Archive: March 2011

Emmylou Harris/Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis/Abigail Washburn/Band of Heathens, SXSW 2011, March 17, 2011

SXSW runs a tight ship — your set had better be finished in time to set up the stage for the next act. But when you’re country royalty like Emmylou Harris, exceptions are made.

Harris was given free reign over her allotted time, and she used it to perform her forthcoming new album Hard Bargain in its entirety. Album producer/guitarist Jay Joyce and multi-instrumentalist Giles Reeves, who did triple duty on drums and keyboards/bass, joined Harris, who informed the audience the trio on stage is the same on the album. Reeves in particular did an impressive job juggling two instruments, keeping time on a minimal drum kit while providing bass lines and pads on the keys.

Hard Bargain puts the focus once again on Harris’ songwriting. As she told the audience, she’s fond of a sad song, and the quiet set she performed is chock full of songs she loves. It’s the kind of aching beauty that permeated Red Dirt Girl, an album that I thought was heavy-handed with the aching and the beauty.

A question for select members of the audience — why go to a quiet acoustic show if all you’re going to do is yak yak yak all through it? I probably could have paid more attention to the music if youth and extroversion didn’t combine in such idiotic fashion. Not all of us love to hear you fuckers talk.

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Duran Duran/Raphael Saadiq/The Smith Westerns/James Blake/Yuck, SXSW 2011, March 16, 2011

I’ve seen Duran Duran live a number of times in various line-ups — with Warren Cuccurullo, without John Taylor, with the original line-up, without Andy Taylor. Their set list hasn’t deviated much since 1999, and even the inclusion of "Friends of Mine" dates as far back as 2000.

So no, I can’t say I was much surprised to hear straight-forward interpretations of "Hungry Like the Wolf", "Wild Boys", "A View to a Kill" or "Notorious", crowd-pleasers all and songs that got the audience at Stubb’s BBQ jumping. Duran Duran is at a point where even they are respectful of their own canon. There’s no messing with what works, and they dash of their classics with an effortlessness that comes with three decades of experience.

Sometimes, I wish they would shake things up, similar to the way they drastically remodeled their oeuvre in the mid-90s. Track down the Gemini bootleg to understand what I’m saying.

The new songs didn’t exert a strong presence, not the way "Come Undone" or "Ordinary World" did back in 1993. If anything, they camouflaged themselves too well, sounding like the missing Rio b-sides that never accompanied "Like an Angel"

But I’m just a picky long-time lapsed fan. Duran Duran on a bad day could school the thousands of young bands at SXSW on their best day. Roger Taylor flubbed early in the set, and Simon Le Bon asked for a do-over on a new song. Neither incident impeded the live juggernaut that is Duran Duran.

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Looking ahead, March 2011-May 2011

I started writing this entry a few days before the earthquake hit Japan, so two titles listed in this round-up have been pushed out while the country recovers.

SXSW was also days away from starting, and while I fully intended to see Emmylou Harris’ showcase, I didn’t realize it would turn out to be an album release listening party.

Also — new Kate Bush! Almost …

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Mum

I’ve been pretty mum about the situation in Japan, mostly because there isn’t anything much I can add to what’s already been said. I’ve also tried to avoid reading and watching coverage of the quake because it would just break my heart.

So I instead donated $50 to the Red Cross, although Steve over at Engrish.com suggests making donations directly to the Red Cross in Japan through a special landing page by Google.

As for the tsunami that hit Hawaiʻi as a result of the quake, I can report none of my family were affected by it. My mom’s house is located inland, and I doubted she would be up at 4 a.m. walking by the beach. Still, I was up at 7 a.m. in Austin, watching the news coverage on the web as the waves struck Honolulu.

At some point, I’ll report on SXSW 2011, Japan Nite in particular. Till then, I’ll repeat a sentiment that pervaded the festival in the wake of the news: かんばって!

SXSW 2011 game plan

The last time I bought a SXSW wristband was 2008, when I could really afford it which isn’t to say I can afford one this year either.

But when news broke that Duran Duran would be performing at the festival, I decided to cough up the cash. I know already my chances of getting into that show with a lowly wristband are slim, and if the band stops by Texas in support of All You Need Is Now, I might travel some distance to see them. (They are actually performing in Houston on April 6, but I’ll be out of town in San Francisco for a work conference.)

Duran Duran came to Austin in support of Red Carpet Massacre a few years back, but I didn’t go. Partly because I thought the album sucked, but mostly because they played at the Austin Music Hall, which sucks even more.

I have to admit — this year was the first I bought a wristband for a reason other than Japan Nite.

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