NO DEPRESSION Kicks Off SXSW with Impressive Continental Club Show: Trishas, Schuyler Fisk, Amanada Shires Keep It Real
No Depression South By Southwest Show
Continental Club, March 14, 2012
The Trishas * Schuyler Fisk * Amanda Shires
On the first official night of the music portion of Austin’s South By Southwest, it is only fitting that alt-country Bible No Depression would have its annual showcase. After all for well over a decade, No Depression chronicled the state of Americana, explored the depths of roots music and stood as the place for intelligent discourse for indie music that fell between the cracks of categories.
Always early on the draw, publisher Kyla Fairchild sought to create a show that was both buzz worthy – and exposing relative newcomers under the NoDepression.com imprimateur. And to that end, she culled quite a line-up, some through knowing, some through her bloggers and one piece of programming committee luck: Austin favorite’s The Trishas, Virginia’s Schuyler Fisk, Lubbock’s Amanda Shires, Canada’s White Horse, Rhode Island’s Brown Bird and local legend Carrie Rodriguez.
Kicking off the night, the Trishas demonstrate the power of lush harmonies. Four young woman, voices tangled in perfect increments, offer a decidedly earthy take on the basic emotions of being alive. Originally teaming to honor vocalist/guitarist Savannah Welch’s father at the Steamboat Summit with almost a cappella version of Kevin Welch’s “Too Old To Die Young,” the group has kept the instruments acoustic, the songs intxicating and the sense of self powerful.
“Silver & Gold,” which closed their set, spoke of priorities, realities and the reasons in life that make a difference. Savannah Welch, Liz Foster, Kelley Mickwee and Jamie Wilson all come together as more than the sum of their parts – and each part offers a strong sense of purpose and humanity on its own.
Not quite other worldly, and yet somehow, ethereal, they have a weightlessness to what they do that makes the listener feel lighter. It is the sense of being unburdened that the Trishas provide, and the crowd of hipsters hung on every note.
It’s hard to surpass a guitar tech of singer/poet Kevin Welch’s caliber, but Schuyler Fisk brought a cheering section that included Oscar winner Sissy Spacek. Though packing massive starpower in her wake, Fisk preferred to rely on plain spoken songs that matched the wide-open, fresh-scrubbed face she shows the world.
Sweet without being cloying, sincere without being aw shucks, the young lady who released Blue Ribbon Winner last year played straight-forward songs that just a hint of a pop pull – and never missed a beat. Indeed, with an acoustic guitar as the primary adornment, Fisk had the warmth of a favorite counselor at the fire: the girl everyone wants to be, yet is somehow something more.
Still, this is not an artist bent on sheer perfection. She reached into Lucinda Williams’ catalogue for the raucous “Can’t Let Go” and offered it up with a bumping beat and a dash of sultry obsession. If her own “What Good Is Love” is a quiet, acoustic guitar etched rumination on “over,” then “Can’t Let Go” is kerosene and matches.
Amanda Shires has her own slow-burning combustibility. With the face of a china doll and the body of Jessica Rabbit, her voice recalls the purity of Joan Baez, but also has a bit of the dusky knowing of Dusty Springfield. Certainly not a tortured artist, yet the songwriter from Lubbock, Texas isn’t afraid of the big doubt, the large ache or the can’t happen. With equally fine songwriter Rod Picot on guitar, the trio took delicate sketches and fleshed them into whole cloth, adding dimension to the notions being sketched.
For the girl with the violin doesn’t have Alison Krauss’ pristine ache, but rather draws a sensuality that evokes and courses with blood, perhaps is covered in sweat.
It’s a complicated thing: grown up songs, direct lyrics but nuanced emotions. “Detroit or Buffalo,” carved up with that violin somewhere between jazz and aggressive folk, offers the idea that moving on is it’s own sanctuary, survival isn’t a sentence, but a chance to not look back.
Evocative, Shires live is even better than the records she makes. And the records are real good. But that’s the gift of artistry over machined music: it’s real, lives and breathes and grows before your eyes. Come and watch the magic; see it for yourself – and be touched by something special.
Which is also the irony of the incredible expanding music conference! Light years from what South By Southwest seemed to be: an intimate gathering of roots music trines, all meaningful spokes for what Austin, Texas seemed to represent – be it blues, story-tellers, cosmic country, raw rock, throwback styles and any sorta innovation you could think of be tit the hardcore of the Butthole Surfers or the jazz of Lyle Lovett, there is still a pilot light for everything the festival ever was in places like the Continental Club on opening night.
With no need to eschew what was, but a strong to celebrate what the future holds for roots music, No Depression comes forward with a slate of acts that more than represent everything honest music should be. Simple, multi-faceted, but ultimately, striking a chord with the music lovers who comes to experience the songs first hand.