Jones Family Photo Credit: Otis Ike
Each year it seems like the music portion of SXSW gets started a little earlier and this year the parties and shows were pretty much in full swing by Monday. While one part of you knows that preserving yourself for the marathon week to come is crucial, it is impossible for any live music lover to sit idly by when loads of shows are happening right in his backyard. Considering Monday and the official kick-off on Tuesday – in which this writer wisely chose to avoid the vomit-lined streets of downtown Austin amidst the dreaded St. Patty’s Day/SXSW overlap – this year’s SXSW is already off to one hell of a great start. Here are five acts that stood out on Monday and Tuesday.
The Jones Family Singers with Leon Russell (Photo: Otis Ike)
The Jones Family Singers at Continental Club (Monday, March 16)
Only at SXSW is it not out of place to catch a club filled with drinkers and dancers reveling on a Monday afternoon. Following a brief press conference at the gallery space above the Continental Club where they talked about their new documentary, The Jones Family Will Make A Way, the family gospel group took to the stage with a level of energy and enthusiasm few acts amongst the thousands in town this week can top. Even if you’re not religious, the Jones Family Singers will get inside of you with their shining message of positivity and an incessant funky groove that keeps the music barreling along at a quick, danceable pace. Between soulful singing, searing blues solos, and synchronized dance moves, the Jones Family singers proved to be tried and true performers at the Continental. Even Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Leon Russell stopped in to catch the show. By the end of their set they commanded the crowd and initiated a full on dance party, making it an extraordinary Monday afternoon indeed.
Water Liars at Spiderhouse (Monday, March 16)
Water Liars hit the stage on the patio of this north campus coffee shop and bar only hours after arriving in town, but if the Mississippi trio were feeling fatigued from the road it didn’t show in the slightest. They delivered a hard-hitting punch of a set that roared in like a lion and closed like a lamb with a near tear-inducing cover of the late Jason Molina’s “Just Be Simple”.
Surly Gates at Stay Gold (Tuesday, March 17)
In the 2nd annual edition of their unofficial SXSW day party this local group rocked a crowded room with their sun-drenched harmonies recalling the hippie folk of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Except, unlike that trio of folkies, Surly Gates inject their harmonies with a heady dose of psyched out rock and roll.
The Donkeys at Stay Gold (Tuesday, March 17)
Few groups manage to pull off a sound that is so quintessentially California as San Diego’s The Donkeys. I had heard of them before but was more than excited to see none other than The Hold Steady’s Steve Selvidge handling guitar duties. Simply put, The Donkeys make laid back California rock and roll, but with a guitarist like Selvidge who possesses such a distinct, unmistakable style, their quick set was absolutely explosive. Each band member took turns singing and with Selvidge leading the charge songs took unexpected, windy paths into fast, electrifying jams and solos. If you can catch The Donkeys on tour with Selvidge, do it.
C.C. Adcock at French Legation Museum (Tuesday, March 17)
Just blocks away from the historic East Austin site of the French Legation Museum the masses were corralled inside corporate-sponsored tents where they were urged to ‘Feed The Beat’ without the presence of an actual instrument. Yet, the grassy grounds of this gorgeous outdoor venue were largely empty, give or take about fifteen people who had gathered for the French-themed festivities taking place all day. That didn’t stop Louisiana guitarist, singer-songwriter, producer and all around badass C.C. Adcock from shredding his way through a ninety minute set of scorching, Cajun-inflected rock and roll. The denim-clad shredder and his band could have kept an arena dancing, but the intimacy was more akin to a private show as they effortlessly intertwined blues, zydeco and rock into a simmering cauldron of rowdy fun. It’s a shame the masses missed out on this one, but perhaps there’s comfort knowing it’s still possible to see top notch bands at SXSW without waiting in a line.