More Greetings from South By Southwest: Beyond the G&S Lounge
Greetings from South By Southwest
The G&S Lounge is not a pretty place. Not even close, Ceilings too low and in the pre-happy hours, they don’t even engage the myriad neon signs to extract that buzzing crayola light to deaden the pressboard ceiling and beat-up alternating black and white industrial tile floor. This ain’t anywhere a poseur’s gonna go, but it’s about as real as it gets, a bar that time and poseurs forgot.
Onstage with a modified pompadour and a high notched blazer is Michael Fracasso, a man with a voice that’s true in spite of the years he’s spent [unching it out in going nowhere bar gigs. It’s a voice that cuts through almost as clear as the bass, drums and two electric guitars churning out a lean kind of rock shot through with country rural and a bit of straight up Stevie Ray Vaughan blues.
These aren’t kids hoping, but men born to play. They ain’t promping or fromping, but churning out no-nonsense music without flourish. That’s the way it is beyond the fringe of South by Southwest where real men come to prove what it means to take the stage just for the sake of playing.
He mentions a new CD called Saint Monday, then decides to go ahead and play the song that gave the collection it’s name. It is a dialed in song that’s about the way time gets suspended in bars, nowhere to go, nowhere to be – just the passage of time, the place where one drifts and the way we make our way as time gets the better of us.
It’s a song that is as much a cautionary tale. About pretty girls fading. The way looking down the barrel of more of the same can be too much to bare. It’s tender, concerned, compassionate. It stands in stark contrast to what you might expect from a bar like that – or else in perfect symmetry. For this is where the dreams of the unseen come to succumb to the poison of no hope, to slowly die without much fan fare.
Not one to wallow, Fracasso kicks up the tempo. Introduces the band, leans into a raver called “Eloise.” Slightly Buddy Holly-esque, certainly innocent and wildly ardent, it is the sort of song that reminds us how fresh desire can be when it’s new and we’re still willing to believe in the potential of love.
Outside on the sun-scorched parking lot, there’s a second stage. Local legend Jimmy Lafave is talking to a couple girls along the edge. Cars pull up and unceremoniously unload gear. This is what people do, how they live.
Onstage Terri Hendrix has her most constant companion: an acoustic guitar and a fistful of her sometimes wry, always insightful songs. She’s joking about needing to get her guitar in tune – because it’s a song about spirituality, and “if you’re going to sing a song about spirituality, you need to be in tune.”
“Spiritual Kind” tackles all faiths. Kinda like her. Even has an album by the same name.
Terri Hendrix is a classic Texas texture: tough enough to never fold, strong enough to cut her own path, woman enough to smile in the face of fate and keep going. She’s been doing it her way for over a decade, and she don’t look back. She just writes her songs, makes her records and stays with her program.
You don’t tell a girl like Terri Hendrix what to do. And that’s what makes her so engaging. People stand there, listening, nodding, knowing that she knows how they lives, too. It doesn’t need to be said, it’s a given.
Heck, her new record is called Cry Until You Laugh.
If that ain’t life as we know it, what is?
Jimmy LaFave is equally beyond expectations. Not really tough, tender without being wimpy. He can embrace Butch Hancock’s “(If I Were A) Bluebird,” whisper Dylan’s “Only A Woman” and inhabit his own “One Angel” in a way that makes nuance seem like the most manly commodity in the world.
He doesn’t have to flex or shout, he just has to exhale those filigreed lyrics. The sighing is inherent. The beauty he evokes complete.
Austin, Texas is its own kind of deal – and it supports this sort of rank individuality. There are girls with neon hair and torn tights, skateboard boys, women on traditional bicycles with cow skulls entwined with flowers, men in roper boots with long necks nestled in their hands.
They come to hear the sparkling piano notes, chords rising and falling – and Lafave’s voice a corn husky witness that’s steadfast and willing. Show up, be, stand, rise, embrace. It’s a kind of romance that’s beyond romantic.. and that’s what makes it so compelling.
It’s the ones you think are gonna last that are the ones you wanna keep. And if these Texas writer/artists aren’t filling stadiums, you can bet they’re gonna be here in 15 years – writing songs, playing bars like this one to people who don’t just remember, but want to be connected to the things they sing about.
That’s the gift of this kind of beyond of country roots music. It’s built to last, not break like cheap Chinese plastic toys. People who truly love music know the difference, and thar’s why they parking lot is full before 5 o’clock.
The G&S Lounge is almost (Not) South by Southwest. Though plenty of people are no doubt from other places, not wearing their badges, but soaking up the quality of the music. Again, knowing the difference creates a whole other set of what one values.
Kevin Welch is an Okie. He talks about how far the horizon line can be. He writes songs that have a linear romanticism, but its shot through with details of desire that are grounded in coffee cups, summer rain, women not gone wild – but gone. He could’ve been a big time hillbilly heart-throb, maybe even a thinking woman’s sex symbol.
He decided better of it. Walked away from the machine.
Now he’s standing under a pitched tin roof with his son Dustin, trying to get the guitars and banjo to sound right through the monitor. While in some ways, Kevin Welch is all about the words, what he conjures onstage is very much a product of the playing – and those notes are each precious.
Dustin is an artist in his own right. He writes darker songs, fraught with echoes of Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen. If the father has an easy smile that draws you close, the son has a brooding countenance that is mystery and knowledge all his own.
They open with “Come A-Rain,” a name check of juxtaposition – citing cultural icons, then evoking truths that seem oxymoronic to the essential reality of the named. “Fellini was a scientist/ Dante was a thug/ Buddha was a cowboy/ and Amelia, Amelia was a stud…”
Dustin whipstitches electric slide against his father’s chop-chop tribal acoustic guitar, the echoed chorus almost trancelike. Not quite dervish whirlingness, there’s a trancelike reality at work, a song that topples totemics in a way that confronts and perhaps undermines all the things we hold true about the famous.
Welch talks about the trouble in the world – meltdowns nuclear and working class, the revolutions in Egpyt and Wisconsin, tsunamis and earthquakes – without being specific. He sings “Trouble Out There” and “The Great Emancipation” and “Widows Prayer,” and injects some sort of balm into the starkness, comfort on the trembling earth and torn reality.
Apples don’t fall far from the tree. Dustin does a nimble job expanding and embroidering his father’s melodies. Hints of hiss, lines that burn, the National guitar takes the songs to more surging places, adding dimension and urgency.
But even more kinetic is his take on “Whiskey Priest,” a stark, tense blues that stabs and starts under the younger Welch’s charcoal dusted voice, all crunchy and throaty insurrection. It is a natural thing – what comes spewing from his throat, as disconcerting as his father is comforting, a challenge that explodes as the two men taunt their guitars with almost metronomic fervor.