacements drank a lot less and were more of a sensual Cuban lineage, they might have found the axis of fluid guitar-lines and tres leches harmonies that’s set the band who just released Florizona apart. With tribal feeling rhythms, melodic bass lines and Salas-Humara’s voice – slightly banged up, a little musky, always warm like towel left in the sun – they take the basic doubts and desires of growing up and make “Teenage Prayer” a benediction for youth and a prayer for what’s to come.
How many bands can offer a chorus of “Glory, Glory Hallelujah…” and make it come off like the musical equivalent of Springsteen’s declaration “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive!”?
With artists and artists who are also visual artists ranging from Jon Langford to the Deadstring Brothers, Rosie Flores to Ian McLagan & the Bump Band, Garland Jeffries to the Waco Brothers w Paul Burch and Lydia Loveless, this was the arty hipsters’ paradise. To view outsider art, soak up the sun, see the bands and eschew the clomp and cramped quarters of SXSW buzz band-age, this was a civilized way to experience local cool.
That same local camaraderie and deep way cool factor could be found two blocks closer to the river at Liz Lambert’s South by San Jose, a mini-concert fest set up in the parking lot of her Hotel San Jose. With headliners including Alejandro Escovedo & Orchestra, Billy Joe Shaver and Built To Spill, the “support acts” included Meshell Ndgeocello, Alabama Shakes, Ben Kweller, David Garza, the Iguanas, Kids these Days and Amy Cook among roo many others.
An easy, low slung rock scene – with a flea market of cool and Jo’s Coffee as a back corner, music lovers turned out to appreciate the cavalcade of what they knew and knew they’d be grateful to discover.
Saturday afternoon saw Kathy Valentine’s current band the Bluebonnets command the stage with charisma and authority: lean, mean rock & roll delivered with a driving crash and bang from drummer Kristy McGinnis and charismatic vocalist/bass player Dominique Davalos.
Like the GoGos, this is an all-girl proposition. Unlike Valentine’s multi-platinum band, this is serious musicianship that’s long on aggression and tight when it counts. Derived from garage rock, there is enough glitter to the proceedings and blues underneath to warrant focused playing. That need for precision adds an intensity, the same kind that marks Concrete Blond, a Los Angeles post-punk band that bristled under the lash of Johnette Napolitano’s wailing vocals.
Even a cover of Jerry Lee Lewis’ “Breathless” had a throwback primitivity that made for both innocence and raw lust. Hard-charging and unforgiving, the Bluebonnets set was proof positive girls rock just as hard as the boys, without attitude or posturing and often look a lot hotter doing it.
Everywhere you went, there was – seemingly – music. Lucy’s Fried Chicken, Maria’s Tacos,the St Vincent de Paul Thrift Shop & Vintage Store parking lot. Waterloo Records put up a stage in their parking lot. Both the Four Seasons and the super-trendy W Hotel featured live morning radio broadcasts – for KUT and KGSR respectively, which included Jimmy Cliff, Justin Townes Earle, M Ward, Ruthie Foster, Tom Morello, Elle King, Citizen Cope, Kat Edmonson and Rhett Miller.
It’s almost as if to say, “We have more music than that damn convention…” It is a way of protesting the corporatization of SXSW and music in general. Or perhaps it’s just Austin being Austin: free-spirited, artistic, celebratory and always about the community, especially when it comes to music.